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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Flannery

When I was in fourth grade, my family took a trip to Washington, D.C. My memories of this time are few and hazy, though I remember being excited before we went. As a young nerd, two of my favorite things, in general, were museums and U.S. presidents.

I remember that on the drive down from New York, we stopped in Maryland to eat at a Bob’s Big Boy, which my parents were not happy about. It was my brother Jim’s birthday. We stayed in a hotel, something that, as a large family, we didn’t do often. There was a pool there, which thrilled me and my siblings.

I remember standing in front of the White House on a gray day, my youngest brother at the time beside me in a stroller. We went to Arlington National Cemetery to see the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame. I was sad to find out that the Kennedys had had a baby who died. Growing up Irish Catholic, I was sad to hear about most misfortunes that befell the Kennedys.

We visited Mount Vernon, which I remember being some kind of colossal failure, I think mostly because it was unseasonably hot and my siblings were cranky and bored. At the gift shop, my parents bought me a book. It was full of small biographies of famous American women. I spent the drive home reading it, memorizing details from the lives of women like Edna St. Vincent Millay, Margaret Mead, and Flannery O’Connor, none of whom I’d heard of previously.

Flannery O’Connor was of particular interest, her first name being my last name. I worried that, perhaps, I could never become a famous writer because there wouldn’t be room for two people with the name Flannery in American letters. (Her actual first name was Mary, a fact that has never left me.) However, I felt a kinship with her. She too was Irish Catholic. She had liked animals, which were very important to me as a nine-year-old. She was also, of course, bookish.

I didn’t actually read anything by Flannery O’Connor until my senior year in high school, when our teacher, herself a devout Catholic, assigned several of her short stories in our AP English Literature class. Reading those stories, I felt as stunned as Julian’s mother after she is knocked in the head with a pocketbook at the end of O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” I hadn’t expected the violence, the sharp observations of human behavior, the mysticism. It was then that I became a Flannery O’Connor devotee which I knew, somehow, had been inevitable.

I saw earlier this week that The Paris Review tweeted, in honor of her birthday, this 2012 blog post with a recording of Flannery O’Connor reading her classic story “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” Since listening to it, I’ve been thinking about my favorite O’Connor stories, which I’ve shared below. (I’ve linked to the stories, if I could find them on the internet. I can’t promise that the text will be perfect, as I didn’t read through all of them.)

I find that I go back to these and other stories often, both in my mind and in rereading them. My relationship with them has changed over time. When I started writing more seriously, focusing on short stories, I experienced O’Connor’s writing less as a reader and more as a writer. As my relationship with Catholicism grew weaker, I felt less emotionally connected to her expression of spirituality and more intellectually interested in it. Even though I can’t recreate that feeling of being hit over the head that I experienced when I first read her work, I know that Flannery O’Connor has affected me as a reader, a writer, and probably as a human.

Remembering our first encounter, my reading her short biography in the backseat of my family’s car, looking at a photograph of Flannery supporting herself with crutches on the steps of her Georgia home, I think about the little ways in which life is strange and mysterious. And I’m grateful for them.

Haley’s Favorite Flannery O’Connor Stories:

5. “Wildcat”

6. “The Geranium”  / “Judgment Day” (“Judgment Day” is considered a rewrite of “The Geranium.”)

Also, if you’re interested in the life of Flannery O’Connor, I recommend Brad Gooch’s biography Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor