Potassium’s top books of 2015

So as some of you may know, I am a member of GoodReads, which is a website that allows you to review books that you’ve read or see reviews of books that you might be interested in reading. COOL! Anyway, every year, GoodReads allows you to make a reading challenge for that year, where you propose to read x number of books. I used to up my challenges every year by 10 but that started getting ridiculous because I generally go through at least one month where I don’t feel like reading and any challenge greater than 52 requires you to be reading (on average) at least a book a week! So anyway, I’ve been chillin’ at trying to read at least 50 books per year for the past few years. This year, a surprising number of them happened to be published in 2015 so I thought I would write a post about my favorites! Note: these reviews are similar to my reviews on GoodReads so if you follow me on GoodReads, don’t be surprised.

This list is not going to be into any apparent order and because it’s my list, I get to make up the categories. Yay!

SciFi/Epic Book – Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
The first line of this book is “The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.” I think that is description enough. But if you really need more here it is – the first 2/3 of this book is about the immediate struggle to save humanity after the moon blows up (without warning) and the earth is deemed doomed. The last 1/3 of the book is 5000 years later when the human race returns to earth.

This book is really long but really good. I was totally absorbed in the first 2/3 of the book. I loved most of the characters (so many smart and awesome women!) and was really captivated by the struggle to save the human race under ridiculous circumstances (i.e. how do we survive in space?). I felt that Stephenson accurately captured the craziness of humans and the lengths we would go to survive. Also he very nicely summed up how helpful/hurtful social media and the internet can be. Plus now I understand so much more about orbits and other space things.

The last 1/3 of the book took some warming up for me. I almost wish it was a separate book but that wouldn’t have been true to Stephenson’s style. The first hundred or so pages of this section moved really slow as I, completely whiplashed from jumping 5000 years in the future, tried to get caught up with all the newness of this universe all while following an incredibly slow plot (the new main character does one thing, 10 pages of backstory, etc). I realize that it was kind of necessary to do that if he wanted to keep the book with both parts but I realllllllly missed my old main characters. Once I got caught up though, this last section got much more interesting and I was really sad when it ended. I want to see more from this universe!

One warning – if you have never read a Neal Stephenson book before, you should know that Neal Stephenson likes technical details. So there are a lot of pages describing how everything works. Sometimes I find it interesting and sometimes I want Neal to get back to the story. For the record, the descriptions seem to only exist to add to your experience in the world; you can easily skim them and not miss out on much plot.

One more thing – this book made me really notice the moon, especially because whenever I was reading the book, I was surprised to see the moon in the sky, since, at least in the book, there was no more moon. So I took a lot of moon pictures this year and I thought I would share some of them with you.

Some context for these moons! Leftmost orange moon: an orange moon from this summer. Middle tiny moon + Venus: Seen on the flight back from Hawaii while I was reading Seveneves. Rightmost moon: the nice big full moon on Christmas Day (first time since 1977!).

Young Adult book – I Crawl Through it by A.S. King
This book didn’t seem to make waves through the young adult community (judging by its absence as a GoodReads Choice Awards nominee) but I thought it was phenomenal. Also, it seems to be one of those books that grabs hold of you and never lets go – I still am thinking about it to this day. Anyway, this book is weird. I am going to warn you about that right now – it’s incredibly surreal and disconnected from reality. And yet at the same time, it’s very real.

In this book, we follow four teenagers through a few weeks of their high school careers. There are regular bomb threats and a lot of tests. Overall, I thought it was an excellent portrayal of smart teenagers and what our current educational system is doing to them. Being disconnected from reality really made all the thoughts and feelings the characters have so much more real – sometimes overwhelmingly so.

This book broke my heart in the same way that all the violence at various schools this year (and previous years) breaks my heart. I also really appreciate the discussion of how schools are ruining creativity in our kids and I applaud A.S. King for finding a way to stand up and say something about it.

American memoir – Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This book is a letter to Coates’ son about what it’s like growing up black in America. As I am an African American woman who grew up here in the US, I was interested in what he had to say about our potentially “shared” experience.

This book made me feel both heartbroken and relieved sort of for the same reason- that what I feel is a real and common. It is interesting to be younger than Ta-Nehisi and older than his son because I have my own social/political events that affected me in the same way that the deaths of Prince Jones and Michael Brown affected Ta-Nehisi and his son, respectively. Reading this book helped solidify my current thoughts about how I live my life too, which is neat but also still super heartbreaking…

This book is written in a way that will make many people uncomfortable or even angry but that doesn’t mean that what is said in here is not also true or at least worth pondering. Toni Morrison is right. This book is required reading. Please go and read it (and then tell me what you think)!

Foreign memoir – The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story by Hyeonseo Lee
This is a powerful look at what it is like to grow up in North Korea and then lose your identity several times in order to be free. I found this book both eye-opening about a world I know nothing about and also interesting in that it really makes you ponder the concept of being ‘spoiled.’ Now I really want to help out! Warning – I read most of this book all in one sitting so be careful – it sucks you in!

Humor – Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
This is an amazing book about depression (yeah you read that right – I put it under the humor section). Jenny Lawson does a great job being brutally honest about what it’s like to live with depression and anxiety disorders while also being hilarious. They might not seem like they would go well together but I assure you, this book is incredible. If you have ever suffered from depression and/or anxiety OR if you know someone who has, please pick up this book and read it. You will not be disappointed.

Serious Comic – Bitch Planet Vol. 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine DeLandro, Taki Soma, and Robert Wilson
Bitch Planet is about a society where women must conform to societal norms (i.e. whatever men want). If not, they are labeled “non-compliant” and shipped off to Bitch Planet. This is an amazingly smart comic with a unique perspective on modern feminism. If you consider yourself a feminist, read this. If you don’t, too bad- you still have to read this. It’s totally necessary for everyone. I can’t wait for more issues!

Fun note about being non-compliant: The women who are sent to Bitch Planet have NC (for non-compliant) tattooed onto them. This has inspired many “non-compliant” fans of the comic to also get NC tattooed on them! I think that’s really neat! I don’t have any tattoos so I had to get NC nail wraps so I could add my name to the list of non-compliant individuals out there (see below).

PS – The individual issues of this comic are really neat because each issue contains a feminist essay at the end. The essays didn’t end up in the trade paperback so it’s worth trying to get a hold of the issues (or finding the essays).

Sweet glow-in-the-dark NC Bitch Planet nail wraps from Espionage Cosmetics! Note: cats like to play with glow-in-the-dark nails at night… you were warned…

Fun Comic – Lumberjanes Volumes 1 and 2
by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen, and Maarta Laiho
This story is about 5 girls who attend “Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s camp for Hardcore Lady-types” and have all sorts of adventures. It’s really fun, has great art, and how can you not like a book where someone shouts “Holy bell hooks!”?! Also if you were ever in Girl Scouts, this book is for you (though I think being a Lumberjane would have been waaaaaaay cooler than being a Girl Scout).

PS – My friend T did a really good job getting me obsessed with comic books this year so this category was really hard to do because I read some really fantastic ones. So here are some more great options:

  • If you like going on supernatural adventures with some really cool girls, you should read Rat Queens
  • If you like epic sci-fi stories with amazing art, you should read Saga
  • If you like awesome women superheroes, you should read Miss Marvel and Squirrel Girl
  • If you like really pretty art and creepy western-ish stories, you should read Pretty Deadly

Cobalt’s top choice – The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
He didn’t read a lot from 2015 this year (too busy reading for classes!), so he’s gonna go with this one. The novel is a great satire of young adult books for people who notice too many similarities in that market. Definitely worth your time.

I am super happy Cobalt picked this book because Patrick Ness is one of my favorite young adult authors!

Now it’s your turn to weigh in. What did you read this year? Did you read any of these books? Did you love them or hate them? Tell me everything! Also have a Happy New Year!!! Any traditions?! Any New Years resolutions? I am struggling with mine because I want to use the same one I used this year but I think that might be cheating…

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