It’s been a pretty big year for me. I started a great new job, moved to a great new city, met some great new people. I’ve also read some really great books, so I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on each of them, and some of my favourite quotes.
2015 is the year that I discovered the writing of Haruki Murakami, and instantly fell in love. I’ve never read something that is so strangely surreal, yet comfortably relatable all at once. He easily makes the mediocre, simple parts of life interesting and beautiful. Somehow I managed to read eight of his books in 2015, with another six stacked up on my desk ready for future consumption. If you’ve never read a Murakami book, you’re seriously missing out.
“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” — Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
So here’s a list of the 39 books I read in 2015.
1. The Catcher in the Rye — J.D. Salinger
There’s so much nostalgia around this book for me, and it was THE most important book on my teenage years. This was probably my third or fourth read of Rye but it’s still as close and relatable as it was when I was fourteen. I feel you, Holden.
2. A Wild Sheep Chase — Haruki Murakami
“His life was like his recurring nightmare: a train to nowhere”. Picking this book up and reading the first line of the blurb was all it took. Since reading my first Murakami novel my perspective on life has changed intensely, and that’s no exaggeration.
3. Equal Rites — Terry Pratchett
Because women can be wizards, too. Not the best Discworld book ever written, but still important and full of hilarious sass from Granny Weatherwax.
4. Norwegian Wood — Haruki Murakami
Full of uneasy friendships, awkward sex and The Beatles references. A beautiful, complicated love story that everyone should read. Incredibly depressing, but happy depressing, hard to explain.
5. To Kill A Mockingbird — Harper Lee
Better late than never, right?
6. Lord of the Flies — William Golding
When you’re feeling sad, there’s nothing better than reading your favourite childhood novel.
7. The Establishment: and how they get away with it — Owen Jones
In preparation for the 2015 general election, what better way to get angry at stupid politicians (Tory’s, mostly) than by reading this excellent and awakening summary of British politics.
8. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle — Haruki Murakami
“But even so, every now and then I would feel a violent stab of loneliness. The very water I drink, the very air I breathe, would feel like long, sharp needles. The pages of a book in my hands would take on the threatening metallic gleam of razor blades. I could hear the roots of loneliness creeping through me when the world was hushed at four o’clock in the morning.”
9. Happiness by Design — Paul Dolan
How deliberate choices can make us happier.
10. Why I Write — George Orwell
“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”.
If you loved 1984 and Animal Farm as much as everybody else, you should definitely read this essay.
11. The Steel Flea — Nikolai Leskov
Nineteenth century Russian comedy about the incessant need to be better than everybody else. Still relevant.
12. How Much Land Does A Man Need — Leo Tolstoy
Another piece of Russian literature about a man’s want for more leading him to lose everything. Again, still relevant.
13. The Tell-Tale Heart — Edgar Allan Poe
The first collection of Edgar Allan Poe short stories I ever read. Pretty creepy dude.
14. Sputnik Sweetheart — Haruki Murakami
I’m a terrible flyer, and even though it was only a two-hour flight to Stockholm, I was still pretty nervous. This book was exactly what I needed to calm myself down.
15. The Bell Jar — Sylvia Plath
“If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I’m neurotic as hell. I’ll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.”
16. The Search Warrant (Dora Bruder) — Patrick Modiano
A beautifully harrowing French novel about the search for a young Jewish girl from World War II. Won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2014.
“Pour que tu ne te perdes” (Lest you get lost)
17. A Month in the Country — J.L. Carr
What I took from this book is the thought that people never seem to recognise happiness as they’re living it, and that maybe, in retrospect, we only become conscious of the happiness through memories.
18. The Great Gatsby — F. Scott Fitzgerald
Why is this book a classic? It’s trashy, shallow and completely pretentious. And the film adaption is even worse.
19. The Guest Cat — Takashi Hiraide
A cute short story about a Japanese couples extreme love for the neighbourhood cat.
20. How to Win Friends and Influence People — Dale Carnegie
This book seems to be recommended highly on every reading list going, and it’s easy to see why. It’ll change your perspective on a lot of things.
21. Metamorphosis and other stories — Franz Kafka
Somehow depicts the struggle of ‘modern’ life through the protagonists experience of suddenly becoming a gigantic insect. It’ll give you existential nightmares, read it.
22. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage — Haruki Murakami
“You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them.”
23. Responsive Web Design — Ethan Marcotte
A pretty cool short book on understanding the principles and concepts of responsive design in the modern web.
24. Sass for Web Designers — Dan Cederholm
The only book you’ll need to be introduced to the CSS preprocessor and gain enough understanding to be able to use it in your web projects.
25. Macbeth — William Shakespeare
After watching a live production in the gardens of a Cambridge University college, I gave Macbeth another read. Still bloody good.
26. H is for Hawk — Helen MacDonald
“There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realise that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps…”
Incredible nature writing as well as a pretty honest account of struggling with grief.
27. Thousand Cranes — Yasunari Kawabata
Something I’ve realised this year is that Japanese literature is probably the most beautiful thing there is to read. The poetic style of writing makes a simple tea ceremony of the reasons that Kawabata was awarded a Nobel prize in 1968.
28. Cats Cradle — Kurt Vonnegut
The apocalypse has never had such a twisted sense of humour.
“When a man becomes a writer, he takes on a sacred obligation to produce beauty and enlightenment and comfort at top speed.”
29. An Essay on Typography — Eric Gill
A very opinionated account of the history and the art of typography.
30. Kafka on the Shore — Haruki Murakami
Easily my favourite book of the year. There’s really no words to explain how great this book is unless you’ve actually read it.
“Taking crazy things seriously is a serious waste of time.”
31. Mort — Terry Pratchett
“He was determined to discover the underlying logic behind the universe. Which was going to be hard, because there wasn’t one.”
32. The Design of Everyday Things — Don Norman
Another highly recommended book in the world of design. Something I bought from my university reading list and never got round to opening. Definitely a must read for understanding the psychology behind the design of everyday objects.
33. The Strange Library — Haruki Murakami
A Beautifully illustrated short story about a guy who gets trapped in a mysterious library.
“Why do I act like this, agreeing when I really disagree, letting people force me to do things I don’t want to do?”
34. After the Quake — Haruki Murakami
A collection of short stories from a group of characters surreal experiences during the Kobe earthquake disaster.
35. Call for the Dead — John le Carré
The early George Smiley stories are less spy novels than they are murder mysteries. Still better than James Bond.
36. On the Road — Jack Kerouac
I probably quit reading this book four times before I eventually finished it. Seriously, fuck you, Jack Kerouac.
37. Snow Country — Yasunari Kawabata
Another of the three Kawabata stories referenced in his Nobel prize win, and possibly even more beautifully written than Cranes.
38. Someone Like You — Roald Dahl
Because even adults needs Roald Dahl in their life.
39. A Murder of Quality — John le Carré
It’s hard not to feel slightly sophisticated when reading George Smiley novels. In my opinion, le Carré is one of the best British writers of the 20th Century.
I’ve also started writing a tech blog on some cool web development topics that I’ve been learning at work, check it out at danielgynn.com. I’m also hoping to add a ‘book recommendations’ section to my website.
The target for 2016 is to read well over 50 new books, and to focus on reading a lot more non-fiction, as well as finishing everything Murakami has ever written.