Books I Read in 2015

As ever, I am inspired by Diana Kimball’s excellent annual book list. I think now that I’ve done it twice, it is officially an annual tradition.

This year’s total came to 63 books. That is about five less than last year, but I’m chalking it up to significantly less vacation days and a more harried work year depriving me of leisurely lunch hours. Also, I am a firm follower of the (now dubbed) Rick Webb reading methodology, which states:

“Don’t try and read what you, or others, think you should read.”

There a lot of things in my life where I don’t follow the “should-free” attitude, but this is the one small space where I have it in spades.

After reflecting on everything I read this year, here are my top picks:

Reading Takes Me Away From Here (via)

The List, in chronological order:

  • Paradox (No. 1–3) by Rachel Bach — Picked up because Goodreads classified it as a ‘Space Opera’, and heck, I wanted to read something with a character loosely based on Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica.
“We humans are little more than specks of dust in the infinite sea of the cosmos. To protect ourselves from that dreadful truth, we have developed an elaborate fiction that we have control over our lives.”
- Dr. Starchild, Heaven’s Queen
  • The Gentleman Bastards Series (No. 1–3) by Scott Lynch — This was an intriguing mix of Ocean’s Eleven-like complex heists meets high fantasy tropes like Arya Stark’s training in the House of Black and White meets a dash of Robin Hood. I was skeptical at first, but fell in love after a few short chapters. Rumor has it, there’s a movie in the works.
“The natural process of growing up was to stumble from failure to failure.”
- Locke Lamora, The Republic of Thieves
“Something doesn’t have to be great to be worthy. If you’ve followed the calling of your heart, then what does it matter what anyone else thinks?”
Maati, A Shadow in Summer
“Those years between twenty-four and twenty-seven, when you start to realize things don’t always break the way they’re supposed to, are sobering.”
- Eddie Huang, hitting it so close to home in Fresh Off the Boat
  • Dark Places by Gillian Flynn — After enjoying Gone Girl last year I decided to give this author another go. This one unravels the mystery of a murdered family on a farm, and the (grown) surviving child’s pursuit of answers. She definitely has her genre nailed.
“The phrase fuck you may not rest on the tip of my tongue, but it’s near. Midtongue.”
- Libby Day, Dark Places
  • Vision in Silver (No. 4 in The Others Series) by Anne Bishop — Still obsessed with this OCD-suffering Cassandra-type and all of the rulesets of this Werewolf, Vampire, and Elemental-filled commune.
  • The Mime Order (No. 2 in The Bone Season) by Samantha Shannon — Despaired throughout the first book despite its Victorian Dystopian theme because it referenced Oxford and I didn’t get half of the references. Now I live in London (the new centre of gravity for the books), and I like it so much more.
“No offense, but I think you’re both insane.” 
“We prefer ‘intrepid,’” Nick said solemnly.
- a sampling of the excellent banter in The Mime Order
  • The Red Rising Trilogy (No. 1–2, 3 is sadly not out yet) by Pierce Brown — This was a runaway engrossing favourite of the year. Loved the science fiction meets Roman-era-style war strategies with a dash of Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. Also, the Tumblr fandom is intense.
“There is no greater plague to an introvert than the extroverted.”
- Roque au Fabii, The Golden Son
  • Agency: Starting a Creative Firm in the Age of Digital Marketing by (my friend!) Rick Webb — Going from working for 500+ person companies to smaller innovation studios means that I’m more interested and invested than ever in knowing and contributing to how the business works. This is a great primer for anyone who wants something grounded in firm practicality, experience, and detail.
“You won’t control the culture, however. Over time, your company culture will take on a life of its own. You are the gardener, laying the seeds for a great culture. Your job is to foster a great culture, nourish it, and eliminate the troublesome weeds. You cannot fully control the culture of your company, nor should it be built around the cult of you.”
- Rick Webb, with just one of the (many) pearls in Agency

Dataclysm: Love, Sex, Race, and Identity — What Our Online Lives Tell Us about Our Offline Selves by Christian Rudder — One of the many books this year that continue to make me sad about humanity. The outstanding statistic that’s embedded in my mind: that men, no matter what age, are consistently attracted to 21–25 year old women. Meaning: A fifty-year-old man’s idea of what’s hot is roughly the same as a college kid’s. Women, on the other hand, want men who age with them.

  • The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory —I loved Phillipa Gregory’s historical fiction as a high schooler, and I thought this book would give me some background on the Wars of the Roses. Boy, was I wrong.
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab — Loved the concept of having parallel universes where magic does (or does not!) exist. I also loved that this was set in London; it is like I’m finally getting to know my way around the place or something.
“I’m not afraid of dying. But I am afraid of dying here.” She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city. “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”
 — Lila Bard, A Darker Shade of Magic
  • The Bees: A Novel by Laline Pull — Never in my life have I ever read anything more painful than this book. The insect perspective is interesting for maybe the first 20 pages, and I know a lot more about apoidea anatomy and social structures than I ever really wanted to know.
This One Summer (via)
  • This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki — One of only a handful of graphic novels I was able to read this year. I am constantly questing for more female stories in comic book stores, but rarely able to find them. This was a solid (and beautifully illustrated) coming-of-age tale set in a Northeastern seaside town that started me on an obsession with the Tamaki sisters.
  • The Reckoners Series (No. 1–2) by Brandon Sanderson — Imagine that superhuman mutation (a la X-Men) actually happened? Without counter-balancing powers to keep them in check, governments would lose control and chaos would obviously ensue. I love the scale of this world (different parts of the country are controlled by ‘Epics’ and their various factions — to varying degrees of success) and it’s concept, I can’t wait for more.
  • Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace by Nikil Saval — I often think that the Catch-22 of being a strategist is that your job is to identify problems and potential solutions, which probably makes you the most difficult person when it comes to office operations and process. This book firmly cemented my dislike of Taylorism and open office plans.
“Office” itself comes from the Latin for “duty.”
- Nikil Saval, Cubed
Displacement, p.28
  • Displacement: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley — Sent by my loving friend Hannah who knows how much I adore this author. This travelogue follows her on a on a cruise with her grandparents, where she has unwittingly taken on the role of caretaker more than granddaughter.
  • Frontlines (No. 1–3) by Marko Kloos — I’ve never been one for military science fiction, but I can see the appeal. I was intrigued by the thoughts around what an overpopulated Earth would look like, and what it would feel like if *we* seemed like ants to an alien race. Read on a pebbled beach in Italy during a long-awaited holiday.
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas — Read while impatiently waiting for her next book in a different series (Throne of Glass, last year’s favorite) to come out. It has to be good if it’s distracting her from the other series, right?
  • The Martian by Andy Weir — I kept on picking this up at a bookstore and putting it back down again because why, in my right mind, would I want to read the surely depressing story of a man who has been essentially abandoned by his crew on Mars? Turns out, I just had to see the trailer that promised to “science this shit out of this” and I was sold.
“I tested the brackets by hitting them with rocks. This kind of sophistication is what we interplanetary scientists are known for.”
- Mark Watney and his endless repartee in The Martian
“Recent estimates say that 1 percent to 4 percent of the population, or one in every twenty-five people, is a sociopath — that’s higher than the percentage of people who have anorexia or autism.”
- Surprising facts in Confessions of a Sociopath
  • The Half-Bad Trilogy (No. 1–2) by Sally Green — I got unnecessarily excited about the prospect of another book about witches. Turns out, nothing is quite as good as A Discovery of Witches (and Harry Potter).
Headmistress Problems
  • Super Mutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki — Picked this up in one of my favorite stores thinking ‘maybe it’s like X-Men meets Harry Potter’, which was so incredibly wrong — but I loved this book anyways. It contains a series of broad, loosely connected vignettes imagining what snippets of life could be at a super mutant magic boarding school. I found myself giggling aloud and giving it to everyone I know. Also: I’m still obsessed with Jillian Tamaki.
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novick — My friend Rick is a big fan of this authors Temeraire series but I wasn’t quite ready to tackle 8 books on dragons and the Napoleonic War. Instead, I read this as a standalone and was blown away. Now I just need to make time for those 8 books.
  • The Queen of the Tearling (No. 1–2) by Erika Johansen — Loved this mix of time-travel, fantasy and science-fiction that explored the concept of what would happen if we created an utopia with socialist principles. Would we in fact just revert to a monarchy? I’m excited that this is going to be made into a film with Emma Watson playing the lead.
“Picture a world where there are no rich and poor. No luxury, but everyone is fed and clothed and educated and cared for. God controls nothing. Books aren’t forbidden. Women aren’t the lower class. The color of your skin, the circumstances of your birth, these things don’t matter. Kindness and humanity are everything. There are no guns, no surveillance, no drugs, no debt, and greed holds no sway at all.”
- Jonathan Tear, and his utopian dream that makes me love reading Fiction and Fantasy in The Queen of the Tearling
  • The Fog Diver by Joel Ross — I’ll admit it; sometimes I read Young Adult fiction. Occasionally, I realise that it’s skewing a little TOO young. This was one of those times.
  • The Lunar Chronicles (No. 1–4) by Marissa Meyer — I loved concept of sci-fi (think: cyborgs, interplanetary travel, space diseases) meets Brothers Grimm fairytales. While I’d been skipping around reading this series for a couple of years, I’m glad I finally settled down into it — strong heroines and a classic storyline are an excellent combo.
“I believe it is the mark of a great leader to question the decisions that came before him.”
-Konn Torin, Cress (The Lunar Chronicles No. 3)
…too accurate
  • Skim by Mariko Tamaki — One of my favorites for the year, so much so that I started giving it out as a gift to fellow ladies who love witchcraft, the 90’s, and goth high schoolers. Besides the awesome setting and character components, I think it does an amazing job at exploring complex issues like depression, suicide, and sexuality for young people.
  • The Providence of Fire by Brian Stavely — One of the few fantasy series that I follow as they release, because they are just that good. The trio of main characters you follow are arguably more compelling and with better political and fantastical story lines than those in Game of Thrones. It’s also chock full of good quotes.
“People kill to get power, they kill to keep power, and they kill if they think they might lose it, which is pretty much always.”
- Kaden, The Providence of Fire
“Often there is no good path. That does not mean we should not walk.”
- Adare, The Providence of Fire
Illustration from How People Earn and Use Money
““But where’s the money going to come from?” or “Who pays the bills?” But the point is that money doesn’t and never did come from anywhere, as if it were something like lumber or iron or hydroelectric power. Again: money is a measure of wealth, and we invent money as we invent the Fahrenheit scale of temperature or the avoirdupois measure of weight.”
- Alan Watts, from the essay Money vs. Wealth
  • Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass No. 4) by Sara J. Maas — I’m feeling like we’re at least two books away from some kind of resolution for this story now, and I’m struggling to keep up with all of the changes.
  • Lock In: A Novel of the Near Future by John Scalzi — I personally believe a characteristic of good science fiction is that it reads like a possible, immediate future. That you could turn around one day and the technology to achieve this would exist. I think that, like Ready Player One, the singularity-esque neural networks and Surrogate treatment all feel like what Facebook and virtual reality are moving towards. A solid thriller and a quick read.
  • The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti —I grew up in the southern, evangelical environments where the purity narrative is propagated. It took northeastern liberalism and an academic college environment to cleanse myself of that thinking. Sometimes I think I read these things to feed some of my feminine rage.
“The Purity Myth is for women who are suffering every day because of the lie that virginity exists, and that it has some bearing on who we are and how good we are.”
- Jessica Valenti, The Purity Myth
I’m Never Coming Back
  • I’m Never Coming Back by Julian Hanshaw — Goodreads told me that only 12 other people have read this book. I can kind of see why. While I love the illustrative style and the distinctively British environments it presents, I consistently struggle with both surrealism and absurdism, especially from male comic book writers.
  • Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull — Again, working in smaller, consultative environments really kickstarts my thinking about processes and how companies operate. I relentlessly want these processes to be better, and this is a good source of inspiration.
“I believe the best managers acknowledge and make room for what they do not know — not just because humility is a virtue but because until one adopts that mindset, the most striking breakthroughs cannot occur. I believe that managers must loosen the controls, not tighten them. They must accept risk; they must trust the people they work with and strive to clear the path for them; and always, they must pay attention to and engage with anything that creates fear. Moreover, successful leaders embrace the reality that their models may be wrong or incomplete. Only when we admit what we don’t know can we ever hope to learn it.”
- Ed Catmull, Creativity Inc.
  • The MaddAddam Trilogy (No. 1–2) by Margaret Atwood — I had to stop reading after the second book because the dismantling of society that it presented felt too close and too accurate.
Time is not a thing that passes: it’s a sea on which you float.
- Pilar, The Year of the Flood
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari — Part of my day-to-day job is to understand people. What are their motivations? What is their culture? Why do people behave the way that we do? This historical account about the genesis of our society (and the agreed ‘myths’ that we follow) covers a broad swath of topics in an easily accessible and digestible manner.
“How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined.”
- Yuval Harari, Sapiens
“I still see music as an act of defiance as much as it is an act of celebration.”
“Persona for a man is equated with power; persona for a woman makes her less of a woman, more distant and unknowable, and thus threatening.
- Carrie Brownstein, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl
So. Accurate.
  • Soppy: A Love Story by Phillipa Rice — A Christmas gift that I read in one sitting surrounded by mounds of wrapping paper. A series of lovingly illustrated vignettes that I think well reflect the blossoming of a relationship, and both the challenges and the joys of moving in together.
  • The Realm of the Elderlings (The Farseer Trilogy N0. 1–3 , The Tawny Man Trilogy N0. 1–3, and The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy N0. 1–3) by Robin Hobb — Picked up the recommendation from a local bookstore. This is one of those slow, plodding series that could only have been written in the pre-internet era, and I am in love. I used to love David Eddings for this sort of work and am glad to be following a set of characters across several 600+ page books. I know that I’ll be wrapping up this year and likely starting the next with this author.
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates — I think I relate best to what my friend Ellen had to say about this: “I don’t think I have much to add to the dialogue surrounding it, but I do recommend reading it.”
“The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine.”
- Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Number of books bought and started this year, but did not finish: 4

Other booklists that I highly recommend:
- Ellen Chisa, 144 books
- Diana Kimball, 31 books
- Rick Webb, 63 books

Thank you to Diana for the inspiration.

This post is part of a larger effort in exploring consciousness in how I consume content. If you’re interested, follow along here.