Year in Review: Books I Read in 2016
This year’s total came to 47 books (I’m in the middle of three, so while I wanted to round up I’ve played the pessimist here).
While it’s about ten less books than last year, I’m chalking it up to significantly less vacation days, an international move, wedding planning, and this years election (which attached me to a constant drip-feed of news).
Regardless of the metaphorical headcount, I am still a firm follower of the (what I’ve dubbed) The Rick Webb Reading Methodology, which states:
“Don’t try and read what you, or others, think you should read.”
During our bi-weekly phone date, my good friend Lonnie and myself were discussing this very principle; how we both now read what brings us joy (hello, Marie Kondo) rather than what we want to be *seen* reading. Personally, I’ve found that owning a Kindle has made this more possible, allowing me to consume what I want, when I want, and never worrying if the book is going to end up on my shelf or be judged in public.
After reviewing everything I read this year, here are my top picks (the TL;DR of this post):
- Non-Fiction: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
- Essays/Memoir: So Sad Today by Melissa Broder
- Fantasy: The Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks
- Short Stories: Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
- Sci-Fi: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
- Graphic Novel: Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughn
The List, in chronological order:
- Fool’s Fate (№ 3 of the Tawny Man Series) by Robin Hobb — A remaining straggler of a 9-book series documenting the journey of a bastard prince trying to get his one and only child back. This one still ended on a cliffhanger. Personally, I love diving into a series and a set of characters that never seem to end.
“That’s the trouble with making a decision. You never know if it’s right until after you’ve done it. But it is what adults are supposed to do. Make decisions. And then live with them.”
— The Fool, Fool’s Fate
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel — One of those books that pulls you into it’s clutches from the start. For those who love a good ‘civilization post civilization’ tale, this covers multiple character perspectives from the start of an outbreak through several years thereafter. This book kickstarted my desire to build out emergency supply kits for our home, unhelpfully fueled by the Ebola outbreak.
“The beauty of this world where almost everyone was gone. If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it?”
— Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven
“He found he was a man who repented almost everything, regrets crowding in around him like moths to a light. This was actually the main difference between twenty-one and fifty-one, he decided, the sheer volume of regret.”
— Clark, Station Eleven
- Winter (№ 4 of the Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer — Because I’d enjoyed the first few books I thought I’d keep investing in this Space Opera cum Fantasy, however the sappy portrayals of love and mind control had me mentally retching by the end. I suppose I reap what I sow for continuing to invest in ‘young adult fantasy’.
- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins — After loving Gone Girl last year, I figured I’d continue to invest in thrillers with female protagonists. This beach read is certainly a page turner, with twists up until the very end. Though the main character is more unlikable than the revenge-seeking protagonist in Gone Girl (I also possibly resented that her name was Rachel), it still brings you along a fantastic ride.
“I don’t know where that strength went, I don’t remember losing it. I think that over time it got chipped away, bit by bit, by life, by the living of it.”
- Rachel Watson, The Girl on the Train
- The Way of Shadows (№ 1–3) by Brent Weeks — I persistently love a classic sword-and-sandals assassin story, throw in your classic ‘rags to riches’ orphan who takes on the wealthy establishment ruling class and I’m sold. While the series starts off a bit slow, you can witness the maturation of the writer.
“Dying well is easy, it only takes a moment of courage. It’s living well that I couldn’t do. What’s death compared to that?”
— Kylar Stern, The Way of Shadows
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown — This was required reading given to me by a career coach. Many people love Brene Brown and her work. Personally, I struggled with the writing style and translating it into my day to day. Regardless, as I review the highlights, I find that it has armed me with a much greater capacity for self-forgiveness.
“Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance. Most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule-following, people-pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, we adopt this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.”
— Helping me to unpick what it is that I am striving for, and that it’s not coming from a productive place. From Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
“Anxiety is extremely contagious, but so is calm. So the question becomes: do we want to infect people with more anxiety, or heal ourselves and the people around us with calm?
— An important lesson both in my personal life and my core philosophy as a manager. From Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
- I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks by Gina Sheridan — Picked this up thinking it was a memoir, and in reality it was a Tumblr-turned-book. It’s entertaining if you like that sort of thing, but too fluffy for my personal tastes.
- Lean Out by Dawn Foster — As a woman in the workplace who persistently perceives the glass ceiling, it’s important for me to step out and ground myself in an intersectional viewpoint. It’s not just about pounding the equal pay drum, but also understanding the impact that things like policy have on all women. This was an important reality check in that regard, and a bristling criticism of Sandberg’s Lean In.
“Sandberg has penned not so much a new Feminine Mystique as an updated Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”
— Dawn Foster, dropping the mic in Lean Out
“We’re still talking about mentors, glass ceilings, and the impossibility or desirability of having it all. What we are not talking about in nearly enough detail, or agitating for with enough passion, are the government policies, such as mandatory paid maternity leave, that would truly equalize opportunity. We are still thinking individually, not collectively.”
— Dawn Foster, Lean Out
- The Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling — It took me quite awhile to warm up to the idea of this book, but once I saw the BBC Miniseries preview I was totally sold. After living in England for nearly 2 years, it also finally felt like I had enough of a cultural understanding to unpick the interpersonal nuances and small-town politicking. I rarely allow myself the luxury of a 700+ page book in a modern setting, but this was like a breath of fresh air after bingeing on fantasy fluff.
“If she could have achieved suicide, simply by willing it, she would have done it without hesitation.”
—Sukhvinder Jawanda, A Casual Vacancy
- Morning Star (№3 of the Red Rising Series) by Pierce Brown — I’m persistently enthralled by this Hunger Games-meets-Romanesque Wargaming-meets-Enders Game series. There’s something compelling about wartime strategies set in space paired with a societal caste system that makes this series just work.
“In war, men lose what makes them great. Their creativity. Their wisdom. Their joy. All that’s left is their utility. War is not monstrous for making corpses of men so much as it is for making machines of them. And woe to those who have no use in war except to feed the machines.”
— Darrow, Morning Star
- Marked in Flesh (№4 of The Others Series) by Anne Bishop— Weirdly, this is still one of my favorite series. It follows a Cassandra-type oracle who lives on a human-friendly compound of other fantasy characters (think: Werewolves, Vampires, and Elementals). The series is taking a turn towards WWI-esque tension between “The Others” and mankind, which bodes well for continued world-building.
- The Property by Rutu Modan — I love Modan’s work generally, but this piece is not only a compelling story (post-war reclamation of family property in Poland, the standard shady family dealings, and a dash of love story). She is a master of her craft, and has one of the more creative uses of speech bubbles that I’ve seen. This is an Eisner Award nominee for a reason.
- Lucky Penny by Ananth Hirsch & Yuko Ota — I’ve been following Yuko and Ananth ’s work for some time (their webcomic Johnny Wander is one of my old staples). Sometimes a happy-go-lucky story with a dash of humor is all you need to lift you up.
- So Sad Today: Personal Essays by Melissa Broder — I’d acutally never heard of this Twitter handle before reading a glowing review in The New Yorker. As someone who battles (though in not nearly the same magnitude) with anxiety and depression, it’s refreshing to read from the perspective of someone who struggles from the same things.
“What’s sad is that I’m not even taking action on the bigger issues, because I’m too busy thinking about myself.”
“There is a large part of me, the committee, that wants to see me dead. If it can’t kill me, it’ll settle for seeing me miserable.”
— A smattering of (what I found to be) powerful and resonant quotes from So Sad Today
- The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron Phd — In the effort of ‘self-help’; I continue to explore possible tools for adapting to high-stress, high-performing environments. Some of this rang true, and some false.
- The Just City (Thessaly № 1–2) by Jo Walton — As someone who hasn’t read their fair share of Plato or Socrates, this was a gem. The core concept is that Atlantis is created by the Greek goddess Athena in the pursuit of creating a city of philosopher kings (and queens). If you’re seeking some deep philosophical thinking that spans eras, and crave a bit of a history lesson — this is for you.
“How many women had led stupid wasted unnecessary lives because nobody listened to Plato?”
— Simmea, The Just City
- Giant Days Vol. 1 by John Allison — I love reading anything that explores the nuances and depth of female friendship. Female friendship for me is, one, still new (yes, I’m an adult). Two, is always something that feels a bit complicated; am I supposed to give advice or just listen? How can I be supportive? Am I talking enough? Giant Days focuses on three college roommates exploring their identities together. In writing this, I realize I need to pick up the remaining volumes.
- Elon Musk: Inventing the Future by Ashlee Vance — I was pulled in by the man who had such a pure and directed vision on the 5 key problems we need to solve as humanity; yet totally disgusted by what an egomaniacal asshole he seems to be. Is it worth having a vision if I must sell my humanity to get there?
- A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic No.2) by V.E Schwab — A parallel world story centered in London? Strong, witty female protagonist? Of course I was sold.
“Ned had the childlike intensity of someone who wanted the world to be stranger than it was, someone who thought they could believe magic into being.”
— A mentality that I hope I exude every day. One of V.E Schwab’s excellent character descriptions in A Gathering of Shadows
- A Court of Mist and Fury by Sara J. Maas — One of those teen lit fantasy books that is walking a very fine line between pure smut and young adult fiction.
- Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley — One of my favorite illustrators happens to be going through her own milestones conveniently a couple of years before me, and thus is able to give me sage advice just when I need it. I too am very excited at the prospect of pockets in a wedding dress.
- The Last Mortal Bond (№3 of the Unhewn Throne Series) by Brian Staveley — An easy contender for favorite fantasy series; a strong trio of characters (all siblings) working towards the shared goal of reuniting their kingdom. Staveley builds strong narrative threads with considered writing and a unique fantasy world.
“It was strange the way that people venerated truth. Everyone seemed to strive for it, as though it were some unalloyed good, a perfect gem of glittering rectitude. Women and men might disagree about its definition, but priests and prostitutes, mothers and monks all mouthed the word with respect, even reverence. No one seemed to realize how stooped the truth could be, how twisted and how ugly.”
— Brian Staveley, The Last Mortal Bond
- The Humans by Matt Haig — One of my favorites for this year if only because of the distinct British-ness of the humor and the inane idea of what it would be like to be an alien pretending to be a human. A fine recommendation for those who find Hitchhiker’s Guide to be too densely written, or have an appetite for dark humor.
“Alcohol in the evening is very enjoyable. Hangovers in the morning are very unpleasant. At some point you have to choose: evenings or mornings.”
— The Visitor, The Humans
- Man Nup: A Groom’s Guide to Wedding Planning by Rick Webb — Perfect for ladies (like myself) who really don’t care all that much about seating arrangements and color schemes.
- Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith — There were a couple of podcast interviews with Zadie that I found particularly compelling. Her essays are poignant, if a bit out of my depth specifically when it comes to her assessment of Kafka.
“Other people’s words are the bridge you use to cross from where you were to wherever you’re going.”
— Zadie Smith, Changing My Mind
- We Should All Be Feminists by Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie — Recommended by my friend Zoe Scaman and prescribed reading by the Swedish government for all 16 year-old students. A compelling and modern feminist manifesto, its brevity also makes for easy gifting to those less woke in your life.
“The person more qualified to lead is not the physically stronger person. It is the more intelligent, the more knowledgeable, the more creative, more innovative. And there are no hormones for those attributes. A man is as likely as a woman to be intelligent, innovative, creative. We have evolved. But our ideas of gender have not evolved very much.”
— Chiamanda Ngozie Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists
- Paper Girls (Vol. 1) by Brian K. Vaughn — Picked up at New York ComicCon because Cliff Chiang is one of my favorite artists, and was sold by the booth boy as being “the new Saga”. While not quite like Saga — the vintage stylings, the girl gang, and the imminent alien invasion are all quite appealing to me.
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling — I had the privilege of seeing the preview of this play in London. It’s such a joy to revisit these characters as an adult, even if reading the script can feel like a bit of a chore.
- Smarter, Better, Faster: The Secret to Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg — I found this to be more of a ‘How to Be a Manager’ rubric than anything else, and it reinforced my desire to create as much psychological safety as possible for my team.
“A good manager…
(1) is a good coach
(2) empowers and does not micromanage
(3) expresses interest and concern in subordinates’ success and well-being
(4) is results oriented
(5) listens and shares information
(6) helps with career development
(7) has a clear vision and strategy
(8) has key technical skills.”
— Learnings from Project Oxygen within Google, as relayed by Charles Duhigg in Smarter, Better, Faster
- Dark Matter by Blake Crouch — This year’s runaway favorite. I love the basic time travel premise which expertly navigates all of the problems with time travel (by going into the past I am altering the future and fracturing possible futures). Recommended as a rainy day weekend read.
“Until everything topples, we have no idea what we actually have, how precariously and perfectly it all hangs together.”
— Jason Dessen, Dark Matter
- Ms. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs — Picked up because my curiosity has always been piqued by the title. At the end of the day, building characters around found photos forces the narrative too much.
- The Little Book of Skincare by Charlotte Cho — After moving between two cities and still feeling like a teenager with acne, this was read in an effort to settle on a skincare regimen that is somewhere between 2 and 10 steps.
- Heroes Rise (No.1–3) by Zachary Sergi — There was a little while this year where I was struggling to sit down and focus on a book. What helped was these ‘Choice of’ game series on iPhone, which was a bit of a ‘choose your own adventure’ within a fixed narrative. This one felt very X-Men meets Powers.
- Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids by Meghan Daum — This is a topic that I vacillate between wild extremes on, much to the surprise and chagrin of my family. I am a strategist, so I want to consider all of the options thoroughly. This is one choice which, once made, sticks with you for life.
“Our solitude is the most valuable thing we have, and we cherish it above most other things and work hard to maintain it.”
— Kate Christensen, A. Thousand. Other. Things.
“I will never regret not having children. What I regret is that I live in a world where in spite of everything, that decision is still not quite okay.”
— Pam Houston, The Trouble of Having It All
- Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang — I have never really read short stories. When I heard that a short story was the baseline concept for The Arrival, I had to read it. This collection is filled with a rich variety of concepts. Some of my favorites included: Tower of Babylon, Division by Zero, Liking What You See: A Documentary.
“I seek enlightenment, not spiritual but rational.”
— Leon Shea, Understand
- Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman — A strong recommendation by Dan Gavshon Brady of a fictional adventurers journal which details a land inhabited only by women. While you can tell this was written in the early 1900’s, it’s always interesting to explore the thought.
“They don’t seem to notice our being men,” he went on. “They treat us — well — just as they do one another. It’s as if our being men was a minor incident.”
— Some chuckle-inducing if heavy handed character dialogue from Herland
- Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Andersen — Gifted to me by my friend Hannah, who knows me all too well.
- Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass, No. 5) by Sara J. Maas — A continuation of one of my favorite series to-date. Though now we’re at the point where everyone has God-like powers.
“Dorian said smoothly, “You will find, Rolfe, that one does not deal with Celaena Sardothien. One survives her.”
—Some insight as to why I love these characters, Empire of Storms
- Three Parts Dead (Craft Sequence No. 1) by Max Gladstone — Kickstarting my reading again at the back end of the year. It’s always very difficult to find a new fantasy series. While I love the Law & Order approach this book takes to the world, I simply can’t do a new procedural with new characters every time — even if it is in a magical world.
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah — Possibly the most surprising read this year. Picked up because of a charming Fresh Air interview. Focussed entirely on his life in pre- and post-Apartheid South Africa as a bi-racial young man. Highly recommended in audiobook form for a more complete understanding of Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans quotes (and, of course, sterling impressions).
“Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else’s language, even if it’s just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, “I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being.”
— Trevor Noah, Born a Crime
- Afterparty by Daryl Gregory — In a future where you can print any drug you want, a new substance has been created which has users literally “see God” through persistent, intense hallucinations. One of its creators is trying to keep it out of the hands of the general population. A decent thriller and weekend read.
For previous editions of ‘Books I Read’:
As ever, I am inspired by Diana Kimball’s excellent annual book list. I think now that I’ve done it twice, it is…medium.com
Other booklists that I highly recommend from Rick Webb, Diana Kimball, and Ellen Chisa:
This post is part of a larger effort in exploring consciousness in how I consume content. If you’re interested, follow along here.