My Favorite Reads of 2016

2016 December 31
by Grace Boyle

Last year I read 24 books. I chuckle as I write this because on the 31st, I was furiously trying to crush the final book. A goal is a goal, right?

This year, my reading challenge via GoodReads was to do half that. I still feel like a book a month is a healthy ambition. I ended up at 17 books this year, so over my goal and happy about it. Thanks to GoodReads (one of my favorite apps) for helping me along with the challenge and this infographic.

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Here are my favorites this year:

Circling the Sun | Paula McLain: This is an epic tale in a novel format, showcasing the story of real-life character, Beryl Markham. British-born, but Kenyan raised Markham is a strong female protagonist with a brazen attitude and unconventional childhood. Markham was an aviator, adventurer, racehorse trainer, and author. She was also the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. It is a wonderful history lesson without being dry, while McLain is a visual writer painting the picture of colonial Kenya in the 1920’s. If you enjoyed The Paris Wife, another of McLain’s books, you’ll enjoy this story. It’s no surprise, this book is a NY Times Bestseller and named one of the best books of the year by NPR. Related: Out of Africa has some parallels and cross-over in terms of characters and timelines, which was interesting.

Love Warrior | Glennon Doyle Melton: This is a memoir by bestselling author, Glennon who tells her story of her journey of self-discovery and awakening from her experience with addiction, to bulimia, to marriage, having children, her husband’s infidelity, and the subsequent life-awakening lessons learned. Glennon is a truth teller and she says things that people are often afraid to. By doing so, she has united a following of people through her transparency and honesty which was beautiful and inspiring to read. I want all my lady friends to read this book. It’s a must.

When Breath Becomes Air | Paul Kalanithi: This book wins the award for most tears shed (mine) during reading. Don’t let this deter you. Kalanithi is a beautiful prose writer and he was a doctor, with no history or previous work in writing. At the age of 36, just about to complete a decade of training as a neurosurgeon, Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lunch cancer. Confronting his own mortality, with the tables quite literally turned, he turned to writing to tell his story and uncovering the poignant questions of: what makes life worth living in the face of death? What does it mean to have a new child, as another life fades away? In this delicate, finite life we lead, this is a beautiful and important book on death, dying, mortality, living, and our relationship with both.

The Art of Fielding | Chad Harbach: This book has been on my list for a long time and I’m glad I finally got to it. I have a lot of nostalgia for the Midwest (where I grew up) and the growth and life experiences you find yourself in, during the college years. This book covers that and many layered characters set in a fictional college and town, Westish College, on the shore of Lake Michigan. Focused on an unassuming baseball star seeking a perfect record and going pro, there are great baseball / sports references, but really it’s a story of love, loss, friendship, seeking perfection, and navigating life. The book is moving and the many varied characters felt so real. Amazon’s review puts it best: “The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment—to oneself and to others.”

A Little Life | Hanya Yanagihara: This is the heaviest book I read all year. It still haunts me and I remember every detail vividly. So yes, brace yourself as it’s upsetting, but it’s worth it. The 720-page book covers four lifelong, but very different, friends: Willem, JB, Malcolm, and Jude and how their lives and relationships deepen, darken, and evolve. The book spans from their life in college, to their first jobs, to later years in life. Much of the book focuses on Jude, a successful litigator, who has a storied, painful, and secret past. The trauma they uncover in the book is heart-wrenching and and ends up defining all of their lives as his trauma is still very much raw. This book is a national book award finalist and short listed for the man booker prize.

What Alice Forgot | Liane Moriarty: This wins for best beach read of the year. I discovered Moriarty recently and enjoy her books. This book tells the story of Alice a 29-year-old who is crazy about her husband and pregnant with their first child. When she falls in a gym and hits her head, she doesn’t remember that she’s actually 39, getting divorced, has three children, and is a woman filled with bitterness. Although a bit cheesy, I do enjoy the premise: if you woke up ten years ago and found yourself in your life today, how would you react? What would you think? Moriarty has a good way of including a little mystery to all her books where you’re curious to keep reading and find out what actually will happen. Bonus: I also enjoyed Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty by her.

What did you read this year? What should I read next year?

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