The Second Annual Reading Round-Up

Welcome to my very un-democratic list of my favorite reads of 2016!

This year, my reading skewed towards non-fiction (I read a ton of memoirs), which is pretty unusual for me. The fiction I read tended to be re-reads of favorite books, I guess because I was traveling for most of the year and hanging out with favorite characters felt kind of like being home for a while.

As I said last year, there are people who get paid to read new books and make “the best of 2016” lists, but I am not one of them. I read old and new books, and I have Opinions about all of them.

A Very Long And Boring Book I Get To Brag About Reading

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Non-fiction (Miscellaneous)

A Field Philosopher’s Guide to Fracking by Adam Briggle – This was written by a philosophy professor at the University of North Texas who found himself almost inadvertently caught up in the anti-fracking movement in Denton, Texas.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer – Prepare for a feminist rage spiral from page one.

Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivens – A New York Times reporter who covered Katrina from New Orleans returns ten years later to trace the recovery (or lack thereof) of New Orleans and it’s surrounding areas.

The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollary Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports by Jeff Passan – Okay, this is my obligatory baseball book. If you’re a baseball fan, you know that Tommy John surgery is painful, only sometimes successful, and on the rise. This book delves into why pitchers’ elbows have become tiny time bombs, and how doctors, managers, and players are trying to stop it. You kind of wish it wasn’t so well-written when he starts describing exactly what happens during a Tommy John surgery.

Memoirs

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald – While grieving her father’s death, Macdonald begins to train a goshawk. This book was hyped by pretty much everyone when it came out, and for good reason.

The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books by Azar Nafisi – Part literary criticism, part memoir, so pretty much exactly up my alley.

Surviving the Island of Grace: Life on the Wild Edge of America by Leslie Leyland Fields

Traveling With Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor – This  is a joint memoir of a mother and daughter’s trip to Greece. Maybe I was just missing my mom a lot but it was heart-wrenching. Ann (the daughter) is wandering through her last year of college, trying to find a direction in life, and Sue (the mother) is coming to terms with aging and trying to write a story about a girl who is visited by a swarm of bees. (That story eventually becomes The Secret Life of Bees, which, bonus recommendation, is one of my all-time favorite books.)

The Liars Club and Lit by Mary Karr

Fiction

The Martian by Andy Weir

The Girls From Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe – This might be my favorite book I read this year. It focuses on the enduring friendship between two women, starting when they were teenagers in California. By turns heartfelt and shocking, I thought about it for weeks after I finished- the language is that beautiful, and the story that affecting.

YA Fiction (These Are Actually The Only YA Books I Read But They Were All That Good, Okay)

Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen – I’ve been reading Sarah Dessen books since I was 12, and her newest is my favorite so far.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner – While it does fall into the manic-pixie-dream-girl trope at times, this book is a great, fast read. Also there’s a twist that made my mom throw the book across the room.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven – One of the most honest stories about grief and mental illness I’ve ever read. I cried ALL THE TEARS.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson – Art! Sibling rivalry! Affairs! Mysterious cute boys! LGBT main characters!

Christian (Because I’m One Of Those)

An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor – This is about experiencing the sacramental in everyday life, and one of the reasons I ended up applying to the Episcopal Service Corps.

Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table by Shauna Niequist – I read a lot of books about food and God, and this list reflects that.

Tables in the Wilderness by Preston Yancey

Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sarah Miles – An atheist left-wing journalist was perfectly content until she took communion, met Jesus, and then did something about it. IT’S GREAT.

Assimilate or Go Home: Notes of a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield – Again, I cried all the tears.

So Nice I Read ‘Em Twice (Notable Re-Reads)

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver – read while in Swaziland (on the continent of Africa), so bucket list item= checked

Finding the Game by Gwendolyn Oxenham – This is a memoir that goes along with the documentary Pelada, about pick-up soccer around the world.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Bookshelf: Moving Across the Country Edition

Occasionally, I’ll be making posts about the books I’m reading/why I think you should read them too. I’ll compile them all over here. If you’re not into that, then skip the posts labeled “bookshelf.” But honestly, if you’re not into books, you’ve kind of come to the wrong blog.

As you might have noticed, about a month and a half ago I packed up all my belongings and moved across the country. I listened to a ton of podcasts on the drive (The Liturgists, What Should I Read Next?, and the Cespedes Family Barbecast are quality binge-listening material), but no audiobooks, because I am still reveling in the post-Race euphoria of holding a physical book, written in English, in my hand. I did, however, read a few books in the process of moving that I absolutely loved.

Along with my annual Harry Potter re-read, here’s what I’ve been into the month since I moved to Seattle:

Assimilate or Go Home: Notes of a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith by D.L. Mayfield This collection of essays centers on Mayfield’s experiences as a missionary living in low-income housing among refugee communities (in the book, primarily Somali Bantu refugees). Y’all, I all-out bawled four different times while reading this book. Mayfield is painfully honest about her motivations for becoming a missionary, and the seismic shifts in her faith that living in low-income housing created. As a very recently returned missionary, some of the things she said hit far too close to home. I immediately gushed about this book to all of my roommates, and now here, because I think everybody should read it.

Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God by Rainer Maria Rilke I’ve only recently started reading poetry again, for a lot of reasons. The beauty of some of these poems took my breath away. It is poetry for anyone who has ever doubted God deeply while also loving God deeply. (Also, there’s a really pretty 100th anniversary edition you can buy if you’re into that.)

Wearing God by Lauren F. Winner In this book, Lauren Winner focuses on a different metaphor for God in every chapter. But they aren’t the traditional “good father/shepherd/Savior” metaphors; one chapter is all about the metaphors in the Bible that describe God as clothing. Winner is an excellent writer, and each chapter made me think more deeply about how I speak about God, and how that speech shapes how I interact with the world.

Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish Do yourself a favor and make some bread. I’M HERE FOR IT.