Every Book I Read in 2016

2016 is almost over and while I don’t have to add to the enormous pile of “year end” lists again, I would feel badly if I didn’t share with you every single book that I read this year. My goal was to read forty books this year and I finished forty-one. (Reading a bunch of graphic novels and rereading all of the Harry Potter books probably helped.) I’d say, on the whole, that this year was much better in terms of quality than last year. I barely read anything I didn’t like.

I reviewed everything I read between January and April here. Other than that, I didn’t publish any reviews! I solemnly swear to do better next year. This is like, my general attitude going into 2017: Do better. (I think, probably, that should be everyone’s attitude?)

Next year, I’d like to read more, finish the books I’ve yet to finish (see the bottom of the list), and tackle even more books I’ve put off reading because I deemed them too time-consuming or difficult. I think that all of those things are possible.

And without further ado, I present to you every book I read in 2016.

(*) denotes a book that could easily have been included in my top five novels.


Top Five Novels (Roughly in Order of Preference)
Outline by Rachel Cusk [Note: I actually read this twice this year.]
The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas
The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

Five Non-Fiction Books (Roughly in Order of Preference)
Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie
American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst by Jeffrey Toobin
Take Six Girls: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters by Laura Thompson
Columbine by Dave Cullen

Four Novels That Have Nothing to Do With One Another Except That I Liked Them a Whole Lot
The Girls by Emma Cline*
The Sellout by Paul Beatty*
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
Nicotine by Nell Zink

Three Very Excellent, Very Different Thrillers with Female Protagonists
The Trespasser by Tana French*
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Five Graphic Novels (In Order of Preference)
Killing and Dying: Stories by Adrian Tomine*
Beverly by Nick Drnaso
Patience by Daniel Clowes
The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Three Good Autobiographies (In Order of Preference)
Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography by Robert Graves [Note: This was a reread.]
Girl in a Band: A Memoir by Kim Gordon
Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

Two Sci-Fi Books That Kinda Blew My Mind
LoveStar by Andri Snaer Magnason*
High-Rise by J.G. Ballard

Two Sci-Fi Books That Definitely Did Not Blow My Mind
Morning Star by Pierce Brown
A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

Two Novels About Women Going Crazy That Made Me Feel Extremely Anxious
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips

One Novel That Basically Made Me Feel Like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Two All-Time Favorite Books, Reread in a Frenzy During the Final Week of December
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
The Group by Mary McCarthy

All Seven Harry Potter Books by J.K. Rowling, Reread in a Frenzy Late This Summer
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Three Books I Haven’t Finished That I Promise I’m Still Reading
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
A World On Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War by Amanda Foreman
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt

A Year (2016) in Music

I used to rank my top fifty or so songs of each year, but this year I decided to do something a little different, mostly because I listened to about one-quarter the amount of new music that I normally listen to. So, I made a bunch of little lists. Some of them aren’t even about 2016 music. But I think the below is pretty representative of what I enjoyed or interacted with the most.

(If you are interested in my personal top fifty or so songs of the year, I made a playlist here.)

10 songs that I think were my favorites of 2016 (roughly in order):
1/ “Open Your Eyes” – School of Seven Bells
2/ “Do You Need My Love” – Weyes Blood
3/ “Your Best American Girl” – Mitski
4/ “Emma O” – Speedy Ortiz
5/ “It Means I Love You” – Jessy Lanza
6/ “Alaska” – Maggie Rogers
7/ “Below” – White Lung
8/ “No Woman” – Whitney
9/ “Razrushitelny Krug (Destructive Cycle)” – Kedr Livanskiy
10/ “Erase (Aubade)” – Fear of Men

5 2016 rock songs with male vocals that I loved:
1/ “Quite Like You” – Andy Shauf
2/ “Alabaster Snow” – Leapling
3/ “Take It Easy (Ever After Lasting Love)” – White Denim
4/ “Human Performance” – Parquet Courts
5/ “Two Deliverances” – The Hotelier

6 more 2016 rock songs with female vocals that I played on repeat:
1/ “Wednesday Night Melody” – Bleached
2/ “Door” – Nice As Fuck
3/ “Shut Up Kiss Me” – Angel Olsen
4/ “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” – Lucy Dacus
5/ “U Coulda Been An A” – Colleen Green
6/ “Denial” – Mannequin Pussy

5 new albums that I listened to a lot and didn’t really get sick of:
1/ Front Row Seat to Earth – Weyes Blood
2/ Oh No – Jessy Lanza
3/ Light Upon the Lake – Whitney
4/ The Party – Andy Shauf
5/ Fall Forever – Fear of Men

4 composers I listened to the most while at work:
1/ Claude Debussy
2/ Erik Satie
3/ Benjamin Britten
4/ Aaron Copland

5 Julia Holter songs that soundtracked my winter (because I made this Julia Holter Primer for my friend and then listened to it all the time myself):
1/ “Marienbad”
2/ “In the Same Room”
3/ “In the Green Wild”
4/ “Hello Stranger”
5/ “Don’t Make Me Over” (cover)

5 representative songs on a 70-song playlist I made specifically for a trip to my lake house with friends this summer:
1/ “In a Big Country” – Big Country
2/ “Country House” – Blur
3/ “Steal My Sunshine” – Len
4/ “Pepper” – Butthole Surfers
5/ “Born Slippy (Nuxx)” – Underworld

2 compilations I was obsessed with:
1/ Sky Girl
2/ Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music

7 songs I performed more than once at karaoke during 2016:
1/ “If It Makes You Happy” – Sheryl Crow
2/ “Live to Tell” – Madonna
3/ “If I Can’t Have You” – Yvonne Elliman
4/ “Linger” – The Cranberries
5/ “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” – Belinda Carlisle
6/ “S.O.S.” – ABBA
7/ “Insensitive” – Jann Arden

6 songs that unexpectedly made me cry (at least twice in public):
1/ “Thirteen” – Big Star
2/ “America” – Simon & Garfunkel
3/ “Walk Away Renee” – The Left Banke
4/ “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me” – Dave Van Ronk
5/ “Vienna” – Billy Joel
6/ “Living Without You” – Harry Nilsson

9 old songs that I had major moments with this year:
1/ “Any Major Dude Will Tell You” – Steely Dan
2/ “But I Might Die Tonight” – Cat Stevens
3/ “Lucky Strikes & Liquid Gold” – Jeff Cowell
4/ “Lopin’ Along Through the Cosmos” – Judee Sill
5/ “Long Promised Road” – The Beach Boys
6/ “All I Ever Wanted” – New Riders of the Purple Sage
7/ “Ballad of Geraldine” – Donovan
8/ “Hot Burrito #1” – The Flying Burrito Brothers
9/ “Sweet Talkin’ Woman” – Electric Light Orchestra

I Have a TinyLetter Now

Would you like to hear from me more often? Well, then, you are in luck! I am now writing a tiny little TinyLetter. With each edition, I’ll recommend five things that I think are worth spending time on. That’s it! (Last week’s letter included a book, a miniseries, some new music, sandwiches, and a form of low-impact exercise.)

You can subscribe here.

Every Book I’ve Read So Far This Year (2016 Edition)

Hi. Um, hello. I’m having a little trouble opening this post because, well…it’s been a while since I’ve written anything. Really, I’ve written nothing – not even a (private) journal entry – since my last post here. So this is pretty hard to start, even though it’s just a recap of what I’ve read so far this year.

While I haven’t felt much inclination to write – actually, it’s more like, I haven’t felt able to write, because I can’t decide which writing projects are realistic and worth pursuing and am worried about having the time and motivation to complete them – I’ve wanted to read pretty much constantly. My new job takes most of my energy and six months in, I’m still adjusting to its pace and the time commitment it requires. Reading – on the subway, on the chopped salad line at lunch, in bed before I go to sleep – makes me feel good. It temporarily removes me from the cycle of worrying about work. Engaging with a book or an article brings me back to myself and reminds me that real life exists  outside the walls of my cubicle.

I could continue with this sentiment, but I’m sure I’ve written thirteen versions of this post in the last four years, so I won’t. In short, I still love reading! And I still would rather get paid a decent salary (plus benefits) to do nothing but read and generally consume the hell out of all kinds of art and, of course, eat good sandwiches. Anyway, here are some brief reviews (five sentences or less! (or is it “fewer”?)) of what I did read in my spare time between January 1 and March 31 of this year.


Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona is a young shapeshifter who is hellbent on becoming the sidekick to the notorious villain Lord Ballister Blackheart. Together, Nimona and Blackheart set out to expose their kingdom’s Institute of Law Enforcement and Blackheart’s sworn enemy, Sir Ambrose Goldenloin. Even though those two sentences probably mean nothing to you, I don’t want to tell you much more about this delightful and witty graphic novel that’s a little bit fantasy and a little bit sci fi and a lot wonderful.

To get a taste, you can check out the original webcomic here.



Outline by Rachel Cusk

This slim novel contains so much wisdom, I literally want to read it again just to make sure that I’m not overstating. Each of its ten chapters focus on a single conversation that the protagonist, a writer traveling in Athens to teach a weeklong workshop, has with friends, colleagues, or strangers. Cusk brilliantly demonstrates how necessary storytelling is to living and the common experiences that bind us all together. Out of everything I’ve read so far this year, this is the book I’ve recommended the most and the one I’m most likely to reread.



The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

Did you see the movie Carol? Then you know the entire plot of this book.

If you didn’t, it’s about an innocent-ish shopgirl in 1950s New York City who begins an affair with an older housewife that turns, well, kind of dangerous. It’s a smart, satisfying mystery (it is Highsmith after all) and I couldn’t put it down. Best of all, it gave my book club a lot to talk about.



Girl In A Band by Kim Gordon

Even though I’ve been a “fan” of Kim Gordon since I decided to become cool in college, I never knew much about her beyond basic biographical details gleaned from Wikipedia and what I remember of the Sonic Youth chapter in Our Band Could Be Your Life. On second thought, I probably knew more about her prior to reading Girl In A Band than I know about some of my friends today.

ANYWAY, her memoir candidly explains how she became a founder of a very important band and a rock goddess, from her youth in 1960s southern California to her artworld days in Dirty Old New York City, and really goes in on her ex-husband and co-founder of Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore, who cheated on her for years like a fucking scumbag. Also, she has met or is friends with like, everyone ever. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, even though it reads like it was dictated, which I think is my only big complaint about it.


Good-Bye to All That by Robert Graves

As a female Brooklynite of a certain age, it probably doesn’t surprise people when I tell them that one of my favorite books of all time is Good-Bye to All That. Except, gotcha, I don’t mean Joan Didion’s “Goodbye to All That” – which isn’t even a book, it’s an essay – I mean poet/novelist/critic/classicist Robert Graves’ only memoir, which he published while he was still in his thirties, in 1929. It covers his childhood during the final years of Queen Victoria’s reign, his often cruel experience at boarding school, and his time serving with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in World War I. Good-Bye to All That is a beautiful, funny, terrifying (there’s a lot of war stuff), name-droppy (in a good way, though) farewell to English life. Reading it as a twenty-eight year-old amateur historian (and Robert Graves fangirl) was just as wonderful as reading it the first time around, as a twenty-one year-old history student who almost skimmed it but figured she’d get more out of her class if she actually did the assigned reading.


The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz

I was so happy when I finally read Drinking at the Movies, Wertz’s first graphic memoir, that I couldn’t wait to read more of her work. The Infinite Wait didn’t have the same impact for me, but it was still super funny and relatable and, I think, a really great way to spend a few hours. Wertz is a talented storyteller and a delightful weirdo and I will gladly read anything she puts out. (Check out some of the New York history comics she did in the last year and also her site.)


Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

Holy hell, I forgot how much I loved reading about the Romanovs. Actually, that’s not quite true, as it’s hard to forget something that’s been one of one’s favorite pastimes since the age of ten, but I hadn’t read anything about them in quite a while and was quite glad that I read this particular book because it was immensely satisfying. It helps that Massie’s subject, the last Romanov tsar and tsaritsa, have one of the most interesting and tragic stories of anyone born into great wealth and fame in modern times. It also helps that Massie writes like a novelist, is more sympathetic to Nicholas and Alexandra than many historians, and gets to share the tale of RASPUTIN, who I still can’t believe isn’t made up. If you’re looking for an entertaining history book, pick this up immediately.


Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

I don’t think I would have ever read this if my book club hadn’t picked it. It’s been on my list for years and I couldn’t bring myself to ever start it. It seems I was right to fear reading Wide Sargasso Sea. Though very short, it was both hard for me to get through and nightmare-inducing. Jean Rhys knows how to write a phrase, though, and I would still like to pick up one of her earlier novels, which seem like they would be more up my alley.



High-Rise by J.G. Ballard

Speaking of nightmare-inducing, here is another book that is just that. High-Rise is about the inhabitants of a luxury apartment building on the outskirts of London, who are compelled to go to actual war with each other. That sentence doesn’t really accurately describe just how intense and gory and scary this book is, which is why I am writing another sentence to tell you that this book is intense and gory and scary. Ballard wrote High-Rise in the 1970s, but reading it today, I felt like he was describing our current society in so many ways, from our government to social media. Also, this is about to be a movie with Tom Hiddleston – it comes out next month – so read it quick.


Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine

This graphic story collection destroyed me. And I didn’t even really like two of the stories that much. I mean, I still liked all of them but it’s just that I liked some of them soooo much that some of the others seemed not really that good. My favorites were “A Brief History of the Art Form Known As Hortisculpture” and “Amber Sweet” and “Killing and Dying”. I’m realizing that I’m not really reviewing Killing and Dying or telling you it’s good and instead I’m just stating “I really liked this” in different ways, so how about I just stop right here and you go read it and then we can talk about what you think about it, OK?


The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Without spoiling anything, I can tell you that this book is about a couple who lives in a lighthouse on an island off the coast of Western Australia in the 1920s, finds a baby washed ashore in a rowboat, and decides to raise her as their own. And there are consequences for their actions. The Light Between Oceans is dramatic in that so-so period drama kind of way. It’s entertaining, but it doesn’t always make sense. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone except for my grandma, who would probably think it’s “too sad” anyway, but it did keep me distracted during an entire flight to Austin, which is saying something.


Coming Up Next Time (Probably):

I’ll definitely “review” A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, as well as a soon-to-be published novel that I liked a whole lot. And I will possibly review Morning Star by Pierce Brown, Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt, and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, provided I finish them before June is over. 

One last thing: When I was typing “War and Peace” before, I accidentally typed “Wart and Peace” and it made me laugh.

Body Issues

A few weeks ago, a new-ish friend asked me if I would be interested in running a four-mile race with him in Central Park in February. You clearly don’t know me well enough, I told him. If there’s one thing I loathe more than running outdoors, it’s exercising in the company of anyone I know. Plus, I said, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gone for a run in the last few years. There’s no way I could be ready to run a four-mile race in just a few weeks, even if I wanted to.

As I’ve gotten further into my twenties, it seems like everyone around me is more interested in exercise – both for health and for fun. Many close friends of mine, friends who were not runners when we met, have become serial participators in 5Ks and 10Ks and half-marathons. Others have become devotees of pilates or barre or, in a few cases (and I’m still not certain if this is more of a joke than a real thing), jazzercise. One good friend rock climbs at a climbing gym several times a week. He brought me there once and, though I did end up having a good time, I was so exhausted and overwhelmed by the experience that I never went back.

When it comes to exercise, I don’t have a THING. Actually, that’s not totally true. My real thing has become reading The New Yorker while on the elliptical machine or treadmill in the Greenpoint YMCA’s cardio room. I joke about this a lot, but it really is what I do to “work out”. And I don’t do it nearly enough.

I’ve always had a hard time motivating myself to exercise. Even though I know it will make me feel good and may even make me “healthier” – whatever that means – I almost always prefer doing an activity that requires minimal movement, like writing or cooking, to going for a jog or attending a gym class. And I have a hard time buying into the cult of fitness, something that’s only seemed to grow more intense (at least in urban areas) with the rise of non-traditional exercise routines like SoulCycle and fitness startups like ClassPass in the last few years.

This all makes me feel sort of adrift when it comes to figuring out what’s best for me in terms of “staying in shape” or “maintaining a healthy body weight” or any other fitness-related goals I think I should have.

Running really doesn’t work for me. Every time I’ve tried to get into it, even when I was I was a teenager and under the supervision of a coach, I’ve gotten injured. And, as I’ve stated, I seriously dislike group exercise (other than yoga, for some reason). I really, truly am not interested in pedaling on a stationary bike while someone with an extremely toned body spews motivational bullshit into a wireless microphone headset.

Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking, OK, so if you don’t like exercise…then don’t do it. Or maybe you’re saying, Hey, dummy, you should just try doing more of the stuff you know you like and can do, like using cardio machines at the gym or yoga or, even though you didn’t mention this, taking really, really long walks, which is another thing you like to do.

But who knows what you’re thinking? All I know is that my brain vacillates between telling me to not exercise and telling me to exercise and now, at the end of the first month of the new year, it’s driving me crazy.

Of course, I’m always like this. As I’ve said, I’m not naturally motivated to exercise. But the reason I’m super ambivalent about exercise now, more than usual, is because – once again – I’ve developed pretty negative feelings about my body.

I haven’t weighed myself in months, but I know I’m at the heaviest I’ve been since prior to going on Weight Watchers in 2010. (I lost 20 lbs over the course of a year, tried to maintain that weight for another year, and then backslid over time into my old habits of eating and drinking whatever I wanted to and not exercising more than twice a week or for longer than 30 minutes at a time.) My pants still fit, but not really. I make jokes on Twitter about unbuttoning them all the time, but it’s actually because they’re pretty uncomfortable when I’m sitting at my desk all day! I don’t look “fat” or “bad” or “unhealthy”. I just don’t feel good anymore.

I only go to the gym a few times a month now. And that might even be an exaggeration. But I used to go a few times a week. I haven’t gone to yoga in two years; I quit going to my regular class because it interfered with a German class I was taking (and later quit, both because of lack of funds and the severe embarrassment I felt after drunkenly hooking up with a classmate who I’d had a bit of a crush on and who most likely lost any warm feelings he’d had toward me after that night). And even though my gym has a pool, I refuse to even consider getting into it – I know it’s weird to bring up swimming now, but I should have mentioned before that I was a competitive swimmer (of questionable talent) through high school – because it has an irregular lap swim schedule, only has four lanes, is shorter than 25 yards, and looks ill-kept.

I know what I should do to not feel like this (gross): Slowly get back into working out, doing the things that I know I can handle and ramp up the frequency. There was a time I had never jogged on a treadmill or done yoga. I know I can do those things again, but it’s just a matter of…doing them. Or overcoming the fear of doing them. I’m afraid that I won’t “see results” and therefore won’t feel better about myself. I’m afraid of getting too extreme, as I did back in my Weight Watchers days, when I used exercise to punish myself for not being thin enough or good enough or loveable enough or whatever it was that led me to become obsessive about Weight Watchers in the first place.* I wonder if I’ll ever be able to find a balance.

So, I think I’ve been building up to telling you this crazy fact, which is that I’m going to the gym tonight. I brought my gym clothes with me today so that I have to go directly there after work and cannot make up an excuse to not go once I get home. My plan is to walk on the treadmill for a bit and maybe get on the elliptical. I (literally) do not want to hurt myself, so I think taking it slow for now is best.

I probably won’t be running races anytime soon. And I really don’t think I’ll be participating in the 40-mile bike race my dad asked me to sign up for the other day. But maybe I’ll try one of these dumb classes (not SoulCycle, please don’t make me do Soul Cycle) sometime if I can at least get myself back into yoga. And I’m definitely going to attempt to normalize the way I think about myself again, to get back to being OK with the choices I make in terms of food and exercise and not judging myself or comparing myself to other people.

I don’t really know how to end this in a meaningful or very conclusive way, so I’ll just blurt out some final thoughts in the form of a numbered list and hope they are satisfactory to read.

  1. I understand that exercise is an important part of “being healthy” but I really don’t like it! (However, I will admit that most of the time I feel really good after I do it.)
  2. It’s annoying when people suggest different forms of exercise to me or urge me to try something new. It’s super cool if you’re into, for example, barre (which I don’t even really understand, like as a concept) but I’ll do it if I decide that I want to do it and not because you asked me to.
  3. I worry about everyone’s devotion to exercise classes and gyms in general, because they (the gyms, fitness franchises, etc.) are clearly out to make a lot of money off of people who are willing to pay them and not to promote health for all humans. But hey, we’re all (pretty much) participants in capitalism and who am I to tell anyone where they should spend their money? (For the record, I spend most of my money, after rent, on food and booze and entertainment like books and movies. My gym costs $50 per month.)
  4. (If you like exercising and going to classes and those are things that make you happy, please don’t hate me! I want everyone to just do their thing that makes them happy.)
  5. Sometimes I feel bad about my body. Mostly it’s because I look around and I see and hear people talking about diet and exercise. And I compare what I’m eating to what they’re eating and I compare my body to theirs.
  6. But I don’t really want to be a person who is really into the gym and has intense goals when it comes to weight or strength or whatever.
  7. I just want to find the best way to feel better about myself without turning into a crazy person who is obsessed with calorie-counting and/or burning calories. (Or Points. It was all about the Points when I was on Weight Watchers.)
  8. I know I should not care and just run around naked like Lena Dunham or love myself the way I am like Amy Schumer keeps telling me to do but I’m obviously not quite there yet, otherwise I would be doing those things right now.
  9. Sorry for even bringing Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer up –it seems unfair to reduce them to whatever I just did above – but I felt like I should say something about how it’s great that there are people out there who are talking about body positivity, etc. And I wanted to point out that being confronted by those attitudes – which again, are great and important – in the media makes me feel bad for feeling bad about myself.
  10. Anyway, I’m going to the gym tonight. Go, me!


*Hi! I feel like I should talk more about Weight Watchers. So, the thing is, Weight Watchers really worked for me! I lost a bunch of weight and I was in really great shape after a few months on the program. I didn’t constantly eat and drink to excess and I developed a regular exercise routine. However, this all happened at a pretty weird time in my life. I was just out of college, lived with my parents in the suburbs, and was super depressed. Weight Watchers helped me feel a lot better about myself, my ability to make positive changes, and a bunch of other good crap. BUT I now realize I also used my Weight Watchers success to feel superior to other people who maybe didn’t make the best food choices or didn’t exercise and that wasn’t cool. I talked about Points constantly, shamed my friends for eating or drinking certain things, and was just generally an asshole about how much “better” I looked. Even though it gave me some tools and knowledge I can use again in the future to make living healthier easier, I would think twice about going back on Weight Watchers. It’s hard, I think, to do something that’s so completely about oneself and maintain a normal level of compassion for others.