In 2015, I made some changes to my reading habits.
First, I started tracking the books I read on Goodreads instead of scribbling them in the back pages of my journal, as I’ve done most years. I even downloaded the app on my phone for easy updates in case I finished a book on the bus or in a café. This meant I wasn’t opening my journal as often (which I wish to correct this year), but otherwise I enjoyed logging each finished book and seeing their colourful covers accumulate in my profile. It’s also been useful for tracking books that I’m interested in reading next.
Second, I decided against setting a number of books to read. I already had a lot of other resolutions last year, and I wanted to somewhat ease the pressure I had put on myself. I wanted to focus on enjoying whatever I was reading, and letting my curiosity and the general flow of life effect what types of books I read.
As a result, I completed 30 books from a wide variety of genres: classic lit, police procedural fiction, business nonfiction, horror fiction, essays, short stories, self-help, and memoir. The authors on my list are a variety of genders, ethnic backgrounds, and sexualities; two-thirds of them are women, a good number are also Canadian. If you’re curious, you can check out my full list of 2015 reads here: https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2015/8062603
I’m happy to say that I read hardly any duds this year, and thus it was tricky to narrow down a shortlist of absolute favourites. But here they are, the 7 best books I read in 2015:
This anthology of sci-fi and fantasy stories gave me the chance to cavort inside the imagination of a writer who is unbound by the common tropes of each genre. Wyrms and dryads, Trinidadian douens and orchid-rat hybrids, even Garuda and Vishnu intermingle with human characters who are often people of colour and/or queer in narratives of transformation, magic, epidemics, time travel, genetic modification, and haunting. Brief introductions contextualize Hopkinson’s inspiration for each story, but I couldn’t always follow her line of thinking. That’s the thing about this anthology: you’ll never know quite where Hopkinson will lead you, but you’ll be pleased and fascinated by what she’s concocted. My personal favourite? “Message In a Bottle.”
Like many other Goodreads reviewers, I devoured this short fiction collection and was sorry to finish its final pages. Plett’s writing is lean, biting and funny — immersing yourself into her narratives is effortless. A far cry from other gender transition narratives, which depict trans characters as tragic heroes, the short stories of ASGtL follow the ordinariness of transwomen’s lives as they navigate imperfect family and friend relationships, love, sex, addiction, loneliness, violence and adolescence. My favourites include “How to Stay Friends”, “Lizzy & Annie”, “Not Bleak” and “Portland, Oregon”(because talking cats).
(Red Deer Press)
I really enjoyed the commitment to snark in Heisey’s short essays, quizzes, lists, poems, and drawings. This book captures the obsessions and anxieties of twenty-something women of today (especially if you are straight, cis and white), and so much of it seriously resonated with me. I do think my body is sneaky! I do understand the depths of female friendship! I do want to talk about dips and dipping etiquette at length! I was constantly laughing out loud and reading sections to loved ones who were sitting too close.
In this series of essays, Gay articulates the different ways she negotiates feminism in her life and the US’s popular culture as a black person, a woman, and an academic. People harbor inconsistencies that make being the “perfect feminist” an unreasonable and unattainable goal. Instead, as Gay shows, one can become aware of, understand, and question those inconsistencies without losing one’s position as feminist. She embraces the messiness of practising feminism in the face of outer criticism or inner lapses. It’s not like it’s easy being feminist; as a society we are hypercritical of our feminist role models, and often feminism is practised in a myopic manner, leaving out voices of queer and trans women, and women of colour. Gay’s writing is funny, honest, thoughtful and vulnerable, and it was an important read for the perfectionist in me.
(Harper Collins Canada/Patrick Crean Editons)
I’ve already talked about this book in my Halloween reads post, but TDYK needed to be on the list. Not only is it an absolutely creepy read, but this book also expertly captures the personality of Toronto’s west end before its rapid gentrification.
(Coach House Books)
Admittedly, I felt slightly uncomfortable talking about or carrying around this novel because of its title, but it was well worth smuggling it into the low seats at the back of the bus. In this story of ethnic identity and authenticity, Run is confronted with whether he can own a place in Red Deer’s thriving chi-hop (Chinese hip-hop) scene as he searches for his missing older brother and star rapper, King Kwong. Simpson packs this narrative full of swagger, drama, and action, but my favourite sections were about the legacy of Run’s grandfather. Split into four cinematic vignettes, this side-story is reminiscent of kung-fu movies, remixing Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching with hip-hop vernacular to get excellent verses like, “A brave and passionate mof will kill or be killed./ A brave and calm mof will always preserve life./ Of these two who is the punkass and who the bawse?” This book is nothing like the novel you’d expect to come out of Alberta.
(Penguin Random House Canada)
This is one classic I somehow never got around to reading in high school or university, but when I read it this year, its presence on this list was inevitable. This novel on totalitarian control maintains its relevance in the face of our 21st-century issues with data privacy and regulation. Today, powerful media corporations like Google and Facebook mine personal data across multiple platforms in order to tailor ads to particular demographics, but it’s creepy to consider that apps are using geolocation to track our physical movements (and then telling us when friends are at an event nearby). It is not clear what their other uses for our data may be, and this lack of transparency is worrisome given how integral the digital world is to our everyday life. Governments, too, fail to regulate their agencies’ use of sensitive private information. For example, it has recently come to light that CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, has been improperly accessing confidential taxpayer information on multiple occasions. Especially fascinating and paranoia-inducing is Nineteen Eighty-Four’s appendix on Newspeak, which explains how a government can use language to effectively limit and control the breadth of its populace’s thought patterns.
If you’ve read any of the above books, I’d love to hear what you thought of them. 2015 was such a great year of reading for me that I’m determined to replicate it. This year again, I’m foregoing a reading goal and using Goodreads to track my activity. I want to continue reading diversely, as well as read more on topics connected to publishing. My small, apartment-sized bookshelf is also full to bursting, and I’d like to read (and hopefully clear out) at least 10 of the books that have been collecting dust there for years.
If you have any recommendations for any fantastic or fascinating books that you enjoyed and that I might not have heard of, leave me a comment below!