My 2015 Bookshelf

books 2015 large

In 2015 the large majority of my reading time went to comic books. If I had 30 minutes or so in the evening, more often than not I'd be looking to top up the numbers on my comic reading project, so I didn't get through as many regular books as I would have liked. I'm looking forward to switching that balance this year. I read a lot more than I wrote about on seibiant.com. When you see something appear here, nine times out of ten it's because I enjoyed it and want to recommend it to you. Not everything makes the cut. I also bought more books than I had time to read. What the Japanese refer to as Tsundoku is a disease for which I want no cure. (Direct links in the following round-up take you to the full reviews.)

LIFE STORIES

The book I praised and returned to more than any other was Amy Poehler's Yes Please. Part memoir, part guide to life, I'm not sure I've ever nodded along in agreement with a book quite as much as Yes Please. It's eminently quotable. Using her own life experiences to discuss everything from divorce to how to react when you're being undervalued at work, it's impossible not to be left wishing you had a direct line to her for when life goes awry. It is, of course, as funny as it is warm. Mindy Kaling was the other funny woman I became truly smitten with in 2015, not only because I finally caved and took everyone's suggestion that I watch The Mindy Project, but also because I read her new book, Why Not Me? The second instalment of Mindy's story moves on from trying to make everyone else her friend to working out what it is about her that now makes people volunteer to be her bestie. The book did nothing to change my mind in applying for the job.

I believe I also volunteered to be Felicia Day's best pal after reading You're Never Weird On the Internet (Almost). Felicia charts her unorthodox childhood, how both perfectionism cursed and propelled her, what happens when you become internet famous and how you deal with that when you're quietly trying to keep a lid on anxiety and depression. A different but difficult childhood and the shockwaves it sent through his later life is beautifully retold in Nick Frost's Truths, Half Truths and Little White Lies. Telling such heavy stories while making them touching and funny instead of disturbing made it one of the most engaging books of the year. His reaction to my review was also one of my favourite moments of 2015. Sticking with these themes, the book that had the most personal impact on me was Matt Haig's Reasons to Stay Alive, on how he literally pulled himself back from jumping off a cliff and gradually faced the long journey back to relative mental stability. The post I wrote to accompany the review was one of the most difficult things I've written, but such was the impetus after reading the book. 

FICTION

Matt Haig also wrote A Boy Called Christmas, a fantastical story on Father Christmas's origins as a little boy in the woods of Finland. If you've ever wondered how he ended up at the North Pole, you'll be needing this story come next Christmas. It's everything you need if you're lacking a little magic. On the other side of the fence was All Involved by Ryan Gattis. A novel set on the outskirts of the real-life LA Riots, it touches on the people who weren't featured on news report cameras but who felt the aftershock the events sent rippling through neighbouring communities. It's brutal but beautiful with it. It stayed with me for a long time after reading it. Later in the year I returned to one of my fiction comfort blankets in the form of Australian author Liane Moriarty. Her very first novel, Three Wishes, is being re-released this month and having never read it I trailed back to it. The progression in her later books is obvious when you move backwards, nevertheless it's still funny, memorable and her skill for believable dialogue is brilliant. She should be writing TV. This talent is also shared by J. Ryan Stradal in his debut novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest. His previous work as a TV producer serves him extremely well in constructing cook Eva Thorvald's life from baby to woman via her journey through food, friendships, love and loss. I can't wait for whatever he has planned next.

COOKING, BAKING AND THE SCANDI LIFE

Speaking of food, it was a bumper year for cookbooks, many of which didn't make it here simply because they need time to get spattered and covered in grease before I share them. In the spring I mentioned three great cookbooks for the warmer months. No dieting or calorie counting, just delicious, fresh food. There was Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook and not new but The Lemonade Cookbook covering incredible Southern Californian food, along with Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer. My favourite baking book of the year was Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. If ever I needed more reasons to fall in love with Scandinavia, Fika details the Swedish love of baked goods and just allowing time during your day to take a break for something sweet and comforting. The recipes and the heritage that go with them are a joy to read. Moving south to Denmark, Helen Russell's Year of Living Danishly is the perfect capsule of what it's really like when you up sticks from the UK and begin a new Scandi life, the good, the bad and the inordinately cosy. I spent weeks afterwards meeting every British failing with, "This would never happen in Denmark!"

GETTING DRESSED, FITTING IN AND LOOKING BACK

Finally, the practical guides. Costume designer Alison Freer's How to Get Dressed isn't the temporary style guide that clogs up bookshops only to be redundant a month later when styles inevitably change. This is a timeless book on how to care for your clothes, how to make sure they fit properly and simple solutions to common problems. Since reading this book I've ditched the iron, bought a clothes steamer and never looked back. In a totally different world, Sam Maggs' The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy is a celebration of girls and women in the nerd world, with advice on how to handle yourself at conventions and how to feel proud of the things you love. It's probably more geared toward younger readers, but anything that convinces girls that feminism isn't a dirty word is worth your time. In my more formative years it would have become my bible. Not so much a guide but a winding trip through the most popular films of the 1980s, Hadley Freeman's Life Moves Pretty Fast is one of my favourite books I've read on film in general. It would have been easy for Hadley to just swoon over the nostalgia, but this book is so much more than misty eyed looking back. If it feels like they're not making movies like they did in the 80s anymore, you're right. They're not and Life Moves Pretty Fast explains exactly why. It's as enlightening, surprising and important as it is a trip down memory lane.