It’s my favorite time of the year: the time for making end of the year (and new year) lists! I love the chance to reflect back on the year in all sorts of different ways (I used this template from the Art of Simple this year if you’re still in a reflective mood), and I love the fresh beginning that a new year brings. I’m still working on my “what I’m learning and loving list” for the whole year, but, as part of that, I came up with my favorite reads from 2016.
I set out to read 50 books in 2016 – and I actually did it. I don’t think there is really anything special to reading a certain number of books in a year, but I will say that having a lofty (for me) goal did help motivate me to read when I otherwise might have turned on the TV, surfed on my phone, or possibly folded laundry (oops). Also, because I learned this year that reading is therapeutic for me, I would retreat into a book when I was feeling down or confused or stuck, and it helped me to better work through those times. Despite 2016 being a bit of a rollercoaster otherwise, I’ll look back on it as a great year in reading for me, and I’m grateful for that.
I read SO many great books in 2016 that it was really hard to narrow down this list, so I broke it down into various categories depending on your mood.
Force yourself to read these even if they aren’t in your normal wheelhouse
The Course of Love
Any description of this probably isn’t going to make you want to run out and pick up a copy, but I really wish you would. Every one in a long-term relationship should read this book. Alain de Botton, the philosopher author, weaves his reflections about love into a novel following a marriage, and it somehow works. About love, he writes, “The fault lies with art, not life. Rather than split up, we may need to tell ourselves more accurate stories–stories that don’t dwell so much on the beginning, that don’t promise us complete understanding, that strive to normalize our troubles and show us a melancholy yet hopeful path through the course of love.” We need better, more authentic stories about relationships, and The Course of Love helps the reader to see that and recognize the beauty in our own messy love stories.
J.D. Vance’s memoir has been on tons of best-of lists this year, and for good reason. It is very well-written, compelling, and necessary reading for our current political climate. I recently read that Vance is heading back to Ohio in light of the success of Hillbilly Elegy to start a nonprofit to help the people of his home state. He plans to go on a “listening tour” to figure out what exactly the nonprofit will do, and I just couldn’t love that anymore. I wish he was a Hoosier, first, so we could claim him, and second, because I’d volunteer to help him with his listening tour.
Between the World and Me
This won the 2015 National Book Award for nonfiction, deservedly so, but I didn’t read it until this year, so it’s on my 2016 list. It is a difficult and necessary book. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writing is a must read in general, but Between the World and Me should be required reading for our times. If you, like me, have resolved to read more from and about people of color, this needs to be at the top of your reading list.
This was the National Book Award for fiction in 2016, and I can’t stop thinking about it, even after finishing it over a month ago. Typically, when reading about heavy subjects, I tend to skim over the details because I’m a highly sensitive person, but Whitehead writes about the horrors of slavery so clearly and imaginatively that he somehow winds up portraying the terror of it without any gratuitousness, if that makes sense. I got so sucked into the story that I definitely need to pick it back up and read it more slowly and mindfully. I tend to dramatics, I know, but I really think this should be required reading for every American.
Just great writing that I’ll come back to
My reading buddy Laura told me to read this, and I’m so glad she did because I doubt I would have picked it up otherwise. Hope Jahren, the author, is an acclaimed scientist, and in this memoir, she writes so beautifully about her love for science and nature that she made me want to redo some of my high school and college science courses. Grant likes to say, when we’re on a hike in some beautiful landscape or watching an especially gorgeous sunset, “how can someone look at this and not believe in God?” I feel similarly about the intricacies of plant life after reading this book and getting small glimpses of the sheer impressiveness of plants.
A Prayer for Owen Meany
I read and loved early in the year, and I can’t even articulate why I loved it so much*.
When I was thinking about what I’ve learned this year, one of the things that stood out the most was the idea that the body, mind, and spirit are intricately connected and important. I learned this many times over in 2016, but Melton’s story of her marriage falling apart was my my most important teacher of this lesson. I’m sure there are many other lessons to be learned from Love Warrior, but it would be worth reading just for the excellent writing and brutal honesty.
The Joy Diet
I heard Martha Beck on some podcast this year (I can’t even remember which one), so I put a book of hers on hold at the library. I accidentally put The Joy Diet on hold instead of the one I meant to put on hold because The Joy Diet just didn’t sound like something I would enjoy. But then I think I picked it up in the carpool line because it was just there, and I got sucked in. I ended up loving it. It is a quick read and practical book with all sorts of good nuggets, but the things that stick out after my first reading are: do nothing for 15 minutes a day and take a risk everyday. It was worth reading if only to be convinced that those two things are a good idea.
2016 was a year of upheaval and growth when it comes to my faith, and Found found me just when I needed it. It was beautifully written and made me feel less alone, and any book that does that moves to the top of my favorites list. It was one of those books that came to me at the exact right time.
I read this early and in a hurry because I got an early copy, so I need to read it again, but Martin’s writing is hilarious, authentic, and she somehow managed to thoroughly challenge me in this book without guilt or pressure. That balance will have me rereading this in 2017, and I think you should to.
Just for fun and to escape
I fell deeeep into the Outlander hole last winter, reading books one-four in very quick succession (which is saying something because they are all like 900+ pages!). I lost my steam a bit and haven’t finished book five yet, but they were fun escapism if nothing else. I plan on diving back in during the dark days ahead because they made great winter weather reads.
The Royal We
SO many podcasters that I like recommended this book that I finally read it even though royal family fan fiction is definitely not my thing. BUT this was a super fun read, and you should take it with you if you get the chance to go to a beach sometime this year.
Like I said, I read SO many great books in 2016 – I’m already a bit nervous because I don’t see how 2017 will compete. Check out my full list here if you’re looking for more recommendations. I typically just read as I go, but I’m trying to be a bit more focused in 2017. I’ll report back with the books on my TBR-2017 list.
What did YOU read and love in 2016?!
I’m not linking to the Amazon pages for these because, even though I make a few pennies if you buy from them, I think you should find a local and/or independent bookstore to support instead. I went to a panel discussion in December here in Indy, and we got into a sidebar discussion about the need for better journalism. One of the panelists finally said, “if you want better journalism, you need to pay for better journalism!” We all stopped and applauded, but it was a great reminder to me that we need to vote with our feet and our dollars. I want more independent bookstores, so I should 1) stop shopping at the bookstore killer and 2) not accept affiliate dollars from them. If you’re like me and don’t have a neighborhood indie bookstore, try Hearts and Minds, Powell’s, or Better World Books. Or link to your favorite in the comments!
*One thing I tried to start during mid-way through 2016 was to just list 2-3 things I remembered or enjoyed or learned from each book I read when I logged it on Goodreads. In the past, I would log the book on Goodreads and tell myself that I would come back to review it more in full, but I just rarely got around to it. The list method was quick and didn’t require a ton of thought so I actually stuck with it. When I went back and looked at my books from the year, I was so grateful for starting this practice because it helped jog my memory of each specific book, rather than remembering it more vaguely.