Frank Reads: 2016 in Books

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Every year, I set some reading goals on Goodreads. In the time I’ve been doing that and actually remembering to enter everything I read (there were a few years where I had a GR account but didn’t do that), I’ve always met and exceeded my goals.

In 2016, I did not.

Reading is frequently my escape and something I like to do in my leisure time. This year, I feel like there was less leisure time. Truly, I think that most of my undisrupted reading time came on public transportation and waiting around. I read on the plane going to and from South Carolina in January and in the airports while I waited. I read on the Amtrak train going to and from my parents’ house. I listened to audiobooks driving to and from various places. I read on the train going into and out of Philadelphia. What I didn’t do as much this year (I still did it, but just not as much) as I have done in previous years was just sit down in my house and pick up a book. Or read before bed.

Knowing that makes me feel sad. Reading has always been my favorite hobby and my own little personal happy place. I used to be able to spend hours (all day, or even all night!) reading. Now I’m older and hours are hard to come by. And when I have the time, I find myself falling asleep. Did I mention I’m old?

To my credit, a big reason why I did not meet my goals for the year was because I read A Little Life. It’s 720 pages and I’m a slow reader and it is heavy (literally and figuratively) so I had to take that one very slowly. I read a Judy Blume book in the middle because I just needed a break from all the abuse (the main theme of the book). But more about that later.

What I Read in 2016

My goal for this year was 20 (just a little lower than past years). Officially, as of 2:30 Friday morning, December 30, 2016, I have read 17 books. Those were:

  1. Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham (yes, that Lauren Graham)
  2. Barbara the Slut (and Other People) by Lauren Holmes
  3. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  4. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
  5. Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date by Katie Heaney
  6. Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
  7. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
  8. Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons
  9. Summer Sisters by Judy Blume (a re-read)
  10. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
  11. The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer
  12. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  13. Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia
  14. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
  15. Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson
  16. Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham
  17. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

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Number of Audiobooks: 7

Number of Fiction: 10

Number of Nonfiction: 7

Number of Memoir: 4

Fiction Books That Moderately Featured Abuse as a Topic: 4

Fiction Books That Were Entirely About Every Form of Abuse You Can Imagine: 1

Comfort Reads: 3

Books for Learning, Understanding, and Self-Improvement: 2

Number of Books Written By Lorelai Gilmore (aka Lauren Graham): 2

So, What of it, Then?

What I’ve learned here and truly did not realize until I just looked at all of this in one place is that 2016 was a tremendously difficult year littered with iconic deaths, bad news, a stressful and difficult election season (to put it mildly), and I was trying to read my way out of it, but I wasn’t reading well for that purpose. Many of my books weren’t an escape from the world going on around me, but a reflection of how upsetting it can sometimes be.

Reconstructing Amelia tells the story of a teenage girl who dies under mysterious circumstances at school when she falls from the roof. Her mother is told it was a suicide and knows that can’t be true, so she sets out to find out what happened. In the process of reconstructing her daughter’s life, she finds out how her daughter had been bullied and the things that had happened to her at school, and how she really dies is even more upsetting than you’d think (no spoilers here).

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver is a grieving mother’s letters to her husband to really dig into her son’s life to try to understand what happened after he destroys her life the day that he goes to school and kills numerous students, a teacher, and a cafeteria worker.

And A Little Life is seriously the most upsetting, heartwrenching, gut-kicking book I have ever read. There is just about every kind of abuse you can imagine happening in this book. There is this beautiful soul, Jude, and the tragedies that surround him and have surrounded him for his entire life. This one took me 6 months to read because it’s very long, but also because it was difficult to get through without having to stop. By the end of it, I made myself buckle down to finish it and I did so sobbing harder than I think I have ever cried while reading a book.

None of those were really the uplifting comfort reads that I could have used.

The only two comfort reads that I read this year were Someday, Someday, Maybe, which I really enjoyed (and which Lauren Graham read, so it felt like a performance), and The Little Paris Bookshop, which I absolutely adored. They were feel-good books. Unfortunately I front-loaded them both in January, so that didn’t do me much good the rest of the year.

Goal for 2017: more feel-good books. Or at least fewer books about death.

Normally I rank my top 5 favorite books of the year, but I didn’t even rate 5 books with 5 stars this year on Goodreads. So it seems that my reading was just as “meh” as 2016 itself was. Honestly, there are a few books on here that I can hardly even remember reading (most of Never Have I Ever and all of Barbara the Slut, for example). There’s a lot that just didn’t stick with me after I picked up the next book.

Before I get to my 5-star book ratings, I really want to give a shout-out to Dan Lyons’ book Disrupted, which, while I only gave it 4 stars, made me laugh a lot. I guess it’s because it makes fun of all of the same things I make fun of in my head all day long (when did marketers become celebrities?), but I just really enjoyed it. If you work in marketing or the digital sphere, you might like it (unless you’re one of the people it makes fun of … so probably not if you’re a HubSpot employee).

I gave 3 books 5 stars:

  1. Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham – this was a memoir that talked about her life and focused on the part of it from Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, so really, if you didn’t watch the show, you probably wouldn’t care much about most of it. She narrated the audiobook, which featured calls with her father and agent, and I just found it to be light, funny, and full of the pop cultural references and trivia I crave.
  2. Quiet by Susan Cain – I’ve always known that I am an introvert, but I always thought that just meant I was kind of shy and didn’t like to socialize as much. I had no idea to what massive degree my introversion was impacting my entire life and the way I am and the way I deal with people. Reading this book (or, listening to it, actually) was really enlightening for me and helped me to feel like less of a weirdo and to embrace my personality a little more. It changed the way I think about myself and my communication style. I’d also never much cared about Myers-Briggs tests, but knew that I was an INFJ (something that has been confirmed every time I take the test). Reading this also prompted me to learn more about that since I’m kind of a unique personality type. I don’t know, but I think it’s all very interesting and I’m happier when I understand myself better (next step: getting other people to try to understand me instead of getting frustrated with me).
  3.  The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George – I picked this up on a whim in an indie bookstore in Greenville, SC, when I was visiting family in January. By the way, I also fell in love with the bookstore, M. Judson Books, and I can’t wait to visit it again one day. I’m still using a picture of it as my Facebook cover photo. But I digress. This book is about a man, Monsieur Perdu, who owns a bookshop on a barge on the Seine River. He calls himself a literary apothecary and believes that books heal life’s woes. Monsieur Perdu has never quite recovered from the love of his life leaving him mysteriously, leaving only a letter — which he never could bring himself to open. But when he finally reads it, he has a purpose. He lifts the anchor on the barge and sails off — with an Italian Chef and a rather mopey author along for the ride. They follow leads and gain information, repaying people with books, working toward an answer for Perdu – but will it be the one he’s hoping for? It’s adventurous and whimsical and there’s maybe a few more racy scenes than I care for, but the rest of it was wonderful. I bought a copy for a book-loving friend, as well. One of my favorite quotes:

“Books are more than doctors, of course. Some novels are loving, lifelong companions; some give you a clip around the ear; others are friends who wrap you in warm towels when you’ve got those autumn blues. And some…well, some are pink candy floss that tingles in your brain for three seconds and leaves a blissful voice. Like a short, torrid love affair.”

What’s in store for 2017?

Well, I’ve no idea. I’m going to keep my reading goal lower again this year and we’ll see what happens. I can tell you where I’m starting as I’m about to go crack it open now — I’ve been wanting to read it for months and got it as a Christmas gift from my brother: The Girls by Emma Cline.

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What did you read in 2016? What did you love? What did you hate? Share your book thoughts with me! 

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