A BookLikes community page for Quirk Books, an independent book publisher based in Philadelphia. We publish 25 strikingly unconventional books every year. Learn more at QuirkBooks.com.
New Year’s has come and gone, with the requisite silly hats, warm champagne, and half-hearted midnight well wishes. You promised yourself 2015 would be different, that you’d stick to your resolutions, but real life picked back up and, well, things fell by the wayside. All your good intentions got buried in the daily shuffle, but hey, it happens. There’s no need to feel guilty about it, and here at Quirk we’ve prepared a reading list especially for you, to make you feel better about your—understandable—lack of follow through.
1. You wanted to get in shape/work out more
In theory, working out, building muscle mass, and getting in some cardio are very good things, but I can guarantee that the minute you start reading Bryce Courtney’s The Power of One, you’ll lose interest in all physical exercise. The novel tells the tale of Peekay, a little South African boy who develops an early interest in boxing and ends up pursuing a career with the sport. It’s wonderfully written, but really there are only so many second-by-second descriptions of boxing matches you can read before the bridge of your nose starts aching in sympathy. On the plus side, it’s a sizeable tome, so you might just get some triceps work done without realizing.
At least the Power of One’s Peekay is training for a legitimate career. The same definitely can’t be said for the folks in Fight Club, by Chuck Pahlaniuk. There’s nothing like reading about disaffected young men using violence to finally feel something to make you perfectly content with ditching the gym in favour of an evening with Netflix.
Bonus: André the Giant: The Life and the Legend by Box Brown. The graphic novel biography of wrestler André René Roussimoff may be exciting, but there’s a good portion of his life that’s not particularly enviable.
2. You wanted to spend more time with family
Okay so you really did try to put in some quality family time, but your aunt made that racist joke, your brother won’t stop singing “Let it Go” and your parents have a betting pool going to try to figure out why you’re still single. You’re going to need some alone time, and what better way to do that than to read Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I mean any book that starts with “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” is sure to be a hit.
If you’re looking for something a little less hefty, look no farther than Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel. The graphic novel recounts a young girl’s rocky relationship with a repressed and emotionally distant father, and will put any guilt about rekindling familial relationships to rest. Bechdel, who just won a MacArthur genius grant this past year, is a beautiful storyteller; let her be your company instead.
Bonus: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Let’s be real, any sister who chucks your carefully written manuscript into a fire is swiftly going to be following said manuscript headfirst.
3. You wanted to make more friends
You know how it goes: You make some new acquaintances, you become fast friends and you live in a land of beauty and plenty. But inevitably the honeymoon ends, and there’s torture, arson, murder, and the decapitation of pigs. It’s always the same thing. Why waste your time with friends when you could be reading Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, instead?
If your tastes run more to the graphic novel, Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët’s Beautiful Darkness, a story in which miniature people must survive together in a forest, will be right up your alley. Nothing will reconcile you to loneliness quite like reading an allegorical tale all about the cruelty of human beings. As we all know, friends will only end up stealing your prince, your berries, and your pet robin.
Bonus: Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey. Hey, if all else fails, you can always go live with gorillas for a couple decades.
4. You wanted to go on a diet
You know what? Food is great! We should all be eating more good, delicious food. And to celebrate that, why don’t you pull up a chair for the Redwall series by Brian Jacques? Sure it’s a children’s fantasy story about abbey-dwelling woodland animals who often have delightfully quaint adventures, but it’s the feast scenes that will hook you. Trust me, a couple pages in, you’ll be salivating over nut-studded cheeses, elderflower wines, and sweet creams covered in candied violet flowers. If anyone says they’re reading these books for anything but the feasts, they’re lying.
But hey, maybe you want a novel that’s a touch less fanciful. Well then you’ll want to get your hands on Karen Blixen’s Babette’s Feast. (I just really like feasts, okay?) A French woman takes refuge in a religious, uptight Norwegian village during the Franco-Prussian war, and after living among them for fourteen years, decides to cook them a delicious, elaborate meal as a thank you. It’s great.
Bonus: Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. Butter. On. Everything.
5. You wanted to go back to school
The acquisition of knowledge is always a worthy goal, but if you’re feeling badly about not taking that particular plunge this year, I recommend a good dose of horrifying stories about the British school system. First up is Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl, which, for all its reliable Dahl whimsy, is a truly terrible tale of punishment and mistreatment suffered by the author in his youth.
In the same vein is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. In order to extend the life of is citizens, the British government decides to raise clones from infancy to eventually become organ donors. An early and inescapable death really puts a damper on the children’s idyllic boarding school experience, and might just keep you from idealizing those hallowed halls of learning.
Bonus: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. If anyone deserved to have their academic curiosity curtailed, it was Dr. Frankenstein. Someone along the way should have probably told him to go write some poetry instead of reanimating the dead.
6. You wanted to manage your debt
Your student loans, mortgage, or car repayments are no fun, it’s true, and they’re not always easy to get rid of. If 2015 just isn’t going to be the year that amount owing gets smaller, why not let Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens, remind you that, at the very least, you aren’t going to be chucked in the poorhouse and kept prisoner for the rest of your life, depending on your daughter for whatever meager bowl of gruel you manage to get your hands on.
That being said, it’s important to remember that even great riches don’t necessarily lead to happiness. Just look at Don Rosa’s The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. Uncle Scrooge is literally swimming in his treasure, but does he get a moment’s peace? No, no he does not. There are always some shenanigans brewing, whether it’s meddlesome nephews stirring up trouble, or someone nefariously trying to get their paws on his gold.
Bonus: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Dickens isn’t the only one you can count on to give you perspective. Maybe you can take comfort in the fact that you aren’t a dustbowl farmer in the 1930s.
7. You wanted to manage your stress/take care of yourself
Good for you for wanting to be good to yourself, but remember that it’s surprisingly easy to go overboard and overindulge. So if you never did book that spa day or treat yourself to that nice dinner, don’t fret. At least you won’t be plunging your family into poverty, grief-stricken deaths, and forced labour after years of overzealous spending on luxury goods. You can read all about that, however, in Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert.
And if you want to read about someone whose indulgences don’t stick to merely living beyond their means (with the odd affair here and there), but lead to something much grimmer, better add Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment to your literary wish list. Proving that you can rationalize literally anything to yourself if you try hard enough, protagonist Raskolnikov spends much of the book contemplating his moral right to murder.
Bonus: The Rise and Fall of Imelda Marcos by Carmen Navarro Pedrosa. As it turns out, Sex and the City lied to us. A girl can have too many shoes.
8. You wanted to travel more
All trips are not created equal, as Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift, definitely proves. Every time our hero Gulliver sets off on some grand journey, he ends up in another fantastical place even more fraught with danger than the last. He deals with imprisonment, near executions, and being kept as a pet in court, and comes back home after many long years a changed man. Sure he’s probably got some great travel photos, but it is worth his now complete lack of faith in humanity?
At least Gulliver actually meant to travel, the same can’t be said for David Balfour, the unfortunate youth in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped. Recently orphaned and sold by his evil uncle to a slave trader, the boy ends up caught in the middle of Jacobite assassination plots. Not quite the restful holiday.
Bonus: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston. An autobiography that inspired the James Franco film 127 Hours, let this book remind you that when it comes to travel, sometimes you get the relaxing cruise, sometimes a canyoneering accident leaves you with an amputated arm.
9. You wanted to drink less/quit smoking
If you didn’t manage to quit cold turkey, definitely give Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson, a chance to make you feel better about your own, comparatively moderate, imbibing. Sure you may have had a glass or two too many over the holidays, but (as far as I know) you’re not descending into a drug-fueled madness, talking philosophy with hallucinated anthropomorphic desert animals. It’s all about balance, you know?
On the other hand, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible neatly shows that “all work and no play” isn’t a winning strategy either. Frankly, the puritans probably could have used a fun night out. Maybe if they hadn’t been quite so straight-laced, they’d have had something other than witchcraft and demonic possession to obsess over.
Bonus: The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. He’s the greatest detective of all time, and even he’s not immune to the effects of cocaine and pipe tobacco and the occasional morphine.
10. You wanted to volunteer and help others
It’s super noble to want to help people and do good things for them. I will never dispute that. But, it is possible to help too much, and either not take enough time for yourself, or end up making everything worse with your misguided attempts at charity. Take Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. A young girl cursed by a fairy to always be obedient, Ella is incapable of not doing whatever she’s told. She’s taken advantage of so egregiously that she ends up with that infamous moniker: Cinderella. Don’t be Cinderella, is what I’m saying.
On the other hand, maybe you’re a super genius with a penchant for genetics and selective breeding. That doesn’t mean you know what’s best for the world, and destroying humanity in order to usher in the age of a new species of your creation, à la Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, is maybe not the soundest course of action. Scale things back a bit. Order a pizza. Take a bubble bath. Sleep on it, okay?
Bonus: Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa, Dambisa Moyo. Nothing says “I’m doing something good for myself” like reading some fascinating non-fiction.
So there you have it, our foolproof strategies for not stressing the New Year. Instead of drowning in guilt, dive into a good book instead. 2015 will work out just fine, even if you don’t get in those extra sit-ups or call your grandpa as often as you should.
But actually you should probably call your grandpa.