This was a slightly strange reading year. A year where most of my fiction reads were “just for fun” and many of my nonfiction choices were informative rather than literary.
I read for entertainment, I read for understanding, and I read for spiritual insight — but only rarely did I read for literary merit. I did, however, finally add Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale to my “books read” list. And though much of this year’s fiction will prove — is already proving — forgettable, I am hopeful that most of the year’s nonfiction will stick with me into the future.
Here are some of the highlights:
Best “Just Fun” Book
M.M. Kaye’s Death in Kenya. Yes, I loved this book because of the setting. Loved it because of how right it gets that setting. Like Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, this is wonderfully evocative of a moment in British history that is no more. Of a world that ceased to be. And yes, that world is unwaveringly problematic. But I still loved the glimpse.
Runners up: Though I read (and enjoyed) several others in this category, none really survived the test of even months’ worth of time. The one that came closest was A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Art of Mindful Living: How to Bring Love, Compassion, and Inner Peace Into Your Daily Life. Many of my nonfiction reads this year were consumed via an audiobook format, and many were excellent, but this was excellent because it was audio. Not precisely a book, it was a recording of Thich Nhat Hanh teaching on meditation, peace, fulfillment, love, and the Kingdom of Heaven — and his wisdom, compassion, and humor are embodied in the sweet, soft rhythms of his voice.
Runner up: Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. Fascinating, mind-boggling, and so well read.
Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. A beautifully crafted narrative about history and identity and the interwoven shape of our lives.
Runners up: Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (which reminds one of the glory and power of books) and Wonder by R.J. Palacio.
Most Read Author
George R.R. Martin with five books — or, perhaps more significantly, nearly 5,000 pages.
Runner up: Ursula K. Le Guin with three books and just barely 400 pages — for Le Guin is a master of brevity, a gift sorely underrated and rare.
Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama. Mystery, wonder, awe, exploration, and discovery — everything great sci-fi should entail. Once again, Clarke does not disappoint.
Runners up: Le Guin’s City of Illusions and Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked this Way Comes — which, let’s be honest, is definitely fantasy and not sci-fi. But whatev.
Joan Didion’s Blue Nights. This was probably the best read of the year, regardless of genre. Certainly the most beautiful. A poignant reflection on children, aging, identity, loss, and love.
Runners up: Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk. Rainer Maria Wilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. C.S. Lewis’s Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. All three are books to feed the soul.
This is totally cheating, because I only read one collection of poetry this year, but Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s Drawn to the Light was so beautiful I have to include it here.
Book I Most Wish I Could Make You Read
Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How They Can Change the World and Norman Doidge’s The Brain that Changes Itself. Taken together, these two books changed my perspective on how we should teach, learn, and live.
You can find a complete list of my year’s reading here.