I struggled to find books I loved this year and coupled with my relatively low reading count, that makes it hard to come up with a top 10.
I actually re-read several books that deserve to be on this list, but it doesn’t seem fair to list a book I’ve listed in a previous year’s top list. The last two are probably more honorable mentions than actual top books.
That’s not to say these aren’t great books. I gave the top 8 books 5 stars on Goodreads (and I’m stingy with my 5-star ratings).
That’s a bit off the mark for me. Last year I complained about a reading slump while still reading 158 books. That sounds ridiculous, I know, but that slump continued to plague me all year.
Last year I blamed fewer audio books while running , reading fewer books aloud to the kids, and just a general slump. All three problems continued.
This year I all but gave up on YA and middle grade books. Those books usually make up a significant portion of my reading (a third? half?), and this year they’re probably 15% (helped along by some Star Wars books in December). I do love those genres, but this year I was just tired of kid stories. I was tired of whiny YA protagonists and problems that just so happen to feature child-size heroes. Meh.
But my real problem was finding books I loved. I started and stopped a lot of books this year. I gave up on more books than I ever have before. All that quitting did result in finding some gems. But it’s hard.
I re-read several books this year. That’s one way to deal with a slump.
I also read a lot more non-fiction than I usually do. Sometimes it’s easier to tell when a non-fiction book is going to be hard to put down.
I’m not a big fan of short story collections or Star Wars novels. But I loved Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View. It’s a collection of 40 stories offering unique points of view surrounding the original Star Wars: A New Hope movie.
The stories offer glimpses of the main characters—Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Obi-Wan, Darth Vader, etc.—and even some dialogue straight from the movie, but mostly we’re following the stories not told in the movie:
How the Imperial gunner who didn’t fire on the escape pod with no lifeforms used bureaucratic paperwork to cover his ass.
An excerpt from the celebrity memoir of one of the Cantina band performers.
The untold story of what really happened with the red R2 unit that Uncle Owen almost bought instead of R2-D2.
The harrowing saga of how the trash compactor monster came to be on the Death Star and the larger role it had to play.
I love the power of reading, but I also think we have to be intentional about the kinds of books we read. I’m a big fan of reading what you love, but I think it’s still important to pursue diversity in those choices.
I’ve learned from experience that you have to be intentional about that. So every year I track those diversity stats to see how I’m doing. It’s not a perfect system and it’s not the only thing I do, but it’s one step.
I base gender simply on the author, counting a book if any contributor is a woman. For race I count a book if a contributor or main character is a person of color.
Here’s how diverse my reading has been since 2001:
Here are the actual numbers (with totals) for 2016:
While the numbers are just numbers, I think the real results are showing up in my lists of favorite books for the year. Both my fiction and non-fiction lists this year were topped by writers of color, and my fiction top five is all writers of color. Those lists have been getting more diverse over the years.
It’s all pretty subjective, but in general I think it continues to push me toward hearing and responding to more voices, especially ones that are different from my own experience and perspective.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – I’m not usually a fan of fantasy, especially when it’s not very clear what’s happening, but I rolled with it on this one and really enjoyed this story of a persecuted group of misfits with the power to control seismic activity.
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell – This is fan fiction for a fictional universe created for another fictional story. Follow all that? Plus, it’s a lovely homage to Harry Potter.
Frindle by Andrew Clements – Read this to my kids and we all loved it. It’s about how words come to be.
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate – Another outloud book for the kids and another 5-star book from Katherine Applegate. This story mixes the power of imagination and a child’s perspective on being homeless.
Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff – This story of a girl in search of a family is a quick read, but touching.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng – This is a sad, but I think ultimately hopeful story. It’s probably my favorite book club book of the year.
I finished 158 books in 2016. That’s about average for me.
Though I ran into a real slump this year. It probably sounds ridiculous to say I had a reading slump when I read 158 books in one year, but there it is.
Halfway through the year I had finished 104 books, so I definitely slowed down during the second half of the year. A few things happened:
Pokemon Go. I hate to say a game stopped me from reading, but it did. Sort of. The game works best when you get outside and move, and it’s ideal to play while running. And it doesn’t work very well to listen to an audiobook while running and playing Pokemon Go. So I stopped listening to audiobooks. Haven’t finished one in months (and haven’t run in a while either).
This fall I haven’t been consistently reading to the kids. We used to finish a book every week or two, but the last one we tried I think we quit.
Slump. Then the real reason is that I just hit a slump. I couldn’t get interested in a book and took a long time to get through the ones I did like. I’m not sure what happened, if I was just in a mood or what, but my reading seriously slowed down. I’m not sure if I’m out of yet (I still haven’t been reading as voraciously), but the closest thing I have to a cure is finding books I love. Not just like or enjoy, but love. That means quitting books a lot more, which is something I still have to force myself to do. I’m getting better at it. Slowly.
Last year I did a summer book club with Lexi. We’d read the same book, then go to the coffee shop for snacks and talk about it. This year we did it again.
And Milo joined in.
I didn’t think Milo was ready for chapter books. He’s been reading those numbered early readers (1, 2, 3) that I find brain-numbing, and I thought he was still struggling with those. But when I started the book club with Lexi, he wanted in. He’s definitely not ready for the harder middle grade books Lexi is reading, so we opted to do a separate book club with him and he totally nailed it.
As we talked about the books, it was clear Milo completely understood what he was reading. I even tested him to see what he could read, and discovered he couldn’t actually read a lot of the bigger words. But he could still figure out what was happening in the story. That’s pretty incredible. (My wife the teacher is rolling her eyes; apparently this is what all kids go through as they learn how to read.)
So I did book club with both kids. We didn’t get started until July, and reading for two different kids took more time, but we still got through three books each.
Lexi’s Book Club:
Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass
I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin
Bird by Crystal Chan
Lexi’s favorite:I Lived on Butterfly Hill
My favorite:Every Soul a Star (Learning about solar eclipses was pretty cool—we’re planning to check out the 2017 total solar eclipse in Nebraska next summer.)
Milo’s Book Club:
Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst
Ellray Jakes Is Not Chicken by Sally Warner
Stink and the Incredible Super-Galactic Jawbreaker by Megan McDonald
Our favorite:Lulu and the Brontosaurus (we both liked that one best)
Since we got a late start and I couldn’t seem to keep up with both kids, it didn’t feel like we got through many books. Both kids are wanting to keep doing book club in the fall (I imagine more motivated by the chance to go get a snack than anything), so we’ll have to see. It is a fun way to engage with them.
A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.