2016 reading list

2016 Reading List

 

Below is my complete reading list for 2016. Titles in bold are those I particularly enjoyed.

  1. 01/03: Brooklyn, Colm Toíbín
  2. 01/05: The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare
  3. 01/06: Attachments, Rainbow Rowell
  4. 01/10: Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare
  5. 01/11: The Man Who Had All the Luck, Arthur Miller
  6. 01/12: All My Sons, Arthur Miller
  7. 01/13: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
  8. 01/13: Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller
  9. 01/17: The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
  10. 01/31: The Castle of Otranto, Horace Walpole
  11. 02/09: Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith
  12. 02/16: After You, Jojo Moyes
  13. 02/17: The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde
  14. 02/18: Collected Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay
  15. 02/20: Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare
  16. 02/24: The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams
  17. 02/27: A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far, Adrienne Rich
  18. 03/02: Biloxi Blues, Neil Simon
  19. 03/08: ‘Night, Mother, Marsha Norman
  20. 03/09: The Lonesome West, Martin McDonagh
  21. 03/11: Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
  22. 04/10: Cannery Row, John Steinbeck
  23. 05/01: Hamilton: The Revolution, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
  24. 05/22: Voyager, Diana Gabaldon
  25. 05/24: Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
  26. 05/27: Finding Fraser, KC Dyer
  27. 06/01: The Cherry Orchard, Anton Chekhov
  28. 06/07: The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  29. 06/13: Definitely Dead, Charlaine Harris
  30. 06/15: An Enemy of the People, Arthur Miller
  31. 06/17: The Crucible, Arthur Miller
  32. 06/18: A View From the Bridge, Arthur Miller
  33. 06/24: Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, James Runcie
  34. 06/26: Luckiest Girl Alive, Jessica Knoll
  35. 07/03: Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
  36. 07/03: In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda
  37. 07/04: The Seagull, Anton Chekhov
  38. 07/06: Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed
  39. 07/12: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, Ayana Mathis
  40. 07/12: The Elephant Man, Bernard Pomerance
  41. 07/24: Light in August, William Faulkner
  42. 07/28: After the Fall, Arthur Miller
  43. 07/30: Incident at Vichy, Arthur Miller
  44. 07/31: The Price, Arthur Miller
  45. 08/01: The Creation of the World and Other Business, Arthur Miller
  46. 08/01: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
  47. 08/04: Green Hills of Africa, Ernest Hemingway
  48. 08/07: At Fault, Kate Chopin
  49. 08/22: The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy Schumer
  50. 08/23: Sidney Chambers and the Perils of Night, James Runcie
  51. 08/28: Bayou Folk, Kate Chopin
  52. 08/31: Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay
  53. 09/03: You’ll Grow Out of It, Jessi Klein
  54. 09/04: The Archbishop’s Ceiling, Arthur Miller
  55. 09/06: The American Clock, Arthur Miller
  56. 09/14: Bel Canto, Ann Patchett
  57. 10/03: Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
  58. 10/03: Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide, J.K. Rowling
  59. 10/05: Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship, and Dangerous Hobbies, J.K. Rowling
  60. 10/06: Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics, and Pesky Poltergeists, J.K. Rowling
  61. 10/21: The Girls, Emma Cline
  62. 10/22: The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros
  63. 10/22: The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith
  64. 10/25: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae
  65. 10/27: A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness
  66. 10/30: The Widow, Fiona Barton
  67. 10/31: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson
  68. 11/05: Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty
  69. 11/06: Playing for Time, Arthur Miller
  70. 11/09: The World’s Wife, Carol Ann Duffy
  71. 11/19: Dark Sparkler, Amber Tamblyn
  72. 11/23: State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
  73. 11/25: The Ride Down Mt. Morgan, Arthur Miller
  74. 11/26: A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
  75. 11/26: The Last Yankee, Arthur Miller
  76. 11/27: Broken Glass, Arthur Miller
  77. 11/28: Carry This Book, Abbi Jacobson
  78. 11/29: Mr Peters’ Connections, Arthur Miller
  79. 11/30: Resurrection Blues, Arthur Miller
  80. 12/03: Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler
  81. 12/06: Paris for One and Other Stories, Jojo Moyes
  82. 12/09: Why Not Me?, Mindy Kaling
  83. 12/12: The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
  84. 12/14: Three Tall Women, Edward Albee
  85. 12/15: Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, August Wilson
  86. 12/18: Hedda Gabler, Henrik Ibsen
  87. 12/21: Camino Real, Tennessee Williams
  88. 12/26: The Autumn Garden, Lillian Hellman
  89. 12/27: Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson
  90. 12/27: A Hatful of Rain, Michael Gazzo
  91. 12/28: Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham
  92. 12/29: Cravings, Chrissy Teigen

Favorite Books of 2016

I know there are many people in the world who rarely read, which is probably one of the most depressing things to know about our society. I feel no shame in the time I spend daily reading or thinking about reading or discussing reading with my roommate.

In 2016, I read 92 books and plays, which is a personal record (I was determined to out-do my 2014 total of 91, so congratulations from me to myself). Unlike past years, I set a few goals at the beginning of the year other than reading a total of 52 books, which included reading works by specific people. By Thanksgiving, I’d accomplished all of those goals, so I’m upping the ante for 2017 (see my new reading list in a day or two if you’re curious about how nerdy/obsessive I can be).

Below, in the order I read them, is a list of my favorite books I read in 2016, followed by some honorable mentions. This list contains books both new and old, some of which have even achieved favorite status. You can consult my full 2016 reading list here.

What books did you love in 2016? Maybe I’ll add them to my shelf.


Brooklyn, Colm Toíbín

Both as a book and a film, Brooklyn has taken deep root in my soul. I adore this coming-of-age story (they tend to be my favorites anyway, but this one is especially great). The novel, which tells the story of a young Irish immigrant Eilis who moves to New York City to start a new life in the 1950s, is just as profound and beautiful as its Oscar-nominated film adaptation. This is a perfect book to enjoy on a cozy winter afternoon.

Collected Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay

I grabbed this book at a used bookstore to help fill out my reading list for my master’s comprehensive exams in the spring and was fortunate enough to love it as a piece of literature. I quickly became obsessed with Edna St. Vincent Millay herself (this girl was crazy progressive and hip in the 1920s) and her poetry doesn’t make me feel like an idiot as most poetry does. She’s witty, hilarious, and heartbreaking in equal parts.

‘Night, Mother, Marsha Norman

It’s strange that I only read ‘Night, Mother earlier this year because the story feels deeply engrained in me already. My mom has loved this play for a long time, and I finally understood why when I read it myself this spring. Norman’s play is sparse and simple but still incredibly profound. It’s impossible as a reader not to share the characters’ anxiety as the story progresses in real time toward a potential suicide. I can’t wait to share this play with my students this spring.

Hamilton: The Revolution, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

This may come as a surprise to you, but I’m a fan of Hamilton (okay just kidding I haven’t listened to any other music in a year). Since annotating is one of my favorite pastimes, reading the annotated edition of the complete musical, accompanied by beautiful photographs and behind-the-scenes information, was a dream. Hamilton: The Revolution is a must-have for fans of the musical. Though it’s a little pricier than the Chernow biography upon which the show is based, it’s far less likely to sit untouched on your bookshelf.

Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed

My only prior encounters with Cheryl Strayed came from seeing the film adaptation of Wild  and reading a few nonfiction essays in a writing workshop, but after my roommate loved this one and gave it to me as a graduation gift, I too fell in love. I intended to bring this as my reading material on a long drive to Nebraska over the summer, but I got so into it I breezed through the entire book before our departure. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of Strayed’s Dear Sugar letters, a column she wrote for The Rumpus. Strayed clearly answers each person with deep thought and tenderness, but she isn’t afraid to answer with honesty. Each entry makes you feel understood and valued. I have a feeling this book will be one I continue to share with friends and family.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy Schumer

After solidifying my love for Amy Schumer in 2015, I of course had to read her memoir when it was released this summer. Schumer doesn’t disappoint in this book that is equally laugh-out-loud funny and sweetly sad. Though I read this book months ago, there are still stories here that I think of and laugh about often.

The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith

The Book of Other People is a collection of short stories written by several famous authors whose sole prompt was to create a character and write a story about them. As with many short story collections, the end result is a bit of a mixed bag, but the general feeling I had was a very pleasant one. When my roommate and I read this aloud together (now one of our favorite and cutest habits), we sometimes had difficulty stopping ourselves from reading indefinitely. Though many of the stories are great, see if you can get your hands on “Magda Mandela” by Hari Kunzru. It’s a quick read and you will not be disappointed.

A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness

I haven’t even seen A Monster Calls yet but I’m already guessing this will be the #1 tearjerker of 2017. The book tells the story of a young English boy named Conor whose mother’s cancer is continually worsening. Conor is visited nightly by a tree monster, a clear manifestation of his frustration and grief as he watches his mother fade. This is a beautiful story about love and loss. Just maybe skip the eye makeup before reading.

Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

I’m very rarely a reader of mysteries, especially contemporary ones. However, once I saw the trailer for the upcoming HBO miniseries adaptation of this novel, I was too intrigued not to read it before the February air date. Who knew I’d be such a fan? The book rounds out at over 500 pages, but I couldn’t put it down in the 2 days I spent reading it. I think Moriarty does a great job of telling a dramatic story in a way that still feels authentic (something I’m a little worried about based on the footage from the miniseries). It was refreshing to see a story about women who come from various backgrounds, aren’t all about competition, and keep cattiness to a minimum. Though this was my first encounter with Moriarty, I’ve already purchased her latest book, Truly Madly Guilty, and look forward to enjoying it early next year.

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

2016 was a year of Ann Patchett for me. I’d never read her previously, but my roommate and I read Bel Canto together in the fall and I became a fan. Though I generally try not to be too easily distracted by my book purchases, when I bought State of Wonder in October, I couldn’t resist starting it almost immediately. The story is clearly inspired by Joseph Conrad’s classic Heart of Darkness, but differs in that it follows a woman sent to retrieve her female boss from the depths of the Amazon where she’s developing a fertility drug. Though I was—and still am—frustrated by the book’s conclusion, it features beautiful writing and some great twists that make for a worthwhile read.

The Penguin Arthur Miller

In my 92 books read this year, this one feels like the biggest accomplishment. In fact, it’s one book that contains 18—this is the complete canon of Arthur Miller’s dramatic works. Miller and I go way back at this point, but before 2016, I’d only read 3 of his plays. This edition isn’t exactly an easy one to travel with—note its comparative size to my cat in the featured photo—but now it has a stately position on my bookshelf made all the more grand by the fact that I’ve read all the words in it. Miller is an undeniable master of American drama, and I loved spending so much time with him this year. If you remember, think of him on February 10—the date not only of his death, but also the anniversary of the Broadway premiere of Death of a Salesman.

Why Not Me?, Mindy Kaling

My general relationship with Mindy Kaling over the past month has gone from casual fan to actively seeking friendship (so, Mindy, if you’re reading, let’s hang out!). When I bought this book in the airport a few weeks ago, I was just looking to be mildly entertained on my journey home, but many times I was made to laugh aloud. Then I watched the entirety of The Mindy Project in just a few days, and I became even more enamored. Though it would be wrong to call Why Not Me? a page-turner, it’s still the kind of book you have a hard time putting down.


Honorable Mentions: The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Voyager by Diana Gabaldon, At Fault by Kate Chopin, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy

2016 Reading List #80: Sweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler

After finishing the complete canon of Arthur Miller’s plays last week—which also happened to be the last goal I had to cross of my reading list for the year—I was excited to dive into something new and different, which happened to be Stephanie Danler’s debut novel, Sweetbitter.

I’d been attracted to the cover of Sweetbitter for some time now, but I’m a bit jaded about buying new contemporary novels that are apparently adored by all audiences but me (yeah, I’m still bitter about Where’d You Go Bernadette? and Life After Life). But when I had a coupon a few weeks ago and it was days before my birthday, I finally bought the book on a whim, hoping not to be disappointed.

And, in short, I wasn’t! Though I was a bit nervous early in the novel, I found myself hooked pretty quickly. Sweetbitter is a coming-of-age story for a twenty-two-year-old young woman, Tess (who isn’t actually named until about two-thirds of the way into the book), who moves to New York and lands a job at a swanky restaurant. Tess is taken in by the sophistication of the place and intrigued by her coworkers.

While the book is definitely heavy on food descriptions that generally meant very little to me, I was invested enough in the characters not to be deterred. I found Tess a compelling leading lady because we really know so little about her, and the same goes for her peers. We really feel like we’re glimpsing a temporary slice of the lives of these people, so what comes before or after is important, but nonessential.

I get the feeling that some of this book has to be semi-autobiographical for Danler because it all seems so specific, but, as it’s her debut novel, I’m interested to see where she goes from here. It’s not often that I feel this way after reading a contemporary best seller, so this is pretty high praise. Don’t be scared by the low(ish) Goodreads rating as I almost was—Sweetbitter is worth a taste.

2016 Reading List #72: State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett

I bought State of Wonder a month or two ago and couldn’t get over the itch to read it, so it became a project I began slowly before speeding through the majority of the book early last week. Ann Patchett does not disappoint in this twisty adventure story, but the conclusion did leave me a bit dissatisfied.

State of Wonder, in many ways, is a retelling of Joseph Conrad’s most famous work, Heart of Darkness. However, I would’ve liked a bit more of Conrad’s influence here, especially because I kept looking for hints at his story. Though Patchett does plenty to distance her novel from Conrad’s tale, the basic premise is quite similar: Marina Singh, a pharmacologist who works in Minnesota, is sent to retrieve her former mentor from her mysterious research site deep in the Amazon. Dr. Swenson has been developing a fertility drug for years in her remote lab, and readers are quick to question whether her work is really making the progress it should be.

Though I was hoping for the eerie atmosphere of Heart of Darkness, much of Marina’s experiences in the Amazon are pretty mundane, apart from when she saves a young boy from being squeezed to death and some other crazy jungle stuff.

The biggest letdown for me came in the final twenty pages. Patchett delivers a REALLY great twist—seriously, it was totally unexpected and exciting—but the fact that it happens so close to the novel’s conclusion left me with lots of questions I wanted answered. I’m generally a fan of endings that aren’t perfectly tidy, but this was more an instance of feeling like she’d just introduced this great plot element and then left it without adequate exploration.

State of Wonder was my second experience with Ann Patchett (my roommate and I read Bel Canto together earlier this year), and I’d say I’m officially a fan. I look forward to more journeys with her in 2017.

2016 Reading List #69: Playing for Time, by Arthur Miller

My journey through Arthur Miller’s collected works is nearly complete!

After finishing Playing for Time, I just have four more plays to read of Miller’s, so I’m trying my best to keep myself from scrambling through them at the end of the year.

Playing for Time was a different experience from many of Miller’s other works because it’s actually a screenplay for a TV movie (I didn’t know this until I’d already started reading). Miller won an Emmy award for his writing, and the film won several other Emmys as well.

Playing for Time is based on the true story of Fania Fénelon, a French singer sent to Auschwitz during the Holocaust. Because she’s a singer, Fénelon’s life is spared so she can join the camp’s orchestra, but the musicians are only kept alive as long as the please the SS officers running the camp.

The story here is miraculous, but as it’s a screenplay, I imagine I would have gotten more from the work if I was seeing it. There are lots of details that I imagine play better visually than just reading them on a page, so I sometimes felt a bit distanced from the work.

For now, I think I’ll take a quick break from Miller to finish the only other current reading project I have (an accomplishment, since I was reading 4 books at the beginning of last week), Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. After this, I’ll likely return to Miller to read another play or two so I can cross this goal off my list some time in December.

2016 Reading List #68: Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty

I’ve been in a very changeable reading mood lately. This mostly is manifesting itself in my spur-of-the-moment decisions to read something I just bought, regardless of how many things I’m already reading.

This is how I ended up reading Big Little Lies.

I’ve been mildly interested in this book since finding out HBO was doing a miniseries adaptation, but once the show’s trailer was released a few weeks ago, my resistance lowered, and I ordered the book last week. And then, though I was already reading four other books, I started reading it, too.

As it turns out, Big Little Lies is the perfect kind of juicy page-turner for spending a few days as a hermit. I didn’t read much of the book until Friday night, and then I blazed through over 300 pages yesterday when I decided I didn’t want to have to wait any longer to unravel the mysteries.

Big Little Lies is set in a small, coastal town in Australia and tells the story of four mothers whose children are in the same kindergarten class. I was admittedly skeptical about this plot set-up, mostly because I didn’t want it to be about bitchy rich mothers and their annoying children. The miniseries stars so many people I like (Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, Alexander Skarsgard, Adam Scott, etc.) that I put this in the back of my mind and jumped in.

Thankfully, the story isn’t that at all—Moriarty herself mentions in the book’s acknowledgements that it’s a story of friendship, and it really is. Though there’s certainly a feud or two among parents, the book is much more about the importance of female companionship, which I really appreciated.

The real fun of the story, though, is that you know a murder happens among the kindergarten parents, though you don’t know the victim or the perpetrator. I did kind of guess at the ending early on, but that may have been because I was flipping through the novel to see where it was headed and got some hints.

Big Little Lies is enormously fun and worthy of a binge-read if you’re so inclined. Since the TV adaptation is due in early 2017, I’d recommend this during some quiet time over the holidays. Nothing says family like a good murder mystery.

 

2016 Reading List #61: The Girls, by Emma Cline

I’ve been interested in reading The Girls since it was featured on every summer reading list in the past months, but my skepticism about contemporary literature made me hesitant to invest. In the end, I don’t really feel better or worse off for having read The Girls. But hey, sometimes a little ambivalence is better than hatred.

The Girls is a fictionalized retelling of a young girl involved with a group meant to resemble the Manson Family of the late 1960s. Evie Boyd is entranced by several girls who live on a ranch with Russell, our Charles Manson character, and quickly tries to enmesh herself in their culture.

The story is really set in the present-day, starring adult Evie, and though we know from early on that she wasn’t involved in the murder the group is famous for, we don’t really know how she avoided it. In 1969, Evie is a girl desperate to grow up and be given attention and love, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see her agreeing to some pretty terrible things if it means earning respect from her superiors.

Though I was immediately intrigued by the framework of this novel, I was never quite dazzled by the actual thing. Cline’s novel is a strong debut, but I felt a bit removed for the entire reading experience. The novel’s concluding chapters are chilling, but those 30 pages were the only time I was truly invested. Cline’s habit of writing in sentence fragments was also bothersome to me—though, to be fair, that might have more to do with my failed ability to turn off the English-teaching part of my brain during pleasure reading.

In hindsight, I can see why others would like The Girls, but it wasn’t something I’d add to my list of favorites. At least I can know rest happily knowing I gave it a fair shot and came out none the worse.