I read a lot of really great nonfiction books in 2016! I actually think I had better luck with nonfiction than fiction. The first three listed are my top three favorites; everything is listed in alphabetical order.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016)
When Breath Becomes Air focuses on Kalinithi’s a career as a neurosurgeon, which was cut short by a rare and terminal form of lung cancer. The memoir — which he was still striving to complete at the time of his death — offers reflections on life and death. In doing so, he reflects on past interactions with patients who had been on the receiving end of bad news that came from him. It’s a gorgeous book.
The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing (2016)
Mixing memoir, biography, and art history, Olivia Laing explores the different meanings of loneliness in New York City through the lives of different artists who lived there. The essays offer beautiful, elegant explorations of human interactions (or the lack thereof).
So Sad Today by Melissa Broder (2016)
Steeped in dark humor, So Sad Today is a collection of autobiographical essays by Melissa Broder. She writes about her struggles with extreme anxiety low, self-esteem, and addiction, but she also throws in some off-the-wall essays about sex and relationships. There’s one essay in there revolving around sexting that had me going, “This woman is completely nuts. I love her.”
These were my favorite ten fiction reads of 2016. The first three are my absolute top picks; everything else is listed in alphabetical order.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (1985)
Lonesome Dove remains my biggest shocker: I was extremely reluctant to pick it up, but it ended up being my favorite book of the year (and one of my favorite books, like, ever). At face value, it’s about a ragtag group of cowboys that drives a massive herd of cattle from South Texas to Montana, but it’s also about bigger ideas like duty and friendship and mortality. And it’s a helluva wild adventure.
The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya (2015)
The Big Green Tent is about an unlikely trio that bonds as LORLs — Lovers of Russian Literature — an informal school group led by a popular but subversive teacher. They come of age in 1950s Moscow under the threat of Stalin, where brazen independent thought is dangerous. The book follows the boys throughout the rest of their lives. It’s a modern version of the classic, sweeping Russian novel (but way easier to read).
The Gringo Champion by Aura Xilonen (2017)
I feel kind of weird putting The Gringo Champion on my 2016 list because it won’t be out for a couple more weeks; I got an advance copy. It’s an immigration story that’s unlike any other immigration story I’ve read, in the most surprising and refreshing way. I’ll write more about it on its release day, but I will say now: OMG, the vocabulary in this book is insane! And the author was only nineteen years old when she wrote it!
2016 was kind of brutal, no? (My personal low was when my beloved cat died while I was away on vacation. The second half of the year wasn’t much better.)
It shows in my reading. I was either too unfocused to really concentrate on anything, or too busy to commit to books that actually managed to grab my interest. My blogging also suffered. I went through a ton of audiobooks thanks to my work commute this semester, but if not for that, my stats would have been way dismal.
In 2017, I want to get back into the swing of things. I want to get better at DNF-ing books that don’t click with me (something I did actually get better at in 2016). I want to reread more books. And I want to get back into the head space (and life space) to do more actual reading. If December was any indication, I’m already getting back there.
I listened to more audiobooks this year than any other year of my life, and I suspect the trend will continue. The first three titles below are my top three favorites of 2015; everything else is in alphabetical order.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, read by Rosamund Pike (1813)
Someone get Rosamund Pike an Audie (or all the Audies). I’ve long loved her velvety voice, and I think that’s what finally pushed me to “read” Pride and Prejudice after all these years; I pre-ordered this audiobook as soon as I saw she was the narrator. It’s a story Pike has a history with; she played Jane in the 2005 film adaptation. She does an amazing job with all the voices in this production; all of her characterizations are spot on.
The Martian by Andrew Weir, read by R. C. Bray (2013)
I don’t know if I would have loved The Martian as much as if I had read a print version of the book, but I’m head-over-heels in love with R. C. Bray’s narration. He does a great job of channeling Mark Watney’s smartass attitude, and he makes all the science jargon-filled sections fly by. When Watney says he’ll “science the shit” out of something and proceeds to describe how, Bray makes it all very entertaining.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, read by the author (2015)
I’m sure I would have loved this book anyway had I read it in print, but I think there was an added poignancy in listening to Coates speak to his son. I’m sure a narrator would have done a wonderful job with the book, but it felt more meaningful with Coates reading his own words; there’s a special wistfulness when he talks about France, and added gravity when he’s recounting some of his past traumas.
I read about half as much nonfiction as I did fiction in 2015, yet narrowing down this list was hard, much harder than the fiction list was; it could easily have been twice as long. The first three titles were my favorites of 2015; everything after the jump is listed in alphabetical order.
Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do about It by Kate Harding
Analyzing things like rape myths, sports culture, and law enforcement’s mishandling of various high-profile rape cases, Kate Harding takes a hard look at different components of contemporary rape culture and what we can do about it. It’s an important book that couldn’t come at a better time.
Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry
Barry teaches a class called Writing the Unthinkable, and this book is mostly a collection of her syllabi, lesson plans, and student work. Never has a book sparked so many creative ideas in me. I would give anything to take this class with her!
There’s a reason why cupcake shops started popping up all over the place and bacon is king. There’s a reason why words like “superfoods” are probably in your vocabulary. David Sax explains the rise and fall of various food trends, going behind the scenes to talk to the tastemakers themselves. It’s really interesting!