Originally published January 1, 2017
For a year that’s been one most would like to forget, I gotta admit — it was a pretty fantastic year for my bookshelf.
Ideally, I’d have put my nose in a book more often. I say that every year. But with the Olympics, THE CUBS, the election, the aftermath and the dog I adopted, and GoT and Westworld and my penchant for craptastic reality TV, time got away. Which is a shame, because so much of what I read I reallllly enjoyed. There were only a few clunkers this year.
This annual post is near and dear to me, as it was the catalyst for my blog—the sharing of everything I read each year with friends, family and fellow book lovers. I love to talk books, and hear about what my friends have read. It’s a conversation that is often energetic, exciting and free of contempt—the beauty of books is that there is something for everyone to love.
So here goes—everything I read in 2016:
The Nix, by Nathan Hill
I’m cheating here a bit, as I am only halfway through, but clocking in at more than 600 pages, and with multiple protagonists, it really counts as a series. I’ll even go so far as to say it’s easily one of my favorites this year. Samuel Anderson is on a quest to tell the story of the Packer Attacker — a woman gone rogue whose actions have landed her on a path to jail. Everyone wants her story, but Samuel has the inside track. After all, it’s his mother. Familial dysfunction at its finest, the best part so far somewhat unrelated but so damn funny — Samuel’s batshit crazy English Lit student, Laura, that goes on for nearly a full chapter without taking a breath with a litany of excuses as to what it’s not just ok, but admirable, that she turned in a cooked essay for credit. Genius. But hefty.
Leave Me, by Gayle Forman
A good read for a weekend, Forman’s lead character, Maribeth, looks to reconcile what she thinks is wrong with her life by escaping it for a while and heading back to where she began, in an orphanage.
The Bitch is Back, (edited) by Cathi Hanauer
One of my few nonfiction reads for the year and extremely insightful for women of a certain age. While I’m sure my younger friends would appreciate it, the essays inside are more geared toward women entering or in their second or third act.
Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple
I enjoyed Semple’s follow up to “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” just as much, in that Eleanor Flood can be any one of us on any given day. Are we doing everything we can to support our kids? Does our husband still love us? Will my past haunt my future? And just who am I supposed to have lunch with today?
Of note: This is supposedly in development as a series with Julia Roberts. Get on board now.
Love Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton
I initially read under protest, but came to appreciate the book the further I went along. Not so much because I agree with everything Melton says, but because I appreciate her willingness to be honest even at the most vulnerable of times. She puts it out there. No judging here.
Kids of Appetite, by David Arnold
I think, perhaps, the only book that officially counted as a YA read this year, though there’s more on my bucket list. It’s just that I loved Mosquitoland so much I knew I had to read David’s next book as soon as it came out. I love Mosquitoland more, but this was pretty darn good.
Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett
Also a favorite of mine, Ann Patchett and her Nashville bookstore rank right up there on the “I wish I visited it when I was there this summer” list. Next time. Regardless, her most recent effort, vaguely/possibly/justmaybealittle autobiographical, is a quiet, but engaging read about a family and how each member of it deals with the aftermath of a tragedy you don’t even know is coming while reading. Not every fantastic read has to be a thriller. This is one of those.
Invincible Summer, by Alice Adams
Not a bad read, and one you’ll like if coming-of-age stories of unrequited love are your thing. I think I was just hoping to become more connected to the characters than I did. Sylvie, Eva, Lucien and Benedict are great, but they’re no “A Little Life.”
Amp’d, by Ken Pisani
This was my tearjerker for the year. Crying ugly, folks. Pisani’s protagonist, Aaron, has lost an arm in a car accident. And for much of the first half of the book, he’s throwing himself a pity party. But it’s a Jonathan Tropper-esque pity party, so you laugh. You engage. And you grow to love Aaron and his inner circle. I would be thrilled if this ever came to the big (or little) screen, just to visit these characters again.
Truly Madly Guilty, by Liane Moriarty
My guilty pleasure, I’ve always loved Liane’s books because they just feel like juicy, gossipy fun. (And yes, I’m looking forward to HBO’s adaptation of Big Little Lies!) The characters here feel a bit more serious, and thinking back, I think there’s more to explore when it comes to Erika and her mom, or Tiffany and Vid’s relationship for that matter, but maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll make a miniseries out of this, too.
The Girls, by Emma Cline
One of this year’s “it” books, The Girls was one of those reads you could just fal into and not come back up for a couple of days, though it took me a good 75 pages or so to really get into it. Evie is beautiful, damaged, and wanting in so many ways just to please in order to get the attention she thinks she needs. It’s easy to see why, for some people, cults are attractive.
Don’t You Cry, by Mary Kubica
I was lucky enough to interview Mary for a different article, and to prep, I wanted to read her latest, which fits into the thriller genre quite nicely. There are a couple of loose ends I feel were left untied, but you enjoyed Single White Female, this read is right up your Chicago-based alley.
We Could Be Beautiful, by Swan Huntley
Meh. The plot line is interesting enough—woman with a biological clock starting to tick, falls quickly in love with mysterious man that has a connection to the family that her dementia-ridden mother cannot articulate—but that woman is such an unredeeming character (“Damnit!! How will I live without my monthly cash cow stipend from my immense inheritance that’s now gone?!?!? I NEED that Fendi bag!) that I just couldn’t enjoy it for the thriller it really was.
End of Watch, by Stephen King
Another tearjerker, but only because over this 3-book series (beginning with Mr.Mercedes and Part 2, Finders Keepers) I’d grown quite attached to Bill Hodges and Holly Gibney, and the little detective agency that could. You can read End of Watch without having read the first two, but you’re better off making the reading investment and enjoying all three.
All Things Cease to Appear, by Elizabeth Brundage
George Clare is one creepy mofo. Scheming, creepy, adulterous …. but did he murder his wife? Gotta read to find out. A bunch of well-drawn characters that make for an arthouse movie kind of read.
Alice & Oliver, by Charles Bock
This, a semi-autobiographical account of a marriage that must endure all kinds of betrayal, was more of an interesting read now that I look back than when I first read it earlier this year. Maybe it’s just that the story has to sit with you a bit to relate to Alice’s embracing of all things holistic when cancer comes calling. Or to not be so mad at Oliver for his behavior, though I think he’s kind of an asshat. I just hope it remains a story I can’t relate to because, cancer.
Living with a Seal, by Jesse Itzler
This one came to me through a recommendation from a friend, and it was indeed a great read that took about a day to gobble up. Jesse owns the Atlanta Hawks. His wife? She invented Spanx. So this is a guy that can have pretty much any personal trainer he wants. But he went with SEAL. And I’m so glad he did, because now I can add “Burpee test, motherfucker!” to my vocab.
Disrupted, by Dan Lyons
A nonfiction account of Lyons’ experience working with a startup, and fodder for HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” which Lyons writes for now that he’s no longer with the aforementioned startup. The ridiculousness with which some businesses, and in particular, some of these techie startups, behave, is astonishing but no longer surprising.
The Nest, by Cynthia D. Sweeney
Perhaps this year’s “The Family Fang” for me, and definitely and early “it” book out of the gate, I loved Sweeney’s dive into the Plumb family and its cast of characters, including the classic misanthrope, Leo; the stalwart, Jack; the harried wife and mother, Melody; and the artist that it yet to be in Bea. Money makes people crazy. The Plumbs are crazy. You get to go along for the ride.
Everybody’s Fool, by Richard Russo
Probably one of my favorite writing experiences this year was the chance to interview Russo, during which we talked more about his memoir than his latest, Everybody’s Fool. But the dutiful researcher I am, I did read this, his followup to “Nobody’s Fool,” and loved it for all its flawed characters with damaged hearts, axes to grind, loves to follow and lives to redeem. Russo is a treasure, and it’s time well spent when you pick up any of his books.
I Am Pilgrim, by Terry Hayes
I very much look forward to the film adaptation of this, a far-reaching and fast-loving thriller in the vein of Clancy’s Jack Ryan and Child’s Jack Reacher. Scott Murdoch is the only man that can stop a biological attack, but he’s running out of time and is up against a man with nothing to lose. It isn’t so much “Can he do it?” because of course he can. Rather, it’s the “How does he do it?!?” that is so intriguing. Great book for a winter read in front of the fire.
When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
On everybody’s “must read” lists earlier this year, it’s a nonfiction read you go into knowing it’s a tearjerker because it was finished posthumously. Kalanithi is a neurosurgeon trying to grasp an understanding of the mythical nature of life, then death, when confronted with his own mortality in a particularly brutal fashion. Perfect for when you need to remember why life is good, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
The Passenger, by Lisa Lutz
Probably my favorite thriller of the year. I just couldn’t put it down. I needed to know why Nora Glass was on the run. Where was she going? How was she going to extricate herself from seemingly hopeless situations? Also? Perfect length for a long weekend or even just a day at the beach. I love doorstop-sized books, but sometimes you need something you can finish before your last kid is off to college.
The Widow, by Fiona Barton
This, I think, was the last book I’ve read in a while that came with the “It’s the next Gone Girl!!” moniker. I don’t think it is so much “Gone Girl” as it is just a mystery—and a good one at that. I don’t know if all widows have secrets, but Jean does. It’s up to the reader to find out if one of them is the location of sweet little toddler Bella.
The Guest Room, by Chris Bohjalian
I lovvve Chris Bohjalian. That’s not to say, though, I love all his books. “The Guest Room” was good, for sure, in that the plot—strippers/hookers that murder their pimp in the main character’s living room during a bachelor party and run off, leaving him trying to explain to his family why there’s blood on their couch—is engaging enough. But I did struggle with what felt like a forced Russian accent when it was the hooker’s turn to be the protagonist, and it’s too bad because the sex slave trade angle is relevant, for sure. With a new book out in less than two weeks, “The Sleepwalker,” I can promise you I will be reading it and hoping for a slightly better experience.
It’s. Nice. Outside., by Jim Kokoris
I can’t promise this is the book for everyone, but it was for me. The story of a dad, John Nichols, that just wants to do right by his special needs kid, even if the decision is heartbreaking, is especially funny and touching when it involves a road trip and an almost wedding and maybe the mafia and two daughters and an ex-wife that is still the love of John’s life. Very Russo-like.
Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff
The first read of the year, an “it” book and very, very good. Not all the characters are especially lovable. It’s hard to wrap your brain around Mathilde, especially as the story evolves from its early years, where she and Lotto meet at college and their stars align, up through the salad days of their marriage to his relative success and subsequent obscurity as a playwright. But that’s what makes it so real. People are messy. Mathilde is messy. Lotto is messy. Life is messy.
So, 27 books for the year. Off my pace, but again, Olympics, election, CUBS. I promise to pick up the pace.
Top 5 I’d recommend: The Nix, Amp’d, The Passenger, Today Will Be Different, End of Watch
Books that’ll keep your Book Club talking: Fates and Furies, Alice & Oliver, All Things Cease to Appear, The Nest