January 02, 2017

Lesson 234: 2016 Book List

In genereal, 2016 was a disappointing reading year. As I look back over the list, a few titles generate small excitement, but most were just time fillers. (Makes you want to keep reading, doesn't it?)

One theme that emerged in the fiction category is that authors wrote from unusual vantage points or attempted to connect strange threads, I felt, unsuccessfully. At the Water's Edge followed wealthy New Yorkers on a search for the Loch Ness Monster during WWII. It was intriguing in some ways, but mostly just left me feeling like, what was that? Same with Beautiful Ruins. A local sop meets a movie star on an island, and then we're years later with this loser movie writer in California. What? I felt like the story was trying too hard. In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume. Beautiful language, but also a strange setting, time, storyline.

When I'm done with books like these, I throw them on the ground and groan, and Mark asks, "Why did you bother finishing it?" And I say, "I don't know," and then I go and scoop out a big bowl of ice cream. So, there's that.

The big titles of the year fell flat for me also, maybe because of expectations and hype. Orphan Train. The Nightengale. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Hillbilly Elegy. All fine, nothing to talk about. Actually, Elegy is probably worth your time. I didn't love it, but read it anyway.

A few highlights as I look over the list.

This is Awkward by Sammy Rhoads is the kind of book that should be read once, and then kept around for reference. Each chapter is more uncomfortable than the next as Sammy tells personal stories about divorce, weight issues, struggles with pornography, and so on, and then, directly applies Gospel truth and hope to the situation. But, it's not cheesy. It's painful and good. I think most people will connect deeply with at least one "topic" and come away with fresh thoughts personally, but, will also benefit from reading the other chapters. His writing style encourages growth in empathy towards friends and family who struggle in ways I don't. It's helpful.

The Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaffer is the most refreshing parenting book I've ever read. She begins with the simple question, What is art? A parenting book, asking about art?! It's the best. Then, in a very pre-internet way, she gives ideas for how a mother can express individual creativity in day to day tasks, through music, flower arranging, hospitality, decorating, food. It's not stressful though, I think partially because it is illustrated with drawings, not perfectly staged photos. Rather than showing exactly how things should be done, she gives suggestions that encourage personal reflection and drawing of conclusions. I loved it!

I'll Drink to That was fun. It's the memoirs of a woman living and working in the fashion industry during a very glamorous time in Chicago and New York. House Thinking interested me, as it explained the ways sociology and economy affected each room of the house. A Severe Mercy is always great, though this was a repeat read for me.

Y'all know it was a bad year when I'm mentioning repeats.

Here's to 2017, and hopefully better selections.


* In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

* The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

* For the Love by Jen Hatmaker


* A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

* Styled by Emily Henderson

* The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story by Julia Reed

* The Stories We Tell by Patti Callahan Henry


* Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

* This is Awkward by Sammy Rhoads

* The Race to Paris: A Novel by Meg Waite Clayton

* At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen


* I'll Drink To That by Betty Halbreich and Rebecca Paley

* Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline

* House Thinking: A Room - By - Room Look at How We Live by Winifred Gallagher


* 7 by Jen Hatmaker

* The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

* The Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaffer

* Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear


* A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken

* The Madwoman Upstairs: A Novel by Catherine Lowell


* The Nightengale by Kristin Hannah

* Harry Potter and the Sorcorer's Stone by J. K. Rowling


* Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling


* The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati


* Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

* Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

* The Summer Before the War: A Novel by Helen Simonson


  1. I feel like I didn't read many good books this year either. I started the Harry Potter book and was so busy with sick kids and Ryan out of town those two weeks it was due at the library before I finished. I read the Chip and Joanna Gaines book and it was light and fun. I am a fan of the show, so I liked the book. I am currently reading "Present over Perfect". This is my first Shauna Niequist book, and so far it is hitting home on some spots. I heard her speak at a conference and enjoyed listening to her, so I wanted to see how she wrote. Anyway, not that you asked for suggestions, but all that to say I read books, but most of them were so not-noteworthy I can't even think of what I read.

    1. Well, at least it wasn't only me! I just got the Joanna Gaines book on Kindle from the library, and am excited to read that this week!

  2. But you loved severe mercy...right!?!?


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