I basically abandoned Netflix in 2016 (“What?! You haven’t seen THE CROWN?!”) and vowed to read more instead. I did. And I read some really good stuff. Not surprising that I enjoyed most of what I read because when you have two little ones and a full-time job, there’s no room in your life for crappy books. Here are my favorite 10 books I finished in 2016 . The list includes two I couldn’t shut up about, one I was embarrassed to be seen reading, and even a “real” piece of literature (so fancy).
1. Best New Book of 2016
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond
This is the first of the two I couldn’t shut up about this year. Desmond, a 2015 MacArthur Genius Grantee and Harvard sociologist, managed to produce a book that explains a huge, systemic issue–housing for the poor in America–yet intimately connects the reader to the daily lives of several poor families living in Milwaukee. While Desmond chronicles how eviction affects both white and black families, this book is ESSENTIAL reading for understanding the backdrop within which race strains occur today. He doesn’t pull any punches and doesn’t try to oversimplify. Overlook that he’s a sociologist and I’m an academic recommending his book–he’s a great writer and you won’t need a Ph.D. to enjoy it, I swear.
2. Best Book I’d Put Off Reading, and Shouldn’t Have
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
I’m not sure why it took me so long to read this since I knew I would love it. Maybe I knew how disturbing it would be. Everyone who’s told you to read this is right, so do it. I would also flag this as essential reading for understanding contemporary race relations in America, but it’s much more, including a medical thriller and a glimpse into the life of a writer. Skloot put in some hard work to get the story, and that’s part of the story itself.
3. Best Quick Read
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (The Taliban Shuffle MTI): Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan, by Kim Barker
I blasted through this hilarious but frustrating book in only four days because it was so good. The dynamics of the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan are super confusing to me (although I teach on it, ahem…) but this book held my hand, all while told through Barker’s wit. It’s easy to see why Tina Fey was cast as this main role in the movie adaptation (which I haven’t seen).
4. Best In A Series
Career of Evil (A Cormoran Strike Novel), by Robert Galbraith
The best yet of the Cormoran Strike mysteries yet! This one moves quickly and I like the advancing story line between Strike and Robin–exactly what Evanovich has been missing her last dozen Stephanie Plum books. Rowling’s vocab leaves me chagrined.
5. Best to Reread
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Humans are made to create, yet there’s so much fear in pursuing creativity. This is a book I’ll read over and over to hear Gilbert slap around my ego, put it in its place, and implore me to get out there and make something, whether rocks painted with nail polish or the Next Great Novel. Doesn’t matter, just create. Hence, this blog.
6. Best Light Reading
Blood Orange (China Bayles Mystery), by Susan Wittig Albert
How did I, an avid reader of the light mystery genre (cats and sleuthing? sold!), only discover Albert in 2016? While I read a couple of her China Bayles books right before Blood Orange, once I got to this one I was sold on the series and have been plowing through them this last month. If you also like cats, quaint little shops, and nosy protagonists, you’ll like this series set in the Texas hill country.
7. Best “Real Lit”
Salvage the Bones: A Novel, by Jesmyn Ward
Set in the soon-to-be-ravaged Gulf Coast, a young, poor, black protagonist faces internal turmoil as her family prepares for the tumult of Hurricane Katrina. Ward managed to achieve both page-turning plot and lyrical prose. She really nails the melody and heartache of the South. I absolutely loved this book, although I’m willing to bet I didn’t understand half of the literary references.
8. Best Book on a Hot Issue
Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, by Peggy Orenstein
The cover of the book loudly announces to the world that you’re reading about GIRLS & SEX so it’s a bit awkward in the doctor’s waiting room. Five stars not because I enjoyed it, but because it tackles some horrible, important debates and issues about how adolescents are introduced to sex. After reading this book it’s clear why the Stanford rapist’s dad made the terrible statements he did and why we’ll keep seeing such cases. If you have a daughter, son, niece, nephew, or any child in your life this is info you should know. This is the other book I couldn’t shut up about in 2016.
9. Best Self-Help Book
Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte
I’ve read a lot of books in this genre of “doing it all” and didn’t expect to learn anything new. Quite the contrary. Schulte has identified myriad reasons women get themselves in such a tizzy with pressures to do it all, from their individual views to societal policies and structures. I highly recommend this for anyone feeling–as the title says–overwhelmed.
10. Best Airplane Book
I Am Pilgrim: A Thriller, by Terry Hayes
I love a fast-moving, creative plot and this book has one that captures my favorite subjects: global disease, international relations, espionage, and travel.
Shout out to Goodreads for helping me keep track of what I’ve read and want to read!