Someone tweeted that the problem with year-in-review posts is that you have to look back on 2016. Yeah. This was a hard year for me personally, and a hard and scary one in the world generally–which is usually true, of course, but closer to home now. It felt like a bad year for my reading, too, but when I looked back I was surprised by both how much I read, and how good it was. Sure, there were months where my listening time was all politics podcasts (how I wish I could get that time back), and months where I was too down to focus on a book, but bursts of reading and listening in other parts of the year made up for that. In the end, according to my rather sloppy records, I read 67 books and listened to 52.
For the first part of the year, I did well on my goal of reading diversely, but that fell apart in the last quarter, in part because my comfort reading tends to be white and British.
Here are the highlights, and some thoughts about 2017 goals:
Author of My Year: Agatha Christie, by sheer volume. I listened to two dozen Christie books in 2016. And I may have forgotten to write a couple down. This should tell you something about what kind of year I had.
Enough plot to keep my attention but not harrowing to the emotions, these were the perfect comfort reading when my usual choices (romance and childhood favorites) stopped working.
In general, I liked Miss Marple best. What really struck me reading so many is the variety of points of view Christie employs in both that series and Hercule Poirot. Different narrators–both first person and third–and points of view (sometimes the detective’s, sometimes another character, and not always the Watson-like Hastings). In some novels, the detective makes only a minor, if significant, appearance.
Genre of the Year: Mystery, obvs. No one book stood out to me, but I enjoyed discovering Robert B. Parker and read several of Peter Lovesey’s Diamond books.
Favorite Romances: I’m reading less romance, but a lot of my choices this year were very good. The top two? Sonya Clark’s Good Time Bad Boy and Lucy Parker’s Act Like It.
Stand-Out Fiction (Non-Genre):
The Sellout by Paul Beatty, Oreo by Fran Ross, and, in a very different vein, Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. The one I loved most, or the most “me” book, was the Haruf, but all three were memorable. Except . . . I forgot I read them this year until I looked over my notebook. My attention has been elsewhere.
Also rans: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, At Hawthorn Time by Melissa Harrison, and The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie. See, a much better reading year than I thought. It’s been ages since I read so much literary fiction for pleasure, and found such varied pleasures in it, as I did this year.
Probably My Favorite Book This Year:
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. I never did a proper post on this but it’s so good on nature and science and vocation and friendship and living with mental illness, and so beautifully written. I listened to the audiobook read by the author. A wonderful experience. I should listen again soon.
In general, it was a great year for non-fiction reading. I think that trend will continue. In several recent years my top pick has been non-fiction. I guess this should stop surprising me.
Biggest Reading Accomplishments of 2016:
- I finished Dorothy Dunnett’s A Game of Kings! I liked it too, but not in a “best of” way. Maybe because it seemed more like a monument than a book? I notice my favorites this year were contemporary fiction, too. Historical fiction, long a favorite, has appealed less to me of late. I will keep going with Lymond though, I think.
- I fulfilled my resolution to read more poetry. Mostly by adding the Poetry Foundation’s poem of the day to my feed reader, but also through the New Yorker‘s poetry podcast and a couple of collections from the library. Next year I’m going to try reading more books of poetry, so I can experience some poets in more depth. The public library isn’t great for this. I should scope out my college’s collection.
- I read a good chunk of the Man Booker long list. Even though I didn’t love most of these books, I enjoyed the experience and following the conversations of the Shadow (Wo)Man Booker gang. I think I’ll pick a list to read along with next year, too. Maybe the Baileys prize, maybe the Booker again.
What About Next Year?
I was going to say I wanted to read more, until I found my totals weren’t as shabby as I thought. Why did the amount and quality of my 2016 reading take me by surprise? Perhaps it was just that my own troubles, and the world’s, distracted me. For next year, then, my only reading resolution is to try to pay more attention. Which should mean blogging more, since writing about what I read is a good way to engage with it more deeply.
I wish us all hope, courage, and good reading in 2017. We’ll need it.