2016 was the year I reclaimed my reading life: I read almost as many books in one year as I did in the previous three years combined. I credit some of this shift to GoodReads, which allowed me to keep reading as a priority, especially with social media and election news competing for my reading attention.
I’ve summarized some important-to-me aspects of my reading year, which shed some insight into my values and habits. I’d love to hear how they might compare with yours. My top recommendations follow.
- Audiobooks are my default format: I listened to 26 of my 32 reads, even when I had Kindle or hard copy versions of those texts. I find it hard to dedicate time to solely reading: I almost always multitask with my commute, exercise, or cleaning. Bonus: I’m more likely to exercise or clean if I have an audiobook to listen to.
- My reading rate is accelerating: I finished 8 books in 2013, 10 in 2014, 18 in 2015, and 32 in 2016. In 2016, I read 14 by the end of August, and another 18 by year’s end.
- Just over half of the books were written or edited by people who were not white dudes. I had to course correct in August, when I realized that 10 books were probably by white men, and only four were definitely not.
- My two top categories are speculative fiction (19) and self-help/psychology (10). Only three books fell outside these categories (Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, a biology text and a Japanese-American history).
There are a lot of excellent reads, but if you forced me at gunpoint, er, offered me a cup of tea and asked me to recommend a handful, here’s a list I might come up with:
Fantasy: The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, by Kij Johnson. This lyrical, feminist riff on Lovecraft’s Dreamlands stories is maybe my top read for 2016. It’s strong in every way that HPL was not: Johnson’s prose is poetic instead of purple, her women are front and center, instead of invisible, and she never succumbs to the temptation to leave horrors or wonders as “indescribable”.
Horror: Lovecraft Country, by Matt Ruff. A determined black family in the fifties takes on both cosmic horrors and encounters with racist whites in Jim Crow America. Tracie and I read this simultaneously, her on the Kindle, me on Audible.
SF: Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson. It was a tough call between this and Ian McDonald’s Luna: New Moon, but I obsessed over Seveneves for months after reading it. In the first third, the ISS has to be turned into an ark when a catastrophe renders the Earth’s surface unfit for life.
Self-help: A Mind for Numbers, by Barbara Oakley. This book (and the Coursera course based on it) are full of cutting edge neuropsychology findings translated into practical tips and knowledge that help you to better understand how your brain remembers things and works out problems. It may be one of the more life-changing works I’ve read in the past couple of years.
One More: Swords v. Cthulhu, edited by Molly Tanzer and Jesse Bullington. Even if I didn’t have a story in it, I’d still recommend this collection of swashbucklers and sorcerers confronting Mythos monsters. (and if you buy it from me, I can send you an autographed copy!) Samurai, vikings, pirates, medieval abbesses and more take on horrors from the abyss!
How about you all? What were your top reads? What can you tell us about your year in books?