Things I read in 2015

When I was a teenager, I was a committed diary writer. I got out of the habit somewhat once I left home and discovered the Real World, but the thing I’d still do every year was make New Year’s resolutions. Aged 13-15 these “resolutions” would be more like attacks on myself: things I needed to change in order to be acceptable. I don’t have these diaries to hand, but I’m pretty sure 13 year-old me thought that “Stop being so fat and ugly” was a decent, achievable resolution for 1999.

As I grew up, I recognised that the compulsive need to change oneself was not healthy, and certainly not something I should be fuelling. Yet I couldn’t resist the urge to tinker, to track, to evaluate. I started spreadsheets (no, I’m not kidding). I divided my life into categories and decided what I wanted to achieve in each over the coming year. It didn’t help me feel any better about my life.

Over the last five years, illness, anxiety and depression have forced me to rethink my strategy. I have had to be much kinder to myself. I’ve grudgingly given myself permission to do things for fun (like start knitting and dressmaking) without the expectation that I will somehow excel at it and become the most renowned knitter-dressmaker in the world.

And part of that fun has been reading things for pleasure, rather than for the intellectual kudos. I joined Goodreads (add me if you want) so I could track what I read and get some good recommendations. I set myself the overly ambitious goal of reading 26 books this year (one every two weeks), and appear to have read just nine. Ah well, life happens. However, I really enjoyed writing last year’s post about the books I read in 2014, so I thought I’d do it again this year, if nothing more than to look back at what I’ve read and just acknowledge it as an achievement.

Without further ado, here is what I’ve finished this year. Links are Amazon affiliate links.

The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz

The book I suggest to everyone who is interested in a low-carb, high-fat diet, this non-fiction book reads like a thriller. It could have so easily been a dry account of how the diet-heart hypothesis (the idea that dietary saturated fat and cholesterol causes heart disease) came to be considered gospel, but it is so well written that it becomes quite the page turner. Teicholz leaves you in no doubt that some very Bad Science has been done, and that the conventional wisdom that “everybody knows” to be true, might in fact be the reverse.

What about Me? The Struggle for Identity in a Market-based Society by Paul Verhaeghe

This is the sort of book that I have struggled to explain to others, but I ended up highlighting large sections of it on my Kindle. There’s an interesting link between psychology, economics and politics, and while his thesis might not be based in solid science (Verhaeghe is a clinical psychologist but an advocate of psychoanalysis) there are some really interesting ideas brought up. I think this book works as a criticism of our increasingly neo-liberal society by covering a wide variety of topics: education, Big Pharma, scientism, and the DSM, but at the same time the breadth of topics discussed make the overall thesis a little confused, and each topic raised could have been discussed in its own right as a book. Still, I would heartily recommend it to anyone, as it’s crammed with interesting ideas.

The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

A very “journalism lite” approach to the subject of why the Danes consistently report being the happiest nation in the world. There is very little criticism here, but it’s an entertaining read for those who know nothing/a little about Denmark. For me it was a little eye-rollingly gushing at times, as well as being rather blind to problems of race and privilege.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

The familiar “white woman rediscovers herself by going on a solo trip” trope is in full swing here, but this was a good read (at least compared to the vomit-fest that was Eat, Pray, Love). Based on her own life, Strayed tells the story of how she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail as a young twenty-something, grieving from her mother’s sudden death and recovering from a heroin addiction.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Probably my favourite fiction book of the year, The Martian is about a mission to Mars that goes wrong, leaving one of the crew stranded there. Luckily for him, he’s a massively talented engineer (with a good deal of knowledge about farming, apparently), and the book chronicles his survival on Mars. I can’t remember the last time I rooted for a fictional character to be rescued this much. It does somewhat stretch the limits of believability at times, but it’s so damn enjoyable that I totally forgive the author.

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

After rereading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (Judith Kerr), which was a childhood favourite of mine, this popped up as a recommendation. The two are very similar in a lot of ways, with the primary difference being that the protagonist is Danish, not Jewish, and she has to come to terms with the fact that others around her are being persecuted. Although the subject risks being rather depressing for young readers (and older readers, for that matter), both books have great charm and optimism, focussing on the actions of good people against the Nazis. The similarities are many: young girl with wise, kind, father. Girl has to come to terms with war & the upheaval in her life.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

This is actually one of my favourite films, and I find reading books far less enjoyable after I’ve seen the film because I’m trying to compare the two in my head. However, Stardust is simply a fantastic fantasy story, both in print and on screen. Plus points for the book: it’s quite a bit darker than the movie. Plus points for the movie: they do a great job of bringing the world to life way better than my imagination.

Zombie Titanic by Joel Snape

A self-published mini-novel by a blogger that I follow. Rather enjoyable. It’s zombies on the titanic – what more could you want?

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

A close second for my favourite fiction book of the year. Superficially it’s about a man whose wife suddenly disappears. Really it’s about relationships, manipulation, psychopathy, and hubris. I don’t want to spoil it at all, as there are quite a few twists, and this one is certainly worth a reread.

And here’s what I’ve started but not yet finished:

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Matilda by Roald Dahl (in Dutch)

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein (this is rather heavy and quite depressing, I might try and give it another go in 2016)

The Diet Delusion by Gary Taubes (currently reading, it’s a massive slog but worth it)

The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne

So there you go! I’ve read some good things this year and I hope 2016 will bring me some great new reads. Any recommendations for me?

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