2016 book list

It’s that time again, friends! Here’s what I’ve been reading in 2016: some nonfiction, a bunch of memoirs, some novels, a few plays, and a bit of Young Adult. Not too shabby, me thinks.

*Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett. (Actually read this at the end of 2015 but forgot to record it.) Slow and beautiful, hauntingly sad.

*Black Chalk, by Christopher J. Yates. Can’t remember it—Oh, wait! Yes, I can! A dark thriller that I thought so-so.

*The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr. Some good (and comforting) writing nuggets (like, it took her months to write the first chapter of her memoir and find her voice), but I still prefer Bird by Bird.

*Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs, by Sally Mann. I’m fascinated by her perspective on life, and her work: raw and evocative.

*Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff. I don’t remember it, but my notes say: Not credible but interesting.

*All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. Good, but I wasn’t head over heels like everyone else.

*The Birchbark House, by Louise Erdich. Young adult (for book club). An okay, easy read.

*When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. I appreciated the healthy perspective towards death, but I enjoyed his wife’s writing better than his.

*Tips: Ideas for Actors and Tips II: More Ideas for Actors, by Jon Jory. Extremely helpful. I only wished that I could’ve read this books before Outside Mullingar, not after.

*A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back, by Keven Hazzard. A fast, entertaining read. Informative, too, for a mother of an EMT.

*Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee. I read this play in two sittings. It left me gasping for air.

*Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson. (For book club.) Absolutely abhorred it, which is funny because so many respected friends loved it.

*On Acting: A Handbook for Today’s Unique American Actor, by Steven Breese. Excellent.

*A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams. My first time reading the play; I enjoyed it. 

*Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, by Carlo Rovelli. I didn’t understand most of it…but I read it!

*Small Blessings, by Martha Woodroof. (Name drop: the author is in one of my writing groups!) Likeable characters and enjoyable read. The book was set in a town not far from here, and I got a kick out of reading about familiar places within a novel.

*Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Challenging and paradigm shifting, I wish I could’ve read this one with my book club because it requires processing. I chewed over the ideas for months.

*The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers, by Betsy Lerner. Informative.

*Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor. Required reading for my kids, so I read it, too. So, so good.

*The Silver Star, by Jeannette Walls. Can’t remember it.

*Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren. Excellent (though I skimmed some of the science parts). Gained new insight into bi-polar disease. Also, it made me want to plant an oak tree.

*A Story Lately Told, by Anjelica Huston. Dull and souless, but I was intrigued to learn Angelica is one of the actors in Transparent (which I loved).

*Hungry Heart, by Jennifer Weiner. The beginning was interesting, but after a bit it felt long-winded and whiny. By the end I was skimming whole pages.

*The Babylon Line, by Richard Greenberg. A play. Okay, but just that.

*Accelerando, by Lisa Loomer. A play. Complicated and slightly bizarre.

*Jesus Land: A Memoir, by Julia Scheeres. Powerful, dark, incredible. I felt like I was reading a nightmare; had to hurry through so I could end it and get on with my life. Highly recommend (but only if you’re emotionally stable, and even then, proceed with caution).

Up next: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, by Neil White and then I’m open to (desperate for) recommendations. Fire away!

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PS. 2015 book list and 2014 book list.

PPS. Books I’ve read to the kids for our bedtime read-alouds include Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’BrienA Little Princess and The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson BurnettMore Stories from Grandma’s Attic, by Arleta Richardson, and we’re right now finishing up A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. Have you discovered any new read-alouds this year (for ages 10-15)?

This same time, years previous: toasty oatmeal muffins.


  • Athanasia

    THE SECRET GARDEN is my all time favorite book and I re-read it almost every year. I also used it as a read-aloud for my children and I use it for that at school also. A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN is a wonderful book and has a very good version in movie form. That does not always happen. Another good read aloud book is THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE. A LITTLE PRINCESS, MRS. FRISBY…also great books. I just recently read ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY after I found a 25 cent copy at the public library book sale. Added it to our church/school library. Yes, it was good.

    Except for ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE and STREETCAR…I have not read or even heard of the other books. How do you get your recommendations on what to read? Browsing? Word of mouth? I just read an excellent youth book from the public library that was recommended on a blog, THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. So good. Read it in one sitting good.

    • Jennifer Jo

      My mom hands me books, I get ideas from NPR, other bloggers, magazines, and my readers…like you! I just put "The War…" on hold at the library.

  • Rebecca

    I'm in the middle of one, just under the wire for 2016. It is so good! A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression. I'm not one for book groups per se but I would love to convene one just for this book.

  • Alison

    Books I really enjoyed this year:
    The Tiger's Wife
    Station Eleven
    Alif, The Unseen
    The History of Love (a re-read for me, my favorite book)
    A God In Ruins

  • beckster

    I loved A Gentleman in Moscow. It was not at all what I expected, but I may have to read his other book now. I also really enjoyed The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, and A Great Reckoning, but I love all of Louise Penney's books.

  • Suburban Correspondent

    I hope you liked A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – I think that book comes as close to perfect as any book can be! Interestingly enough, it breaks all the "rules" when it comes to writing fiction (shifting perspectives, etc.) Love it, love it, love it…

    • Jennifer Jo

      It reminds me of the movie Boyhood: nothing really happens and yet it's totally engrossing. So frank and simple. And I love Francie's reflections on life.

  • Suburban Correspondent

    Also, I disliked "A Forest for the Trees" – I thought it was incredibly short on realistic advice for writers (aside from the generic "make yourself write" variety) and terribly long on ruminations about what basket cases writers tend to be (which I don't think is accurate).

  • Suburban Correspondent

    I loved "Infidel" – so fascinating to see the world from her perspective, growing up in Somalia and Kenya. I learned things I never could have if I had just read about the events she describes in a normal history book. BUT I found it discouraging that she refuses to allow for the possibility that there are practicing Muslims in the world who believe in secular gov't, equal rights for women, etc. Because of her upbringing, she completely discounts this possibility – which, considering how brilliant she is (can you imagine moving to a country and becoming fluent enough in the language to become a member of Parliament?), I find surprising.

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