Looking Back and Looking Forward
I'm the Kind of Mom Who Fails at The Science Fair

My Year in Books: the 2016 Edition

This is the third January I've put together a list of all of the books I read the year before. I've found it useful several times at work, so I think I'll keep doing it. Plus, it's sort of satisfying to see all of the reading on one page. 

I read the fewest books in 2016 I've read in some time. Two medical crises and three big trips are likely the cause of that. I also felt like this year was somewhat disappointing...I read a lot of books that I liked, but very few that I absolutely, completely adored. Also, I managed to write about many more of the books I read, so that makes me happy.

Anyway, enough rambling, here is the list, in alphabetical order, with links to the reviews I wrote and comments because I can't resist!

2016 collage

All the Rage by Courtney Summers. This was the hot book for awhile, if it isn't...weird? offensive? potentially triggery?...to say a novel about rape is the hot book? Anyway, I thought it was just OK. Speak remains the touchstone of such books.

Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman. A collection of short stories about women in history who were associated, somehow, with someone famous. Just my style!

Ariel: The Restored Edition by Sylvia Plath. This year at the library, I became the collection developer for the poetry and essay sections. When I discovered that we didn't have a copy of Ariel it was one of the first things I ordered. Then I ordered a copy for myself. The original Ariel is out of print and I have dreams (literal ones) of finding a copy in a used book store. That didn't happen this year, despite going to some used book stores in London (and New York!) but I'm still hoping. (Yes, I know, I could probably find one on the internet. But I don't want to just order it. I want to find it, you know?)

Baring Witness: 36 Mormon Women Talk Candidly about Love, Sex, and Marriage edited by Holly Welker. I might be a little biased, as this book includes an essay by me (!), but this is some excellent writing about the issues many of my friends grapple with as women in a faith we have a complicated relationship with.

The Best American Essays and The Best American Poetry. I'm actually still working on these...but as I started them in 2016, I'm putting them here. This is one of my favorite yearly reading experiences, and I'm working on buying every BAP and reading them all.

Dreamer's Pool by Juliette Mariellier. Wanted to love this fantasy more than I actually did, but it was a good companion during Kendell's October surgery.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston. The more I think about the premise of this YA novel—if a wealthy, popular cheerleader with access to mental health and supportive parents is raped, do her circumstances make the rape easier to deal with?—the more I get annoyed, because the book is suggesting that yes, all of those things do make it, you know, sure, unpleasant, but without all of those troubling side effects. I'm just not sure I agree. 

Faithful by Alice Hoffman. Not my favorite book by her, but it was cool to read after being in New York City.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. A follow up to Atkinson's Life after LifeThis one focuses on just one life, but I still loved it.

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan. Set in a world with sharp divisions between the people who live on land and those who live on boats. 

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Please note: I've read almost every Atwood in existence, but this is the first time I've actually written about one of her books! I'm not sure...this might be the seventh or eighth time I've read The Handmaid's Tale. It is a book that changed my life.

The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams. I still want to write about this one. And I want to write and submit, somewhere, about my own experiences in our national parks. 

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. This is the first Cornwell book I've read. I love historical novels and this time period (the Danish invasion of England), so I enjoyed the story, but it also felt like a very manly read. It made me realize how much I tend to lean towards women in my fiction.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Someone told me it's not pronounced "Ove" like "stove" but "OOVAY" like...well, what English word rhymes with that? I can't think of one. Then I was embarrassed I've been saying it wrong.

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes. I resisted reading this because everyone was reading it and you know how that makes me feel. But my book group read it, so I read it, and I liked it more than I thought I would. I'm glad it ended the way it did.

A Much Younger Man by Diane Highbridge. Another SDBBE book I would've never read without my reading friends discovering it for me. A quick story about a woman who falls in love with her friend's teenage son. 

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong. I read his poem "Someday I'll Love Ocean Vuong" in The New Yorker and, oh my. I fell in love. Poems like his are why I love poems anyway. "Your father is only your father/until one of you forgets."

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian. I read this combination witchcraft/ghost story in October and loved it. I posted a pic on my Instagram and hashtagged the author, and he actually left a comment. Which was thrilling!

On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moore. Why haven't I written about this? I love trails, not just because I love hiking but because I love the actual trail itself. This explores that fascination, the history and the philosophy of trailmaking.

Oral History by Lee Smith. This was my book group choice this year. I haven't got it back yet, so I don't know what the others thought of it. I read this in college and loved it, so much that I was hesitant to read it again because what if it disappointed me? It didn't. The concept of how family history stories can touch upon each other and influence us even when we don't really know the stories...that is haunting to me. 

The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin. I read this over the summer; I took book 1, The Passage, to Ohio with me, and lugged books 1 and 2 (The Twelve is the second) all over Europe. I finished the third, City of Mirrors, in August, and then when we went to New York in October I was thrilled to see the painted ceiling in Grand Central Station. The ending was SUPER disappointing, but it was still an unusual and interesting take on vampires.

Pax by Sarah Pennypacker. The only junior fiction I read this year.

The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas. A pick by my book group friend. Good timing as I needed to read it for the library! My Inner Book Snob would like me to say that this was, you know...fluffy and light. But it actually was really good and looks at several women's issues in a nice way. Plus, quilting!

Power Made us Swoon by Brynn Saito. Another poetry book that is exactly the kind of poetry I like. "What works is singing
from the cave of the self/where memories of knives/and clouds shaped like tiger faces//live together like children/unaware of their potential."

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. I finished off two series this year with disappointing endings. I'm trying to decide if my disappointment in the ending means I shouldn't recommend them? I don't know. I did really, really love the characters in this series, but the ending...not as disappointing as The Passage trilogy...but I was expecting more. At the same time I will miss those characters.

Runemarks by Joanne Harris. A adventurous YA retelling of the Norse Ragnarok myth. Love!

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes. A haunting YA about a girl who escapes from a back-woods cult...and spends some time in jail as a result.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman. Hands down, one of the best YA fantasy/dystopia-esque books I've read in years.

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman. This was my favorite book I read this year. Even almost a year later—I read it in February—I can't stop thinking about it. I bought a copy for Haley and one for myself and I would like every woman I know to own a copy, as its message (there are always choices, even when you feel trapped) is fairly powerful. Maybe it's just what I am needing to learn right now.

The Spell Book of Listen Taylor by Jacklyn Moriarty. I'm pretty sure I mentioned this book in a blog post about something else...but I can't find it. Anyway, this was an unusual and quirky novel I had never heard of. Thanks Britt!

Swing Time by Zadie Smith. My first Zadie Smith novel. Don't be swayed by the buzz: this isn't a book about dancing, not really. As long as you don't expect much actual dancing, you will enjoy this!

Unbecoming by Jenny Downham. My review of this book is mashed down at the end of a blog post about why I read fiction, and I stand by what I wrote: people who think reading fiction is a waste of time because it isn't "real" are not reading the right fiction. 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. An exploration of how we could make dying better in our country, and what it means to really live. Perhaps a strange choice for reading right after my husband almost died...but, actually, not. It made me feel peaceful about the choices we have made and reinforced that, had the outcome been different, I could have made the choice he wanted me to make. 

A Wild Swan by Michael Cunningham. A set of fairy tale retellings with gorgeous illustrations. (But definitely a grown-up read.)

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott. A new Megan Abbott novel is cause for celebration. I adore her books, and this one is about gymnasts. Swoon.

Did you read anything on my list? What were your favorite books last year?


Michelle Mewhinney-Angel

I felt the same way this year, I wasn't quite bowled over by much.
I find Bernard Cornwall to be iconoclastic and boorish - he has an axe to grind about religion and he can grind it somewhere else, I'm done.


Other than The Sleeper and the Spindle, not one overlap (although I'm now about halfway through A God In Ruins)! Lots on your list that I'll try to find though - thanks for sharing it.


The Sleeper and the Spindle was one of my favorites of 2016 -- the fairy tale retelling was unexpected and it was also a beautiful physical book. I devoured When Breath Becomes Air in one day because I couldn't bear to put it down. What a loss to his family and to the world -- all the patients he would have treated, all the research he would have done, all the writing he would have done. Atul Gawande's Being Mortal is a great companion read -- some tough, tough stories but like WBBA, speaks to what we all want, need, and deserve at the end of life. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's One Amazing Thing has stuck with me; it was recommended by a friend and I found it very compelling.

Feisty Harriet

I listened to "A Man Called Ove" and it was the most charming book ever. Also, Ove and my Dad are basically the same person. Hashtag: Heart Eyes.

Ordering "Ariel" now.


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