“To overcome, to live, rise, and reign at last”: 2016 book list

As the world—both mine personally and more generally—shifted this year, I have been reminded of what it takes to make change and to maintain a peaceful, powerful center. In my reading I turned to the steadfast lessons of literature and, to my surprise, non-fiction. If any year called for how-to texts, this was it. I consumed books with the zeal of an elementary-school-aged bookworm: when I was running or driving I was listening to books, when I was waiting for or sitting on trains I was reading books, when I was procrastinating on bigger projects I was writing about reading, and when I was lying in bed I was thinking about my own book.

This year, I read like a writer—that is to say, slowly—savoring sentences and returning to my favorites despite the desire to read something new. I read a few books I should have read long ago (like Little Women), and as the year progressed I tried to focus on reading books by people of color or about working for justice in an uncertain world. Still, I read 45 books this year, and while 30 of them were written by women, only 6 were written by people of color. In 2017 I’ll strive to correct that imbalance, to be mindful of whose voices are published, and to continue reading books that have long been on my Read Sometime list.

It should be no surprise that what we read shapes how we think and act—how we respond to the world around us, but this was something I took to heart this year. As I write this, I’m more than halfway through a third or fourth reading of Jane Eyre, which I saw as a theatrical production at the beginning of the year, and I’m still nursing a pilgrim’s high after a visit this week to an exhibit about Charlotte Bronte’s life and work. In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte writes, “The vehemence of emotion, stirred by grief and love within me, was claiming mastery, and struggling for full sway; and asserting a right to predominate: to overcome, to live, rise, and reign at last; yes—and to speak.”

I started the year trying to keep an open mind (Jodi Picoult wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought she’d be, she says, trying not to sounds catty) and ended it by seeking solace and surprise where I knew it would be (though I couldn’t remember where I’d gotten it in the first place, Paradise survived my pre-move bookshelf purge and then I knew I’d read it before the year was out).

  1. A Secure Base, John Bowlby (January)
  2. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, Rhoda Janzen (January)
  3. Leaving Time, Jodi Picoult (January)
  4. Across Five Aprils, Irene Hunt (February)
  5. Over the River, Sharelle Byars Moranville (February)
  6. The Thrilling Adventures of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, Sydney Padua (March) *
  7. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott (March) *
  8. Nora Webster, Colm Toibin (March) *
  9. Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter (April)
  10. Nine Parts of Desire, Heather Raffo (April)
  11. Astray, Emma Donoghue (April)
  12. The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (May) *
  13. Not June Cleaver, Joanne Meyerowitz (May)
  14. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, JK Rowling (May)
  15. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Fredrik Backman (May)
  16. The Round House, Louise Erdrich (May) *
  17. Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (June)
  18. Maddaddam, Margaret Atwood (June) *
  19. Squirrel Meets Chipmunk, David Sedaris (June)
  20. Living by Fiction, Annie Dillard (June) *
  21. More Than You Know, Beth Gutcheon (June)
  22. Q Road, Bonnie Jo Campbell (June) *
  23. Abe Lincoln Grows Up, Carl Sandburg (July)
  24. How to Build a Time Machine, Brian Clegg (July)
  25. Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen (July)
  26. Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood (August) *
  27. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nahisi Coates (August)
  28. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (August)
  29. Brush Back, Sarah Paretsky (September)
  30. Clockwork, Philip Pullman (September)
  31. The Diezmo, Rick Bass (September)
  32. The Voyage of the Narwhal, Andrea Barrett (September) *
  33. The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood (September)
  34. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, JK Rowling (October)
  35. Passing, Nella Larsen (October)
  36. Southern Mail, Antoine de St. Exupery (October)
  37. A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry (October) *
  38. Waking Up White, Debby Irving (November)
  39. Yes Please, Amy Poehler (November) *
  40. But I Don’t See You as Asian, Bruce Reyes Chow (November)
  41. Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit (November)
  42. The Rise of the Rocket Girls, Nathalia Holt (November)
  43. Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson (November) *
  44. Packing for Mars, Mary Roach (December) *
  45. Paradise, Toni Morrison (December) *


* my favorites

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