Sunday, December 27, 2015

Ten Best Books I Read In 2015

When it comes to my blogging based activities, 2015 has been a year of good and bad news. The bad news is that I have not been blogging as much as I should have, for I have been doing a lot with Literary Gladiators, which is really beginning to come together and is only seeing the beginning of something that can be really special. I will say, though, that the good news certainly outweighs the bad. The list of books that I read in their entirety has more than doubled from the last two years, we are closing in on 62,000 page views and at least 1,000 page views each month, and on a personal note, I graduated from college with a Bachelor's in English, Summa Cum Laude. As for Caponomics, I am going to do my best to make 2016 a better year with more book reviews, poem reviews, short story reviews, play reviews, literature based discussions, and maybe even some collaborations. I had a great time having Will Hoheisel from Reviews You Can Use, Literary Gladiators' very own Kelsea Rowan, and my friend Kathryn, who was formerly a part of On the Read. Once I begin to pick up a rhythm again, I will reach out and see if there is anything that is interested.

I always enjoy this time of year on Caponomics, where I get to name my ten favorite books that I read from this year. Need I mention that I will be naming TEN books instead of five, which I am able to do for two reasons. One, I read more books. Two, I am confident with the top ten that are in this selection. In fact, every book on this list received at least a 9/10, whether a review has been written or not. Determining what was going to make it into the top ten was an intense task, for I read so many outstanding books and they were so close in what I thought that deciding what was going to make the list and what was not was bound to involve crucial choices. Nevertheless, the task was accomplished and I can now present to you my top ten...

#10- Heroes by Robert Cormier- Robert Cormier has finally made it into my top ten on Caponomics. I have read The Chocolate War, I Am The Cheese, and The Rag & The Bone Shop, and while they were all really good reads, I read them all before I set up this blog. I read this particular novel, because I was looking for inspiration for my senior thesis. While I ended up using other novels instead, this novel definitely continues to linger through my mind in a world where one can discharge from war in the physical sense, but they can never discharge from war in the mental sense. Francis Cassavant has returned home from war after he lost much of his face, leading him to wear a scarf over the lower part so that no one can see what remains. Francis was inspired by his high school mentor, Larry LaSalle, to join the military after he was able to make a greater name for himself in doing so. However, a drastic interference into Francis' very own life and that of his friend Nicole's leads him to want to kill his mentor and hero. Cormier is the kind of author that tends to grasp his readers and take them on such an emotional thrill ride with what ever he puts together. I feel that more young adult readers familiar with the likes of Lois Lowry, S.E. Hinton, and Jerry Spinelli should check out the collection of novels that were written by Cormier, for he can captivate an audience by talking about teenagers that hold out on selling chocolate, teenagers be questioned in an institution, and also teenagers that take part in a great war, and leave a mark!

#9- The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien- A major part of my senior thesis, about "telling the untellable in war," was driven by Tim O'Brien's noteworthy collection of stories about a fictional Tim O'Brien and his experiences in the Vietnam War. This has shaped itself into the defining novel about the Vietnam War and it does quite a nice job in earning the reputation as being such. The Things They Carried has little to do with the skirmishes, the schemes, and the political actions, but more so the motives, the emotions, and the common soldier that is fighting and the gritty mentality that one should be thinking when it comes to the instated glorifications of war. "How to Tell a True War Story" really breaks things down to a science, while "The Lives of the Dead" remains the story that lingers into my mind. "The Lives of the Dead" is told last, because it shapes the impression that one has about death, and how this is a building block to the story that one carries and then develops in something so drastic as war. In addition, this is the one story where any person, whether they served in war or not, has the opportunity to develop emotions about sudden loss. It is true that not every story in this collection to going to speak in the same way to one person than it will the other, but it is a great perspective that has demonstrated its relevance to what the emotions of war are like, but with an individual mentality that may or may not be repeated. Tim O'Brien certainly has shaped himself as a storyteller on the topic of what it is like to fight and tell the stories of one's own experience, in addition to those who never had that opportunity.

#8- Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell- Gordon Comstock is the young man that everyone in his age group want to be, but maybe one in a thousand have the fortitude to attempt, because even for someone like Gordon does a difficulty in rebelling against money take place. Gordon worked as a copywriter for an advertising copy before becoming a bookseller upon the realization that he did not want to take part in something he did not believe. At the same time, Gordon is living in a shabby apartment with tight restrictions and barely making ends meet. He has a great support group from his friend, Ravelston, his girlfriend, Rosemary, and a long distance sister, Julia, who is tied up in issues of her own. There is nothing special about Gordon, for he just wants to become a writer, yet is having difficulty getting his name out there AND the motivation to write. It is definitely assured that this is an anti-Capitalist novel, but it is just as much an anti-Socialist and anti-Communist novel, for Gordon finds that each of these factions are tied down in some way by the strong arm that is money. Gordon is looking for the way to accomplish this feat, but the question is this: is he willing to hurt all of the people he cares for in order to make a point? I have read Animal Farm and 1984 by Orwell and his political themes are his greatest obsession. This is the perfect example as to the mindset of society and how money has become such a driving force that it has become impossible to escape its presence, but only if you are a human being! Keep the Aspidistra Flying is an Orwell novel that needs to be explored far more often.

#7- Macbeth by William Shakespeare- Yes, I have one of Shakespeare's plays on my top ten list. I never saw myself doing this, for he has not been a writer I have read for pleasure. In this case, I read Macbeth for our discussion on Literary Gladiators. I must say, though, that this was a play that I liked from his collection. What I liked about Macbeth is that it was not over the top in the way that many of his plays can become. There is an obvious issue and Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, are clearly guilty due to their power hunger that has led to them slaying several individuals that they have found competition to their throne. I also found that there were moments of humor and self-deprecation that I really enjoyed, my favorite being a scene from the porter (knock, knock, knock). In addition to being honest and humorous, I felt that Macbeth was clever in how it thought outside of the box. In particular, there was a specific projection from the three witches, which came with it a loophole. I will say no more! I prefer watching Shakespeare's plays while I read them and this case was no different. The intent of a play is that it be performed. Looking at the strength of the work, though, the only other play of his I enjoyed just as much as this was Julius Caesar.

#6- Voices From Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich- Svetlana Alexievich is most familiar for being the Nobel Prize in Literature winner of 2015. This title was rightfully deserved, for not only did she convey such a powerful story, but she did so by allowing the real-life participants to tell it themselves. Alexievich is a Belarusian journalist that has reported on multiple accounts. This particular account involved those that were affected, whether directly, secondhand, or being within the realm of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that occurred in 1986. The fact that these stories were told by the victims only made it more tragic and heartbreaking, with the choking up and tears included. The stories that were told by the victims were not just about death, though. They ranged from living conditions to physics to the quality of the salami, which allowed me as a reader to learn more about Belarus through these voices. The fact that Alexievich was able to weave this together was just outstanding and as a result, she deserved the Nobel Prize.

#5- Wit & Wisdom From Poor Richard's Almanac by Benjamin Franklin- Alongside Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin was responsible for developing America's culture. In addition to his creation of bifocals and discoveries regarding electricity, he also developed the fire department, postal service, and library in America. He also was the driving force behind Poor Richard's Almanac, which included different stories and weather reports. As a source of light-hearted entertainment, Franklin would include a proverb in the back, much like a word search or comic strip has proven to serve to the newspaper. Dover Thrift put together a reasonable collection of some of Franklin's most noteworthy proverbs, which are quite relevant when you think about it! They made me laugh and made me say to myself regarding Benjamin Franklin: "what a wise man!" Some of my favorites in this collection include:

1. "Content makes poor men rich, discontent makes rich men poor."
2. "If passion drives, let reason hold the reins."
3. "Many foxes grow grey, but few grow good."

The reason I included this skinny book of proverbs on my top ten list is because it was a book I read during the year, specifically for an episode of Literary Gladiators featuring Dr. Frank Esposito, that I feel that everybody should take the opportunity to read at some point in their lives. Franklin's proverbs are not only informative, but they are also quite humorous! I am sure that one will react with positive emotions, whether they come out smarter or just more entertained!

#4- Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham- Thomas Jefferson was such a brilliant man! He was our third president, an innovator, an inventor, a scientist, a pioneer to meteorology in America, a political figure, the founder of the University of Virginia, a renaissance man, and perhaps the most important figure with regard to shaping the United States in the way we think of it when we think of the country that broke away from England (remember, while George Washington confirmed American freedom, he did want to keep some British customs, as did John Adams, while Jefferson felt we needed to develop our own). The reason that this book is so outstanding, though, is because Jon Meacham tells us about Thomas Jefferson exactly how we should be told about the man. He was straightforward and told of both his strengths and his weaknesses. I knew about Jefferson's marriage that ended with his wife's premature death and his affair with Sally Hemings, but the details were so specific that they proved to be efficient bits of brain food. I learned much more about the political commotion between the Federalists and the Democractic-Republicans, the members of Jefferson's cabinet (including his Secretary of Treasury, the Swiss Albert Gallatin, and how James Madison was perhaps the greatest of Jefferson's protégés. I did a thirteen-page paper on Jefferson's importance as a renaissance man that shaped America and also concluded with how I agree with the common argument that he had Asperger's syndrome. Research has shown that Jefferson had this condition and the traits shared in this book, including his position on peer pressure, social habits, and speaking habits (his only speeches were his two inaugural addresses in 1801 and 1805). In addition, his interests in various areas from keeping track of the weather and of his spending (he was in debt at the time of his death, though) to his keen interest in learning as much as possible about areas that interested him only strengthen this argument. I felt that this book was very reliable in allowing me to learn much more about our third president. It made me feel a bit more like an expert! There is no need to worry, though, because while the second book tends to leave you confused, I have read additional accounts and got some similar bits of information. The collections that talk about all of the presidents may not be as in-depth, but they are reliable at-large!

#3- This Side of Time by Ko Un- Ko Un's poetry should be required reading for Eastern literature enthusiasts, those intrigued by Korean literature, and just about anyone else from any other background. Ko Un's poetry tends to remain at just one stanza, sometimes reaching the point of just one sentence. With such small space, though, Un's poetry is so remarkable! He can present an argument and you would absolutely be in line with what he is saying. The poems are sorted out into his different selections, but include just certain poems from each. You can tell that Un's Buddhism plays a heavy influence as to what he is writing, but either way, it tells the truth! The one that sticks out the most goes:

"The autumn leaves fall dancing.
I'll dance my way out too
when it's time to leave this world." (p. 26).

This connection to nature only contributes to such great beauty that is worth the money and the attention. I can guarantee that if any amount of time should be spent reading a poetry collection, this is definitely a good choice!

#2- The Human Comedy by William Saroyan- I first read Saroyan's works during a Reading class I took while I was in middle school. I was wondering where one story, "The Telegram," could be found. The story always hit home, for it told about a teenaged boy and how he delivered a telegram to a woman that held the message of her son's death in the war. This is how I was led to The Human Comedy, which told the story of the life that was occurring in a California town while World War II was taking place. It was a bit comedic in the antics that occurred, such as Ulysses getting caught in the animal trap, but the term "comedy" seems to refer to humanity in general. It is the expectation that humanity has to remain as close to their ordinary flow as possible, despite having a loved one putting their lives on the line in what has been said to be for their country. The even greater concern is whether or not they will have the opportunity to make it home alive. The idea of how this could be deemed a "comedy" has to be measured on the basis of life at-large or just the way things go at-large, for the way many people see things is with a very narrow perspective. The Human Comedy is brilliant in how it weaves these serious, tragic moments with those light-hearted moments of optimism and cheer. When all is said and done, there is so much that is bound in happen in a day in a life.

#1- East of Eden by John Steinbeck- I could not think of a more powerfully written novel in any possible area this year than I could with this magnum opus from Steinbeck's collection. East of Eden is meant to be a retelling about the Book of Genesis and I must say that after reading this novel, I am definitely convinced to pick up a bible and make my way through the Book of Genesis and how its foundation played a major impact on the Christian view and of the view that is casted by these characters among the world that they live. Not only are the characters very well developed, but Steinbeck also paints a picture of the setting so well and the plot is definitely effective in how it is used. Steinbeck is known for describing those specific details, like the turtle crossing the road in The Grapes of Wrath, but in this case he will take the opportunity in some chapters to discuss the period of time with which he is speaking, so that he can develop an idea in the reader's head regarding what kind of background they should be looking at the clearer picture. This clear picture is the Cain and Abel inspired sibling rivalries, first between Charles and Adam, then between Adam's two sons, Cal and Aron. In addition, the characters of Adam's servant, Lee, and Adam's temporary wife, Cathy, create a sense of unity and conflict, respectively. In my mind, the contrast between Lee and Cathy is the leveling factor that really creates a sense of compassion and a sense of bitter evil that is creating the struggles that take place. What East of Eden reminds us is that there is so much more to the way that one is assembled. One could be fed the idea that one person is definitely good and pure, while the other is evil and filthy. In reality, much of what dictates the status quo is what is deemed preferable by the almighty figure, whether it be God or in this novel a parent. East of Eden was the best novel I read in 2015, because it presents a timeless message that was carried over for thousands of years and recreates it in such an appropriate, but at the same time original manner. This is the novel that has made my desire to read more Steinbeck even greater.

I was hoping to complete Les Miserables by Victor Hugo by the end of the year. Unfortunately, that did not happen, but I do plan to finish it sometime during the early part of next year. My goal will be to complete it in the month of January. As for this year, it was certainly a successful year that introduced me or reintroduced me to some amazing writers. The fact that a 6/10 was my lowest verdict also says something about my reading expeditions. I hold high hope that 2016 will bring a great range of novels of top quality as well. In addition, I will be putting together a fifth season of Literary Gladiators, which will reflect my reading habits, but to good accord. I am really excited to work with Charlie, Kelsea, Larry, Kaila, Ari, Laney, and plenty of other new and familiar guests. I am also planning to invite Booktubers that live near or are interested in visiting my area, in addition to some other book and literature bloggers, literary enthusiasts, and writers. We shall see how this goes!

Regarding the top ten, I feel that every area of interest has been represented. Yes, I had many more literary reads as oppose to the horror, thriller, or speculative reads that are usually mixed in, but that does not mean that they have fallen out of my reading schedule. I read a nice batch of horror and speculative reads that just fell out of the top ten and I plan to read more in 2016. I am definitely going to make a great effort to increase my reading and definitely want to do more on my blog, on Booktube, and with my fiction writing. I feel that 2016 is going to have a lot to offer!

I want to wish everyone a happy, healthy, and safe new year; in addition to high hopes that your year is a prosperous one! I am going to do my best to make 2016 a prosperous one for myself, too!