My 2016 Year in Books

Time for the annual year-end reading post!

I read 76 books total, about the same as last year.  I was not successful in surpassing 80 because of the smartphone.  27 books qualify for my diversity book project because they were written by someone non-white and/or non-straight.  That’s a lot better than 2015; fully one-third of what I read in 2016 fit into the diversity category. The different types (including some overlap) were: 13 memoir; 47 fiction; 18 other non-fiction; 4 young adult/middle grade; 19 historical fiction; 3 fantasy-science fiction; 6 that could be considered classics.  I read 46 books written by women authors, 28 by men, and 2 by transpersons.

Some themes I noticed were that I read several books about the trends in women remaining single, which makes sense since 2016 was the anniversary for me of five years of deliberately not dating.  (Dating again may be the topic of a future post!)  I backed way off of writing craft and creativity books, but I didn’t do much in the way of creative writing, either, so maybe regularly reading books about writing helps to keep me inspired to keep writing.

I can’t say that I have a single favorite book of 2016, but there were several that I really loved, with a quick synopsis of each:

  • Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson.  These are companion books; not quite sequels, but they have many of the same characters and same settings.  Life After Life is the story of Ursula, a young girl in Great Britain on the eve of the first world war.  It seems that she has many opportunities to get things right, from a Buddhist perspective, and the book goes back and forth in time.  It may be a little confusing to follow at first, but it’s lovely and heartbreaking and the characters stay with you for a long time.  A God in Ruins tells the story of Ursula’s brother Ted, a bomber pilot during World War II, and his family.  They are different books, but both satisfying in their own way.
  • The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.  The story of an almost-spinster botanist scholar of mosses in the 1800s doesn’t seem like it would be that exciting, but Alma Whitaker got into my heart and stayed there.  Great historical detail, feminist story, spirituality infused throughout, including quite a bit of sex–this book has it all.  I absolutely loved it.
  • The Hummingbird by Stephen Kiernan.  Combine a hospice social worker with a Iraq war veteran-wounded husband and a disgraced terminally ill professor who seems to have researched a too-incredible story and you have The Hummingbird.  It’s fascinating and hopeful, even though you know that someone dies at the end.
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.   This is young adult romance, set in the 1980s, but it also deals with serious themes such as domestic violence, interracial romance, fat acceptance, and bullying.  It is so well-done!  I wanted the story to keep going, and so we can always hope for a sequel.  I’ve read some criticism that it contributes to the fetishization of Asian folks, so it’s not perfect, but I loved the fact that the main female character is a fat teenager and her size isn’t a primary part of the story line.  It’s who she is, and she finds love anyway.
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz.  Another young adult coming of age novel, along with a romance for the main character who doesn’t realize he’s falling in love with another boy.  I loved the dialogue and the fact that some of the story was told via letters from Dante to Ari.
  • Wonder, by P.J. Palacio.  Another young adult novel, read by my daughter in school. It’s the story of a boy with severe facial deformities who is starting 5th grade after being homeschooled his entire life.  Again, very well done and so glad to know that my daughter is reading this kind of book in school.
  • The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin.  These are the first two books of an unfinished trilogy, set in a possible-future earth that is plagued by frequent earthquakes and “seasons” where volcanic ash obscures the sun for a long time. But oragenes–persons born with the power to control the quakes–are feared, hated, and necessary for the future of humanity. It’s a fascinating look at oppressed people and systems of power.  I couldn’t put them down and am anxiously awaiting the final installment.
  • The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton.  A 14-year old boy comes of age in a small town in Kentucky affected by mountaintop removal mining, after witnessing a horrific accident that killed his 3-year old brother.  It sounds grim, but it is beautifully written and has a good ending.  It surprises you as you read it–you think it’s going to be a standard coming of age novel, but turns into quite a mystery-thriller. It has environmental, LGBT, and race relations themes, and a philosopher-grandfather whose every other word I wanted to write down.  Highly recommend.

I read a lot of African American classic nonfiction and fiction this year.  I don’t think I’ve completely processed my feelings about all that I’ve read, except that I am certain that we as a country have a lot more work to do to resolve our race issues.  I said it last year, and I’ll say it again.  If you are white, and read, and want to understand race in the United States, you have a duty to read as many books written by authors of color that you can.  Books written by white folks about people of color don’t count.  I cannot claim to know what it’s like to live as a black person in the United States.  But I learned a lot in 2016 from W.E.B. DuBois, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Alice Walker, Mychal Denzel Smith, N.K. Jemisin, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Michelle Alexander, and Jesmyn Ward.  I encourage all of my white friends to do the same.

Goals for next year:  I’d like to read at least 80 books, at least one-third (27) meeting the diversity qualification. I’d like to maybe read fewer nonfiction, more memoir and writing/creativity books. I’d also like to do some more analysis of the portrayal of fat women in the fiction that I read, with the goal of reading more authors who portray fat women in a positive light.  So I will probably be keeping some kind of record of that, as well.  Happy New Year of Reading!

The 2016 list, in order of reading:

  1. The End of Men and the Rise of Women by Hanna Rosin (NF)
  2. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris (F, BC)
  3. Towelhead, by Alicia Erian (F, Div)
  4. The Writing Life by Annie Dillard (NF)
  5. The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. DuBois (NF, Div, Classic)
  6. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (F, Hist)
  7. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith/ J.K. Rowling (F)
  8. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg (F, Div)
  9. Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He was Black, by Gregory Howard Williams (Mem, Div)
  10. My Brilliant Friend, by Elana Ferrante (F, Hist)
  11. Native Tongue, by Carl Hiassen (F)
  12. The Beautiful Struggle, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Mem, Div)
  13. The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold (F)
  14. The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (F, Hist)
  15. The Birth House by Ami McCay (F, Hist, BC)
  16. The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (F, Hist, Div)
  17. The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr (NF)
  18. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (F, Hist, Div)
  19. Big Magic: Creative Lving Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (NF)
  20. The Return of Simple by Langston Hughes (F, Div)
  21. The Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling (Mem)
  22. Lit by Mary Karr (Mem)
  23. The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler (F, BC)
  24. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (F, Hist)
  25. The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay (F, Hist, BC)
  26. Minecraft: The Unlikely Tale of Markus “Notch” Persson and the Game that Changed Everything by Linus Larsson and Daniel Goldberg, translated by Jennifer Hawkins (NF)
  27. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston Mem, Div)
  28. The Signature of All Things  by Elizabeth Gilbert (F, Hist)
  29. Your Heart is a Muscle The Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa (F, Hist)
  30. The Story of a New Name, by Elana Ferrante (F, Hist)
  31. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, by Elana Ferrante (F, Hist)
  32. The Story of the Lost Child, by Elana Ferrante (F, Hist)
  33. Stop-Time by Frank Conroy (Mem)
  34. Boar Island by Nevada Barr (F)
  35. The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian (F)
  36. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (F, Div)
  37. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (NF, Div)
  38. All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister (NF)
  39. The Hummingbird by Stephen Kiernan (F, BC)
  40. Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick (Mem, NF)
  41. Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America by Linda Hunt (NF)
  42. The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore (F, Div)
  43. A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein (Mem, Div)
  44. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (F, YA, Hist)
  45. Here if You Need Me: A True Story by Kate Braestrup (Mem)
  46. Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride (NF, Div)
  47. Gutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie (F, Hist, BC)
  48. Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living by Jes Baker (NF, Mem)
  49. The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children by Shefali Tsabary (NF, Div)
  50. Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education by Mychal Denzel Smith (Mem, Div)
  51. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (F, YA, Div)
  52. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloane (F)
  53. Native Son by Richard Wright (F, Div, Classic)
  54. Wonder by Raquel J. Palacio (F, YA, Div)
  55. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (F)
  56. James Baldwin: A Biography by David Leeming (NF)
  57. The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic by Ginger Strand (NF, BC)
  58. I am Malala  by Malala Yousafzi (Mem, Div)
  59. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (F, SF-Fantasy, Div)
  60. The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin (F, SF-Fantasy, Div)
  61. The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald (F, BC)
  62. The Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters (F)
  63. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett (F)
  64. Waiting  by Ha Jin (F, Hist, Div)
  65. Three Men in a Boat; to Say Nothing of the Dog by Jerome K. Jerome (F, BC, Classic)
  66. I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong (NF, Div)
  67. The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner (F, YA)
  68. Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett (NF)
  69. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (F, Hist, Classic)
  70. Monastery of Writers by Abe Aamidor (F)
  71. Go Tell It On the Mountain  by James Baldwin (F, Div, Classic)
  72. Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing by Jennifer Weiner (Mem)
  73. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (F, Div, Classic)
  74. LaRose by Louise Erdrich (F, Hist, Div)
  75. The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton (F)
  76. The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race edited by Jesmyn Ward (NF, Mem, Div)

2 thoughts on “My 2016 Year in Books

  1. Anne-Marie

    Thanks for another great summary of your year of reading. I have enjoyed some of theses, and struggled through a few others. But I love that I now have some great books to add my reading list! Thank you!!

  2. Pingback: My 2017 Year in Books: Analysis and Favorites | bbwesquire

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s