Reading Retrospective: 2016

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Howdy, folks. Sorry to be the bearer of old news, but I’m here to remind you of the not-so-distant yesteryear of 2016.

I decided to do a Reading Retrospective for 2016 not because my reading year was in any way exceptional, but because:

(a) I like making book recommendations,
(b) 2016 mostly sucked, except for my literary undertakings, and
(c) I might not get another chance—at least, not anytime soon. I’m on track to finish The List by April or May, at which point The Challenge (and this blog) will come to an end. Far from being sad about this, I am ecstatic to move on to other reading and writing projects and, hopefully, get a refund on my sanity.

So here it is: Your very own tour of My Year in Books, 2016 Edition. There were thrills and slogs and frolics and dawdles and everything in between, so plan your route carefully. God knows I didn’t.

First things first: I read a total of 57 books last year—unless, that is, you count In Search of Lost Time as six books instead of one. (I do.) (The List doesn’t.) Then I read 62.

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Me + books + sepia = ? (Not my bookshelf, BTW, but it might as well be.)

Here’s a breakdown of the 57 books that nudged their way into my 2016. Of those 57:

  • 17 were classics for The List (if ISoLT = 1)
  • 40 were purely for “pleasure” (at least, in theory)
  • 45 were works of fiction
  • 12 were non-fiction (of which 8 were memoirs)
  • 47 were first-time reads
  • 10 were rereads
  • 21 were audiobooks
  • 36 were paper books
  • 46 were “for adults”
  • 7 were “for young adults”
  • 4 were “for children”

Now for a summary of the books that stood out the most, in good ways or bad:

Best First-Time Reads:

  • Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. (Illuminating.)
  • Lady Susan by Jane Austen. (Playful.)
  • America Again: Re-Becoming The Greatness We Never Weren’t by Stephen Colbert. (Clever.)
  • We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (Penetrating.)
  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. (Thought-provoking.)
  • Shrill by Lindy West. (Necessary.)
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. (Validating.)

Best Rereads:

  • You Had Me at Hello by Mhairi McFarlane. (Charming.)
  • How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. (Spot-on.)
  • Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding. (Hilarious.)
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. (Nostalgic.)
  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. (Witty.)

Worst Reads:

  • The Tin Drum by Günter Grass. (Twisted.)
  • An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. (Boring.)
  • Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. (Stupid.)
  • Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais. (Tedious.)
  • Stern Men by Elizabeth Gilbert. (Listless.)

Longest Book:

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. (At 6 volumes and 4,217 pages, it’s the longest book I’ve ever read. It’s one of the longest books anyone has ever read, if Wikipedia and the Guinness Book of World Records have anything to say about it. Proust and I were together, on and off, for all of 2016—and a little sick of each other by the end of it.)

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It’s possible Volume 3 spent too much time in the sun.

The longest single-volume book I read was The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, at 1,120 pages.

Shortest Book:

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. (It may be short, but it packs a thousand gut-punches.)

Wait. Now that I think about it, We Should All Be Feminists was probably shorter. And while we’re on the subject, it, too, packs a thousand gut-punches—but mostly to the patriarchy.

The moral of this story is Don’t Judge a Book by Its Size. (If you don’t make room for the little guy, he’ll just develop a complex.)

Pleasant-est Surprises:

  • Every Day by David Levithan. (Touching.)
  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey. (Compelling.)
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. (Arresting.)
  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg. (Revelatory.)

Biggest Disappointments:

  • Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding. (Mournful.)
  • Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. (Self-aggrandizing.)
  • Naked by David Sedaris. (Creepy, I guess? Maybe he shouldn’t narrate his own audiobooks?)
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. (Disappointing ONLY because nothing can outdo Beloved, which I knew before I started.)

Most Original Reads:

  • The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. (First novel, anyone?)
  • Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. (Seriously, WTF?)
  • The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul by Douglas Adams. (Absurd and unpredictable.)
  • In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. (Philosophical and eloquent.)
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl. (Empowering and literally magical.)

Sad Books I Hope to Repress ASAP:

  • Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. (Cue tears.)
  • Every Day by David Levithan. (Cue loud cries of “Noooo!”)
  • A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. (Cue slow torture.)
  • Native Son by Richard Wright. (Cue outraged lectures directed at anyone willing to listen.)

Memorable Characters I Couldn’t Repress Even If I Wanted to:

  • Achilles, from The Iliad. (Crybaby.)
  • Lady Susan Vernon, from Lady Susan. (Devious.)
  • Ringer, from The 5th Wave. (Badass.)
  • Sergeant Dime, from Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. (Commanding.)
  • Tyler Durden, from Fight Club. (Misguided.)
  • Bernadette Fox, from Where’d You Go, Bernadette. (Misunderstood.)

Book-to-Film Adaptations I Scrambled to Read Just in Time:

  • Lady Susan by Jane Austen.
  • Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding.
  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.
  • Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.
  • A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

I loved all the films, for the record—especially Love and Friendship, based on Lady Susan.

Standard-Ass Classics That Left Little to No Impression:

  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.
  • Nostromo by Joseph Conrad.
  • Tom Jones by Henry Fielding.
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
  • U.S.A. by John Dos Passos.

Largely Unremarkable Memoirs (a.k.a. Why Do I Keep Reading Memoirs?):

  • I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley.
  • Sounds Like Me by Sara Bareilles.
  • The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer.
  • Naked by David Sedaris.

Miscellaneous Reads I Didn’t Love or Hate Enough to Fit Into Any of the Above Categories:

  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.
  • Who’s That Girl by Mhairi McFarlane.
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.
  • Paper Towns by John Green.

And now, before I say my final “Thank you and good night”Fuck off forever” to the atrocity that was last year, here’s a quick glimpse at all the high points of my 2016. I hope you join me up here sometime; the view’s fantastic.

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Best Quotes of 2016:

Americans are incredibly polite as long as they get what they want.

-Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a Man of his age!—just old enough to be formal, ungovernable and to have the Gout—too old to be agreeable, and too young to die.

-Jane Austen, Lady Susan

Boredom may well be the very essence of evil.

-Günter Grass, The Tin Drum

Social media is a great tool for all of us introverts and decent people alike as it speeds up the time between thinking someone is great and realizing they’re the worst.

-Amy Schumer, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

But by far the worst thing we do to males — by making them feel they have to be hard — is that we leave them with very fragile egos. The harder a man feels compelled to be, the weaker his ego is.
And then we do a much greater disservice to girls, because we raise them to cater to the fragile egos of males.

-Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists

Then they gave us heartfelt advice: if we wanted to rise in the courts of great noblemen, to be as economical as possible of the truth.

-François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel

“That’s right,” she told the girls. “You are bored. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it’s boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.”

-Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Long ago, I learned how to be brave, how to go forward always.

-Homer, The Iliad

I want women to have more of the world, not just because it would be fairer, but because it would be better.

-Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman

Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time—that moves the rudder of the world. It steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women’s safety and humanity are secondary to men’s pleasure and convenience.

-Lindy West, Shrill

“I once slept with this guy who had an ENORMOUS penis. Like, it was a problem. The condoms wouldn’t even fit. I was so overwhelmed that I accidentally laughed at it. And then it shrunk. He was not pleased.”
“That should be a comic book. Penis giganticus is his superpower, and women laughing at it is his kryptonite.”

-Jenny Lawson, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

I am the one not running, not staying, but facing.
Because if I am the last one, then I am humanity.
And if this is humanity’s last war, then I am the battlefield.

-Rick Yancey, The 5th Wave

Life is strewn with these miracles for which people who love can always hope.

-Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

Bloody fucking dog pig black-livered bastard from hell. I hope his face gets put on a porcupine.

-Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Stories are important, the monster said. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.

-Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls

There will never come a dawn when you do not have my heart.

-Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji

Stop picking around the edges of the world. Take advantage, and if you can’t take advantage, take disadvantage. We live here. On this planet, in this nation, in this country right here. Nowhere else! We got a home in this rock, don’t you see! Nobody starving in my home; nobody crying in my home, and if I got a home you got one too! Grab it. Grab this land! Take it, hold it, my brothers, make it, my brothers, shake it, squeeze it, turn it, twist it, beat it, kick it, kiss it, whip it, stomp it, dig it, plow it, seed it, reap it, rent it, buy it, sell it, own it, build it, multiply it, and pass it on—can you hear me? Pass it on!

-Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

If you stare at the center of the universe, there is a coldness there. A blankness. Ultimately, the universe doesn’t care about us. Time doesn’t care about us.
That’s why we have to care about each other.

-David Levithan, Every Day

A very happy New Year to you all. And, as always, happy reading!

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4 thoughts on “Reading Retrospective: 2016

  1. Good luck in your final stage of the journey. I hope you dont close down the blog though – even if you dont add to it, it still is a rich source of info for anyone else thinking of that same challenge.

  2. >> “but it packs a thousand gut-punches” >> YESSSS. > “cue slow torture” >> Wait, what! I got the impression you liked A Monster Calls, but this sounds like… you didn’t?

    I enjoyed Amy Schumer’s memoir, but I did notice her book wasn’t as uproariously funny as I find her stand-up. Definitely more low-key. Still, I liked getting to know her on a more personal level. Are you a fan of her otherwise?

    That quote you posted from Shrill was one of my faves from the book too. So many passages in that book got me cheering. Holy DANG can Lindy West WRITE.

    This retrospect was fun to read, thanks for posting it!

    • Re: A Monster Calls… Yes, I liked it. But for someone who generally avoids sad stories, it definitely felt like slow torture!

      I don’t think I’ve ever read a celebrity memoir that made me like the author MORE than I already did. At best, I feel roughly the same… but more often, I’m disappointed. Part of this is probably sheer celeb memoir burnout, but the books generally feel so unnecessary. And I can’t shake the feeling that memoirs are inherently narcissistic, especially coming from a celebrity. Like, yeah, you’re famous, but that doesn’t automatically make your childhood interesting. It sounds suspiciously like every childhood ever.

      I thought Amy Schumer’s book had some funny moments for sure but didn’t stand out among her overall work. Yes, I’m a fan in general — like any comedian, she can be hit or miss, but I think she’s really talented.

      Lindy West is wonderful, but I think I actually liked some of her online pieces more than the book as a whole. In any case, it’s great to see her star rising. She definitely deserves it.

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