January 8, 2017KR BlogBlogReading

Snowstorms and Speculation: My Abbreviated 2016 Reading List

I generally don’t make New Year’s resolutions, and I also don’t go out of my way to eat black-eyed peas or sauerkraut on January 1, but I do have a few traditions once a new year rolls around: buying 50-percent-off calendars, cracking open a fresh book to read, and creating a new spreadsheet to record my reading list for the year to come. (The stark reality of that sentence makes me wince. Discount calendars and creating a book-related spreadsheet? Stand back, everyone. The party’s just getting started.)

After I finish reading a book, I make note of the title, author, and date completed, and then I type up a paragraph or so detailing my reactions. I strongly recommend this practice for anyone else who’s also periodically struck by what I call “temporary reading amnesia” within mere months of finishing a book.

At the start of a new year, I like to keep an eye out for other writers’ book lists, too. Roxane Gay posted an excellent list here, which has definitely lengthened my own to-read list for 2017. And because my brain appreciates the way she’s categorized that list, I’m going to borrow her general format. As penance for taking inspiration from her list, I’d like to encourage everyone to read Gay’s new story collection, Difficult Women, as well as her forthcoming memoir, Hunger, in 2017. I know I will.

In any case, here is an non-comprehensive snippet of books I read (but were generally not published) in 2016:

First books I read in 2016, and the books that inspired my very first post on this blog:
Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels

A classic I remember reading with a sense of dark mystery as a child, and which I pretty much read the same way in 2016:
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

A book I expected might include many essays I’d strongly identify with, but in reality, it mostly did not, which made me reflect on the many reasons people to choose not to have biological children:
Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, edited by Meghan Daum

A book I flagged with post-its so I could copy down many of its stunning lines:
Agua Viva by Clarice Lispector

A memoir I loved beyond reason:
Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith

A book that was made into a movie I loved as a child but that I only got around to reading for the first time in 2016:
The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux

A smart, richly textured novel written by a friend I met several years ago at a writing conference:
Juventud by Vanessa Blakeslee

A book I picked up on a whim when I saw it on a “staff picks” display at a library; the most surprising detail I recall is that presidents and their families are responsible for the cost of their own food, dry cleaning, and personal expenses during their time living in the White House:
The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Anderson Brower

An award-winning novella with complex, dark writing by one of my MFA professors:
Camp Olvido by Lawrence Coates

A snappy, often startling book I read between watching films at a film festival:
Me and Mr. Booker by Cory Taylor

A YA novel focusing on rape culture that left me outraged and stunned:
Asking for It by Louise O’Neill

The novel I probably referenced most during the workshops I taught in 2016 when stressing it’s possible to make even the most familiar subjects feel new again:
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

The book selected for my neighborhood book club that I read a solid month after the group had already met, even though I was the reason the club chose this author in the first place (bonus: here’s one of her most recent stories in the New Yorker):
Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley 

The book (or, to be more accurate, the essay/TED Talk) that went missing on the library’s hold shelf after I’d reserved it because it’s so small it slipped inside another book:
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The most shrill book I read all year, with delight:
Shrill by Lindy West

The book full of stories I’d mostly already read elsewhere, but read again here with pleasure (oddly, my reading notes for this book disappeared not once but twice from my spreadsheet; after the second disappearance, I gave up and accepted that blank space as some kind of metaphor):
Vintage Munro: Nobel Prize Edition by Alice Munro

A memoir that thoroughly transported me to Berlin and also made me secretly hope Elissa Schappell is writing an accompanying memoir of her own about these same years:
All Tomorrow’s Parties by Rob Spillman

A children’s classic I’d never before read, which always made me feel vaguely guilty until I saw it was published when I probably considered myself a touch too old to read it, but now I’m an adult and I loved it, especially the end:
The Giver by Lois Lowry

A book I described in my reading notes as a “feminist palate cleanser” because I read it immediately after suffering through a trashy, sexist disaster of another book not listed here:
You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein

The book I picked up after attending a reading featuring the author and that evoked both The Virgin Suicides and Then We Came to the End:
The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard

A graphic novel that contains some of the best animal hats anyone could ever dream up (and if, like me, you didn’t immediately know that the author is of BoJack Horseman fame, you’d strongly suspect it by the end of this book):
My Dumb Dirty Eyes by Lisa Hanawalt 

A book written by a local writing friend that taught me mostly everything I now know about borderline personality disorder:
Missing: Coming to Terms with a Borderline Mother by Kathy Ewing

A spare, gift-type book I read standing up in a bookstore when I was away from home at a writing residency, and which I bought and mailed to a friend who had recently visited me at said residency (I was particularly endeared by Gay’s list of books about virginity, especially my favoriteVirgin: The Untouched History):
Urgent, Untold Stories by Roxane Gay

A strange, often brilliant book in which apocalypses take many forms:
One Hundred Apocalypses by Lucy Corin

A book I read while trapped on a bus in a snowstorm, and which I will think about for the rest of my life whenever I see a bird of prey:
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

Another book I flagged with post-its because so many of its lines were so good they gutted me:
Words Are My Matter by Ursula K. Le Guin

A book that has been on my to-read list for several years now, but that I never got around to reading, and then a friend surprised me with a copy and I read it and loved it as I knew I would:
Bluets by Maggie Nelson

The last book I read in 2016, and one of the few actually published in 2016:
You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman

And, for good measure, the first book I read in 2017 and that has already set a high standard for my new year of reading:
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi