It is officially 2016, my friends.
I am sitting on a wooden high stool with my faithful 3-in-1 coffee, loudly typing – currently obsessed with my salmon-colored nails – and listening to Rudimental’s We the Generation, surrounded by family, completely oblivious to their topic of conversation.
2015 was, again, a spectacular year for literature. I fall more and more in love with books every single day. I have never devoured so much in my life!
As a young girl, I remember staying in bookstores, ogling shelf after shelf, hoping I had extra pocket money to purchase a book or two. My heart ached for all the lives I was not living. One summer before my senior year, I lived in our apartment near the biggest bookstore in the city, and I would walk for 30 minutes or so and just read; I was in my C.S. Lewis phase (I still am) so I read Screwtape Letters.
The most extravagant book hauls I would have occurred during my birthday, and I would buy five books or so; the process of choosing would take, at the very least, two hours. Today, I can shamelessly pick up a book anytime I want, especially after a long work day. I’ve collected more books on my first year of full-fledged employment (2014) than I have my entire life. I go places when I need to stay. I am never lonely nor alone. They remain my constant.
From the ocean of utterly captivating books and graphic novels I collected the past year, here are my top reads!
1. The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
“This was the double blade of how I felt about anything that hurt: I wanted someone else to feel it with me, and also I wanted it entirely for myself.”
If I could write like anyone, I would want to write like Leslie Jamison. She writes with shameless and unapologetic emotion, self-awareness, and intelligence.
First chapter into The Empathy Exams, and I felt like this was written for me. Her collection of essays – my favorites being The Empathy Exams, In Defense of Saccharin(e), and Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain – is full of praiseworthy honesty and vulnerability.
She takes a woman’s weakness – her empathy, sentimentality, and pain – courses through it from one essay to the other, makes it valid, and turns it into her glittering, infallible, glorious strength.
2. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
“When you will not fly into a passion people know you are stronger than they are, because you are strong enough to hold in your rage, and they are not, and they say stupid things they wish they hadn’t said afterward. There’s nothing so strong as rage, except what makes you hold it in – that’s stronger.“
I have watched A Little Princess once as a young girl and another, upon reading this book. On both occasions, I cried. It took me a decade to actually read the novel, and it left my heart so, so full. The ending is much different than the film adaptation but nevertheless, both experiences left me breathless.
3. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Everything I Never Told You is a heartbreakingly beautiful story of a Chinese-American family living in the ‘70s who find the seemingly perfect, favorite daughter, Lydia, dead. Secrets begin to unfold, as do the family’s pains and longings.
I have never read anything like this before. I find that Asian writers are the most poignant and romantic ones. This book made me ache. It felt so, incredibly heavy yet every page was a masterpiece.
4. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
“Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky—up—up—up—into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.”
Reading children’s books as a young adult has got to be one of the most enjoyable things. You have a deeper appreciation for every detail and have much respect for light yet thought-provoking wisdom no other genre of book can offer.
I am deeply enamored with such an imaginative, precious girl. I pored over this book for hours. Anne of Green Gables will remain a constant favorite throughout my life. I intend to read it to all my children and their children!
5. Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Sarah Dessen was my favorite Young Adult author until I was in college. I hardly remember any of her works so I am grateful to have been reacquainted with her work through Saint Anything.
For a Young Adult novel, this piece was so heavy, discomforting, and gripping. Peyton has always felt invisible. Her brother’s constantly been the focus of everyone else’s attention but when his reckless behavior gets him into a fatal accident, she is forced to face wounds she has kept all her life.
6. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
“What came first – the music or the misery? Did I listen to the music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to the music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person?
I have a very vivid memory watching John Cusack in High Fidelity. I thought nothing of it. I hardly remember anything about the film except that it was incredibly depressing, and I sure need some education on early pop music.
High Fidelity, the book, surprisingly was pretty amazing. I read Juliet, Naked as a 19-year-old and found myself…bored. I have a newfound respect for Nick Hornby after reading this particular book about a miserable 30-something-year-old trying to get over the love of his life through the glorious, irreplaceable gift of music. Read it for Hornby’s talent and his perfectly good taste in music.
7. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.”
Educated myself with Joan Didion’s enthralling world months ago. During my trip to Singapore last September, I also purchased a (lone) copy of Blue Nights in an underground bookstore. At night, I read it in the train while listening to Dustin O’ Halloran, and for a few stops, my life was a film.
The Year of Magical Thinking is an honest, touching account of love and loss – an earthly separation of husband and wife, a woman and a writer’s attempt to make her grieve palpable. To write, ultimately, is to remember and to remember, to honor that, which persists to live within us.
8. Burnt Tongues by Chuck Palahniuk
“The worst thing you could do is read this book and instantly enjoy every word. This book, the book you’re holding, I hope you gag on a few words – more than a few. May some of the stories scar and trouble you. Whether you like it or dislike them doesn’t matter; you’ve already touched these words with your eyes, and they’re becoming part of you. Even if you hate these stories, you’ll come back to them because they’ll test you and prompt you to become someone larger, braver, bolder.”
2014 was my year of Chuck Palahniuk. I have never been more obsessed with an author; I did so much research (you pronounce his name Paula-Nick) about his life. I have loved Chuck and his demented way of thinking ever since I finished Diary three years ago. He continues to perplex me. We have such opposite worlds yet I do appreciate his wondrous, twisted way of storytelling only a genuine, lived writer and human can offer people like me. He and I will have a long-lived loved affair, I think.
I am still utterly traumatized by Haunted, two years have passed since I read it, but Burnt Tongues – a collection of transgressive stories handpicked by Chuck – is a literary winner. I have a difficult time appreciating short stories – I get attached to characters so easily – but these stories are fresh, gripping, and so, very mad.
9. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
“I wonder what it’s like to have that much power over a boy. I don’t think I’d want it; it’s a lot of responsibility to hold a person’s heart in your hands.”
I have personally written letters – some I have sent, some I have not – to all the boys and men I have felt things deeply for during the years I recklessly, shamelessly let my heart lead me. This has always been the best kind of ‘closure’ for me. Lara Jean and I are very much the same.
Jenny Han’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You remain my favorite reads from the Young Adult category the past year. Young love, portrayed by these particular books, easily makes me fall in love with love. There is always something utterly enchanting with love so sincere, innocent, and new – love that I know is patiently waiting out there for me.
10. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Upon reading Daytripper, my first graphic novel, I immediately dove into The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. I read it in one sitting, that’s how engrossing it was.
Persepolis is a heartbreaking yet humorous memoir of a girl growing up in revolutionary Iran. She undergoes the everyday complexities of childhood and adolescence yet surrounded by her country’s suffering and chaos.
I constantly learn that reading is the simplest way to gain knowledge and empathize with others in this vast universe. Also, everything else seems so trivial.
11. Through the Woods by Emily Caroll
I did not expect to get freaked out by Through the Woods. First of all, I found it in the children’s section in my local bookstore. Second, it’s just comics. It’s just a bunch of drawings laced together to form a story; how can this even leave me emotionally and mentally disturbed? Well, it did.
Three pages in, goosebumps were raised. Five eerie and strange stories that will make you want to not (have) read it at night. Emily Carroll, you are either a psycho or you are a genius.
12. Summer Blonde by Adrian Tomine
Adrian Tomine is a brilliant cartoonist and illustrator. As a storyteller, personally, he is just good. He does not dazzle me with personal stories of betrayal, depression, and mediocrity but I still love reading his graphic novels. I love the art he creates. I received both Shortcomings and Sleepwalk the past year but Summer Blonde – a collection of his cult comix series Optic Nerve – has got to be my favorite.
13. Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
“It takes time and a lot of looking around, but you eventually find that your home is a lot more than just the house you live in. Brás had all the time in the world to figure that out. He discovered your country can be your home, or a city, or just that particular neighborhood. Sometimes your life changes – you change – and your home moves to a different place. Brás realized that home is not a physical place at all, but a group of elements like the people you live with – a feeling, a state of mind. He feels safer just knowing that even if he’s away, there is a home waiting for him to return. It’s where he can rest. Where he finds peace.”
I cannot and will not stop raving about Fábio Moon and Grabriel Bá’s Daytripper. It is the first graphic novel I have read in my life, and it is pure magic.
An obituary writer, Brás dreams of becoming a writer like his father. He writes about death for a living and discovers the beauty of his own life through a series of hauntingly beautiful, poignant stories – removing life of its ordinariness. Life is to be lived in special moments – in spaces filled with love – and a decision to let life be.
14. PUSH by BJ Pascual
“What I see is that look in her eyes, the one that says she’s worthy of that stare, that all the attention is well-deserved. That’s when I click the shutter.”
I dedicated an entire blog entry for this particular book.
I may love doing much but I end up going back to my lifelong passion for photography. PUSH has, no pun intended, pushed me to continue to do what I love doing most. After college, I was so afraid to pursue photography because there was just too much to choose from in this mad, exciting, and liberating world. Through time and with the help of BJ’s life story, I know now that this path is mine to throughly, joyfully discover and mine to keep.
15. The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
“We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest ‘well pleased.’ To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled, by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labor to make us lovable.”
Reacquainted with my favorite (Christian) author a few weeks ago during a trip out of the city; I devoured this piece with a humble and contrite heart. The Problem of Pain takes us in a whirlwind of a journey explaining why we deal with so much unnecessary yet God-willed suffering.
He points out precisely that Christ, our Creator, our Beginning, our End, allows (some of) these pains to come in our lives, ultimately, because we are products of love, grace, and free will, and these three go hand in hand to produce, yes, pain. Pain perfects us. Pain makes us closer to Christ and to being like Him. With this wisdom, pain becomes easier to receive and accept through time.
16. What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund
Book cover artist, Alfred A. Knopf associate director, and Pantheon Books art director, Peter Mendelsund, captured my interest in his very own book. What We See When We Read is a fascinating, rare, and light read that takes his readers through the process of reading a book.
Read: Portrait of A Cover Artist: An Interview with Peter Mendelsund via The New Yorker
It can get a little bit philosophical and intimidating for the non-classics reader a.k.a me but I absolutely loved every bit of it. He has also reawakened in me a curiosity for book cover designers; everyone knows I only buy books with good covers.
Trivia: Mendelsund designed the covers of Ben Marcus’ The Flame Alphabet and Leaving the Sea, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl series, and many more.
17. Blankets by Craig Thompson
“Pressed against her I can hear eternity – hollow, lonely spaces and currents that churn ceaselessly, and the fallen snow welcomes the falling snow with a whispered “Hush.”
I finally understand what the craze is about Blankets. Masterfully illustrated and told, it is an intimate and honest retelling of a boy’s life of faith (and altogether inducing shame) and young love. It is relatable in many, many ways yet only one with great courage can shout his vulnerability to the world.
Here’s to more voracious reading this 2016!