I really, really enjoyed doing this! I'd read 50+ books in a year before, but I'd never tried to write about them. Come to think of it, I don't think I've written a review of a book since I had to write book reports in middle school, so this was a whole new world. I noticed a few things about my reading habits as part of this process. The first is that I remember way more about books when I write about them. I'm a fast reader--possibly too fast--and I tend to consume books. By forcing myself to take time with a book afterwards, to pick out passages and process my thoughts, I actually remembered what I read much, much better. Go figure. The second is that in trying to get to 50, I read way shorter books than I usually do. I haven't decided yet how I feel about that. On the one hand, I think it got me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to read things that I wouldn't have otherwise, but on the other hand, I really love long, immersive novels, and I didn't read as many of them this year as I have in the past. I'm considering setting a page count for myself for this year instead of a number of books, but maybe that defeats the purpose of this whole endeavor.
Either way, this has made me a more careful, thoughtful reader, and I've loved getting to see what everyone else is reading. Christopher got me into this mess and lent me or directed me to many of my favorites this year, so I'm very grateful to him and his belief that I would be better at this than I have been at Learned League.
Here are my top 10 from 2016:
10. The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
This was totally engrossing partly because it was so beautifully written and partly because North Korea is an insane mystery of a place. Some of the moments from this are still bouncing around in my brain.
9. A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark
Mrs. Hawkins was one of my favorite characters from this whole year. I'd never read Spark before, and her heroines have been so much fun to get to know. Mrs. Hawkins was especially entertaining and her advice to live by has stuck with me.
8. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
This was by far my favorite YA novel this year. It was funny and sad and sweet and had way more depth than I've come to expect from YA writers. I've toyed with the idea of writing my own YA novel, and this book reawakened that idea for me. We need more books like this one!
7. Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz
I'm obsessed with my dog, and this book has made me, if possible, even more obsessed. I refer back to it constantly, and it's given me a deeper understanding of what exactly is going on in her adorable little head.
6. The Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro
This book was a beautiful, poignant description of the pain of female adolescence, but what stuck with me was the bevvy of quirky, funny, driven female characters. I never get books full of women I love, and Munro really delivered with this one.
5. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
I love Roz Chast's cartoons, so I expected to love this, but I was suprised at how touched I was by it. Because it's a full length graphic memoir, she can go deeper than the beloved neurotic sarcasm that drives her cartoons, and I got to see a side of her that made me love her even more.
4. For White Folks who Teach in the Hood by Christopher Emdin
I wish I'd read this book years ago, and I wish I could force it on every such white person I know (especially the ones I work with). Emdin's wisdom and outrage have made me a better teacher and a better advocate.
3. The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
This was a total surprise favorite. I read it because it was short and Christopher told me to, and I just loved it. It was beautiful and strange and I loved it.
2. The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
This was the closest I got to a Russian novel this year (shame!), and I loved how weird, sad, and intricate it was. The sweeping scope, the bizarre characters, and the occasional moments of redemption made it an abiding favorite.
1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara
Looking back through this list, I seem to be even more of a sucker for sad books than I previously thought (perhaps another takeaway for the year). This book was the saddest and best of them all. The characters are gorgeously broken, and Yanigahara weaves them together in gripping, heartbreaking ways. This has made it onto my all time top 10 for sure.
Trauma Stewardship by Laura van Dermoot Lipsky and Connie Burk
This was not a particularly well-written book, but it was probably the book that most directly influenced my personal well-being. The authors' road map for how to manage your own stress and trauma while guiding others through their own has been invaluable. This is another one I wish I'd read years ago.
Next year, I'm aiming for more lady writers, more writers of color, and not entering into December with ten books left to read. Thanks for bringing me on!