Books of 2016

Tis the season for the best books of 2016 lists. Browsing them makes me feel like an underachiever, but I see a couple on there from my list.

My goal for 2016 was to read 35 books and I hit 44! Nothing makes me feel like I had a great year like looking back at my favorites. Here’s the whole gang in photo form.

I know that’s impossible to see, but you can see the list here on Goodreads. Seventeen of them were nonfiction.  Thirty of them were written by women.

This year was a good one in the book department for me. Last Christmas I got a Kindle so this year some of my books were in digital form, most of them from the library. I tried to read more books that came out this year. Basically, this meant getting on the list at the library ahead of the curve (or reading Carolyn’s before she turned them back in), but it was doable.

In no particular order, here are my favorites:

The Martian by Andy Weir – So fun! I’m not a real science-y person, but this story cracked me up and had me excited for space.

You by Caroline Kepnes- This book was a creepy stalker thriller set around young professionals in NYC. It’s gritty and intimate in all the right ways.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem- She’s a feminist hero and an incredible storyteller who lived through modern history.

I’m also now immune to politicians who say, “I’ve traveled the length and breadth of this great land, and I know…” I’ve traveled more than any of them, and I don’t know.

All I knew was that my father enjoyed my company, asked my opinion, and treated me better than he treated himself. What more could any child want?

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi- This was my #1 for the year. I cried a couple of times and thought deeply about death and mortality.

Love, Nina: Dispatches from Family Life by Nina Stibbe- This book is all letters from Nina who’s a delightful British woman working as a nanny. I laughed and maybe you will too.

We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a True Story by Josh Sundquist- This book made me so uncomfortable I almost shriveled up and died. It’s also hilarious and touching in its moments.

The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer- She’s a weirdo with a lot to share. I think about her rock and roll lifestyle a lot when I let myself depend on other people.

Couchsurfing is about more than saving on hotel costs. It’s a gift exchange between the surfer and the host that offers an intimate gaze into somebody’s home, and the feeling of being held and comforted by their personal space. It’s also a reminder that we’re floating along due to a strong bond of trust, just like when I surf the crowd at a show, safely suspended on a sea of ever-changing hands. It can feel almost holy, looking at somebody else’s broken shower nozzle, smelling the smells of a real kitchen, feeling the fray of a real blanket and hearing the crackle of an old steam radiator.

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld- This is a story loosely based on Laura Bush’s life. It speaks to marriage and family in a sensible and sensitive way. Plus, it was entertaining to see the story come together.

She was the reason I was a reader, and being a reader was what had made me most myself; it had given me the gifts of curiosity and sympathy, an awareness of the world as an odd and vibrant and contradictory place, and it had made me unafraid of its oddness and vibrancy and contradictions.

But what I did care about, what I wanted most fervently, was for her to understand that hard work paid off, that decency begat decency, that humility was not a raincoat you occasionally pulled on when you thought conditions called for it, but rather a constant way of existing in the world, knowing that good and bad luck touched everyone and none of us was fully responsible for our fortunes or tragedies. Above all, I wanted my daughter to understand that many people were guided by bitterness and that it was best to avoid these individuals—their moods and behavior were a hornet’s nest you had no possible reason to do anything other than bypass and ignore.

It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort- This was my second favorite of the year, I think. Nora lost her dad, miscarried her baby and lost her husband within six weeks. This sounds like a real downer, but it’s the funniest thing I’ve read in a while. Plus, I’m a sucker for essays by lady writers.

I don’t know what is next, and that’s okay. It’s more than okay, because I actually get to decide what it is.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi- There are a lot of characters to keep track of here, but it rewards the reader over and over. This vast story follows a family from the 1700s to the present day, dealing with colonialism, race, incarceration and family struggles. It’s beefy, but worth it.

Hell was a place of remembering, each beautiful moment passed through the mind’s eye until it fell to the ground like a rotten mango, perfectly useless, uselessly perfect.

Each year my family swaps our favorite books to share. Here’s our 2016 picks… (mine is When Breath Becomes Air).

As for next year, I think I’m going to aim for 40. I would love to decide to read only books by women or or only books that are on high school reading lists or only nonfiction, or maybe only anthologies of short stories.  Perhaps this is the year I will tackle Les Mis. Also, I have never read a single Jane Austen, isn’t that sad?

The more I think about those ideas, the less I want to commit to anything for a year. I want the flexibility to read something that just looks good exactly when I feel like it. I never want to feel like it’s a challenge or a chore. I can’t wait to get started.

Any recommendations?