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:

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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?

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John Green's 'Looking for Alaska'

I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the third novel I’ve read by John Green, Looking for Alaska. I read it a few weeks ago, so I’ve had time to let the thoughts process and now I feel like I can properly review it. So—here we go. John Green’s first novel—and my third, after The Fault In Our Stars and Paper Towns—is somewhat weak and fails to be edgy or poignant in the way his other two novels (that I read) succeed spectacularly. I was underwhelmed by this one and frankly, sometimes annoyed while reading. Here’s why.

99561For starters, this book begins with an unpopular but circumspect teenage boy named Miles Halter, who leaves his public high school for boarding school in Alabama. He hopes that a change of scenery will cause him to have great adventures, something he calls “The Great Perhaps,” quoted from Francois Rabelais’s supposed last words. That’s another thing—Miles is obsessed with memorizing famous people’s last words, and he knows hundreds. When he arrives at Culver Creek boarding school, he gets mixed up with some less-than-popular but lovable students, among them his roommate “The Colonel” and the fiercely independent, smart, beautiful and self-destructive Alaska Young, whom Miles falls head-over-heels in love with.

Alaska is a foul-mouthed, philosophical, brilliant and severely depressed young woman with self-destructive tendencies, but she’s fascinating to Miles. I think that I liked this book so much less than I thought I would because I had no patience for Alaska’s antics, and little reason, besides the superficial attraction Miles feels, to understand why Miles falls in love with her. Still, there are a few beautiful turns of phrase that Green is famous for:

“So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”

Honestly, Alaska annoyed me. She also reminded me of a much more interesting and complex character, Green’s own Margo from Paper Towns. They both have the same “hurricane” qualities and the same magnetic personality, but Margo was much, much less selfish than Alaska. Miles also reminded me of a less polished version of Quentin of the same novel, so I was left feeling like I had read an unfinished sketch of Paper Towns.

There’s also a thread running throughout Green’s novels, including An Abundance of Katherines (but missing from The Fault In Our Stars, to great effect), of a young, insecure teenage boy who becomes obsessed with a girl he doesn’t understand and therefore romanticizes in his mind. I’m becoming impatient with this storyline.

What also added to this feeling was that this is a semi-autobiographical account of something that happened to John Green, so there’s this feeling of apology, something Green had to either explain or get off his chest, and the novel felt like a true story being sloppily repackaged into something more easily digestible. This may also be the reason why the characters don’t feel true to life; ironically, I often feel like characters based on real people don’t come alive as much, bogged down as they are by the author’s own experience of them in real life.

The story’s events are a little uneven, but there are a few beautiful moments of philosophical introspection that rang very true to me. John Green is obviously a very talented writer and this just seems like a typical imperfect first novel, and if I hadn’t started backward with his oeuvre, I’m sure this one would stand out so much more in my mind.

“Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia…You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.” 

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John Green's 'Paper Towns' Blew Me Away

I knew I loved The Fault In Our Stars but I don’t know, maybe I wasn’t expecting a repeat performance of anything so grand and eloquent. John Green, Maestro, I underestimated you.

Paper Towns is a work of poetic genius. Looking back at the story—which took me only a day to blow through, so enthralled was I—it has taken on the aura of a fairy tale or a story of magic, something unique, poignant, and triumphant. Green really knows how to write a book that feels like nothing else you’ve ever read before, with characters who are familiar and yet constantly surprise you.

The book’s plot is this: Quentin, “Q” for short, has been in love with his popular next-door neighbor Margo for most of his life. She’s adventure personified. Fearless, beautiful, unattainable, Margo Roth Speigelman is easy to love. Everyone loves her, everyone is in awe of her, but no one really knows her, a fact that becomes evident when she disappears.

Margo spends one night with Q executing a brilliant plan for revenge against the classmates that betrayed her, and Quentin once again falls in love with her adventurous, free spirit, but she doesn’t show up to school the next day. Margo has a history of running away from home and leaving clues hinting at her location, so Quentin is on a mission to find the puzzle pieces she left him which will lead to her, the girl of his dreams.

Literally.

The closer Quentin and his friends come to finding Margo, the less they realize they ever knew her. She’s an enigma. She hid so much of her personal struggle and her inner personality that Q is desperate to learn about the “real” Margo, the one that was hidden for so long.

At the core of this story is the idea that people fall in love with ideas more than with people. We reflect our own desires and fantasies onto someone else, without really seeing them for who they are. Quentin was in love with Margo for his whole life and held this conception of her that unraveled completely with the slightest inspection. This paragraph of the book encapsulates the idea much better than I could ever paraphrase:

“Maybe its like you said before, all of us being cracked open. Like each of us starts out as a watertight vessel. And then things happen—these people leave us, or don’t love us, or don’t get us, or we don’t get them, and we lose and fail and hurt one another. And the vessel starts to crack in places. And I mean, yeah once the vessel cracks open, the end becomes inevitable. Once it starts to rain inside the Osprey, it will never be remodeled. But there is all this time between when the cracks start to open up and when we finally fall apart. And its only that time that we see one another, because we see out of ourselves through our cracks and into others through theirs. When did we see each other face to face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that we were just looking at ideas of each other, like looking at your window shade, but never seeing inside. But once the vessel cracks, the light can get in. The light can get out.” 

Quentin spends the entire story thinking he’s getting closer to finding the “real” Margo. This is as much a coming-of-age story as it is a mystery and a poem, because Quentin also comes to deal with his own insecurities: his anxiety, fear, and timidity among them. This story stresses the importance not only of getting to know others, but also of getting to know—and love—yourself.

Five Enthusiastic Stars.

Haul

Because it wouldn’t be Christmas without some new books to while away the winter with. Here’s what my loving family and friends showered me with this Christmas:Photo Dec 28, 2 39 05 PM

This Philosophy “Falling In Love” perfume is my favorite scent: not too sweet, light and airy, and a little romantic. I heard whispers that they’re being discontinued, so I think I’m going to stock up on this fragrance before the new year.

Photo Dec 28, 2 39 43 PMPhoto Dec 28, 2 40 48 PMThe Too-Faced Natural Eyes palette is my new obsession, with nine shades that are perfect for every day and every night. I’m kind of obsessed with the texture and richness of these shades and find them superior to my Mac shadows. I’m going to review it in full soon, but for now it’s fun to play with new eyeshadow looks. I wore the “Silk Teddy” and the “Chocolate Martini” on Christmas Day.

Photo Dec 28, 2 45 15 PMMy cousins bought me these romantic pieces that are perfect for date nights and girls’ nights, in my favorite color, burgundy, and some beautiful romantic patterns.

Photo Dec 28, 2 51 04 PMFrom Kohl’s, a fitted plaid coat from my mother! I’m in love with a good cozy coat that also happens to be stylish. Thanks, Mom. 🙂

Photo Dec 28, 2 43 05 PMA bright new leather bag to store books, notebooks, chargers, and all the random accoutrements of working and writing from home, from London Fog. It’s sturdy and beautiful, and it’s got a compartment on the side for my new iPhone, a gold 5S to replace my old 4S that lasted me over three years! I think it’s time for an upgrade.

Photo Dec 28, 2 43 49 PMA travel-size DevaCurl collection! I used to use these products until I decided I couldn’t afford the $18 price for each of them, but I’m excited to see if the products are as good as I remember!

And, of course, the books:

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I’m so excited to add these to my 2015 reading list. January means lying on my couch with chocolate and books, for days at a time. Can’t wait.