This year, like every year, I participated in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. At the beginning of January I challenged myself to read a total of 35 books in 2016. I ended up reading a grand total of 39 books, of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty and, frankly, merit. So, here they are, ranked from worst to best (in my most humble opinion, of course).
These titles were ones I either didn’t enjoy reading at all (though I stuck with even the most grueling), or ones I found extremely disappointing and underwhelming.
39. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (2015)
Considering the rave reviews this book has been receiving, boy, was it a disappointment for me. It felt as though the first three sections (so about 80% of the book) were just about bitter feelings over a relationship that ended badly. And the writing just wasn’t . . . good. There were a few diamonds in the rough, but mostly this was was terribly one-dimensional.
38. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015)
This. Book. Was. RELENTLESS. Excluding the fact that it was already almost 800 pages long, every single chapter was the same, only the characters were older. It never felt like the main character grew or moved forward. He was just stagnant. It was infuriating. Some of the writing was beautifully poetic, but I just couldn’t get over the fact that all it did was make me feel entirely hopeless.
37. Fool For Love by Sam Shepard (1983)
This one had more to do with subject matter than anything else. The story was just plain weird — two half-siblings are ardently in love with one another, as the ghost(?) of their father watches them and reflects on the mistakes he made. The only character I identified with was Martin, the poor guy who just wanted to go out on a date with May, but finds himself in the middle of some major incestuous creepiness.
36. How to Shit in the Woods by Kathleen Meyer (1989)
Yes, I read this book, and yes, I did buy it for a dollar at a discount books sale. It was written in the 90s, and mostly I just got it because I liked the title (a friend from college and I would always joke about the best ways to take a dump out in nature). Again, it wasn’t bad, I guess. But I didn’t really enjoy reading it. It was a very serious book about a funny topic, is all. So, if you actually need to know how to shit in the woods, I highly recommend this book. (Plus, I believe she has a few newer additions out).
35. The Scorch Trials by James Dashner (2010)
I love The Maze Runner. Dashner’s writing itself leaves something to be desired, but his pace is spot-on. Everything happens quickly — every chapter ends in a cliff-hanger. They are the ultimate binge-read books. However, in The Scorch Trials it felt like there was too much happening. Some aspects of the storyline even felt forced — as though they could have been omitted entirely and the novel wouldn’t have been affected at all. Unfortunately I’m too invested in the overall story and finding out exactly what WICKED is to give up on the series. I just might get the next novels from the library . . .
34. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013)
This book simply fell flat for me. I read it on the recommendation of a friend, and we don’t always share the same interests. There were a few too many bad romantic comedy type vibes going on, plus, I wasn’t always too comfortable with how autism was portrayed (although I am not an expert). Basically, this was Sheldon Cooper from the Big Band Theory, but instead of Amy, he falls in love with more of a Penny. It just didn’t work for me.
33. Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart (2015)
There was nothing necessarily wrong with this one. Some parts were enjoyable — a lot of it reminded me of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. The amazing cover art initially attracted me (I’m a sucker for great covers). However, ultimately, it just failed to draw me in. I never felt truly invested in the storyline. I was looking for some oompf, and I just never got it.
By “half-baked” I mostly mean these were the titles that had an even mix of strengths and weaknesses. Usually, when I finish a “half-baked” book, I find myself thinking nothing more than, “Ok.”
32. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (2014)
This story was difficult, both to read and to swallow. I’m not quite sure I understood it all, nor do I feel comfortable talking about it extensively, since I’m just not quite sure what to feel about it. I want to read it again, not necessarily because I enjoyed it, but because I want to understand it. Perhaps I need to do more research on Jamaica and it’s sociopolitical history. That’s why it’s in the middle. Perhaps it’s not half-baked, but my opinions about it are.
31. Sorry Wrong Number by Lucille Fletcher (1943)
This was an impulsive read — aka, I stumbled upon the script during a google search for exciting short plays (I can’t remember why I went down that road). I stumbled upon this gem by Lucille Fletcher, apparently one of the most popular radio plays of it’s time. Personally, I would love to see this play in action — the whole shebang, in other words, not just for listening.
30. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
Perhaps Stoker could have learned a thing or two about editing, but this was just what I needed for my October reading — a spooky Victorian tale of vampires (some might say the original, in fact) with wildly sexual undertones.
29. Children of a Lesser God by Mark Medoff (1980)
This play makes a stand for proper deaf representation, not only in theater and other performative arts, but in all media. It only fell flat concerning the actual romance. (SPOILER), I felt like they shouldn’t have ended up together because he was too controlling and it contradicted the play’s overall message.
28. The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan (2014)
I’ve read other reviews of this book saying how much of a disappointment it was, that the writing wasn’t good or polished and it wouldn’t have been published if Marina Keegan hadn’t died in a car accident. And perhaps that’s true — that her story, rather than her writing is the true seller of this book. However, I take a different stance, one that aligns with what her professor (who wrote the introduction on this book) takes. She says that Marina, unlike many of her classmates, didn’t sound like a polished writer in her thirties or forties. She sounded like a girl in her early 20s, because she was a girl in her early 20s. The writing felt authentic, even if it wasn’t highly polished.
27. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015)
Hawkins knows how pace works and how to keep her audience reading, that’s for sure. I read this in less than two days because I just had to know what happened. However, ultimately, I was disappointed at the truth (don’t worry, no spoilers here). It definitely takes you on a crazy ride, but you might not like the destination. And, in my mind, no one can write a thriller quite like Gillian Flynn.
26. The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)
This book was fascinating to say the least. I read The Plague by Camus for a class in college, and perhaps it was the fact that I didn’t have to write multiple essays on it, but I found The Stranger to be the superior to the two works. Camus’ was a highly personal account — expounded in first person — of a man senselessly drawn into a horrible act of violence. It’s definitely on the same plane as Capote’s In Cold Blood (more on that later), but lacking the intricate detail that Capote brings to the table.
25. Mythology by Edith Hamilton (1942)
The fact that mythology in and of itself is extremely fascinating is probably the only reason this book wasn’t terribly boring. But Edith Hamilton isn’t into embellishment. She tells the stories like they have always been told — it is textbook. I read it and felt educated. Simple.
24. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (2015)
This book was not what I expected — not disappointing at all; it just had me turned around a bit. I love the concept, surely — it’s essentially the story that inspired Cath’s fan fiction in Rowell’s book Fangirl (a book I have admittedly not read yet; but don’t worry — it’s on my list), the story of two young wizards, Simon and Baz, and their complicated relationship living in the World of Mages. Perhaps I will feel differently about this story once I read Fangirl. I have not bad reviews, except to say that I simply thought other books I’ve read this year were better.
These were the most difficult to rank (especially the top three). Some found me pleasantly surprised, others in complete awe at their complicated beauty. Every single one of these picks was extremely intelligent and left me with the urge to reread immediately.
23. Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded by Hannah Hart (2016)
Hannah Hart. What a gift to humanity. If you haven’t seen her Youtube channel, you’re surely missing out. She is one of the funniest, cleverest, most kind-hearted and selfless people in the world. After reading Buffering, her own account about the life she has lived thus far, I am in awe at her impervious strength. This memoir was full of ups and downs, but mostly it was just full of Hannah. Her voice cannot be mistaken for anyone else’s.
22. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto (1988)
These two stories (Kitchen and its companion story, “Moonlight Shadow”) perfectly encompasses what it means to grieve and the ache we feel for magic, something beyond our earthly experience. The real magic is human connection.
21. Diary of an Oxygen Thief by Anonymous (2006)
After reading the first few pages, I thought I was going to hate this book. The narrator seemed too unrealistically cruel. But eventually, his humanity started to show through. Don’t you love/hate that? When you find yourself feeling bad for a horrible person? This book was one hell of a ride, that’s for sure. I’m already thinking about reading it again.
20. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010)
I don’t have much to say about this title other than it was odd and oh-so wise. It preaches that time is a funny thing and human connections, even the faultiest ones, still hold value and meaning even after several years have passed.
19. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (2004)
David Sedaris has the capability of putting his readers into a fit of side-splitting laughter one moment and then has them shedding quiet tears the next. That, to me, is the closest you can get to what it means to be human.
18. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (1814)
Jane Austen never lets me down — she’s my go-to lady whenever I need something snarky and so very British. And while perhaps being in love with your cousin is a bit odd nowadays, Fanny Price is so real and altogether humble, you can’t help but root for her. Plus, there are all the scandals Austen cooks up so well, challenging the flawless British etiquette and making room for her sharp social commentary.
17. The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht (2011)
This book was not one that I normally would choose to pick up, but that’s why it was such a pleasant surprise. Perhaps I felt a close connection to this book after seeing Obreht speak at Nerdcon: Stories 2015. She was such an articulate speaker and her writing is no different. It delves into the confusing and complicated emotions that come with loss as well as how the heart mends and moves forward, both with ease and eloquence.
16. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (2012)
One of the most incredible sensations in the world is sitting quietly at home, reading an amazing book, and feeling powerful because of it. This is that amazing book, and if you’re like me (aka, introverted to the extreme), you’re also seeking the quiet companionship that this book provides. It lets you know, you’re not alone. And you’re also fucking amazing, you quiet weirdo.
15. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1965)
This was one of the last books I read this year, and it definitely threw my entire ranking system off, especially the top five. Another pleasant surprise to say the least, I found Capote’s account of the Clutter murders so much more fascinating that I could have imagined. Its dealings with the morality of the death penalty especially hit close to home, as Nebraska recently voted to reinstate capital punishment state-wide. I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time.
14-2. A Series of Unfortunate Events (Books 1-13) by Lemony Snicket (1999-2006)
I will never stop having good things to say about this series. Although this wasn’t my first time stumbling along with the Baudelaire orphans through their many perils (I started reading them for the first time around the fourth grade), reading them as an adult made me realize just how enjoyable (and intelligent) these books are for readers of any age. There are simply not enough words to describe how excited I am to watch the Netflix series of the same name due to be released on Friday, January 13th (how appropriate, I might add).
1. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (2000)
This book truly made me fall in love with memoir — at least, memoir done right — and this is exactly that. Here is a man who perhaps does not consider himself at all heroic or even consequential, but his poignant auto-biographical account of raising his younger brother after the death of his parents is exactly as its title dictates. It prompted me to purchase his novel The Circle (one I look forward to reading early in 2017, in preparation for the movie starring Emma Watson set to come out in April).
And that’s my list! It was a tough goal to reach, but reading is always the one New Year’s Resolution I can keep. What were your favorite books this year?