I’ve been wanting to write a post about the books I read in 2016 since the new year, but my focus has been on other things. Not sure if that’s good or bad. At any rate, I finally got a minute to finish pounding it out before January ends. Yay!
FYI: each click on the book links below earns me a penny or two through Amazon’s affiliate program. (Really. It’s the tiniest percentage.) So if you’re looking to buy any new books, might I recommend those ones listed below? Maybe not the flops, but…you never know. Everyone has different taste.
Without further ado, here are my favorites (and least favorites) of the books I read in 2016!
Best fiction: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
I thought this book was simply beautiful. Generally speaking, magical realism is lost on me, but this? Swoon. It’s not a gentle read (if I remember correctly there are a few situations of abuse, violence, sex, + plenty of bullying, and there’s a pretty horrifying scene near the end) yet even the yucky stuff is beautiful. Real and raw and still magical. I would own this. I would not feel comfortable with my children reading it until they are in their late teens, though.
Best historical fiction: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
I spend a good amount of time last year educating myself on race relations in the United States, and this was an excellent addition to my studies. Discrimination is never as simple + obvious as we might want it to be. Our actions affect more than just us. Sometimes our best intentions are misguided. And is violence ever justified? I truly don’t know. But this is a marvelous book, a quick read, and an important one.
Best sci-fi: The Martian
The book is nearly always better than the movie, and this was no exception. I wish Neal Stephenson had found the same balance between science and humor in Seveneves. Note: there is some language; the opening line uses the F word. But it fits. I mean, I’d be hard pressed not to swear like a sailor if I found myself stranded on Mars and facing imminent starvation if I didn’t figure out how to grow my own Martian potato crops.
Best middle grade fiction: Howl’s Moving Castle
This was my first Studio Ghibli film and I fell in love. It was delightful to read the book it was based on. Lots of fun details and some interesting changes in the character dynamics. I still adore the movie, but I bought a copy of this and can’t wait to read it with my kids.
Best nonfiction: Big Magic
It lived up to the hype. Truly. In fact, I should probably skim through it again soon.
Best fanfic: Longbourn
I went into this with low expectations (fanfic is not usually my jam) and was blown away. We sometimes forget the necessary support structures for certain lifestyles, and this was a fascinating look at everything required to sustain a pleasantly idle Austen heroine.
(Full disclosure: I once wrote a massive research paper about how “the establishment” was essential for the beatniks to live their “alternative” lives–you might be surprised at how heavily they relied on women filling fairly traditional roles to keep them fed and clothed–so this is a topic I’ve long been interested in. Smash the patriarchy and all that.)
Most frequently referenced in conversation: The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way
If you are interested at all in how our educational system is failing and ways it could be improved, this is for you. SO GOOD.
Least comfortable to read (in a good way): The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
I spent my adolescence in a small town just off the Navajo reservation. This book forced me to face some of my long-held, long-ignored, often incorrect beliefs about Native Americans. I did not like it. Which is exactly why it was good for me. Time to do some more studying and changing.
Inspiring but forgettable: All the Money In the World: What the Happiest People Know About Wealth
I wrote down a quote that stood out to me, then promptly moved on with my life. I’m probably not ready to be wealthy.
Most immediately useful: America’s Test Kitchen: Cooking School Cookbook
David has made their brown butter chocolate chip cookies multiple times and I am not sad about it. I do wish, however, that they used regular yeast instead of instant. Ah well.
Should’ve been a series: Seveneves
SO LONG. Really really really interesting, but boy howdy, was it a long one. I’d have preferred at least a trilogy, and maybe more exploration into the different factions + their resulting races + cultures.
Didn’t need to be a series: Dorothy Must Die
I enjoyed the premise of this. (Dorothy has turned evil and has taken over Oz, stealing all of its magic for herself. Amy gets tornadoed in to help the resistance effort. Plot ensues.) It didn’t interest me enough to read the next in the series before the series is finished, though. Maybe not enough to read it at all. We’ll see.
Seriously life changing: The Anatomy of Peace
Went into this with low expectations. Came out of it and ordered two copies (one for me, one for my mom), then almost immediately loaned my copy to a friend. When a book changes the vocabulary you use when thinking about your relationships, you know it’s made an impact.
Superficially life changing: The Curated Closet: A Simple System for Discovering Your Personal Style and Building Your Dream Wardrobe
After 30+ years, I think maybe I’m figuring out my style. Even better, I have more self-control when it comes to buying new clothes. Do I really like it or do I kind of like it and just really love the price? Or the idea of it? Am I buying this for my fantasy life or the one I actually live every day? It’s been a good thought exercise. I’ve donated a good chunk of my closet and I don’t miss any of it. I’ve also made some purchases that I’m really happy with. It’ll be an ongoing process but a pleasant one.
Most addictive series: A Song of Ice and Fire (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, + the Dunk & Egg novellas)
Guys. George R. R. Martin is problematic in so many ways (the misogyny and lack of diversity are pretty glaring issues) but dang if he can’t write a compelling world. The characters are so complex, and I’m a sucker for great character development. Plus: dragons. Eleven-year-old Jen is geeking out over this series and I’m indulging her.
Least favorite portrayal of love: What Dreams May Come
While the portrayal of the afterlife was fascinating, I could not get over the way the narrator talked about his wife. She was his damsel in distress, always fragile and in need of protection, and it drove. me. bonkers. If you love this woman as much as you claim to, show her a little respect and give her a little credit! It kind of ruined the book for me, to be honest.
Wish I hadn’t read: This Is How You Lose Her
I don’t think Junot Diaz is for me. His portrayal of Latinx-American culture(s) was so well done, but I don’t think there was a single character in this collection of stories that I liked. Not one. Plus I didn’t realize it wasn’t a novel, and it wasn’t very obvious since some of the characters are repeated, and mostly I was annoyed and confused and very put off.
Most disappointing: Notes From a Blue Bike
I’m not sure where my high expectations for this came from, but it wasn’t that great. It felt like an essay that got streeeeetched into a novel unnecessarily. Decent, mostly common sense, nothing really earth-shattering. Meh.
Fastest read: A Monster Calls
I cannot recommend this quick read enough. Turns out there’s a movie out now (which is probably why it ended up on my to-read list in the first place) that is also good. If you interact with children or teens, this is for you. We have to be so careful how we help them navigate difficult experiences.
Pleasantly forgettable: The Story of Land and Sea
I read most of this while flying to DC last fall, which was timely since it’s set around the end of the Revolutionary War. Fairly fluffy but in a way that wouldn’t be embarrassing if someone asked what you’re reading on a plane.
Not my favorite from this author but still a good read: What Alice Forgot
I liked Big Little Lies better. That said, I am now FREAKED OUT that I’m going to get amnesia and have to reconstruct my life and it’s going to be SO WEIRD.
Author I’d most likely be friends with: This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live
Such a good book, especially for someone who is trying to put down roots in a place they never thought they’d live forever. I loved the writing style and could totally relate to her experiences, plus she includes some fascinating research and resources to help you love where you live.
Total books read in 2016: 33
23 fiction, 10 non-fiction (This is actually huge for me. I strongly prefer fiction and am making a conscious effort to read more nonfiction)
Obviously I didn’t read everything I listed in my “What We’re Reading” posts last year, nor did I review everything I did read in this post. Maybe I’ll change how I do that going forward
I’d like to get to 50 this year. That’s a nice even number. However, I don’t count chapter books I read with my kids, and I have a really hard time with audiobooks, so I only listen to them on rare occasions. Besides, I’ve only read 1 1/2 so far, with January nearly over, so I’m not exactly on track to get there. We’ll see. I’ve got a good-sized pile from the library with some promising titles. And I can claim bookworm status without reading as voraciously as I did as a kid. I’ve got a lot more filling my time these days!
Maybe next month my mantra will be READ…
If you made it through this unnecessarily long post…what have you read lately that you’ve loved or hated? What are hoping to read soon but haven’t yet? Because clearly I don’t have enough suggestions yet and I need moooooore!