Reading List from the Year 2015

Books and CoffeeIt has been a great year for reading. I found it gratifying and a little surprising when I assembled the entire list of books that I consumed over the past 12 months. Formats ranged from paperback to hardback to Kindle to Audible. I’ve divided the 39 books into the four categories listed below.

  1. Novels
  2. Books about Writing Books
  3. History and Religion
  4. Still Reading

Each book cover links to Amazon for the publisher’s synopsis. I’ve added my own micro-commentary below each book, not to substitute for a longer synopsis, but simply to highlight what I found notable about each.


Enjoyed Hemingway here as always. He again captures death and fear between lines of economy prose. But I consider The Sun Also Rises to have been more personally impactful and memorable.

Gatsby contains an excellence that draws even with its reputation. A shimmering mirage overlaid on the base underbelly of humanity. I consider both the opening and the closing to be among the most poetic I’ve read.

A unique look at fundamentalism, the awkwardness of social misfits, and the industry of mid-1800’s Australia. The story appeared to lose steam during its long meandering middle, but Carey redeemed all promises in the end with surprising tempo.

McEwan gives a curious and dark look into the private crisis of marital infidelity. Reconciliation comes less from forgiveness than by resignation and relational inertia. McEwan proves his consummate versatility as he narrates the intimate thoughts of a spurned middle-aged female protagonist.

It seems a curious irony that McEwan’s Atonement is not his Booker Prize novel. Amsterdam plays out the implications and natural outcomes of legalized assisted suicide/euthanasia. I found the story both sound and memorable, but not at the level of Atonement, which remains my favorite McEwan novel.

Ho-hum as novels go, but Saturnalia did provide a decent period piece for immersion in Roman era culture, as it follows a 1st century detective through various political and criminal adventures.

Beautifully woven fantasy, yet the bracketing beginning and ending could have been meatier.

Poignant, beautiful, tragic. Recommended read for the soul. But Death, I’m afraid, proved unconvincing; I walked away feeling that there was a great deal of unrealized potential in his character.

Martin’s masterful language alone would justify reading Game of Thrones. An enjoyably epic-scale world teeming with a Machiavellian ensemble cast.

Commentary on the collective inertia of societal prejudice and injustice, but viewed though the closeup lens of a family household. I found it impactful, but not life-altering. In its day, I have no doubt it shook the stones.

Excellent premise and well told story in a book that could have been ever-so-much more. American Gods embodies a fantasy crafted too casually and with internal plausibility gaps that could have been narrowed.

Joseph Conrad: The Master Craftsman. His craft of language dwarfs the great hordes of journeyman novelists. Lord Jim is one of the greatest character novels I have ever read, and it may well be the finest book I’ve opened this year.

Superbly detailed, high-realism science fiction spun from a thankfully original cataclysm, which threatens the survival of all life on earth. As a multi-millennium epic, SevenEves is really two books in one. The first proves better than the less-developed second.

Without question, the worst novel I have read this year.

Dostoevsky’s classic would be worthwhile for the Grand Inquisitor alone. By the closing, however, I was fatigued by the characteristically Russian excess of words. It could have been 30% shorter while losing none of its effect; par for the Russian novel I suppose. Meanwhile, I believe my preference remains for Tolstoy.

Hawkins’ unusual choice of an alcoholic woman for her protagonist made this a unique read from the beginning. There proved to be more turns to the plot than the first pages intimate.

My first Atwood book. I was surprised at the lasciviously experimental story threads. In audiobook form, the unfortunate male reader nearly tuned me out for good. Interesting read, but not a great pick in Audible format.

It’s the texture of Steinbeck that stands apart. Cannery Row crafts vignettes of authentic brevity among a loose community of strugglers, some misfits, some upstanding. Steinbeck weaves an everyman tale without heroes or villains, and you remember them.

Books about Writing Books

Stephen King wrote what is probably the single best book on writing that I’ve read this year. A mixture of memoir and mentoring, it was so good that I found myself buying it in hardback, digital, and audiobook formats.

In a narrow run against King, I’d have to place Anne Lamott as an extremely close second. She summarizes her advice in memorable sound bites, which I have typed and posted to the wall above my typewriter. One inch picture frames. Shitty first drafts. Double true.

Decent how-to instruction book for developing a good story premise before committing too much to paper.

Solid how-to instruction book for overall novel construction.

In this examination of 20 major plot types, Tobias explains the important why as well as the more formulaic how for each approach. If nothing else, the journey through the 20 allows the writer to disambiguate what sort of story he really wants to tell. And you realize that you can’t tell them all at once.

Excellent, excellent, excellent! Hynes’ lecture series on writing fiction is the best how-to discussion of the craft that I’ve purchased. I’ve listened through the course at least three times, taking many notes along the way. Excellent!

History and Religion

Technically Maier’s book is a novel, but as a New Testament scholar his attention to historical detail was scrupulous. The story is well crafted but unsurprising. Maier’s unfortunately Pollyanna portrayal of the early church leaders yields predictably flat and boring character renditions. The pagans proved far more interesting, because they were real.

My man, John Zande wrote a brilliantly satirical argument for the existence of god; except this god is infinitely evil. His inversion of the typical arguments for god makes for the darkest of humor, but it ably demonstrates just how specious the standard arguments raised by theists actually are.

Anyone who thinks history is boring has never read Herodotus. Written a few centuries BCE, Herodotus recounts major events and characters from Greek culture while commenting on the accuracy of the sources and stories he has collected. Along the way, he illustrates just how superstitious and credulous our ancient ancestors were, and how little human nature has changed since.

I read the Wars of the Jews as a research necessity for my own book project. It portrays the Palestine of Jesus’ day as a hotbed of radicalism and the ancient Jews as a people easily as comfortable with suicidal warfare as the Kamikaze or the Jihadi. I have probably never read a more gruesome tale than his account of the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

The Martyrdom of Polycarp portrays a fantasy of blood relish consistent with the Jewish mindset described by Josephus. With dubious and miraculous levels of suffering, it is a work that reveals the depth of mental maladjustment in the early movement of Christianity.

Continuing thematically from the prior two works, the collected letters and works of the early Apostolic Fathers show more of the same. The letters of Ignatius, in particular, reflect a depth of derangement and masochism we moderns would label psychotic.

Richard Carrier’s mighty tome on the non-historicity of Jesus and Christ-myth theory packs a formidable punch. The more of Carrier I read, the more I suspect he may well be right: there never was a Jesus. Superb and detailed argument, but not for the casual reader.

Thomas Paine was flat-out amazing. In an age before the evidences of modern archaeology, and well before the sciences of cosmology or evolutionary biology, he exploded the entire idea of Biblical historicity — using nothing save the Bible itself. His oracular observations have only been validated by hard evidences since.

Myth in Human History was a good series of lectures, but they seemed somewhat weak on structure and organization. I will likely finish them one day, but for now I have laid them aside, somewhat out of boredom.

Dizzying but fascinating. I look forward to my continued march through Joyce’s tome.

The classic I’ve yet to finish. I’m currently listening to the audiobook read by Ian McKellen. Superb.

Vibrant, grizzled prose, feeling almost as though it were written in multicolored ink. When complete, I intend to see the movie as well.

Penning hilarity by way of absurdity, Voltaire brandishes his famed razor wit while disassembling Leibnizian optimism and its assertion of a divine cosmic order.

Post apocalyptic humanity now lives in a gigantic silo to protect themselves from a poisoned atmosphere. The story is curious and interesting, but in the end, I have doubts that this long read will alter my life or expand my mind.

Textual List of All Books:

  1. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
  2. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  3. Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey
  4. The Children Act, Ian McEwan
  5. Amsterdam, Ian McEwan
  6. Saturnalia, Lindsey Davis
  7. Life of Pi, Yann Martel
  8. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
  9. A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1, George R. R. Martin
  10. To Kill a Mocking Bird, Harper Lee
  11. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
  12. Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad
  13. SevenEves, Neal Stephenson
  14. Four, Veronica Roth
  15. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  16. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
  17. The Heart Goes Last, Margaret Atwood
  18. Cannery Row, John Steinbeck
  19. On Writing, Stephen King
  20. Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
  21. Powerful Premise, William Bernhardt
  22. The Breakout Novelist, Donald Maass
  23. 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them, Ronald Tobias
  24. Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques, The Great Courses, James Hynes
  25. Flames of Rome, Paul L. Maier
  26. The Owner of All Infernal Names: An Introductory Treatise, John Zande
  27. The Histories, Herodotus (Partial Read)
  28. The Jewish War, Flavius Josephus
  29. The Martyrdom of Polycarp, J.B. Lightfoot
  30. The Apostolic Fathers in English, Holms
  31. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt, Richard Carrier
  32. The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine
  33. Myth in Human History, The Great Courses, Grant L. Voth
  34. Ulysses, James Joyce (Still Reading)
  35. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey (Still Reading)
  36. Candide, Voltaire (Still Reading)
  37. Wool Omnibus, Hugh Howey (Still Reading)
  38. The Odyssey, Homer



  1. Wow, Matt, that’s quite a list. Thanks for sharing. You and Noel (Mak) are two of the most prolific readers I’ve ever met. Happy New Year. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Impressed doesn’t even begin to describe your list. My list is all sci-fi, and I think it’d take me a year alone to read Ulysses. Your plug is warmly received, and glad it brought a smile.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great list, Matt! Many of these are on my “to-read” list, as well. My wife got me John’s book for Christmas, and I’m looking forward to starting it.

    I read On Writing a number of years ago and loved it. I keep meaning to come back to it, but haven’t done so yet. And The Age of Reason is one of my all-time favorites. Thomas Paine is my personal hero.

    Hope you guys are doing well!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hey Nate, glad you’re gonna read John’s book. It was fun in a darkish way. 🙂

      Paine made me feel… Stupid. It took soooo much info to convince me. Paine lived before all that and basically said “yeah, if you actually read this, it doesn’t make sense”.

      Smarter than me by a decade or two on the IQ scale. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yep! That is exactly how I felt!

        Liked by 1 person

        • archaeopteryx1 says:

          What I find extremely ironic, Matt and Nate, is that ‘Tom Paine,” who posts on Colorstorm’s fundamentalist site, uses Tom Paine as an avatar and maintains that Paine supported Christianity!

          All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
          — Thomas Paine —

          Any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be a true system.
          — Thomas Paine —

          It is from the Bible that man has learned cruelty, rapine and murder; for the belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man.
          — Thomas Paine —

          Liked by 2 people

        • archaeopteryx1 says:

          Here’re some more:

          Of all the tyrannies that afflict mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst. Every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in, but this attempts a stride beyond the grave and seeks to pursue us into eternity.
          — Thomas Paine —

          What is it the New Testament teaches us? To believe that the Almighty committed debauchery with a woman engaged to be married; and the belief of this debauchery is called faith.
          — Thomas Paine —

          The Bible: a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalise mankind.
          — Thomas Paine —

          Liked by 1 person

  4. A long time ago, I read Bird by Bird. A really cool book. And educational as well. 😉

    I have to agree with Nate about Thomas Paine. He had the right idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your list is quite inspiring. Maybe I should do the same about my modest reading list.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. archaeopteryx1 says:

    Liked by 1 person

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