This year, I didn’t read all the books I wanted.
While I may have fallen short of my reading goal, I don’t view this as a goal unmet or a resolution uncompleted. I spent valuable time with the thoughts of others and was able to form my own. These books shaped my 2016.
This year, I became acquainted with a boy whose mother carefully crafted a world she knew he deserved, a man alone on Mars with his own thoughts, a Nigerian woman whose thoughts on blackness and the United States were profound, a lighthouse keeper with a secret, a family whose weirdness was at once normal and eternal, Nazis who denied their complicity in one of the greatest human atrocities in the history of the world, a Jew who learned how to live again, a quirky fashion blogger, and my favorite fast-talking actress.
Some days I read and read, squeezing page and pages into the folds of my brain. My eyes and heart were wide open, and I wanted to get as much in as possible. Other days, I closed myself off, curled up in bed. The methods and patterns in which I read reflected the way I lived too.
These precious 30 books brought light and darkness. Another year passed, and some of the challenges it brought were unprecedented; others were all too familiar. Here are my favorites, and the lessons they imparted.
Room taught me to appreciate the trees above me and the ground beneath my feet. Jack’s childlike perspective gave me wonder anew and reminded me that selflessness can still survive in tragedy.
The Martian inspired me to think big and to never, never despair. There is nothing you cannot grow. There is air to breathe. There is always hope.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore stilled and soothed my brain, which whirs with the efficiency of the computers that dictates our lives, sometimes too fast and too chaotic. But this book reminded me that technology is still magical and should be appreciated. Paperbacks and screens can exist in harmony, and neither is necessarily superior.
Tracks told the story of Robyn, who journeyed across the Australian outback with only camels and a dog by her side. Her yearning for solitude and freedom is something I understood, and I was inspired by her brave sense of self and ambition to do what it took to accomplish something for herself.
Anne Lamott’s memoir Traveling Mercies pushed me to find diversity in my faith. She told me, through her dry humor and salted witticisms, to find a church that was full of people different than me. Anne was warm and inviting, even in presenting her beliefs that collided with my own.
I cried and cried as Jeanette Walls shared her childhood in The Glass Castle. My friend Dana told me this was one of her favorites, and I was struck by its sadness and honesty, and I felt as if I better understood the type of storyteller Dana is and strives to be, and I’m so proud of her.
The Queen of Katwe shared the story of Phiona, an incredible Ugandan woman who rose from poverty as a young girl because of her unusual aptitude for the game of chess. The game opened up opportunities for her and allowed her to see her own worth, and I was incredibly moved and inspired by a black heroine. I’m looking forward to see the movie adaptation.
The Science of Interstellar unlocked scientific concepts behind my favorite movie. I tried to wrap my head around astrophysics concepts and theories, and the experience of reading something that was way over my head was one of my favorites of the year. I loved losing myself in the difficult material and the process of reading and re-reading passages and examining diagrams in a non-required educational manner was liberating.
One Hundred Years of Solitude left me breathless. It is insanely odd and wild and disturbing but encouraging in its themes of time and family and healing. This book changed me, and I want everyone in my life to read it. (Hope it’s going well, Anj).
My other favorites from the year are centered on the Holocaust. I took an introductory course on the Holocaust this semester, and the politics of cruelty I read about shook me hard and forced me to examine different aspects of ethics and society. History repeats itself, and more specifically, the dangerous rhetoric of hate and distrust brews dangerous consequences over and over again. Regardless of political affiliations, I saw scary parallels to the attitudes of populations and leaders then and now and across the world through what I read. The Sunflower examined the limits of forgiveness and the difficulties of believing in good when evil is overwhelming. Into That Darkness revealed a man who commandeered an extermination camp but refused to accept responsibility for the lives which Treblinka took by fire. Sara Nomberg-Przytyk recounted her life at Auschwitz and brought me as close to life at the camp as anyone probably can today. She let me see her at her most vulnerable. She wrestled with selfishness and fear and the feeling of being wounded over and over, both physically and psychologically.
In The Motorcycle Diaries Che Guevara took me around South America, and I saw the beginnings of his revolutionary adulthood. He mixed compassion with politics, and I bent my mind to understand him.
And finally, Lauren Graham made me laugh on an airplane just four days ago in Talking As Fast As I Can. She then made me cry, mostly because I love “Gilmore Girls” too much.
I can associate my memories of 2016 with the book I was reading at the time, and I’m grateful for those special connections.
A lot of people say they like books because they offer an escape from reality. I agree with that, but I think more importantly, books, both fiction and non-fiction, provide you with the perspectives you need to face the world more confidently and with more grace.
For 2017, I’ll set another numbered goal on Goodreads. (Please check out Goodreads. It is the best and most pure form of social media, and you will not regret it). But more importantly, I have set a goal to read even more books that come from people very different from me. I want to read about topics that make me uncomfortable. I’m gonna read books with covers that will make people at the coffee shop go “Wait, whaaaat?” (Also I’m going to read more at coffee shops in general). I’m going to give books to people. I’m going to ask people about what they’re reading more.
I can’t wait to hear the answers.