Sunday, December 27, 2015

Best Books of 2015: My picks

2015 was a pretty good year for books.  My total number came in at 33, which isn't terrible but I thought I had read more.  I guess that's the surgeon in me- always inflating my numbers!  I've included the full list below, which is roughly in sequential order of my reading.  I searched my Kindle list since I download most of my books from the e-library.  I prefer actual books but the portability, ubiquity and weight of my iPhone/Kindle app make the e-versions my everyday go-to.

Picking favorites is always hard for me. I'm much more of a fiction-reader, but I tried to expand my horizons a bit this year.  For 2016, there is a lot heavier emphasis on non-fiction thanks to a few recommendation lists I came across during some of my end-of-the-year research/reflection (post coming soon!).

This year, I have four fiction recommendations:

1. The Narrow Road to the Deep North Richard Flanagan
     This excellent book follows a former Australian POW captured by the Japanese and sent work on the Great Burma Railroad.  It switches among several different times as it looks backwards on Dr. Dorrigo Evans life.  The unexpected inter-relationships among the characters and the plot structure to a horrible climactic event in the work camp are masterfully executed, even if parts of the story itself are horror-inducing.
2. The Bone Clocks David Mitchell
  I love David Mitchell.  I have read almost all of his books and even though I'm not a super-fan enough to recognize all the cameos different characters play in his novels, his attention to detail and clear vision of his body of work as a magnum opus is very impressive.  I really liked the story even though it was a little more fantasy genre-like than I usually read.  
3. The Invisible Bridge Julie Orringer
  There was a lot of WWII reading this year.  I also tried reading The Nightingale after The Invisible Bridge but I thought the books were too similar, head injury to the main character and all.  The Invisible Bridge follows three Hungarian Jewish brothers in the years leading up to and including WWII.  It was a stark reminder, in fictional form, that history is made up of the seemingly mundane everyday events that can only be seen as a cohesive, comprehensible narrative in retrospect.   
4. Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel
  This was a much-buzzed about book early in the year and an enjoyable, well-written read.  Nothing too profound but at the same time, not trashy chick-lit literature either.

I have three non-fiction recommendations:

1. In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette Hampton Sides
  This book was amazing.  It's a great story and the story-telling is superb.  What kept crossing my mind as I read it was, "How is this book even possible?" meaning, how did the first-person documentation in the form of crew logs survive when almost certainly, not everyone would live after this misadventure?  To find out how, read the book!  I won't spoil it for you and this is a definite must-read!
2. On Immunity Eula Biss
  Some interesting insights into the thought processes of choosing to vaccinate children.  To me, it's a no-brainer but there are interesting examinations of the domestication and false benign-ness of all things "natural" vs. the complexity of the modern world and science.  In addition, there is an interesting reflection on how the world of complementary medicine has very reassuring, straight-forward language (cleanse, natural, detoxify) while the language of modern medicine is more nuanced and less reassuring (complications, side effects).
3. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness Susannah Cahalan
  Thank you sister for my Christmas gift.  This is an easy read and very interesting from both a medical mystery perspective (paging Dr. House) and the fact that our brains are so complex and, at times, terrifyingly fragile to seemingly little insults.

The books can be roughly grouped.  First, to counter-act the high-mindedness of the recs above, I definitely read some beach worthy, chick lit reads.  This is the year I discovered Liane Moriarty and I'm not ashamed!  The best is Big Little Lies.  There are some heavy themes addressed but overall, it's a really nice read that passes along quickly.  I also read Kevin Kwan's two books, which were a fascinating, fictional insider's view to the world of Eastern Asia's super-super-rich.  Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series was a fun fiction-within-fiction read and also worth reading, especially if you have a background in reading a lot of classics (hello high school reading lists!).

I also read a few comedians' books, which I really liked despite not having any in my top recommendations.  BJ Novak's short stories were great and very heavy on the irony.  Is it irony if it's completely in your face?  I thought there should be an element of subtlety but sometimes, it hits across the face like a baseball bat.

I also read a few memoirs this year, which were all very well done.  I liked Dr. Marsh's reflections on medical complications but I wish there was more reflection on how to transition from committing the complication to living with it.  In fairness, he did liken it to an open wound healing to a permanent scar but how does one actually live through and process that transition?  It's something I'm grappling with in my own medical career and any guidance is always appreciated.

Ok, I'm going to wind down with the complete list because this post is getting ridiculously long.  In short, there are no real turkeys on the list below.  [ETA:  The previous statement is a lie!  I would not recommend Pretty Girls!]  I hope 2016 brings you some fun, worthwhile reading in the days ahead!

The complete list
Yes Please Amy Poehler
All the Light We Cannot See Anthony Doerr
The Bone Clocks David Mitchell
Pride and Prejudice Jane Austin
Big Little Lies Liane Moriarty
The Husband's Secret Liane Moriarty
Three Wishes Leane Moriarty
Redeployment Phil Klay
One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories BJ Novak
In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette Hampton Sides
Crazy Rich Asians Kevin Kwan
The Narrow Road to the Deep North Richard Flanagan
The Shadow of the Wind (The Cemetery of Forgotten Book 1) Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel
The Martian Andy Weir
The Invisible Bridge Julie Orringer
China Rich Girlfriend Kevin Kwan
The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel Jasper Fforde
Thursday Next: First Among Sequels Jasper Fforde
The Heart and the Fist: The education of a humanitarian Eric Greitens
Something Rotten Jasper Fforde
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Rebecca Skloot
Food: A Love Story Jim Gaffigan
The Knockoff Lucy Sykes
The Glass Castle: A Memoir Jeannette Walls
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania Eric Larson
Pretty Girls Karin Slaughter
Shotgun Lovesongs Nickolas Butler
Do No Harm Henry Marsh
Art of Fielding Chad Harbach
On Immunity Eula Biss
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness Susannah Cahalan
The Rosie Effect Graeme Simsion

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