Thursday, January 12, 2017

Best books I read in 2016

I love to get book recommendations. These days, it is the primary way I find my next read. I offer this list both because I like to look back and remember the books that shaped my year and in the hope that someone might find a new book to read. If you have any recommendations for me, I would love to hear them!

The books are listed in the order I read them. Those with an asterisk I gave five stars, the others I gave four.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates structures the book as a letter to his son. It was a reminder to me of how much I don't know about race and how my privilege protects me. It was an uncomfortable, informative experience. A year later, I am still thinking about this one.

*We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
It was such fun to read a book set in Bloomington as a new resident. I don't want to give too much away as this is the kind of book that it is better to go into with as little knowledge of the plot as possible. Fowler touches on what it means to be family, where our loyalties lie, and the ethics of animal-based research.

*Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Rowell tells the story of a boy wizard and his adventures, friendships, and relationships at a wizarding school in Great Britain as he works to vanquish the forces of evil threatening to destroy the world as he knows it (sound familiar?). It is a companion book to Fangirl and while each stands on its own, but the premise of Carry On (i.e. Harry Potter fan fiction) made more sense after reading Fangirl. That said, I am glad I read them in the order I did as I was truly surprised by the twists and turns in the narrative in a way I would not have been otherwise. If you loved Harry Potter and want to disappear into another magical world, I recommend giving it a try.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Gaskell's novel had a similar feel to Pride and Prejudice, which is usually not my preferred genre. I gave it a try as it came highly recommended by Abby and I trust her judgement when it comes to books. It felt slow at times, but even then I could not stop reading and wanted to know how the relationship between the two main characters was going to resolve. It has been more than 150 years since it was first published but the issues of class feel more relevant than ever.

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
I have to admit that there were several sections of this book that I had to read multiple times to make sure I understood them clearly--we're talking three, four times. Lewis delves into the nitty-gritty details of how the financial crisis of 2008 happened by following some of the very few people who saw it coming. There is also a corresponding documentary by the same name if that is your preferred way to consume information.

*This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving Where You Live by Melody Warnick
I have always been a believer that I can be happy living anywhere, and Warnick's book confirmed that assertion. The fact that she recently moved to a college town from Austin, TX--just like we did!--made it all the better. It inspired me to find more ways to put down roots and commit to life in Bloomington. It would be a great book for anyone, but I would specifically recommend it to people who have recently moved or are thinking about relocating.

*When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Kalanthi's memoir is without question the most emotional book I read all year. It chronicles his life after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. The passage that has stuck with me is one where Lucy and Paul are discussing whether or not they will try to have a child, knowing that Paul does not have long to live:
"'Don't you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?'
'Wouldn't it be great if it did?'
Lucy and I both felt that life wasn't about avoiding suffering." p. 143
Miller's Valley by Anna Quindlen
I have read Quindlen's non-fiction before, but never her fiction. I am still not sure how I feel about the ending, but the writing was beautiful and the characters were rich. It illuminated the particular problems of a specific place, in this case Appalachia, and the ways in which the government exploits and manipulates people to accomplish its goals. I plan on seeking out more of her fiction in the future.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
As a Harry Potter fan, how could I not read the new play? As expected, it was a very different reading experience from the novels. But whole time I was reading it I was thinking about how much fun it was to be back in that world. Harry Potter, you've still got my heart.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
This book first came to my attention through a This American Life podcast, which I also recommend. It took me a few chapters to get hooked as I didn't love humor in the beginning, but that all changed once I got into the meat of the book. West explores what it means to be fat in our culture and the many ways fat (and particularly fat, female) bodies are judged, shamed, and penalized.

Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and in Business by Charles Duhigg
I heard about Duhigg's book from a Freakanomics podcast. The book offers advice, but only after telling well-researched narratives where you see that advice in action. It inspired me to change my mindset and habits to harness more productivity in my own life.

Honorable Mention (other four star books I read):

Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food by Megan Kimble
Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too by Beth Terry
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain 
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Sex Object: by Jessica Valenti
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchel
 
If you want to see past lists, you can find them here: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.

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