As I wrote in last year’s New Year’s blog, in addition to 16 books, my goal for 2016 was to read more female authors and more meaningful fiction. I succeeded, and 2016 goes down as my best reading year yet, especially since I squeezed in 34 books, thanks in part to discovering that I could read my Kindle while on the treadmill (in font larger than I want to admit), thus combining my reading and my marathon training.
NOTE: It helps to know a person’s preferences when considering their opinions. If you are not already aware of my proclivities, you should know I am drawn to nonfiction on topics about which I am ignorant. I appreciate research and good journalism. I have a dead parent, so themes of grief and loss resonate with me, as do characters who are quirky, strong, and brilliant.
This year, I have four recommendation levels – Skip, Skim, Read, and Must Read. For more info on each book, click the book, which links to Amazon. Here’s my list and brief appraisals, in order of completion:
Book One: One Person/Multiple Careers
I picked this up after it was referenced in Cain’s Quiet. The concept of “the slash effect” is helpful and inspired the title of my blog site. But the “Getting to Slash” highlighted tips at the end of each chapter is all you need.
SKIM (for chapter highlights)
Book 2: Better Than Before
So, what Rubin learned about making and breaking habits is that everyone has their own motivations and way of doing so. There are some “hmmm, that’s interesting” moments, but not enough of them that I would recommend the book.
Book 3: Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
If you loved The Paris Wife, you will also love this. Though historical fiction, not a true (auto)biography, I very much enjoyed getting a glimpse of Zelda’s perspective compared to how she has been portrayed in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s biographies.
Book 4: Mademoiselle Chanel
What a treat! As someone who knew nothing about Chanel, I found this incredibly entertaining and informative (for historical fiction).
Book 5: Daring Greatly
Excellent, but it’s worth noting that I love all of Brené Brown’s work. It is helpful to be familiar with her work before reading this one, but not necessary.
READ (MUST READ if you like her stuff)
Book 6: The Gift of Failure
This should be required reading for all parents, and teachers ought to read it, too. In fact, I’d like to give it out with our school’s admissions letters. Unlike most parenting books, this one contains anecdotes and applications for ALL ages (babies to college).
MUST READ (if you are a parent or teacher)
Book 7: The One Thing
This book offers a thought-provoking perspective on time management, focus, and prioritizing.
Book 8: Rising Strong
This is Brown’s best book yet, and I thought the others were excellent. I love how she gets a bit more personal in this one to illustrate some of her concepts. I cannot wait to hear her speak at NAIS this March.
Book 9: The Nest
Eh. Easy and enjoyable by-the-pool read, but I wasn’t crazy about the rushed non-ending, and it didn’t have any lasting take-aways.
Book 10: The Storytelling Animal
Wonderfully insightful and entertaining! If you are worried about the decline of reading and/or the rise of video games and technology, read this. It will restore your faith in humanity and storytellers’ ability to shape it.
MUST READ (especially if you are a reader…which you must be if you’ve read this far)
Book 11: A Man Called Ove
Delightful. I would put it on par in tone, style, and themes with Matthew Quick’s The Good Luck of Right Now, which is high praise.
Book 12: We’re All Damaged
Reviewers compared Norman to Jonathan Tropper, who I very much enjoy reading, and after finishing this, I agree. It’s a fast read and extremely entertaining, but there wasn’t anything new to add to the “30-something guy picking up the pieces of his life” genre.
Book 13: After Visiting Friends
It took me a chapter to get used to Hainey’s style – fragments, seemingly unconnected recollections, etc., but it was a satisfying read along the style of Rosman’s If You Knew Suzy. An adult child uses his/her journalistic skills to research the life – and in this case – death – of a parent who died too young.
Book 14: A Fighting Chance
Listened to it in audiobook form, read by Warren herself, which was a treat. I knew little about the legalities behind the bank bailout and the mortgage crisis, so that information was eye-opening.
READ (and a MUST READ if you know nothing about the bank bailout or Warren’s journey to the Senate)
Book 15: Their Eyes Were Watching God
I was assigned to read it in high school and, if I did, I do not remember it. I certainly appreciated it as an adult more than I would have in high school. I understand why it’s a classic.
Book 16: Sex Object: A Memoir
A page-turner, and a must-read for feminists everywhere, girls/women everywhere, and the men who love them. The somewhat casual references to drugs didn’t resonate with me, but so many of her gendered experiences and observations did, unfortunately.
READ (and a MUST READ for those noted in above description)
Book 17: My Life on the Road
Coincidentally, I read this during and after a diversity leader training week, and so many of the themes of the week were tied together through Steinem’s stories. From her take on taxi drivers and truckers to the 2008 election and the lessons she has learned from Native American friends, Steinem is insightful and makes a convincing case for going out on the road to hear people’s stories. Ultimately, too, it is a love letter of sorts to her father.
Book 18: A Little Life
This beautiful, not-so-little book reminded me that, yes, I DO like fiction. This literary feat is heart-breaking and disturbing and hopeful, and I am glad I invested the time to read it. I had nothing in common with any of the characters, but I defy anyone not to have empathy for them.
MUST READ (but be aware this takes you to dark, twisty places…this ain’t no “feel good” book)
Book 19: The Sellout
As a White person, I liked how uncomfortable its satire of U.S.’s racial history and current structure made me. I am not sure I fully appreciated its humor, but I can see why it’s so well-reviewed.
Book 20: Between the World and Me
Powerful. I am so glad I read this in preparation for the lecture I heard Coates give “On Race in America.”
Book 21: The Vegetarian
I read this upon a “book hookup” my library offers (similar to Netflix’s “because you watched this, you might like this”). I never would have picked it up otherwise. Reviewers have likened it to Kafka and commented on the mystical qualities, and it ended up making many “Best of 2016” lists. I am still thinking about it and scratching my head, aware it would probably take a second read to pick up all the nuances.
Book 22: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
If you like Amy Schumer, this is worth the read, but do not expect many laugh-out-loud moments. There is much more substance – and pain – here than I was expecting.
READ (if you like Schumer; SKIP if you don’t)
Book 23: Einstein’s Dreams
The short scenarios – fictional accounts of Einstein’s dreams – are philosophical, poetic, and sometimes metaphorical. But I didn’t LOVE it.
Book 24: Please Look After Mother
I picked this up after reading an article in Time Magazine about women who recommend books to people based on their life situations (kind of like real-life versions of the bookseller in The Little Paris Book Shop). As I am trying to read books outside of my normal go-to, this fit the bill (i.e., I have read embarrassingly few Asian writers, but this is the second Korean title I’ve read this year!). I very much enjoyed the second person narration and different perspectives.
Book 25: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
A speaker at a conference session on school leadership recommended this book. I had been noticing differences between my prior team to my current one but wasn’t quite able to figure out the “it.” This fable and its characters helped label some of my observations – and also show me where I fit into the dynamic.
SKIP (unless the title applies to you, in which case, SKIM)
Book 26: Dept. of Speculation
Read it on a recommendation from a Buzzfeed site that listed the “49 Most Underrated Books,” and I would agree. Its style is unlike anything I’ve read, and it took me a little bit to determine that I liked it, but what a compelling read.
Book 27: Everything I Never Told You
Many people have mentioned this book over the last year, and I didn’t think much of it until I saw it on my school librarian’s shelf. She had a spare copy and gave it to me. I read it in two days while waiting for a public library book to reach me. Gripping. Love the multicultural/identity aspects, the gender aspects – there’s a lot embedded in these 292 pages.
Book 28: Another Day in the Death of America
Interesting premise – pick a random day and chronicle all the gun-related deaths of America’s youth. Younge weaves in his subtle (and, at times, not so subtle) commentary and research from outside sources to present a scary reality.
Book 29: The Secrets of Happy Families
Just as Feiler says in the opening, he presents tons of ideas, and not all will appeal to you, but there are many from which to choose. The book reminded me of ideas I had forgotten, taught me a few new tricks, and took me on a trip down memory lane a bit with what I remember from my own upbringing.
SKIM/READ (Apparently, he has a Ted Talk on the same topic. I haven’t watched it, but that might be a good alternative to reading. If you only read one parenting book, make it The Gift of Failure.)
Book 30: The Life We Bury
I loved the characters and their stories, and the overall lesson that we need to hear people’s stories to develop connection and empathy. I did not love the over-the-top, almost movie-esque ending…but that said, it would make for a great movie!
READ (If you liked Everything I Never Told You, you will like this.)
Book 31: LaRose
This title was on a couple of the “Best of 2016” lists, so why not? I do not know as much as I should about Native American culture, so I appreciated that theme throughout.
Book 32: When Breath Becomes Air
I have read many great books this year, but this one might take the cake. I love a book that combines science, literature, faith, family, poetry… It’s an engrossing read that is deceptively simple but so thought-provoking. It’s the only book I read this year to make me cry. And I’m not a crier.
Book 33: The Mothers
Fabulous read. I particularly appreciated the viewpoint of the boy/man post-abortion and the long-lasting effects this secret had on the characters.
Book 34: The Girls
I started this and then put it down for another title, less than enthralled. My return confirmed my initial judgment. I do not understand why this book is on all the “Best of 2016” lists.
SKIP (Like don’t even give it a second thought)
* * *
Women Authors: 21/34 (excellent!)
Works of Fiction: 18/34 (okay, this is slightly more than half, which isn’t great, but given my original goal was just 16 books, and I ended up reading 18 works of fiction, I am calling it a win!)
My goal for 2017 is to read at least 34 books like I did this year, but I am freeing myself of any other particular constraints. I always welcome suggestions (have already finished All the Single Ladies and am into Commonwealth now).