2015 Book Roundup // My favorite picks of the year

2015 was a good book year. My total count is at 40, which is pretty standard for me. Every year I try to read a book per week, but I’m a notoriously slow reader, and I also try to have somewhat of a social life! So here are my top 5 favorite books of 2015:

Creative_Wallpaper_Stack_of_books_on_the_bench_082401_

5. Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation

I loved this book. Helen of Troy as a myth is one of the most interesting cultural concepts to me. This book explored most of the ways Helen of Troy was written about in ancient Greece, and what she continues to mean for a modern audience.

4. Paper Towns

LOVED Paper Towns, because it was an exploration of what it means to know someone, what it mean to fall in love, and what it means to love an idea more than you love a person. And for the record, I adored Cara Delevingne as Margo in the movie.

3. Paris

One of my favorite genres is historical fiction, and Edward Rutherfurd’s novel about the city of Paris is historical fiction at its peak. It tells the story of half a dozen families in Paris from the middle ages to the 60s, and the main character is the city itself. I adored it.

2. The Penelopiad

By Margaret Atwood, this novella retells the story of The Odyssey from the viewpoint of Penelope. She’s hanging out in Hades in the fields of asphodel, and decides to tell her side of the story, especially the guilt she feels about the hanging of her twelve maids.

1. Trilby

Number one this year was George du Maurier’s Trilby, about a tone-deaf artist’s model who is hypnotized by the greasy, sinister Svengali. I loved the setting of 1870s Paris, the commentary about the corruption of the world, and the innocence that was Trilby and her love for Little Billee. She was an innocent soul ruined by the world.

What were your favorite books this year?

signoff

Two thumbs way up for George du Maurier's 'Trilby'

George du Maurier’s 19th century novel Trilby has been on my TBR list for years. I finally read it this past week and it totally stole my heart. You may know the premise: in 1850s Paris, a young artist’s model named Trilby meets a group of artists in the heart of bohemia. She falls in love with one, a sensitive young man nicknamed Little Billee, but because of the society they live in, cannot find happiness with one of his class. Instead, she falls under the hypnotic spell of the evil Svengali, who controls her. It sounds more serious than it is; it’s rather a mix of comedy and utter tragedy.

Trilby is one of those characters who you immediately fall in love with from the first description. Trilby is honest, kind, charismatic, childlike and wholly untouched by the corruption of the world around her. She is an artist’s model who sits “for the figure” a.k.a. a nude model. She also has the most beautiful feet in the world (which is weird) and the most beautiful voice even though she’s tone deaf, a characteristic that the sinister Svengali takes complete advantage of.

As the creature looked round at the assembled company and flashed her big white teeth at them in an all-embracing smile of uncommon width and quite irresistible sweetness, simplicity, and friendly trust, one saw at a glance that she was out of the common clever, simple, humorous, honest, brave, and kind, and accustomed to be genially welcomed wherever she went. Then suddenly closing the door behind her, dropping her smile, and looking wistful and sweet, with her head on one side and her arms akimbo, ‘Ye’re all English, now, aren’t ye?’ she exclaimed. ‘I heard the music, and thought I’d just come in for a bit, and pass the time of day: you don’t mind? , that’s my name—Trilby O’Ferrall.’

Trilby-firstYou may have heard about this book—that Svengali, an evil musician and accomplished hypnotist, controls the tone-deaf Trilby with his voice and his gaze, turning her into the world’s most famous and talented singer. Trilby travels with Svengali for five years and when she is finally free of her captor, remembers nothing of her illustrious singing career which threw the whole of Europe into a frenzy, and catapulted the unknowing Trilby into fame.

What really struck me about Trilby is how well developed her character is. She’s the most fully developed character in the novel, and her descriptions constantly make clear that the men (and women!) in the book don’t love Trilby just because she’s beautiful. In fact, she’s unconventionally attractive, as tall as a man, and she’s remarkably shameless about her body and about how she expresses her freedom.

She bore herself with easy, unembarrassed grace, like a person whose nerves and muscles are well in tune, whose spirits are high, who has lived much in the atmosphere of French studios, and feels at home in it.

This strange medley of garments was surmounted by a small bare head with short, thick, wavy brown hair, and a very healthy young face, which could scarcely be called quite beautiful at first sight, since the eyes were too wide apart, the mouth too large, the chin too massive, the complexion a mass of freckles…

Also, she had a very fine brow, broad and low, with thick level eyebrows much darker than her hair, a broad, bony, high bridge to her short nose, and her full, broad cheeks were beautifully modelled. She would have made a singularly handsome boy.

As an artist’s model, she’s anything but a respectable “lady,” but Trilby doesn’t realize she’s supposed to feel shame about being a nude model until the lesser, immoral people of the world make her feel shame. She’s pure and clean of the world’s biases and prejudices, but she’s also very impressionable, and is the ultimate example of what happens to pure creatures when they are corrupted by evil.

Written in the 1890s and set in the 50s-60s Paris, this book beautifully, comically captures bohemia. We meet funny, multidimensional characters with names like Taffy, Little Billee, Gecko, the Laird, and many others.

The ending totally wrecked my heart. But this book gave me one more amazing literary heroine to adore and mourn. I completely fell in love with Trilby, just like every other character in this lush, rich and vivid novel. You feel transported to Paris in the 1800s and feel like you know these characters, like they’re old friends.

signoff

May Reads & Recs

The month of May, my favorite of the year, requires some great books as an accompaniment to beautiful weather and long warm nights. Here’s what I’ll be reading this month.

45734014846513113390

1. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith — this book is on my Top 10 Favorite Books list, and it’s my sister’s favorite book. She pushed it on me when I was about 11 years old, and I didn’t read it in full until I was about 17. It’s a true classic, written by the author of 101 Dalmatians. It’s about a 17-year-old girl, Cassandra Mortmain, whose eccentric family lives in an old castle ruin in Suffolk, England. It’s a coming-of-age story about falling in love and finding yourself. Utterly poetic and breathtakingly beautiful. This book personifies spring for me. This is a re-read, for the third time, at last count.

2. Forever, Pete Hamill — this book was also on my December book list, but it fell through the cracks. I revisit it for the third time this month. It’s about an immortal man living in New York throughout the centuries. New York + history = magic!

3. Trilby, George du Maurier — the classic story of Svengali and Trilby, which spawned the popularity of the “trilby” hat (hey, fashion!) and coined the term “Svengali” as a controlling older man.

I tend to pick books based on the time of year and how I feel at the moment. I want to read about magic and love, and apparently, mind control…? 😉 How do you pick books to read?

signoff