This year felt like a light reading year for me. Funnily enough, three of my four favorite books I read in 2016 were assigned for school reading, and my overall schedule actually allowed me to really read them when I needed to. I definitely had a lot of reading slumps this year, even happening as early as January, but I’ve gotten a lot better about only finishing a book if I’m really invested in the story. The online book community can go a little crazy about reading as much as possible in a year, and while I may not have read as much this year as I have before, a lot of books read in 2016 just stuck with me in that very rare, special way.
You can check out this year’s favorites below, and I also have posts on past years’ standouts as well (2014 and 2015). Remember, these books weren’t necessarily published in 2016; I just read them for the first time this year.
1) Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
“The mind self-edits. The mind airbrushes. It’s a different thing to be inside a body than outside. From outside, you can look, inspect, compare. From inside there is no comparison.”
I read The Virgin Suicides last year and it took writing a paper about it to really make me fall in love with Eugenides’ writing style. I was feeling optimistic when I was assigned to read Middlesex in a class taught by the same professor who assigned TVS, but still skeptical because my first exposure to Eugenides was through The Marriage Plot – bleh. Luckily, Middlesex blew me away with its multi-generational family epic, powerful writing, and heartbreaking ending. Specifically, this book’s last page affected me in a more emotional way than any book has done in awhile. Stories told over a long period of time through the perspective of one family are my literary weakness, which you’ll probably notice in this list.
2) Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“How easy it was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives we imagined.”
At first glance, this plot – girl goes from her home country to America – is so typical, but it’s told by a narrator that I rarely find in stories that appeal to me. I was definitely exposed to some more diverse reading this year, and Americanah was a huge insight into race’s role in the United States. The writing is great – I read this for a lit class that was full of more than just English majors, and everybody in the class seemed to love the book no matter what. I’m still hoping that the film adaptation with Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo eventually happens, but until then, I think I’ll definitely check out Adichie’s other books.
3) Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich
“How come we’ve got these bodies? They are frail supports for what we feel.”
This is another assigned reading I went into very tentatively because of past experiences with the author’s work. I had to read Round House in freshman year of college, and I wasn’t a fan at all (I had to read it again this semester – still not a fan). Love Medicine, however, restored my faith in Erdrich’s writing. It also focuses on different family members over several decades, with a main theme of women’s strength in the setting of a Native American reservation. I loved the point this book made about women “making” the men in their lives who they are. It’s a very empowering read!
4) Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies, by Hadley Freeman
“A movie that makes you cry is a movie you have to love.”
This is a non-fiction book exploring some of the author’s favorite eighties movies, what they teach about life, and how they’re stronger portrayals of similar cinematic attempts seen in the nineties. I loved Hadley Freeman‘s writing, and she’s now a very strong journalistic influence for me. It can be difficult to find very readable material that analyzes movies and makes you see them in a different way, but she was amazing at doing this. The book was so interesting, but always funny and down to earth. I really hope she does similar books in the future.
What about you? What were some of your favorite books you read this year?