Tracy’s Year in Reading

Is has become our custom at BCPL to announce our Best Books of the year lists throughout the month of January. I know everyone else’s lists come out in December, but we figure in December most people are too distracted by holiday prep and recovery to pay much attention to our book lists. So we wait until the New Year, when readers are excited and ready to kick off their year by reading a great book (or two or three). (And honestly, the delay also gives us an opportunity to read and discover those late-year releases we might otherwise overlook.)

Well, this year we are adding a new tradition. I am kicking off this year’s announcements with a retrospective on the various books I’ve read in 2016. Ever since I introduced BCPL’s Best of the Year lists here on Book News & Reviews in January 2012, I’ve always regretted not reflecting more on the titles that didn’t quite make the list, whether they were just edged out or didn’t even come close.

So here’s my first annual Year in Reading. Some of the included titles will make the final Best of 2016 lists (care to guess which ones?) while others won’t. Regardless, each of these titles has made an impression on me in 2016!

1 Weirdly compelling book that I still can’t decide whether I liked it or not:

1. Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Seriously, this book is told from the perspective of a preternaturally intellectual unborn baby whose mother is having an affair and plotting the father’s murder. It’s fascinating in ways and completely ridiculous in others. But I was hooked.

1 Book that made me tear up:
1. Ida, Always by Caron Levis

The Fault in Our Stars didn’t generate a single tear, but this bittersweet picture book definitely got to me.

2 historical novels that taught me something I didn’t know:

1. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
2.  Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Of course, I studied the Civil War and World War II in school (I was even a history minor in college!), but I had very little knowledge about the inner workings of the underground railroad and the dangers not only to the passengers but also to the facilitators. And while the metaphorical railroad is actually a literal railroad in Whitehead’s novel, the experiences of Cora and her cohorts made the journey real to me in a way that other works could not.  As for Salt to the Sea, it still stuns me that the fate of the MV Wilhelm Gustloff, the deadliest ship disaster in recorded history, isn’t better known.

2 YA standards I FINALLY read:

1. Song of the Lioness Quartet (series) by Tamara Pierce
2. I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

Of course, neither of these is even eligible for the Best of 2016 lists, but I did get to mark them off my massive to-read list!

2 Great books that realistically explore complex family dynamics: 

1. Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina
2. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

A YA novel set during the Summer of Sam, Burn Baby Burn has a lot of layers, but what truly makes it stand out is the juxtaposition of the general sense of fear permeating New York City with Nora’s growing unease in her own home. And Patchett does a fantastic job of detailing the messiness of modern families.

2 Love stories to feed my inner romantic:
1. Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
2. The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Julia Quinn can always be counted on for a fluffy romantic romp. And I dare fans of YA realistic fiction not to inhale Nicola Yoon’s second novel.

3 Nonfiction works that made me reflect on life and my beliefs from a new perspective:

3. But What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past by Chuck Klosterman

Annie Dillard can always be counted on for a offbeat perspective on seemingly everyday occurrences. She’s not for everyone, but her writing always leaves me in awe. 

4 books perfect for my inner (or not so inner) bibliophile:

1. Booked by Kwame Alexander
2. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

3. The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman
4. In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri

I’ve always loved books about writing or characters who love (or learn to love) books.

4 YA fantasies that have me eager for the next installment:

1. A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tabir (Book 2 of an Ember in the Ashes)
2. The Crown’s Game by Elvelyn Skye (Book 1 of The Crown’s Game)
3. Red Queen & Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard (Books 1 & 2 of Red Queen)
4. Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare (Book 1 of The Dark Artifices)

I am most looking forward to the next Ember in the Ashes book, but I am curious to see how Cassandra Clare’s newest Shadowhunter series will develop as well. Book one was just so-so for me, but the series looks promising!

4 Novels with beautiful writing:
1. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
2. The Fireman by Joe Hill
3. Pax by Sara Pennypacker
4. The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Woodson, whether she is writing in verse or prose, can always be relied upon for her stunning imagery and use of language, and there were passages in The Fireman that were so visceral and beautifully put that they held me in thrall. I was listening to the audiobook, so I often scanned back on the CD just to hear them again. In Pax, Pennypacker often writes with a insightful lyricism that belies the fact that this novel is directed at a middle-grade audience. Nicola Yoon’s follow up to Everything, Everything is an intensely moving and thought-provoking journey from beginning to end.

4 Memorable nonfiction works dealing with significant social and/or economic issues: 

1. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
2. Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips
3. March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
4. The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race by Jessmyn Ward

In past years, I was captured by books like Behind the Beautiful Forevers, The Men We Reaped, Ghettoside, and Between the World and Me. These titles are all worthy follow ups for anyone who wants to be better informed about these issues.

5 Audiobooks with fantastic narration:

1. Grayling’s Song by Karen Cushman. Read by Katherine Kellgren.
2. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue. Read by Kate Lock.
3. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Read by Bahni Turpin.
4. Find Her by Lisa Gardner. Read by Kirsten Potter.
5. The Fireman by Joe Hill. Read by Kate Mulgrew.

Seriously, I’d listen to a treatise on wood lice if Katherine Kellgren was reading it.

5 Super-short reads for adult readers without a lot of time:

1. Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
2. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

3. The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaVelle
4. My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Stroud

5. Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Some of these I loved, and others were just okay for me. But I am completely okay with that since the time investment was minimal.

5 Super-fast reads for reluctant middle-grade readers:

1. Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes
2. Booked by Kwame Alexander
3. Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
4. The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks
5. The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan

Garvey’s Choice and Booked are both novels in verse, and Ghosts and The Nameless City are graphic novels. As for the fifth choice, MacLachlan has delivered another slim novel that manages to pack in a full, emotionally engaging story.

5 Twisty thrillers:

1. Find Her by Lisa Gardner
2. The Widow by Fiona Barton
3. All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

4. All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage
5. Redemption Road by John Hart

2016 was a fantastic year for thrillers and suspense novels. There are tons more I still want to read.

9 picture books with fantastic illustrations:

1. Ideas Are All Around by Philip C. Stead
2. Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
3. Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
4. There Is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith
5. The Airport Book by Lisa Brown

6. The Animal’s Ark by Marianne Dubuc
7. Spot, the Cat by Henry Cole

8. Waiting for High Tide by Nikki McClure
9. Anything but Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Hermann, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff

I liked some books better than others as a whole, but the illustrations are all wonderful. Each has something different to offer—from the fantastically nuanced illustrations of The Airport Book to Dubuc’s soft colored-pencil sketches to the dynamic 3D illustrations of Anything but Ordinary Addie.

So that’s just a snapshot of some of the books I’ve read this year, though there are plenty I’ve forgotten or chosen not to include in this retrospective. And off course I didn’t get to everything I’d have liked to read—not even close—but all in all, I have to say it was a great year of books and stories. How was your year in reading?

Source: Book News and Reviews