Favorite Books of 2016
Before you say anything, yes, I realize that eleven days remain before 2017 arrives; however, I am not likely to change my mind about any of these selections between now and then so, since I've had a few friends asking me for book recommendations lately, I thought I'd go ahead and share my top pics of 2016.
This is always, ALWAYS, such a tough list to curate; I want to keep adding titles that I believe deserve recognition, yet I think it's also important to keep it fairly short and succinct. I've never had the discipline or decision-making skills to pronounce, "my favorite book of the year is...;" I don't see that changing anytime soon!
After much deliberation, I've narrowed it down to three fiction and two nonfiction titles - sort of, since I tried to sneak in a fourth fiction selection by calling it "runner up." It's tough, what can I say? The links that I've attached to these books will take you to Goodreads, where you can also find links to purchase them; I primarily read on a Kindle Paperwhite, but put my hands on hard copies of a few of these and listened to two on audio.
Favorite Fiction of 2016
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler: I published a post on this one, earlier in the year, and I think I kind of hit a dry spell after reading it; having spent many a night in an empty restaurant, save the closing employees, there were many themes within this novel to which I could relate. Even if you've only experienced a restaurant as a patron, there are many, many, things to love about this novel, like finding a family within your community and Danler's fabulous writing.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: Having always admired and enjoyed Patchett's work, I'd been looking forward to this release for some time; I have to say, I think it's her best. I heard an interview she did on NPR's Fresh Air and she said that she has come to a very comfortable place, not only with her writing, but also with herself: "Now I just feel like I own every part of myself and my life and my imagination and the rocky terrain of my own brain, and that feels really good." It definitely shows in this novel and if I were forced to pick a single favorite this would likely be the one.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett: An absolutely stunning debut novel and it was like nothing else I'd read this year; it also felt very timely, since the novel includes themes of race, religion, grief and finding one's place in the world in spite of it all. Bennett is only 25 years old; her voice is strong and powerful and I can hardly wait to see what she has in store for us in the future.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles: If you enjoyed being swept away by absolutely magical descriptions and old world elegance, look no further; in addition, the main character is actually imprisoned throughout the novel (in a hotel, of all places!), something I know a little about, and it's a great story of creating a pleasant existence no matter where you find yourself. Towles is very adept at weaving multiple, relatable themes into his imaginative settings; had it not been for The Mothers, this would have been a solid top three...and I'm still questioning my decision.
Favorite Nonfiction of 2016
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: As a clinical chaplain, it would be impossible for me to read this with "fresh eyes," from the perspective of someone outside the health care profession who is not confronted with end of life issues daily. Having said that, I think it should be read by EVERYONE because most do not give much thought to what will happen as they approach the end of their life; it's not something we want to contemplate, at least not very often. Kalanithi also highlights the importance of advocating for one's own health and one's own autonomy, while also respecting the knowledge and opinion of those providing the care. A must-read!
Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance: This one came in just under the wire; I finished it a couple of weeks ago and I can't stop thinking about it. I may not have grown up in the areas Vance describes (Middletown, OH and Jackson, KY), but I could certainly relate to some of the themes he explores in this book. Whether you are a native of this area matters not; in fact, I think this book would be much more helpful to those who lack understanding of this culture and socioeconomic group. Vance does a remarkable job of laying out the brutal facts, while entertaining with vivid stories of his Mamaw and other family characters.