Sunday, January 8, 2017

Year in Review: 2016 Book List

For the past five years, I’ve recorded the books I’ve read and the dates I’ve read them, with my thoughts on the writing and stories. 17,465 pages and 43 books later, here’s 2016’s list. (You can find the lists from 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012 on the blog too.)

So, I have a confession to make. 2016 was the first year I committed to a Goodreads challenge, and set my goal for books to read at 40. That seemed reasonable – I read a few more books than that in 2015. Unfortunately, I forgot the beginning of 2016 was dedicated to finishing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. Suddenly when I finished the series in the summer (10 months after beginning!) I was way behind on my challenge.

I have hundreds of books on my to-read Goodreads list, so I filtered them by pages, and then…yes…picked the shortest books on my list. I ordered those short books from the library and started gaining ground.

Now this devious and slightly shameful method of choosing books led to some delightful surprises. I read The Stranger by Albert Camus. I read Too Loud A Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal. I read The Terrorist’s Son by Zak Ebrahim. I fell in love with books I might not have read, at least this soon.

As always with the book list, I don’t necessarily recommend every book on the list, but you can check out my favorites on the top ten list!

1984 ~ George Orwell
All The Light We Cannot See ~ Anthony Doerr
Animal Farm ~ George Orwell
Another Brooklyn ~ Jacqueline Woodson
Birdsong ~ Sebastian Faulks
Bloodline ~ Claudia Gray
Brooklyn ~ Colm Tóibín
Burning Bright ~ John Steinbeck
The Circle ~ Dave Eggers
Crazy Christians ~ Michael B. Curry
Everything Is Illuminated ~ Jonathan Safran Foer
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close ~ Jonathan Safran Foer
The Force Awakens ~ Alan Dean Foster
Giovanni’s Room ~ James Baldwin
God Help the Child ~ Toni Morrison
A Hologram for the King ~ Dave Eggers
Homegoing ~ Yaa Gyasi
Mom & Me & Mom ~ Maya Angelou
Morning Star ~ Pierce Brown
The Prophet ~ Kahlil Gibran
Room ~ Emma Donoghue
Speaking Christian ~ Marcus Borg
A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius ~ Dave Eggers
The Stranger ~ Albert Camus
The Terrorist’s Son: A Story of Choice ~ Zak Ebrahim
Too Loud a Solitude ~ Bohumil Hrabal
The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip ~ George Saunders
Waiting for Godot ~ Samuel Beckett
The Wayward Bus ~ John Steinbeck
Wheel of Time series ~ Robert Jordan
    The Shadow Rising
    The Fires of Heaven
    Lord of Chaos
    A Crown of Swords
    The Path of Daggers
    Winter’s Heart
    Crossroads of Twilight
    Knife of Dreams
    The Gathering Storm (by Brandon Sanderson)
    Towers of Midnight (by Brandon Sanderson)
    A Memory of Light (by Brandon Sanderson)
When Breath Becomes Air ~ Paul Kalanithi
You Shall Know Our Velocity! ~ Dave Eggers
Your Fathers, Where Are They? And The Prophets, Do They Live Forever? ~ Dave Eggers

The Top 10 List (in simply alphabetical order)

1984 ~ George Orwell
All The Light We Cannot See ~ Anthony Doerr
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close ~ Jonathan Safran Foer
Giovanni’s Room ~ James Baldwin
Homegoing ~ Yaa Gyasi
Morning Star ~ Pierce Brown
A Staggering Work of Heartbreaking Genius ~ Dave Eggers
Waiting for Godot ~ Samuel Beckett
Too Loud a Solitude ~ Bohumil Hrabal
When Breath Becomes Air ~ Paul Kalanithi

Here’s Why I Recommend Them

1. Most of you have probably read 1984 already, but I somehow made it all the way through college without reading it. It seemed especially apt in an election year, but I was surprised by just how deeply I connected with Orwell’s terrifying story, and how relevant it still is.

2. Doerr’s writing is intricate; he crafts sentences elegantly. The one element that lingered with me after the book, though, was the reality of Doerr’s story. He confronted a hard topic – war – through the novel and didn’t flinch away from its ugly realities, yet also softened them with moments of connection and beauty. He didn’t give into clichés – especially in his ending – but wrote the story of people who felt real.

3. I don’t often read books from the perspective of children. (All right, I’m reading Harry Potter right now, but most of the other books on the list center around adults!) But Foer wrote his protagonist brilliantly, and he sucked me right in to the story. I laughed and cried and felt all the rawness of human emotion while reading this book, and most heartily recommend it if you haven’t cracked it open.

4. The best books capture the experiences of a person radically different from you, and reveal to you how similar you are to that person: how human their emotions are; how you’ve often felt the same emotions even if in different circumstances. I’m not a gay man living in France, but in this novel, I felt his feelings and was able to get a glimpse of the world through his eyes. Even better, Baldwin’s writing was incredible; some of the best writing I read all year. I’ll be reading more of his works in the future.

5. I don’t want to give away too much about Gyasi’s book, but the way she structured the novel was inventive and gripping. I loved her writing and the way she wove a common thread of a story through hundreds of years. Homegoing isn’t always an easy book to read, but it’s honest and real, and I eagerly await more novels from Gyasi.

6. Well, I’ve been recommending Brown’s books to you all for years now, and if you haven’t read them, come on, what are you even doing with your life? But seriously. The final book in the trilogy doesn’t disappoint; in fact, it’s magnificent. In my personal review of the book I realized I don’t think I’ve been as emotional about a modern book series as I am about the Red Rising series. I’ve written about it multiple times, recommended it to a wide variety of people, and now I’m here to say you absolutely must read it if you haven’t.

7. I read a startling number of Eggers’ books this year, and most of them could be on this list. For the sake of fairness, I chose just one: the first one I read that propelled me to read more of his works. I absolutely love Eggers’ experimental, outlandish writing style, and just gobble up his books.

8. Waiting for Godot made me mad! I read this book in one sitting and at the end was furious; there was no resolution! So of course, I hopped on the Internet to see why it’s one of the best-loved plays in the world, and as I was reading commentary on the novel, realized just how brilliant Beckett was. I was supposed to be angry. I loved the experience of reading the book, being mad, realizing I was supposed to be mad, reading more commentary, and then realizing this was one of the best books I’d read all year. The experience was everything I loved about being an English major.

9. Honestly, I have no idea how this little novel made its way onto my reading list. But as it was one of the shortest books on there, it made its way into my house as I labored to meet my Goodreads challenge, and I just fell in love with the book. Hrabal’s writing was masterful and quirky and sad and gorgeous. I’m so glad I accidentally read this book!

10. If I had to pick one book to be my 2016 favorite, it’s When Breath Becomes Air. This book was brilliant, and deserves the accolades it received. I think one of the reasons it struck such a powerful chord was that it faced, head on, a topic many shy away from in modern society. Kalanithi wrote about death as only he could, drawing on his surgeon’s background as he battled cancer, while also drawing on his love of literature. This was a beautiful book, and you absolutely should read it.

2017’s starting out with a reread of the Harry Potter series, and I’m excited to see the places I’ll go in novels this year!

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