Books to Read in 2016

Happy New Year! Although I’m a slacker when it comes to making or keeping New Year’s Resolutions, I love making reading lists. And a new year means a fresh stack of books waiting to be read!

{ My favorite reads in 2015 }

– My favorite reads in 2015 –

Every year I set a reading goal for myself. Rarely, if ever, do I hit that number, but still… a girl can dream!

2015 was my slowest reading year in recent memory. (Don Quixote really slowed me down!) My favorite reads last year were History of the Rain by Niall Williams, Artful by Ali Smith, The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, and King Lear by Shakespeare. Not pictured above but also worth mentioning is The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. (See my full 2015 book list here.)

My reading goal for 2016 is 36 books. I’m slowly working my way through this 5-year classical reading plan, and I’d love to make a bigger dent this year. Wish me luck, friends. I’ll need it!

Here are some of the books I’m looking forward to reading in 2016…

– Fiction –

Peter Pan Minalima cover
Peter Pan by J. M. BarrieFor Christmas, my husband gave me this gorgeous clothbound edition illustrated by Minalima, the design studio behind the graphics in the Harry Potter movies. I’ve never read this before, and it looks delightful!

East of Eden Steinbeck Penguin Classics cover
East of Eden by John SteinbeckAlthough not his most widely read, this is the highest-rated of Steinbeck’s novels among most readers I know. (Rumor has it there’s a new film adaptation in the works too, which is always incentive to move a book to the top of my reading queue.) I love the recent Penguin Classics editions of Steinbeck, which feature cover designs by illustrator Mick Wiggins. His work is beautiful!

All the Light We Cannot See Anthony Doerr cover
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony DoerrI tend to shy away from current bestsellers or at least wait to read them until some of the hype has died down. (So many books, so little time!) But I also have a secret love for literary historical fiction, so I’m finally pulling the trigger on this recent Pulitzer Prize-winner.


– Poetry & Drama –

Paradise Lost Milton cover
Paradise Lost by John Miltonreading now! It’s a brilliant epic, and all the more impressive when you recall Milton went blind in 1652 and wrote all of Paradise Lost by dictation! This is the final book for Year 2 of my classical reading list; coming up next in the Year 3 list is Moliere’s Tartuffe.

Pitch Poems Todd Boss cover
Pitch by Todd BossOne of my favorite poets working today, Todd Boss has strong Midwest roots and an exceptional ear for internal rhyme. I loved his debut collection Yellowrocket and expect wonderful things from this follow-up.

Henriad Folger Shakespeare cover grid
Richard II
// Henry IV, Part 1 // Henry IV, Part 2 // Henry V by ShakespeareI love Shakespeare! Henry V was an early favorite of mine, but I’ve never read the first three plays of this tetralogy, known collectively as the “Henriad.” Time to remedy that — and then reward myself by watching The Hollow Crown.


– Creativity, Inspiration, Personal Growth –

Better Than Before Gretchen Rubin cover
Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubinreading now! I love Gretchen’s work, and this book is a perfect way to start off the new year on the right foot. It’s full of strategies to help you know yourself better and how best to develop good habits that work for you.

Big Magic Elizabeth Gilbert cover
Big Magic by Elizabeth GilbertI’ve had a kind of love/hate relationship with Gilbert’s earlier books, but I admire her persistence and passion for creativity. I’m currently listening to her Magic Lessons podcast, which is thoughtful and inspiring. Hopefully this book lives up to the hype!

Daring Greatly Rising Strong Brene Brown cover
Daring Greatly and Rising Strong by Brene BrownI’m a long-time fan of Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability, courage, and authenticity, but I have yet to read these two most recent books. I’d love to sign up for her Living Brave online course, which spends 12 weeks working through these two books.


– History & Biography –

In the Heart of the Sea Nathaniel Philbrick cover
In the Heart of the Sea
by Nathaniel PhilbrickTrue story of the shipwreck that inspired Moby Dick. The sinking of the whaleship Essex was as well-known during the 19th Century as the Titanic is to us today. A number of bookish friends have recommended reading this book before trying to tackle Moby Dick, which is coming up later in my classical reading list. Since MD is one of the most abandoned books on Goodreads, I’ll take all the help I can get!

Lincoln at Gettysburg Garry Wills cover
Lincoln at Gettysburg
 by Garry Wills – “The power of words has rarely been given a more compelling demonstration than in the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln was asked to memorialize the gruesome battle. Instead he gave the whole nation ‘a new birth of freedom’ in the space of a mere 272 words.” This 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winner looks at the Gettysburg Address as literature, tracing its historical roots and lasting political impact.

Romantic Outlaws Charlotte Gordon cover
Romantic Outlaws
 by Charlotte Gordon – A dual biography of Mary Wollstonecraft, the 18th-Century feminist philosopher, and her daughter Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein. Wollstonecraft died just days after giving birth to Shelley, but they shared a remarkable legacy as writers and passionate advocates for women’s rights in an era when women were considered incapable of directing their own lives. I started reading at the bookstore and couldn’t put it down!


– Other Nonfiction –

Between the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates cover
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – “Powerful and passionate… profoundly moving… a searing meditation on what it means to be black in America today” (Michiko Kakutani). Written as a letter/essay to Coates’ teenage son, this book won the 2015 National Book Award for nonfiction. I’ve been waiting to read it until I finished James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, as there’s been many comparisons drawn between the two.

At Large and At Small Anne Fadiman cover
At Large and At Small by Anne FadimanI expect this essay collection will be just as charming and erudite as her earlier collection of essays on books and reading, Ex Libris. “Fadiman is utterly delightful, witty and curious, and she’s such a stellar writer that if she wrote about pencil shavings, you’d read it aloud to all your friends.” (Lucia Silva)

Walkable City Jeff Speck cover
Walkable City by Jeff SpeckSpeck, a city planner and urban designer, has spent his career studying what makes cities thrive, and he’s boiled it down to one key factor: walkability. In fact, he argues, many of America’s problems — public health, sustainability, a lagging economy — could be solved by making cities more pedestrian-friendly and less car-centric. As a committed downtown dweller myself, this is an issue near and dear to my heart!

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Do you have any reading goals for 2016? Any favorites from last year? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Wishing you a lovely year ahead… Happy reading!

2014 Reading List, Part 1

We have an ongoing joke in our house that 73% of statistics are made up on the spot. That number varies, but it seems to work its way most often into conversations involving political polls, science, or fascinating “Did you know…” facts. The point being, of course, that all purported statistics should be taken with a grain of salt and a dose of self-deprecating humor. (Yes, we’re nerdy like that.)

I only mention this because yesterday I came across some staggering numbers on the reading habits of Americans, which made me question the future of humanity and/or consider spending my life savings to buy more books for ALL THE PEOPLE EVERYWHERE.

As it turns out, those statistics are possibly untrue. (Rayna debunks them here, and the Pew Research Center has some slightly less dire numbers, so all hope is not yet lost. But stilll…) Today, I’m feeling the urge to curl up with an extra large stack of books — and send a big donation to charities like First Book and Room to Read.

Reading has been my love and constant companion for as long as I can recall. I can’t imagine my life without books! Not everyone has that opportunity, and even those of us lucky enough to have a life-long love of reading often set the bar too low for ourselves.

Library Gilbert Highet Quote

What we choose to read reflects who we are and what we value. Books are a gateway to a bigger world outside yourself and a deeper well of experience within — a window of discovery, where you meet people and hear ideas you’d never experience in real life. To read the Great Books is to have a conversation with some of the greatest minds the world has ever known. A Kindle full of “beach reads” falls flat and pale by comparison.

The truth is, there will always be more books than time, which is exactly why Thoreau advised us to “read the best books first.” Over the past few years, I’ve tried to be more diligent at devoting time to reading better books.

My goal each month is to read one classic (from my Tackle the Classics list) and at least 2-3 other books (mostly fiction, memoirs, history, or writing/creativity). I only plan a few months at a time, as mood and interests steer me in new directions throughout the year. (It’s hard to say in February what books I’ll be ready for by December!)

Here’s my reading plan for the first few months of 2014. I’d love to hear what you’re reading too!

I use Goodreads to organize and keep track of all the books I want to read, but these shorter reading lists work well for keeping me focused. I wish I had some literary friends to discuss books with in real life. But I suppose it’s no surprise that introverted bookworms have a hard time finding their kindred spirits! In the meantime, I find inspiration online from ardent readers like Edie at Life In Grace and Rachel at Elephantine, whose tastes in books I trust and admire.

What’s on your reading list this year? How do you stay organized and motivated?

[ Photo adapted from Stewart Butterfield ]

Deserts of the Soul

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“Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to view, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us by the act of sickness, how we go down into the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and the harpers when we have a tooth out and come to the surface in the dentist’s arm-chair and confuse his “Rinse the mouth–rinse the mouth” with the greeting of the Deity stooping from the floor of Heaven to welcome us — when we think of this, as we are so frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.”  — Virginia Woolf, “On Being Ill

I’m in awe of the length and virtuosity of this sentence. The imagery — “what wastes and deserts of the soul…what ancient and obdurate oaks” — is stunning. And the dentist as deity analogy? So witty. Virginia Woolf is a masterly sentence crafter. It takes some serious writing chops to wield a 181-word sentence(!) with grace and lucidity.

This is why we read good books: for the pleasure of encountering, not just engaging stories and clever ideas, but skillful and beautiful writing.

“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room,” Austin Kleon writes. If we want to become better thinkers, better writers, better human beings, we should surround ourselves with the best of what’s out there.

We must stretch ourselves upward in order to grow.

[ Photo credit: Keoni Cabral ]