Category Archives: Best Of

Best of 2015

Hi everyone,
After a long, (very long) hiatus due to technical difficulties I’m back with my list of the best books I read this year. I was trying to pick five, but just couldn’t narrow it down so there are 6 books on here. While I was trying to read 100 books in 2015 I only made it to 99 (so frustrating, but oh well), and so here I present to you my 6 favourite books that I read this year.

Jennifer Egan – A Visit From the Goon Squad
This was a great book because while it is a collection of short stories that can all be read individually, they are all still connected. Through her writing, Egan follows the lives of characters involved in the New York music scene from the 1960s to the present day. While exploring the obvious themes of “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll,” Egan also asks the question of what does it mean to be happy? It is a question that is so fundamental to human existence and Egan’s book has the ability to speak to any audience.

David Sax – The Tastemakers
I’ve always been a huge fan of food writing and David Sax’s The Tastemakers did not disappoint. Exploring the world of master chefs and artisans bakeries Sax looks at how a food becomes a “trend” and traces the life cycle of food trends from their inception to their popularity and eventually their demise (RIP Fondue of the 70s). He draws really interesting connections (like connecting the rise of cupcakes 9/11) and writes in an interesting and accessible way. If you love food, I highly recommend this.

Rebecca Solnit – Men Explain Things To Me
As much as I enjoyed Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist and Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of GirlMen Explain Things To Me, just spoke more to me, especially the titular essay. There is no denying that Rebecca Solnit is brilliant, and in her essays she exposes the ways that sexism can manifest itself in subtle ways. This essay gave rise to the term “mansplaining” which has become a part of our vocabulary. This year was a good year for women, but things like the attacks on planned parenthood or all the reports of workplace discrimination remind us how far we have to go. This collection of essays is important and well worth it.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche – Americanah 
As another notable feminist, Adiche gained notoriety this year for her TedTalk and subsequent publication Why We Should All Be Feminist. I chose to read this novel because I was unfamiliar with her work and am always a fan of a “fish out of water” story. Americanah follows Ifemelu and Obinze when they are young and in love in Nigeria and follows their respective immigrant experiences. This books was so much more than just an immigrant story, it was a story about love, between two people, between people and their country, and between the people we were and the people we’ve become. Adiche explores important questions about what it means to belong and the ideas we have surrounding identity. This novel made me laugh and cry, it broke my heart and caused me to reexamine my own life. It is powerful and thought provoking and wholly, totally, amazing.

Lev Grossman – The Magicians (Review Forthcoming)
This is kind of cheating because this is a trilogy as opposed to a single book, but I loved the whole thing. It’s fantasy without being fantastic; wondrous without being wonderful. Its a critique on established fantasy (Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings) while also establishing itself as its own fantasy series, worthy of its own upcoming Showcase series. Essentially Grossman wants the reader to realize that not all problems can simply be solved my magic, and sometimes magic creates more problems than it solves. Imagine Harry Potter as an incredibly angsty and bored teenager (a la Holden Caulfield, not book 5 Harry) who gets sucked into a twisted dark version of Narnia and you have The Magicians. 

Aziz Ansari – Modern Romance (Review Forthcoming)
I LOVE Aziz Ansari, and my respect and admiration for him only grew after reading this book. To be completely honest I bought this book knowing nothing about it thinking it was just going to be another bio along the same lines as Bossypants or Yes Please. NOPE! Ansari teamed up with a social psychologist to write a non fiction, but still hilarious book about dating in the modern age. He explores how technology (Tinder, OkC, etc) has affected the way we meet people and fall in love and compares the dating cultures in different cultures. It was funny, smart, so interested, and actually relatable. There’s a lot of overlap between this book and Ansari’s netflix specials (Live at Madison Square Garden as well as Master of None), but it’s not too much so that it gets boring over overdone. Ansari is smart and he’s using his platform as a stand up comedian to talk about issues that he feels are important. The book is great and I can’t recommend it enough.

 

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Best Of – International Women’s Day 2015

In addition to Sarah Marcus’ Girls to the Front which I posted here on Thursday, there are a number of other fantastic books I read this year written by great women. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, I wanted to share my favourite female-penned books that I reviewed on the blog this year.

Margaret Atwood – Alias Grace (1996)

AliasGraceLooking at the notorious 1843 murder of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery, Atwood imagines the events surrounding the crime by focusing in on the culprit, Grace Marks. She twists the story and even though Grace is the protagonist, the reader never gets full image of who she is. Through her writing, Atwood seeks to give Grace a voice and a point of view and does so in such an interesting way.

Jung Chang – While Swans (1991)        

wild_swans

It’s the true story of three generations of Chinese women living in China from the fall of Imperial rule to the death of Mao Ze Dong. The story is beautifully written with elements of both humour and tragedy as Chang recounts her own life growing up with Communist rule in China. It’s about China, but also about mothers and daughters and the enduring bonds that women share.

Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl (2012)

GoneGirlFlynn’s phycological thriller got people talking this year, especially with the release of the movie just this past fall. Flynn is a good writer, not great, but she does have this understanding of the “cool girl” syndrome, something I think all women and girls are familiar with. That men always want the “cool girl,” the effortlessly hot woman who doesn’t care if he all he does is drink beer and hang out with his friends. That ideal however doesn’t exist, and sometimes, that “cool girl” can end up being a psychopath. It’s a good book that will play with your head and test your assumptions about gender and relationships.

Caitlin Moran – How to be a Woman (2011)

Caitlin MoranIt’s hard to love Caitlin Moran, she tells it like it is and makes no apologies. She writes openly and honestly about her abortion, something that I don’t think many women would do. She is smart, funny, and quick in her writing providing readers with sound advice and hilarious anecdotes about what it means to be a woman.

Azar Nafisi – Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003)

ReadingLolitainTehranIn this literary memoir, Azar Nafisi writes about her experience, as a teacher of classical English literature living in Post-Revolutionary Iran. She and a select few of her student start a “forbidden” book club which moves from being place for scholarly discussion, to one where these young women can share their deepest hopes, dreams, and fears about the future. It’s about books bringing women together at a time and place when circumstance is threatening to tare them apart. It’s a poignant and charming read about the lasting bonds of female friendship.

So there you have it, what are some of your favourite books about what it means to be a woman?

Best Of – Books Set in New York

I spent the latter part of this last week in New York City, where I tried to fit in as many cultural institutions as I could. It ended up not being that many as I spent 7.5 hours in the American Museum of Natural History on Thursday. Oh Well, such is life. I did however make it to the New York City Public Library, which caused me to stop and think about all of the amazing books I’ve read that take place in New York. So many of the classics like The Great Gatsby, The Catcher and the Rye, and The Bell Jar, are set in the City of Blinding Lights. Here I’ve compiled a (brief) list of my favourite books that are set in New York, New York.

Welcome to New York (It’s Been Waiting for You)

NewYorkEdward Rutherfurd’s New York is requisite reading for anyone who loves the city (or who loves massive books). It’s a historical epic, and is quite long, but its also easy to read due to the narrative style that Rutherfurd uses. Beginning with the earliest settlement of New Amsterdam Rutherfurd traces the history of the city to just after 9/11 following the lives of different families through the generations. It’s a great book and a great introduction to the City that has become the epicenter of American culture.

The Lower East Side: The American Dream

IceCreamQueenOrchard Street was just one of the streets located in the Lower East Side to where thousands of immigrants flocked. The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street is story of the “American Dream,” and the immigrant experience similar to Betty Smith’s classic, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The protagonist, Lillian Dunkle finds herself a member of the wave of Jewish immigrants coming to the city in the 1920s moving into the tenement houses of the Lower East side where she works as a garment maker. Abandoned by her family, Italian immigrants who teach her the art of making ice cream take her in. Smart and shrewd, Lillian uses her keen sense for business to get ahead in life, becoming America’s first “Ice Cream Queen.” While not everything in her life leads to a “happily-ever-after” Lillian still becomes one of the most successful women in American in this rags-to-riches novel.

The Jazz Age in Harlem

Jazz

While some parts of the novel extend back to the mid-19th century American South, the majority of the narrative takes place in Harlem during the 1920s. Each character is a storyteller and Morrison mirrors the stylistic elements of Jazz with the various characters “improvising” solo compositions that fit together to create the whole work. Jazz music is a main theme throughout the book and Morrison recreates the vibrant atmosphere of 1920s Harlem with her narrative.

 

An Institution: The New Yorker

DorothyParker

The New Yorker has been a New York institution since 1925 and has given rise to many acclaimed literary figures, including Dorothy Parker. Best known for her satire and quick wit, this collection of Parker’s stories, poems, and short pieces published in the New Yorker provide readers with a glimpse inside her life as well as the life of the magazine. Because the pieces are small, it’s easy to pick up and put down her stories, although I devoured them all at once. She’s a fantastic writer and her sharpness and wit has endured to today.

A Fairytale of New York: The East Village

just-kids-patt-smith-200x330While already featured on this blog, I can’t speak highly enough about Patti Smith’s memoir which not only provides insights into the art and music scene of the East Village but is also fairytale New York love story. Smith writes openly, candidly and quite frankly, beautifully about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Even though the relationship ended, the two remained so deeply in love and shared a special bond that not even his death could break. A heartbreaking and poignant read, set against the backdrop of New York City’s East Village.

Manhattan’s Elite: The Upper East Side

HowtoLoseFriendsNew York has provided a setting for an ample amount movies and T.V shows like Sex and the City of the Devil Wears Prada, where the characters are involved in publishing in some way. In his memoir, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Toby Young writes candidly about what it was like working at Vanity Fair, in the 1990s and his experiences with Manahattan’s Elite. One major theme in Young’s book is the differences between London and Manhattan society, as Young is an Englishman employed by Condé Nast. While not as overly critical of Manhattan’s Elite as The Devil Wear’s Prada, Young is still merciless in his writing about the women of the Upper East Side who refused to sleep with him. Insightful and honest, although sometimes crude and offensive, I still love this memoir about working at Condé Nast in the 1990s.

If You can Make it Here You’ll Make it Anywhere

Kitchen_ConfidentialFinally to round out this list I have Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, which has also already been featured on this blog. This behind the scenes look at the “Culinary Underbelly” of American as well Bourdain’s rise to fame takes the reader into the kitchens of some of New York’s most famous restaurants. New York has one of the most vibrant and thriving dining scenes in the world and chefs will often do whatever it takes to land at one of the city’s 5-star joints. After all, if you can make it here you’ll make it anywhere!

So what are your favourite books that are set in New York?