Friday, January 8, 2016

Books of 2015

           This blog post is a long list of the books I have read this past year. My goal is to spread awareness and recommendations. I apologize in advance for the length of this post.

            In May of 2015, after quitting my job at Glenwood and finding my schedule more open, I started reading some novels on Sally’s old Kindle, and was later my cousin Matt gave me a used Kindle PaperWhite. I quickly found myself falling in love all over again with the literary world that I have been unable to immerse myself in for many years. Sally started me off with a recommendation to read Woman in White. With the power of a capable e-reader there is literally no limit to one’s book thirst, and it wasn’t until I had filled the kindle with enough books to read for 10 years that I felt myself prepared for Peace Corps Mongolia.

            In the summer, I was busy with training and only able to read in my spare time, but upon arrival at site I found that I could pursue this hobby with a passion. My system is to read three books at once, alternating between each one as I finish chapters. The first book is usually a modern “easy” read that is ideally enjoyable and light. The second book can be any work of classical literature written prior to 1900. The third book comes from Modern Library’s top 100 books in English of the 20th century.  ( I have started at the top of this list with Brave New World and have continued working my way down, skipping books I have read or do not desire to read at this time, like Ulysses.

            Without further ado, here is the list of books I have read since May with a short description or recommendation of each.  

1.      Woman in White by Wilkie Collins—If you have not read any Victorian literature, this is a very interesting one to start with. This book contains an in-depth mystery that while slow in the middle is exciting to the very end. 

2.      Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux—Hilarious. I find myself enjoying 19th century French literature. There is a great deal more action, comedy, and romance than the British counterparts.

3.      A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by  Mark Twain—Does Twain ever write a serious sentence? In this novel a self-made man from the American Industrial age finds himself transplanted in medieval England. The comedy is rewarding and exiting with many adventures. Like a good American, Twain spends some time pounding in the point that the romantic image of King Arthur is a monarchy that thrives on the backs of the common man.

4.      The Shining by Stephan King—The Movie is better than the book. Still there are scenes in this book that I had to set aside for daylight in the darkness of my ger this summer.

5.      Assorted H.P. Lovecraft Stories—Stephan King says that one of his inspirations is Lovecraft. With a deep understanding of language Lovecraft is able to paint stories of horror in a classical sense where the fear is for what is not seen but what is imagined. I would advise reading “The Call of Cthulhu.” It can be argued that Lovecraft is the creator of modern horror.

6.      Riddle of Stars: The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia McKillip—This series speaks to me. I have read it three times. Each time I read it I am transported into a world of legends and runes. The author has a unique style that makes her novels read like legends. This being one of her first works I cannot advocate for incredible writing, but still I find myself reading it multiple times. For some reason I find it simply beautiful.

7.      Riddle of Stars: Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia McKillip

8.      Riddle of Stars: Harpist in the Wind by Patricia McKillip—This the final chapter of  Riddle of Stars it is a beautiful tale full of magic, music, and legends.

9.      Bag of Bones by Stephan King—In the past few years, I have read or listened to an enormous amount of Stephan King. I find that he has some trouble finishing novels in a satisfactory way. He says that he never has a plan for his books; he just gets an idea and goes with it. Let me recommend a few of his better books—The Stand—Duma Key—Joyland—Hearts in Atlantis—Doctor Sleep—The Long Walk—Notice this book is not on the list.

10.  Stardust by Neil Gaiman—Gaiman is a wonderful discovery that I have made this summer through data sharing with PCVs. If you liked the movie you will enjoy the book. His pose is light, enjoyable, and magical.  

11.  Smoke, Mirrors, and Glass by Neil Gaiman—Some of these stories were emotional, some were profound, a few were downright graphic, but on a whole this set was a really fun read.

12.  John Carter of Mars: Princess of Mars by Edgar Burroughs—There is a lot of entertainment to be gained reading popular novels from a hundred years ago. Oftentimes the writing is better than our current popular fiction, although the viewpoints can be outdated. Burroughs, creator of Tarzan, writes this series where an adventurous Civil War hero finds himself on Mars fighting Martians and saving princesses. Is this series sexist? Yes. Full of testosterone? Yes. Nonstop adventure and action? Yes. Overall an enjoyable if slightly predictable read. 

13.  Warlords of Mars—Book two of John Carter of Mars series. 

14.  Gods of Mars—Book three

15.  South of No North by Charles Bukowski—This book of short stories was too vulgar and graphically sexual. This author is known for his poetry some of which I have read. One thing Bukowski portrays particularly well is the narrative of criminals and desperate men.

16.  Hangasman by Shirley Jackson—Jackson is another author King claims inspiration from. She does it better. Hangasman is an incredibly in-depth look into the mind and life of a 1950’s female college student.  Her writing style borders stream of consciousness in a couple of places making this book a semi-challenging read, but still wonderful.

17.  “I’m a Dog You’re a Cat”—short hardly counts, Funny Relationship book. Sally is naturally a Cat, and I am a Dog.

18.  Assorted Ambrose Bierce Stories—Most of his work takes place around the time of the Civil War which is an interesting time in our history. To understand how well Bierce writes read the short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.”

19.  Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut—One of the better novels I have read this year. Vonnegut uses a narrative that is not temporally based to describe the life of a WWII solider. The temporal displacement is described to be a result of alien abduction that this character experiences or believes he experiences. Vonnegut displays the horrors of war through the eyes of soldiers who are barely adults with a focus point on the bombing of Dresden. Some scenes are emotional and graphic, but the book is a one of a kind classic.

20.  Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad—I recognize that this is viewed as a modern classic and a socially important novel, however in the words of Family Guy’s Peter Griffin, “It insist upon itself.” That being said, the novel is wonderfully detailed and brings for some of the darker aspects of exploration and colonization.

21.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn—Blah…I mean Blah. I hope the movie is better. (Update: The movie is better.)   

22.  Assorted Short Mark Twain Stories—Twains short stories are hilariously satirical and enjoyable. I think a lot of people think of only Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer when they think of Twain, but he is one of the most capable writers in American history. His ability to write dialect is almost unmatched, but he can do so much more than this.

23.  Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman—more short stories by Gaiman, very entertaining.

24.  The Road by Cormac McCarthy—this is the first novel of McCarthy that I have read. It tells the tale of a father and son in a difficult post-apocalyptic world. It is a hard read, because of the emotional and physical struggles that these two heroes must face. Still, it remains with me as one of the most memorable things I have read this year.

25.  The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas—I recently reread this novel, because I discovered that this is the first in a series of five novels involving these iconic characters. This book provides a deeply passionate story full of comedy, love, betrayal, assassination, murder, and unalienable friendship. I deeply enjoy Dumas, and if you are to read only one of his books it is a toss between this one and The Count of Monte Cristo.

26.  Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman—All of the wonderful characters of the Netflix show with none of the drama or sex. Still a neat read as it tells the true story of an upper class white woman who finds herself in prison for a year.
27.  A Study in Scarlet a Sherlock Holmes novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—This is the first Sherlock Holmes novel. It is pleasantly surprising to me how on point the BBC miniseries Sherlock has been with this classic character. Seriously a Netflix must! This book is an entertaining mystery, however there is a weird interlude in the middle set in Utah where Doyle seems to voice is disapproval of Mormonism and polygamy.

28.   Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carol—Classic, Very short, Like a child’s dream. I found myself wondering if it would be a nightmare or a pleasant dream for me if I was the child.

29.  The Sound and the Fury by William Falkner—I am a huge fan of Falkner and his ability to create characters that are profound and unique. This novel tells the story of a family over a four day period from the eyes of four different narratives.  The first narrative is in a temporally displaced stream of consciousness style from the perspective of a nonverbal adult with developmental disorders. I was touched by this narrative and the detail that Falkner puts into helping us understand this character. From there the narratives become easier to read, although the second narrative involves a decent into madness that destroys conventional grammar. The book is a beautiful work of art in a style that only Falkner can do. It may be the best book I have read this year, however it is not an easy read.

30.  The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Lewis  Stevenson—Surprisingly anti-climactic. It is better to read Dracula or Frankenstein if you chose to dabble in classic horror. Treasure Island is a better novel by Stevenson.

31.  Brave New World by Aldous Huxley—Huxley fears a world were mankind has everything they could possibly want with no desire to think. This Utopian novel is an interesting read into what could happen to society if we could gratify all of our wants and never have to experience negative emotions. It is also interesting to see the difference between Huxley utopia and that of Orwell in 1984. Brave New World is a good read, and in some places morbidly comic.

32.  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams—Very funny sci-fi novel. Full of British humor.

33.  This Side of Paradise by Scott Fitzgerald—This is the first novel that Scott Fitzgerald wrote. The writing and story is beautiful in a way that only Fitzgerald can weave. The style changes throughout the novel with poetry sprinkled in all corners. The story is a coming of age plot regarding an upper class youth as he travels through school, college, war, financial depression, and lost love. It is one of those novels that leave you with a sense of awe that takes days to depart.

34.  The Sign of the Four a Sherlock Holmes novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—This is the second book Doyle writes regarding his beloved character. Full of adventure and mystery that Holmes aptly dissolves, the book is a pleasant read, albeit a little slow in places.

35.   The Time Machine by H.G. Wells—800,000 years from now humans have split into two species: the lofty lazy aristocrats and the underground working class. Wells blames communism. This book is a climatic adventure told in the style of retrospection that is popular in 1898 when it was published.  A short, classic, must read novel.

36.  Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler—This book is an allegorical fiction set during the 1938 purges where Stalin removes political threats. The book deals with the trail and sentence of a man who helped build an empire only to have it turn upon him. Set almost entirely in a prison, one would expect it to become boring and unduly philosophical, however for me it was exactly the opposite. This is an enjoyable read that leaves you pondering the consequences of actions. Perhaps another reason that the book appealed to me was because I am currently surrounded by the architecture of soviet power.

37.  Catch-22 by Joseph Heller—This was a really good read. It is a satire on WWII and contains some of the funniest dialogue I have ever read. I originally thought that this book may have been inspiration for MASH, but throughout all of its humor the book also brings the reader into the painstaking reality of war. The idea of a catch-22, with its circular inescapable logic, creates a writing style that revisits events from different perspectives. Each time a story is revisited the reader is able to see another aspect of the story that is sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic. This book is in my top five reads of this year. Well worth the experience.

38.  Tregaron’s Daughter by Madeleine Brent—This book is one of Sally’s favorites. She brought it with us to Mongolia. It was a nice change to read a paper book, rather than the kindle. The story is set a hundred years ago in Post-Victorian England. It is a mystery, romance, thriller with a strong admirable heroine.

39.  The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers—I read this collection of short stories for Halloween.  Published in 1895, the first half of this book contains horror stories that may have been inspiration for Lovecraft. The second half is a collection of romance/Prussian war stories that take place in Paris. The King in Yellow refers to a mythical manuscript that once read drives the reader insane. Reading Chambers was like reading an American Guy de Maupassant. 

40.  The Man Who Would be King by Rudyard Kipling—This short novella was published in 1888 and tells the adventure of two British men who set out for the backwoods of Afghanistan from colonial India to rule a primitive tribe as gods. Naturally, they fall from grace. It is a short read, but still enjoyable as classic 19th century literature.

41.  Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk—If you have seen the movie then you have a pretty good idea what the book is like. Palahniuk’s style is modern and choppy. The book was entertaining, but I am not sure it was better than the movie.

42.  Thuvia, Maid of Mars book four of the John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Burroughs—The testosterone, sexists, slightly racist adventure continues in the way that only a book nearly a hundred years old can convey.

43.  Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence—Published in 1913, this book is a story of life. In it we see the love between a husband and wife, a mother and son, and a son’s love of life. There are deep topics and character dynamics such as death, a mother’s jealousy for her son’s lovers, and the search for one’s soulmate. In 1913, the book was thought to be scandalous, but now days it is a far more poetic interpretation of sex than we are used to.

44.  Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck—Published in 1962 by one of my favorite authors, this book details the adventures he shares with his dog as he takes a road trip across America to become better in touch with his country. The world of Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden had changed into something that Steinbeck attempts to capture in this delightfully witty, philosophical, wonderfully written book. If you are a fan Steinbeck this is a must read. Also the dog is hilarious is places.

45.  Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry—The Modern Library books keep getting better! This book is a work of art. It tells of the tale of a Day of the Dead celebration with a British Consul in a small town in Mexico. The description is beautiful and detailed whisking me away from the cold Mongolian winter to the tropics. The book captures the mind of an alcoholic in a way I have never read before, and is full of symbolism that leaves one pondering it long after one has set it down. Amazing! Possibly the best read of the year. 

46.  World War Z by Max Brook—this was an entertaining read written from the perspective of retrospective interviews. What happens when the world is taken over by the armies of undead? Which countries survive? Which countries use nuclear bombs? All is answered and much more.

47.  The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Addams—This is the squeal to Hitchhiker’s Guide. The saga continues with British humor throughout. Great series, easy read.

48.  The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler—Published posthumously in 1903, this novel follows the lives of several generations of a family Butler knew intimately. It is critically acclaimed for attacking Victorian ideology. For me the book was excessively long and not very interesting. With over 80 chapters, one can follow the life of a “hero” who falls from grace and then comes into wealth with naivete that is almost unbearable. It is slow, unduly philosophical, and while well written, I found myself asking why was it written?

49.   Twenty Years After by Alexander Dumas—This was an incredible sequel to The Three Musketeers, and in many ways superior to the first book. Amazing! I feel that I have read three wonderful books in one great volume. Dumas is a master of plot and adventure. The book is filled with countless epic scenes where our favorite heroes of the first novel succeed against all odds. Great read! My only complaint is that it is very long (90 chapters).

50.  Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman—This was a fun fantasy read dealing with a dark land under London for all those unfortunates and magical beings who fall through the cracks of society. I think Stardust is a better novel, and would suggest you start with that.

Allow me to conclude this post with a list of the top ten books I have read this year. These are novels that have almost haunted me with reminisce of their beauty, stories, and writing. If I have shared the joys of reading with just one person through this post, then it has been worthwhile.

1.      Under the Volcano 
2.      Catch-22
3.      Darkness at Noon
4.      The Sound and the Fury
5.      This Side of Paradise
6.      20 Years After
7.      Riddle of Stars
8.      Women in White
9.      Smoke, Mirrors, and Glass
10.  The Road



  1. Very interesting and informative post Caleb. Will print this one out for future reference when I am searching for a good book.

  2. I want to read all but i can't in English . I can find some of them in my language and read.

  3. I want to read all but i can't in English . I can find some of them in my language and read.