My main resolution for 2016 was to read more books. Specifically, I wanted to read more books by women. I was inspired in part by #readwomen2014, and the various campaigns that came after it, to look at my own reading habits. (Update: here’s the real story behind #readwomen2014, which started with writer Lilit Marcus.) I had been tracking my reading on Goodreads for a couple of years, and I have to admit I was kind of surprised to realize that almost every book I’d read recently had been written by a man. There is, of course, nothing wrong about books written by men, except that we generally tend to pay more attention to them than books by women. (Don’t believe me? Here’s the most recent VIDA Count, which shows that things are getting more equitable, but women still aren’t proportionally represented in the literary community.) One of my personal concerns about this is the way it limits readers’ exposure to different perspectives. When I realized that my own perspective – one that I thought was so feminist, so progressive! – had been pretty heavily influenced by white male writers for a long time, I thought it was time for a change. And I like a challenge, so I decided that in 2016 I would not read a single book by a man.
And I did it! And it wasn’t that hard. Technically I listened to some of the books – Audible is a subway- and sidewalk-commuter’s friend – but I believe that counts. I read/listened to 18 books this year – 19 if you count re-reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix after the election, which I do, even though the Audible book was read by a man. That’s a big number for me, because I’m a bit of a slow reader and I often get bogged down in magazines and long web articles. I also tried to read more novels this year, but the non-fiction nut in me is pretty persistent. We’ll see what I can do about that in 2017, when I’m taking on an even bigger challenge: Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. It includes 24 prompts, including comics, romance, and poetry, three types of reading that are pretty far outside my comfort zone. But it’s not called Read Easy, so. I’m looking forward to trying some new things. And yes, I made an effort to include as many women authors as possible on my reading list for 2017, though Book Riot made that easy. They also made it easy to enforce my original 2017 reading goal: more authors of color. Here’s to more new perspectives!
In the meantime, here’s a list of what I read in 2016:
Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture by Dana Goodyear – I love reading non-fiction about food. This was a fun read, but felt like it could have been longer/fleshed out more. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – She’s truly one of the best writers I’ve ever read. Just beautiful. 4 stars on Goodreads.
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx – I read and reviewed this for Uncovered Classics, a project to bring more attention to women writers of the 20th century. I struggled a bit with this book, but I was proud of how the review turned out! 3 stars on Goodreads.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott – I read this at the suggestion of the instructor of a memoir-writing class I took this winter. I appreciated how Lamott tied advice and gallows humor together, and she is a master of the one-liner. 3 stars on Goodreads.
The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison – So, when I first heard about/picked up this book, I didn’t see the “Essays” part, and really thought it was going to be a non-fiction book about empathy. Once I adjusted to what it was (and to the fact that I was reading some seriously heavy stuff on my honeymoon) I loved it. And then I decided to write the book I thought it was going to be. 4 stars on Goodreads.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – Read. This. Right. Now. (But maybe not if you’re on your honeymoon, like I was when I read it. I really could have picked more vacation-appropriate books! Oh well. It was worth it.) 5 stars on Goodreads.
The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan – This is an awesome history lesson told through the stories of a group of The Girls. I had some issues with the way the story was structured, and I had a little trouble following it at times, though that may have been because I listened to it rather than reading it. But this is such important history that I never learned in school and that is still very, very relevant to U.S. and global politics and engineering, so I do recommend it. 3 Stars on Goodreads.
My Brilliant Friend (The Neapolitan Novels #1) by Elena Ferrante – I loved this for a lot of the same reasons everyone else in the world loved it, plus the fact that it made me imagine my own distant relatives hanging out in Naples in the early 20th century. 4 stars on Goodreads. (If it turns out Elena Ferrante is actually some man in a mansion in the California hills or something, cut me some slack, OK?)
Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North by Blair Braverman – The best memoir I’ve read in years, and probably my favorite book from 2016. Just gorgeous. I listened to this on Audible in Blair’s own voice, so that probably contributed to how emotional it made me, but wow. Read this. 5 stars on Goodreads.
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald – I liked this, but I didn’t love it. This is probably not considered a legitimate literary critique, but it was too… melancholy? for me. And I never felt as invested in her relationship with the hawk as I felt I was supposed to. 3 stars on Goodreads, primarily for some seriously striking lines that stuck with me.
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – I guess you could call this a “guilty pleasure” read, and it certainly is not that original in a world full of Katniss Everdeens, but I really enjoyed it at a time when I needed something chill to read. And I was actually surprised by a couple of the twists, so I liked it for what it was, even it if was a bit heavy on cliches. 3 stars on Goodreads.
The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower – Can you tell I was getting into election mode? This had some really interesting nuggets, but it was a bit repetitive. I am glad I read it, but I feel like I learned more about the First Families than the people who worked in the White House, though I guess the fact that she got access to the latter at all is quite a feat. 3 stars on Goodreads.
Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer – I picked this up while on a short vacation in Sag Harbor, Long Island, and while the writing style didn’t appeal to me at first, by the end I absolutely loved it. It’s about food, and grief, and love, and fear, and immigration, and did I mention food? I bought another copy for my mom for Christmas. (Also, props to Harbor Books and the essential oil they spray in there, which stuck to the pages until I was finished reading and made the experience that much nicer!) 4 stars on Goodreads.
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach – This book is gross. But I learned SO MUCH about how my body works! I think I didn’t give it more stars because I didn’t love the writing style, and after a while the footnotes got to be a little much. This is not for the weak of stomach, but it is super interesting! 3 stars on Goodreads.
First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies by Kate Andersen Brower – This took me a while to finish because I started it before the election and, well, you know. I did like this one more than The Residence, because I found the lives of the First Ladies really fascinating, especially Betty Ford and Hillary Clinton, but it had some of the same problems with repetition. 3 stars on Goodreads.
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West – Another one of the best memoirs I’ve read, but very different from Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Lindy’s writing is quick, funny, and she also uses a lot of footnotes which sometimes seem completely unnecessary, but also endearing. I identify so much with Lindy, but I was surprised by the pieces of this book that just stopped me in my tracks and had me tearing up. I also learned a lot from it. Highly recommend. 4 stars on Goodreads.
Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber – I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber tell a story on The Moth podcast not long ago and, though I’m agnostic, I thought it would be interesting to hear more stories from this “unconventional” Lutheran reverend. I listened to this one on Audible, read by the author, and the recording had some really beautiful church music in it. It was heavier on the religion than I expected, considering what I’ve heard and read from her before, but I couldn’t exactly hold that against a reverend! I think I didn’t give it more stars because it seemed a bit without ending or closure to me. 3 stars on Goodreads.
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown – I guess this is my first time reading a self-help book, so I’m not sure what exactly I expected. I wanted more details about what all of Brene’s “research” actually is – she refers to it a lot, but I guess this wasn’t the place to actually explain it. Also, I was again a little surprised by the emphasis on “spirituality.” My point being: I’m not sure I was the right audience for this book, but I did find some gems I could take with me, as someone who is indeed a perfectionist and always working toward a better balance. 3 stars on Goodreads.
(Have you noticed that I never give below 3 stars? I really didn’t feel like anything I read this year was “bad” enough for just 2! I did give something 2 stars once – A Tale of Two Cities! I don’t remember exactly why, but it kind of cracks me up now. Also, I didn’t like Tabloid City by Pete Hamill, which I read for a book club. Just saying. I don’t upvote everything just to be nice!)
OK, see you next year. Happy reading :)