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.

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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

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What I Wrote in 2015

I woke up this morning, on the last day of the year, and thought about writing. I consider doing this often, just getting up and writing. Then I did what I do almost every morning. I hit snooze on my alarm and rolled over. When I finally did get up, after hitting snooze a few more times, I had just enough time to run out for coffee before starting work. (My actual work that I get paid to do.) This, I thought to myself, is why I can never get any writing done. Then I proceeded to get angry at myself for not writing enough this year, for not publishing anywhere other than my own site, for giving up on the novel I’d started, for constantly feeling like I don’t have anything to say, for worrying that no one reads or cares about what I do put out there, for getting caught in this same negative thought cycle all too often.

I decided to stop being angry and to do a thing I had promised I would do more often this year and in the future. I decided to be nice to myself. All of the things I didn’t do this year? I told myself that it’s fine that I didn’t do them. I can do them or not do them later. And all of the things I did? They’re great! I did them.

This lead me to make a list of things I wrote that I liked this year. So, here are the things I wrote that I liked:

I wrote about having crushes.

I wrote about traveling to Iceland by myself.

I wrote about being a fan.

I wrote about getting naked with my friends at the spa.

I wrote about losing my job.

I wrote about talking to strangers in New York City.

I wrote about losing my uncle twelve years ago.

I wrote about what I listened to and what I read.

And I’ll write more next year. Just probably not right when I get up in the morning.

Every Book I Read in 2015

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one of the many times this year i attempted to match my manicure to the book i was reading

The year is almost over and I’m probably not going to finish another book, so I figured I might as well write up my annual year in reading post. According to my Goodreads account, I read 37 books in 2015. My goal was to read 24 books and I love exceeding goals, so I feel very good and happy about reading 13 more books than I thought I could.

Throughout 2015, I wrote tiny little reviews of many of the books I read. Here are reviews from January – March, April – June, and July – September. And below is my full roundup from this year, without any commentary because I’m lazy as hell today and I didn’t write any last year either.

Top Five (Non-Ferrante) Novels
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
The Group by Mary McCarthy
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

Ferrante Novels
The Story of a New Name
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
The Story of the Lost Child

Novels I Liked A Whole Lot
Talk by Linda Rosenkrantz
Tampa by Alissa Nutting
Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Graphic Novels/Memoirs I’m Embarrassed to Say I Hadn’t Read Sooner
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman
Drinking at the Movies by Julia Wertz

Novels I Love That I Reread
How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Very Good Essay Collections
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum

Unputdownable True Crime Book
People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished From the Streets of Tokyo – and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry

Putdownable True Crime Book
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann

Other Non-Fiction and Memoir I Was Into
So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead by David Browne
Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl: A Memoir by Carrie Brownstein
Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller
Underground in Berlin: A Young Woman’s Extraordinary Tale of Survival in the Heart of Nazi Germany by Marie Jalowicz Simon

Two Engrossing But Ultimately Disappointing Thrillers
The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins
The Secret Place by Tana French

Three Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn
Never Mind
Bad News
Some Hope

Sci Fi or Fantasy Books (Some For My Sci Fi-Fantasy Book Club and Some For “Fun”)
Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Golden Son by Pierce Brown
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Things I Read For My Non-Genre Book Club That I Find Difficult to Classify
Three Tall Women by Edward Albee
The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks

Books I Started and Didn’t Finish
Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick
Stoner by John Williams
Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music by Rob Young
The First Collection of Criticism By A Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper
The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy [Note: I have already read this book and got distracted from my intended reread.]

Every Book I’ve Read So Far This Year (2015 Edition), Part Three

As some of you may know, I had a lot of time to read during the last few months. Even though I was furiously looking for a job during part of that time, I still had a ton of time to do anything my heart desired. And it turned out that mostly what my heart desired was to read. Reading, as an activity, was easier for me than most other things that could have occupied my time. Even after I knew I had a job lined up, reading was a way for me to escape my anxiety about the present and the future. In short, it helped me get by. (In a very pleasant and rewarding way.)

Here – almost a month after I would have liked to post this, because I am without a personal computer right now and also writing basically anything has seemed unmanageable to me – is everything I read in the third quarter of 2015.

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So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead by David Browne

I’ve written quite a bit here before about how the Grateful Dead has been a band that has fascinated me for almost my entire life. I would never consider myself as knowledgeable as the average fan, but I do really enjoy the history and culture and much of the music of the Dead. After I watched The Other One, the recent documentary on Bob Weir, I found myself looking for a more comprehensive history of the band. That ‘s how I got to Browne’s book, which was released a few months in advance of the Dead’s Fare Thee Well performances.

I had read – and enjoyed – Browne’s Fire and Rain a few years ago and trusted that this book would go down just as easily. And it did. Browne tells the Dead’s story by focusing on important days in the band member’s lives and careers. His method isn’t necessarily innovative, but it serves him well in that he’s able to provide a comprehensive and detailed history in under 500 pages. (I could easily see a history of the Grateful Dead ballooning to twice the size. Their five decades of existence provides almost too much stuff to write about, what with their evolving personalities of the band members, rotating cast of followers, wonderfully inconsistent and powerful live performances, and collisions with important moments in American history.)

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the phenomenon of the Dead.

Here’s my original post on So Many Roads.

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Never Mind, Bad News & Some Hope (Patrick Melrose Novels #1, #2 & #3) by Edward St. Aubyn

I got through the first three of Edward St. Aubyn’s five Patrick Melrose novels back in July. These specifically were published in quick succession between 1992 and 1994. (The final two novels in the series – Mother’s Milk and At Last – were published in 2005 and 2012, respectively.) The series is well known for being autobiographical and each novel focuses on one pivotal day in the life of St. Aubyn’s alter ego, Patrick Melrose.

In Never Mind, Patrick is five. The story is told from several perspectives – Patrick’s, that of his dissatisfied and cruel father, his alcoholic mother’s, and those of several visitors and staff members at the family home in the south of France. The short book is horrifying – in one passage, we see from Patrick’s perspective as he is brutally raped by his father – but also beautiful and very funny. When I was done, I wondered how St. Aubyn managed to pull it off.

Bad News is equally as dark as its predecessor. Patrick, now in his early twenties and addicted to heroin, has flown to New York to retrieve the body of his father, who has died. He spends a day and a night in early 1980s Manhattan searching for drugs, hallucinating, alternately fending off and seducing girlfriends via telephone, embarrassing himself in the company of others, and spending money on food, wine, and taxis seemingly because he can. Bad News reads like a fever dream and made me squirm often. However, St. Aubyn once again infused the unpleasant with beauty and humor that made the novel a more than worthwhile read.

Some Hope was my favorite of the three Patrick Melrose novels I read. Patrick is twenty-eight, sober, and attending a fancy party in the English countryside. He is coming to terms with the world at large. The novel explores the shallowness of the English upper class and, while it does grapple with some heavy things, felt lighter to me overall. After finishing Some Hope, I was satisfied enough to put the Patrick Melrose Novels down for a while. I look forward to reading the last two later this year.

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The Girl On the Train by Paula Hawkins

Who hasn’t read The Girl On the Train yet? It’s the Gone Girl of 2015. I’m not going to tell you anything because, I think, it’s better to go into this book knowing absolutely nothing. (I knew absolutely nothing going into it. Had I known anything at all, I may have been discouraged from reading it.) I think, if you like thrillers and you like getting wrapped up in unreliable narration and you like not being able to put a book down, read The Girl On the Train. Then come and talk to me about it. I have a few things to say.

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Red Rising & Golden Son (Red Rising Trilogy #1 & #2) by Pierce Brown

I dove into the Red Rising trilogy at the recommendation of my roommates, who had both been talking up the first book for a while. Red Rising, the first novel, was not hard to sell to me. However, I found it very tough to get into.

Red Rising is the story of Darrow, a “Red” who lives in a colony beneath the surface of Mars, mining a substance that will allow for terraforming above, ensuring humanity’s survival outside of Earth. Darrow eventually discovers that the surface of Mars is already hospitable and home to a society of upper classes. (Classes are divided by color.) He and his fellow Reds have been living in ignorance for their entire lives. And that…is all I’ll tell you! It takes a while to pick up, but about 100 pages into Red Rising, my expectations were blown away. In spite of its weak beginning, Red Rising is an incredibly fun, suspenseful read. It does contain some tired themes and devices, but I think it’s a book that most fans of “young adult” science fiction and fantasy would enjoy.

I liked Golden Son much less than Red Rising but it wasn’t horrible. It just seemed like it was written in a rush and I found myself distracted often. However, I was still very attached to many of the characters and needed to see it through. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what the final book of the trilogy brings.

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The Secret Place by Tana French

I’ll start off by reminding you that I’m a Tana French fangirl. Her previous novels have provided some of my favorite reading experiences in recent years. I think that all of her work is well written, well plotted, and generally some of the best stuff out there in the mystery genre.

The Secret Place, though practically un-put-down-able for me, didn’t measure up to my French favorites. (The Likeness is definitely my #1, followed by Faithful Place.) The book takes place at St. Kilda’s, an all-girls school outside of Dublin attended by Holly Mackey, the daughter of Faithful Place narrator Frank Mackey. The girls at the school are haunted by a murder of a boy from the neighboring all-boys school the year before and Detective Stephen Moran – another Faithful Place character – gets in on the reopened investigation. French is wonderful at characterization and dialogue and she absolutely nails the way the teenage girls in The Secret Place think and act and speak. However, some of the plot mechanics didn’t work for me and in the end, I was left disappointed by the whodunit aspect of the book.

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Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Old Man’s War is a poorly written science fiction novel about a man who, at age 75, gets his consciousness transferred into a superhuman version of his younger body and becomes a part of an intergalactic army that fights aliens in order to secure habitable planets for the human race. It’s also pretty fun. This was an easy, breezy vacation read for me – and also the first thing we read for the sci fi/fantasy book club I joined – and a decent diversion from real life.

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Talk by Linda Rosenkrantz

This was a book that I badly needed to read.

During the summer of 1965, Linda Rosenkrantz recorded conversations that she had with two friends in East Hampton. She turned those conversations into Talk, a book that I believe is a “novel” only in the sense that the names in it are not those of real people. It is entirely comprised of dialogue – conversations between Marsha and her friends Emily and Vincent. They are all approaching or just over thirty. They all make art of some kind. They are concerned with the small-ish scene in which they exist, their romantic relationships, their childhoods, their futures. They all have experience with psychoanalysis, which informs many of their discussions.

I read this during an incredibly introspective period, when I was spending most days alone, making plans only so I would have a reason to talk to someone. I wasn’t depressed, but I also was. I was truly between jobs and I felt like I was just waiting for life to begin again. I found the discussions in Talk relatable and helpful in organizing my own thoughts and feelings. And I’m certain it’s a book that I’ll return to in the future.

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All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

I cannot recommend this book enough. I’m saying that before I say anything else because I don’t want you to get turned off by the description, which was something that happened to me. I’d read a lot about this book before I picked it up and I didn’t think I could handle it. Turns out I could.

Yoli, a woman who grew up in a western Canada Mennonite community, narrates All My Puny Sorrows. She deeply admires and loves her sister Elf, a famous concert pianist who is hell-bent on killing herself. When Elf tries to commit suicide again, Yoli searches for a way to help her sister, her family, and herself.

This book is beautiful, honest, funny, tragic, and a hundred other things. Toews perfectly captures the pain that comes with loving other people.

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The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

Of course I loved The Story of the Lost Child. Over the last year, I devoured the three prior books in Ferrante’s Neapolitan series and told everyone I’ve ever known that they had to read them. I went to a midnight release party for this one and was quoted on The New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog. If I – or someone else – haven’t sold you on Ferrante by now, then…I dunno. Maybe you won’t ever read her. Or maybe you will read her, but just in the future?

As this last book begins, Elena and Lila are grown women with children. Elena is preoccupied by her affair with Nino Sarratore, her childhood crush and Lila’s former lover. Lila is preoccupied by her computer business. Their lives eventually collide again when Elena moves back to Naples and both give birth to daughters around the same time.

I don’t know that I can really compare this to any of the other novels. Now that I’ve finished reading the series, they seem like one wonderful, extremely long book in my mind.

Every Book I’ve Read So Far This Year (2015 Edition), Part Two

My reading round-up for the second quarter of the year is a little late, of course. I’ve been busy reading other, newer books and writing some things that I hope to show you soon and watching television that I would be better of not watching. (The Crimson Field is really not very good, but it’s a British period drama, so.) Anyway, here are the five books that I managed not to put down between April and the end of June!

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The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

If you know anything about Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” you probably know that the narrator – a woman suffering from postpartum depression – goes crazy. The story is very good. And weird and scary and ultimately, sad. It’s also very different from the other stories included in this collection, which are, for the most part, optimistic about women’s ability to overcome societal expectations in late nineteenth century America in order to, in a sense, have it all. (The other stories can be a little hokey, too, but that didn’t bother me so much.)  I wouldn’t say this was a read that I savored or relished by any means – I read it the few hours I had before we were supposed to discuss it at book club – but I did find it to be educational. It made me think about how different my life is from the American woman a century ago, but also how much it is the same.

Here’s my original post about The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories.

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Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Okay, so. I feel like I say this a lot so I don’t want you to think I’m exaggerating but…this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. (I think?) With Life After Life, Kate Atkinson transported me to another world so completely that I found myself thinking about it and only it during the rare moments I wasn’t reading. I finished the book in under 48 hours. I’m sure I thought about work – a little bit – when I was working, but otherwise I was pretty much just obsessing over Life After Life.

When the novel opens, it is 1910 and Ursula Todd has just been born to a wealthy family in England. Suddenly, she dies. And then she’s born again, with another chance at life. The novel continues like this, with Ursula living and dying and living again slightly altered versions of her life.

Even though I have loved reading Kate Atkinson in the past, I was initially put off by the premise of the book when my friend Katie first told me to read it last year. Katie, I will never ignore your recommendations for so long again.

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People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished From the Streets of Tokyo–and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry

I chose this book for my book club to read in the midst of our national obsessions with Serial and The Jinx. I think all of us who read it were just as fascinated by the story of a young British woman who mysteriously disappeared in Tokyo in 1999. While I think that some parts of the book were overwritten, I found People Eat Darkness to be a dark and unexpected journey in the best possible way. I was especially interested in the explorations of hostess culture and the Japanese legal system, both of which play large roles in the book.

Here’s my original post discussing People Who Eat Darkness. 

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Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens

Every time I read a Dickens novel, it is a special experience. I have, since I was a young teenager, been working my way through his books ever so slowly. The last one I read was Bleak House, back in 2010. It took me six weeks and will probably ruin all other Dickens for me, because I find it hard to believe that he could write something better than that. Dombey and Son, the story of the rise and fall of a wealthy London shipping family, is no Bleak House. It’s not even close. But it is Dickens and if you enjoy reading him, then there’s a lot to like. (My personal favorite thing about this book really had nothing to do with the book at all. Rather, it was the appearance of the phrase “dank weed” at the end of an otherwise very boring chapter.)

Here’s my original post discussing Dombey and Son.

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The Group by Mary McCarthy

As soon as I finished it, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone I know to read The Group. I wrote a gushing post about it a few weeks ago and am still a little high off of devouring it so quickly. I felt I’d been in sort of a reading rut before I picked it up. But more than satisfy my need to actively enjoy what I’m reading, The Group comforted me. The eight women who made up “the group” felt so familiar to me that reading about their post-collegiate lives in New York City felt like reading my own journal entries or having conversations with my closest friends. However, they were living during the 1930s. (Mary McCarthy, who graduated from Vassar in 1933 just like her characters, wrote the novel in the 1960s.) This book, like The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories, made me consider how different – and how very much the same – the lives of American women (of a certain race and class) are today when compared with decades past. The Group was so much more real to me, though. The writing is modern and McCarthy didn’t labor like Gilman did to make a point about women’s potential in society. She simply told a story and left it up to us to see what we would see.

Here’s my original post on The Group.