2015 was really a slow year for me in reading novels and other “extracurricular” books. Not that I should be surprised by that, because graduate things. I did manage to get to read about a dozen books this year outside of my required class reading. A look back in my handy-dandy-notebook-of-books-I-have-read shows me that this year has been a year of poetry, memoirs, and 20th century historical literature. And these are my five favorite books that I’ve read this year.
This novel follows the main character, Ivan Denisovich, through a day in a Soviet Russian gulag. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is based on Solzhenitsyn’s own experiences in a gulag from 1945 until 1956. This novel has very forward language, and really shows the relationship and culture in the camps. It’s not a book that is full of exciting scenes, and is a very sobering book that I feel everyone should read.
#4. A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City by Anonymous
Another sobering book, and just as important. A Woman in Berlin is the diary of an anonymous woman (although the author is believed to be known at this point) during the fall of Berlin in 1945. The diary details the days leading up to the capture of the city by Soviet forces, the rape of German women by those forces, and the author’s own choice to take a Soviet officer as a protector. I was interested in this book because it offers a perspective that is often not talked about in history courses. It is also fascinating to analyze as a document which had an enormous amount of controversy surrounding its initial publication in 1959.
#3. Here by Wisława Szymborska
I read a lot of Szymborska’s poetry this year, but I chose to put Here here because it was the first work of her poetry that I read. I can’t say enough about my love for Szymborska – she’s dry and witty and dark, but at the same time she’s warm.
#2. Euphoria by Lily King
I wrote a book review of Euphoria this past summer. Though this is marketed as a “love triangle” – and certainly there is some in it – Euphoria is more about the passions of three anthropologists for their work than anything else. I was attracted to this book because it’s based, loosely, on the life of Margaret Mead. Despite containing quite a bit about the anthropological process, it was beautifully written and kept me turning pages.
#1. The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck
The first book that I read this past year just happens to be the one that stuck with me the strongest. The End of Days follows the five “deaths” of an unnamed female protagonist. It begins with the death of the protagonist as a baby, but in between each “book” asks how things could have been different and progresses through the protagonist life in the mid-20th century. Erpenbeck’s writing is very stark and bittersweet, and definitely stays with you.
And so, with 2015 fully behind me, I’m looking forward to a year of lots of hard work, but also – hopefully – a year of fun and lots of good books.