I try to read a lot. While this blog is often reserved for all things running, I want to write today about a related but separate part of my life: books.
I discovered the joy of audiobooks in 2013 when, after graduating from college, I found myself suddenly alone for the two to three hours per day that I spent running (alas, I can’t even write about books without bringing up running!). At first, I welcomed this solitude; but after running hundreds of miles on the same short loop in Quito, I began to feel – well – bored.
First, I tried music. It was nice and often engaging, but I didn’t like the way that the tempo and mood of the current song seemed to influence how I felt on a run. Next, I switched to podcasts, starting with the tried-and-true “This American Life” and eventually searching out others like “How Stuff Works”, Neil Degrasse Tyson’s “Star Talk”, and Spanish-language podcasts like “Radio Ambulante.”
Finally, bored of the same short segments and narrators, I began my first audiobook. I started with David Sedaris – an author and narrator with whom I was already familiar from his pieces on “This American Life”. In fact, his audiobooks seemed like simply extended versions of the ten-minute bits that I loved hearing on TAL. After that, there was no looking back.
Now, I generally listen to audiobooks on most of my recovery runs, sometimes while cooking or cleaning my house, and often on the walk back from the grocery store. I find there are certain types of books (very dense books, for example) that I have to read in print (and I do still try to read print books, but the simple fact that I have much more time for audiobooks than for print in my week limits the consumption of print by a factor of about four compared to audio). This combination of print and audio leaves me with a wide and eclectic library.
Now, as 2015 draws to a close, I’d like to write a bit about a few of the authors and books that I particularly enjoyed reading (and hearing) this year. At the bottom of this page, I’ve included the entire list of books read (print and audio, in chronological order) this year. The books marked with an asterisk are those which stuck out in my mind as particularly moving and are those which I’ll discuss in more detail.
Without further adieu, here is my list of my favorite books (in no ranking, only in the order that I read them) of 2015.
Ty’s Favorite Reads of 2015
8 & 10 – “Freedom” and “The Corrections” – Jonathan Franzen
I discovered Jonathan Franzen this year and was blown away. Ignorant of his reputation and his books, I read “Freedom” first (as an audiobook). Both of these books were fairly long – a factor which has always intimidated me, as I will almost never stop a book without finishing – but I found relatively quickly that the characters Franzen created inhabited a world where I could truly lose myself. In both cases, I felt torn as I constantly wanted to continue reading, but also didn’t want the book to end. Franzen’s writing is as beautiful and captivating as his characters and he quickly vaulted into status of one of my favorite authors.
For those beginning with Franzen, I would start with “The Corrections”. It’s his most famous book and probably for good reason.
A note about the audiobook – It’s worth mentioning that “The Corrections” is narrated by George Guidall, one of my personal favorite audiobook narrators. Yes, when you listen to a lot of audiobooks, you do find narrators that you love and others that you can’t stand. Other great books narrated by Guidall include “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman and Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”.
(Note: I also read Franzen’s newest book “Purity” at the end of this year. I would also include this as a recommended read, but it felt ridiculous to list three Franzen books and the two above might be slightly better.)
14 – “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” – Michael Chabon
This is another book that had been on my “to-read” list for years but I had found myself intimidated by the length (639 pages); however, after tackling (and loving) Franzen’s “Freedom” and “Corrections”, I finally scrounged up the courage and was not disappointed. Similar to Franzen, Chabon really creates a world (1940s America) and a group of characters that is fully immersive. Though slower to start than Franzen, I found that once the World began to take shape, I again didn’t want to stop reading (and didn’t want the story to end). The writing and story both reflect the well-earned Pulitzer that Chabon won in 2001.
28 – “Your Fathers, Where are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?” – Dave Eggers
Dave Eggers has been one of my favorite authors ever since I read his first book (the memoir “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”, see below) as a teenager. Since then, I’ve made my way through his entire library, dutifully reading each new publication with an open mind (though some recent releases have been nearly universally panned by critics). This newest book, which I will refer to as simply “Your Fathers” – since the title is far too long – had me skeptical before I began. All I knew about it was that Eggers had written the entire novel in dialogue.
This is a book that I think may have been a more powerful experience as an audiobook than a print book. As written, the book is essentially a play (lacking any stage direction or visualization) and so the audiobook has been produced as a radio-drama. The result is compelling and unique, though not as gripping a story as “AHWOSG” nor as politically charged as “Zeitoun” or “What is the What”, “Your Fathers” is worth reading, especially in the audio-format if you’re a fan of Eggers.
29 – “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” – Dave Eggers
AHWOSG is probably my favorite book and I make an effort to read it every year or two. This reading took close to six months, as I was reading it aloud to Mariana (who had never read it) and we made slow progress. This was also the first time that I’ve re-read the book where I’ve been almost the same age as Eggers (the protagonist) and his friends; I was able to think of these characters as my peers, which made the reading perhaps more engaging than before.
Why is this my favorite book? In part, it’s a powerful story; though, at the end of the day, it’s mostly a coming-of-age story with a few unique flourishes. Mostly, the writing and storytelling stand out and grip me. Eggers’ style is often free-flowing and defies our typical understanding of narrator and character roles (e.g. when characters step “out of character” and begin to discuss in the text how they are being used to serve the greater purpose of the narrative). It’s not for everyone. I know many complain that the style seems forced or obnoxious, but I find it extremely compelling.
If you’ve never read it, I would highly recommend it – and I won’t be offended if you hate it.
42 – “A Visit from the Goon Squad” – Jennifer Egan
“A Visit from the Goon Squad” is a book about which I knew almost nothing when I began reading it. I knew that the book had won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and I knew that it had the phrase “Goon Squad” in the title – a moniker often used on my college cross country team. I was therefore surprised to find in it one of my favorite books of the year.
“Goon Squad” is an intricately woven collection of stories ranging over several generations and told by a variety of narrators (in first, second, and third person). The result is an interconnected web that is cohesive enough to follow and hold your attention, but complex enough that I couldn’t help but marvel at all of the threads linking the stories together.
It’s also worth noting that the audiobook is fantastic and features a different narrator for each “voice” (a total of maybe 5 or 6), which creates an amazing listening experience.
43 – “The Secret History” – Donna Tartt
I started “The Secret History” the same way that I started Donna Tartt’s most recent epic, “The Goldfinch”. I knew nothing more than the title and that the book came with a strong recommendation from my mother. As with “The Goldfinch”, this turned out well and I found yet another immersive, sprawling novel in which I could lose myself for 25 hours or so of listening/reading pleasure.
Tartt has an amazing ability to create characters who undertake actions that seem absolutely absurd when viewed in isolation, but somehow when we arrive at them in her novels, seem believable. In this case, the book kept me guessing at what was going on (something supernatural?) because what’s actually revealed is more absurd than the black-magic I had anticipated.
A note on the audiobook – The Secret History is read by author, Donna Tartt and she does an amazing job. I always prefer audiobooks that are read by the author, as they really know their material, know how the characters are supposed to sound, know how different sentences are meant to be uttered, etc.
49 – “Into Thin Air” – Jon Krakauer
Inspired by the independent film, “Meru” (which you should all see if you haven’t), I re-read “Into Thin Air” for the first time since an initial reading at the beginning of college. Jon Krakauer is perhaps my favorite non-fiction writer and the combination of his beautiful, captivating prose and the unbelievable (in the most literal sense) story of the 1996 Mt. Everest climbing disaster make a perfect pair.
The book tells the story of Krakauer’s ascent of Everest and the role he played in a disastrous day in which eight people perished. More than a simple recounting, Krakauer delves into both the history of mountaineering on Everest, the human nature involved in this highest peak on Earth, and gives us a rare glimpse into the mind of the climber in this most unearthly place.
A note about the audiobook – Into Thin Air is narrated by the author. In addition to what I mentioned above w.r.t. Donna Tartt’s narration, I simply enjoy Krakauer’s voice, which made this audiobook a pleasure to listen to.
Ty’s Complete 2015 Reading List
(Print and Audiobook)
- The Lost City of Z – David Graham
- Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk – David Sedaris
- 100 Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- Wild – Cheryl Strayed
- Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
- Yes Please – Amy Poehler
- World War Z – Max Brooks
- *Freedom – Jonathan Franzen
- The Bedwetter – Sarah Silverman
- *The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
- The Wild Truth – Carine McCandless
- Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer
- Strong Motion – Jonathan Franzen
- *The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon
- The Gunslinger – Stephen King
- Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
- Catching the Wolf of Wall Street – Jordan Belfort
- Welcome to the Monkey House – Kurt Vonnuegt
- Timequake – Kurt Vonnegut
- 1000 Splendid Suns – Khaled Housseini
- The Wolf of Wall Street – Jordan Belfort
- Revolution – Russell Brand
- Marching Powder – Thomas McFadden
- Nudge – Richard Thayler
- Missoula – Jon Krakauer
- *Your Fathers, Where are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? – Dave Eggers
- *A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers
- The Old Man and the Sea – Hemingway
- Inferno – Dan Brown
- 2666 – Roberto Bolaño
- Angels and Demons – Dan Brown
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
- Collapse – Jared Diamond
- Predictably Irrational – Dan Ariely
- The Lost Symbol – Dan Brown
- Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand
- The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
- Drown – Junot Diaz
- Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen
- Digital Fortress – Dan Brown
- *A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
- *The Secret History – Donna Tartt
- When You Are Engulfed in Flames – David Sedaris
- Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
- Family Life – Akhil Sharma
- *Into Thin Air – Jon Krakauer
- Rabbit Run – John Updike
- Purity – Jonathan Franzen
- A Hologram for the King – Dave Eggers
- The Girl who Played with Fire – Stieg Larsson
- The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest – Stieg Larsson
- Speak – Louisa Hall
- The Little Friend – Donna Tartt
*described in detail above