It seems incredible that another year has passed and it is time again for my annual Year End Summary! 2015 was a great year for reading. I read 94 books this year and as intended, I did increase my non fiction reading significantly and really enjoyed having the variety.
In non fiction one of the books that I really enjoyed was The Black Count by Tom Reiss. Reiss did extensive research for this book but instead of allowing it to become a dry narration of facts, Reiss uses it to help that time period come alive and to give context to the life of General Alex Dumas. Father to the author, Alexandre Dumas, his life became the basis for many of his son’s works, including The Count of Monte Cristo. The complicated political climate in which General Dumas lived, his birth in the Caribbean to a mulatto woman and an aristocratic, but destitute Frenchman, and his physical prowess and stamina allowed him to overcome enormous odds and lead an extraordinary life.
Another non fiction book that I loved is The Road to Character by David Brooks. I still plan to blog about it, but just let me say here that Brooks has gathered an extraordinary collection different men and women which he uses to exemplify character traits that he feels today’s society has somehow lost or forgotten. Brooks makes each person come alive, flaws and all, and in doing so allows us to see how each person found a purpose and a calling which was greater than themselves.
This year in fiction there were some amazing selections!
To begin with there was All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer which is an extraordinary book about two young people, one blind and another an orphan caught up in the Nazi military machine and their common love for a radio broadcast about science and the nature of things. Doer’s writing which is luminous and yet grounded in the horrible reality of war, is mesmerizing. This is one book that is difficult to forget!
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan is an unforgettable book about Australian and other foreign POWs who along with many impressed workers from Burma, Malay and Java that the Japanese used to build the Thai-Burma railway in WWII. Told from the perspective of the the highest ranking POW, Dorrigo Evans, it is a tough and unflinching novel about the fate of the many men who died in pursuit of doing the “Emperor’s will.” This is one of the most profound, well written books I have read in a long time!
For the sheer joy of reading you cannot find a better book than The Martian by Andy Weir. A freak accident on Mars leaves an astronaut stranded after the rest of his crew leaves the planet. With the next mission to Mars four years in the future, Mark Watney, the stranded astronaut, must figure out how to survive and communicate with NASA to let them know he is still alive. This is a page turner, so do not begin this book if you need to get anything else done!
Finally, from Adam Johnson the author of the award wining Orphan Master’s Son, comes Fortune Smiles, a collection of short stories. Johnson is a superb writer and each story is a complete whole in and of itself and yet the collection informs and interconnects these stories as well. From facing the aftermath of a hurricane, or a programmer dealing with his wife’s illness, or a former Nazi guard confronting his past or the complexities of life that North Korean refugees face in South Korea, Johnson is inciteful, evocative and distills in the common humanity they (and we) all share. This is a definite must read!
I hope that if you haven’t already, you will take this opportunity to dive into these books and if you have read them, please let me know what you think.
Happy New Year!