I’m a little bit behind pace to finish 100 books this year, but with 80 completed so far, I’d like to share my favorites. My Audible app and Kindle certainly have had quite a workout this year. A long cruise at the beginning of the year, several weekends on the hammock, and more traffic also haven’t hurt.
Here’s my full 2015 list on Goodreads
These four books were pretty much the same book with slight variations. Each had very similar themes and plot. Each seemed like a rewrite of Lovely Bones or Gone Girl to me, with a little John Franzen thrown in. Each took a spotlight to “normal” suburban living and the dark underbelly through murder, suicide, or general unhappiness. Each is a decent beach, or in my case cruise ship read, but probably not worth your monthly Audible credit. There are only so many unhappy housewife tales one can get through.
Science Fiction / Speculative Fiction
None of these book are heavy Science Fiction, mostly set in a near future or alternate history. There are some aliens and time travel, but these tend to be more supporting characters or methods of plot progression rather than central to plots.
Grasshopper Jungle takes place in a small town in the midwest where a military experiment accidentally unleashes a swarm of human sized insects who attempt to take over the planet. The only thing standing in their way is a teenager, his best friend, love interest, and his hormones. Things get weird but never too heavy in this excellent book.
MaddAdam trilogy Margaret Atwood completed the MaddAdam trilogy in 2015, and I started and finished reading it. I liked the first book the most, but the second two tied together several story lines fairly well. Her writing style is impressive as is her ability to world build through the eyes of an individual. The Handmaid’s tale is a master class in both aspects, but this trilogy gives her more room to explore characters and the world, and the bounds she draws are riveting. In this story, another set in a near post-apocalyptic future, the world has changed and humanity is at risk. There are no shortage of stories (even on this list) with similar beginnings, but this one takes the Crake (pun intended).
The Bone Clocks For anyone who read or saw the movie of Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, this book will feel familiar. Not the plot or characters, which are very unique, but the feeling of confusion and enjoyment of making your way through the story. I still don’t really understand the plot of either book, but that’s not really the point. I enjoyed the story even while being confused. There are characters that you begin to enjoy, only to see disappear and re-emerge later as villains, as well as those who you cheer for, only to see fail. The journey is more important than the destination in this bizarre story about a secret society and individuals with unique powers.
The Book of Strange New Things Though I felt this book ran a bit out of steam toward the end, it was a really unique twist on science fiction. A pastor is sent to a planet where humanity is mining and conducting experiments, where a quiet and peaceful alien civilization lives. His job is to build a bridge to this reclusive civilization. While this part is interesting, especially it’s exploration of religious themes from a unique alien viewpoint, the struggle the main character has keeping in touch with his wife on an ever declining Earth is even more so.
Red Rising More Science Fiction than the rest, this is a cross between Total Recall and Hunger Games. In the future, humanity has developed a caste system that is hard coded into genetics. The lowly Reds are the miners on Mars and ruled over by the Golds, a super race of human overlords. After seeing his wife killed, a Red is recruited for the rebellion against the system. Much of the story takes place during a staged game the Golds use to decide their officers but things get very dark. The story was so compelling I stayed up through the night several nights in a row to finish it. I haven’t started the rest of the trilogy yet because I’m afraid I’ll get too into it again.
The Time Traveler’s Wife A classic, but one I realized I had never read. A man with a genetic disorder that causes him to jump around in time is brought back to meet his future wife all throughout her childhood. Along the way, they struggle with the consequences of his disorder, but it never gets too science fictiony, in fact, he actually can’t change anything in the past.
The Dog Stars Another post apocalyptic story, this one mostly dealing with the concept of loneliness. The main character is a pilot who teams up with a somewhat psychotic survivalist who watch out for each other. The descriptions of the little engineering details of the plane, problem solving, and especially the flights themselves are wonderful. Though it starts like so many other end of the world novels, the path it takes is unique and worthwhile.
Run to Overcome American marathoner Meb’s new book hit the shelves this year. Meb is my running hero for his perseverance against odds, his approachability, and his never say never attitude. Though he couldn’t recapture his marathon success from 2014 this year, he’s still my spirit animal while running. His book explores some of the challenges in his life without ever casting blame or giving excuses. His move to the US and success in the sport are very inspiring.
Natural Born Heroes In this book by Born to Run author Chris McDougal, he explores the extreme physical limits of non professional athletes through the stories of Cretan heroes of the resistance during WWII and British commandos on the island. It’s a great combination of a historical story and a good dive into athletic science.
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running The poignant and unique Japanese writer discusses his running career and how it has shaped him and his writing. It’s a great exploration of what fellow runners think about while running and validates that we are less insane than we think we are. Or maybe just more insane as a group. The descriptions in the book are so vivid they read more like poetry.
The Ghost in the Wires is the semi autobiographical novel of super hacker Kevin Mitnick, the FBI’s most wanted criminal for several years. His recounting of events leading up to his arrest are like a real life hacker version of Breaking Bad where you sort of fell sorry for him in his slow eventual fall to crime. Still, he doesn’t try to apologize or make excuses for his actions.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore A work of fiction, and one a little bit more like young adult fiction, this book is what Dan Brown’s works would be like if he understood computers at all. This is basically a better version of the DaVinci code with computer science, cryptography, cloud computing, and Facebook all in one. The story is a bit silly, but the methods are great and nicely researched.
By inspiration, I mean books that inspired me to try new things at work, home, or in my personal life to try to be a better version of me. Most were from inspiring people or stories.
Creativity Inc is the story of Pixar, told by CEO Ed Catmul. Building a very unique and interesting culture, and even more importantly, keeping it through lots of growth and change was the most interesting aspect to me.
Manhatta tells the natural history of Manhattan island, from the formation of the Earth all the way to the day the first European settlers set foot on it. Very interesting, with tons of cool side by side pictures. Strange and interesting to see how much the landscape and area has been changed by man. Definitely guided some expeditions to survey lower Manhattan on the Highline for me.
Unbroken the book which inspired the movie, was a great mix of running inspiration and a never say die attitude that served as inspiration for me in my running. If olympic runner Frank Zamporelli could make it through surviving on a life raft for weeks, then torture and captivity in a POW camp during WWII, I could dig deep and make it up the hill at mile 20 of a marathon.
Delivering Happiness tells the story of the founding of Zappos, a company with an incredibly unique culture. They have since joined the Amazon family but have continued to innovate on customer delight and pushing culture forward. They made a lot of news this year for getting rid of reporting structures and bosses, a move which many saw as a mistake, but their continued dedication to pushing the envelope of culture and trying new things is something to be learned from.
The Rational Optimist is a book the world needs right now. This work of non-fiction essentially explains why counter to what the news would have us believe, the world is in the best shape it ever has been, and will continue to get better by leaps and bounds. Yes there are terrible things happening in the world, but as a whole people are orders of magnitude better off each generation, all around the world, and that pace of improvement is only increasing. It’s a book to revive your belief in humanity.
Elon Musk To believe the world is going to be an amazing place in five to twenty years, one need look no further than the endeavors of Elon Musk. The work his companies are doing with electric cars (Tesla), Solar Power (SolarCity) and Space (SpaceX) are hugely inspirational and great examples of thinking bigger than anyone believes possible. The book explores Musk’s history, but more interestingly, where Musk wants to take each of these areas.
The Wright Brothers Between this and Elon Musk, I’m ready to begin exploration of risky new frontiers again. David McCullough is a phenomenal historical writer and this depiction of the story of Wilber and Orville is incredibly interesting. The first flight at Kitty Hawk is only the beginning and like me, most people probably didn’t know how much they continued to push the aeronautic industry beyond even WWI. It’s a great story of invention, gumption, and the American Spirit.
Wild In Wild, the book which the recent movie was based off of, the writer solo hikes the Pacific Crest Trail in an effort to reset her life after several tragedies and some bad decisions. The real story happened in the 90s but is just as impressive now. It has me setting my next bucket list achievement of hiking the whole Appalachian trail. The encounters on the trail are funny, uplifting, or tragic, sometimes all three. It’s a wonderful exploration of what really matters and was super fun to follow along.
Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs I have no idea how to categorize this collection of essays. The closest reading I’ve done are David Sedaris’s collections of funny stories. These stories are as varied as a dissertation on The Sims, following a Guns and Roses cover band around the South, and tips for making small talk at parties. They are all punctuated by acerbic wit but always remain on the right side of pretentious.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks The true story of Henrietta Lacks, her family, and the cells which were taken from her just before dying of cancer. In this investigative story, the writer finds the truth about these cells which have been invaluable to modern science, as well as the effect it has had on the children and grandchildren of the unwitting donor. The end gets a bit personal and slows, but the story of the immortal cells and the huge impact they have had to science and health is incredible.
Lafayette in the Somewhat United States This somewhat witty and realistic look at the founding of our country and the strange personalities involved makes you rethink the Demi gods of the American revolution. Though the author sometimes overestimates her own wit, the stories and look at the zany personalities involved is fascinating. It’s often hard to determine if the wacky characters involved helped save the country or nearly caused its destruction.
Croatia: A Nation Forged in War After visiting the marvelous country of Croatia this summer, I wanted to learn more about the history of this small country. This book explored the history from Roman times through the Venetians, Ottoman Empire, World Wars, and of course the Balkan wars of the 1990s. For such a tranquil and beautiful country, the past has been incredibly tumultuous. Learning more about the causes and events of the Balkan wars added so much color to our trip and the great people we met there. It’s amazing how fast the bigger wounds have healed.