In August, I shared my thoughts on the 10 books I had read so far in 2016 — so it’s long overdue for me to share a bit about the 8 books that rounded out the year…
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi was by far my favorite among this group. It starts with two half-sisters born in Ghana in the 1700’s — one sold into slavery and the other married off to one of the Englishmen running the slave trade. The book follows their offspring into modern day, generation by generation, each chapter flipping back and forth between the two lineages. It very much reminded me of Alex Haley’s Roots, but with the stark contrast between the sisters’ different paths. So good!
Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro. Undoubtedly a classic, the books follows a young girl through her adolescence in rural Canada in the 1940s. Initially the story had a bit of a To Kill A Mockingbird feeling for me, but clearly focused on themes around girl- and womanhood. Definitely worth a read.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. It’s hard to feel ambivalent about Murakami’s books — I would guess you either love ’em or hate ’em. Kafka on the Shore is one of his most well known books , which I read with some friends who had recently returned from some time in Japan. We each read the book translated into our own native language (to see if part of the understanding of his stories relies on the translation) — English, German, and Romanian. I still think that my first Murakami, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, will always be my favorite, but Kafka on the Shore had plenty of strange and unsettling elements to keep you reading.
The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman was my least favorite book of the bunch and of the year. The premise is interesting: a lighthouse keeper and his wife living alone on an isolated small island on the coast of Australia between the World Wars. A small baby washes up on island in a boat, and instead of trying to find the baby’s mother, they keep her instead. I just didn’t find the main character at all sympathetic in her choices and spent much of the book being irritated with her, rather than having her situation wrench my heart.
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. This book is the follow-up in the trilogy that began with Code Name Verity about female English fighter pilots in World War II, and I enjoyed it just as much as the first book. This story takes an even darker tone, as a pilot is shot down and held prisoner in the women’s concentration camp in Ravensbrück, about 50 miles north of Berlin. The details of the story are both shocking and painful to read, but the story is wonderful.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett was an interesting read, but not necessarily one of my favorites. The story follows the relationship between a teenage girl and a pastor’s son — and the resulting pregnancy, abortion, and cover-up — over the course of their adult lives. Their decision haunts everyone in the story, and kind of felt overdone to me.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. I read this book back in 1999, but decided to read it again after returning from my trek in the Himalayas. Obviously, my experience hiking in those mountains pales in comparison to actual mountaineering, but it was fascinating to reread this account of the 1996 tragedy that occurred on Mount Everest. Even during our comparatively mild trek, there was a single hiker on his own who went missing along the highest stretch of the trail, resulting in search helicopters trying to locate him. In other words, respect for the mountains and the altitude was definitely at the top of my mind, and I loved rereading this book.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This novel requires a good portion of the suspension of disbelief, telling the tale of a man who is unwillingly thrown backwards and forwards in time, and his relationship with the love of his life, who experiences his past, future, and present selves. Thinking about their story twists your mind a bit, and you can either make yourself crazy by trying to build a sensible timeline of their story, or you can just give into it and let it flow. It wasn’t my favorite book of all time, but certainly entertaining.
What do you think? Looking back over the entire year, my favorite books were Homegoing (mentioned above), A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, and When Breath Becomes Air. What were your favorite reads of 2016?