Treading Lightly
Treading Lightly

Best Fiction and Nonfiction Books of 2016

I read 70 books this year – that’s more than I have read since I started tracking. It’s more than twice as much as my first Goodread’s Reading Challenge goal in 2014.

This year was the year of nonfiction for me. A whopping 67 percent-47 books-were nonfiction. In years past the opposite has been true, but I wouldn’t change anything. I learned so much and really fell in love with the power of nonfiction.

The books below were some of my favorites from this year, although not all of them were published in 2016. I got a bit carried away with new releases and mostly forgot to pick up books from higher up on my list, but there are a few on the list that have been out for years.

 

Best Fiction and Nonfiction Books of 2016

Top 12 Nonfiction Books of 2016

Since I clearly went for nonfiction over and over this year, it seemed appropriate to start with this list. It contains some of my favorite books from the year. Please note that these are in no particular order – it seems cruel to rank the books that I spent so much time with and that taught me so many different things.

 

Best Fiction and Non-fiction Books of 2016

 

The 4-Hour Workweek 

Tim Ferriss’ debut book is one of the few books that still impact my behavior today. A lot of the rules I have set for technology and my morning routine have come from The 4-Hour Workweek. I don’t have plans to start a product-focused business or take six months off for a mini-retirement, but his principles have still proven to be powerful tools for me.

 

Meanwhile In San Francisco

Wendy MacNaughton’s illustrations are beautiful. They make you feel like you are there with her. Her insistence on talking to everyday people around the city was inspiring to me. It’s a bit like Humans of New York, but illustrated and about San Francisco.

 

Between the World and Me

I think my original review said it best: “Ta-Nehisi Coates is incredible. His book is gut wrenching, especially in light of the recent shootings and violence.

“I’m a small white woman, and I will never truly know what it’s like to be anything but. Coates’ experience and his criticism of The Dream hit me hard. I know what it’s like to always be on guard, to always be afraid, but I have always had privilege to shield me from the worst. This book is as good as everyone says it is. Read it.”

This book made me re-examine my experience and realize that I don’t spend enough time engaging with work (art, music, books, news articles) from people of color. Ta-Nehisi Coates is the reason many of the books I read this year ended up on my list at all. I also think now might be a great time to re-read it. (PS. You should read his recent article on President Obama while you’re at it.)

 

Best Fiction and Nonfiction Books of 2016

 

We Should All Be Feminists

Yes, we should.

 

Creative Confidence

This book lit a fire under me and got me really thinking about how I like to create and what is/was holding me back. “A must read! Especially if you are creative or you think you aren’t. Loved it,” according to me from June.

 

Skin Cleanse

This is another one that has changed my day to day life. I still follow the morning skin routine and diet changes that I started when I first read the book. Although I have to admit that December has been awash in sugar. (So many delicious homemade cookies.)

 

Best Fiction and Nonfiction Books of 2016

 

Shrill

I read a lot of books this year from comedians and culture writers, but Lindy West’s was one of the best. She can easily switch from talking about serious, important topics to telling a hilarious story about her past.

 

Lab Girl

Lab Girl is one of the highlights of my reading this year. This book captivated me and let me see a glimpse of what it would have been like if I had gone into science instead. It was like a taste of an alternate reality for me. Plus, I now have a ton of random facts about trees stored away.

 

Girls and Sex 

Another one I haven’t stopped talking about. This book confronts the way that we teach girls about sex, sexuality, and intimacy through interviews with girls in high school and college. I had many revelations, and I finished the book feeling incredibly thankful for the way I was raised (and the fact that Snapchat and Instagram weren’t a thing when I was in high school).

 

Best Fiction and Nonfiction Books of 2016

 

Curated Closet

A practical guide to actually liking everything in your closet and knowing what your style is. I still haven’t gotten my style figured out or exactly how I like to dress, but this book is getting me there.

 

In The Company of Women

How many more times can I describe one of these books as inspiring? In the Company of Women felt like sitting down for a quick cup of coffee with incredible women creators from the around the world. I loved it.

 

Feminist Fight Club

I highly appreciate anything that can manage to be inspiring and get a laugh. This book is no joke–I took pages of notes on advice for how to handle common work-place situations and advocate for myself–but it does have a “laugh at your own pain” vibe. Her chapter for men “PSA: A Penile Service Announcement: How to have a dick without being one” had my boyfriend and I rolling.

 

Best Fiction and Nonfiction Books of 2016

6 Best Fiction Books of 2016

Despite being a short list, these books are the ones I keep recommending to my friends and can’t stop talking about. I read them all quickly and voraciously, much like I would devour a piece of lemon cake. Please enjoy these reading treats.

 

The Lost Boys Symphony

This is one of the first books I read of 2016, and I continued to recommend it to friends throughout the year. The story has stuck with me, and I can still remember how it made me feel. I stand by my (repeated) recommendation.

 

Still Alice

Told from the point of view of a professor who is slowly succumbing to early-on-set Alzheimer’s, this book drew me in and spat me back out paranoid. The insight into the frustration and the fear from Alice’s point of view was heart-breaking.

 

All the Light We Cannot See

This is another book I continue to recommend. It was originally recommended to me by a coworker, and I put off reading it for months. I wish I hadn’t. The story is rich and complex. I couldn’t put it down.

 

Americanah

Americanah languished on my list for months before I read it from start to finish in quick succession. I enjoyed exploring Nigeria and seeing America through an immigrant’s eyes. The story is harrowing, but worth sticking with.

 

Landline

Rainbow Rowell, the author of Landline, made me fall in love with fiction again. I had been on a massive streak of nonfiction before reading Rowell’s (also excellent) Fangirl. I then read through all of her books. I would recommend all of them, but this one really sucked me in and left me thinking about it weeks after.

 

The Unseen World

The Unseen World took me by surprise. I don’t remember where I heard of it, but I wasn’t sold on the premise when I picked it up from the library. But I couldn’t get enough of it once I started reading it. The main character is trying to unearth her father’s past, and the realness of the story made it come alive. Warning: I spent an entire work day reading this book after intending to read only a few pages at lunch.

 

If I could only recommend two fiction books to read from this year, I’m pretty confident I would go with All the Light We Cannot See and The Unseen World.

 

You can see my entire year of reading here.

Instant Inspiration: In the Company of Women

In the Company of Women is everything I want in a book – inspiring, informative, reflective, and eye-opening. This book is the perfect answer to “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

The book features 100 women and their thoughts on their work, lives, mistakes, and inspiration. The gorgeous spreads are loaded with encouragement and the reminder that everyone starts somewhere (not to mention some massive studio/workplace eye candy).

In The Company of Women

Grace Bonney, the founder of Design*Sponge, interviewed so many insightful, diverse, and intelligent women. I loved reading about all of the different jobs these women were drawn to or created for themselves. Their bravery and tenacity shone through. Painters, illustrators, writers, interior designers, musicians, furniture makers – these women do it all.

In The Company of Women

While a few familiar names popped out at me–Hi, Roxane!– there were so many creative women to get to know. I loved hearing so many perspectives and seeing bits of myself in these successful, goal-chasing women.

In the Company of Women Quotes

“You have to be willing to be bad at it to get good at it.” Mary Going

“Throw hesitation and insecurity out the window.” Jasmine Wright

“Success to me is when I am feeling purposeful, authentic, and of service to others.” Christy Turlington Burns

“You can’t sit there and wait for things to fall into your lap. You’re in charge of your life, so go after what you want.” Joy Cho

In The Company of Women

This book is perfect for anyone who wants to work for themselves, start a business, or strike out on their own. I will definitely be borrowing it from the library again when I need a little pick me up or a push forward.

In The Company of Women

In the Company of Women could not have come at a better time for me. I have been freelancing from home for almost a full year now, and it gets incredibly lonely. Without coworkers to bounce ideas off of or brainstorm with, I start to feel stagnant and like a broken record. While it won’t ever replace real live humans and their brilliant ideas, In the Company of Women still gave me some much needed insights and inspiration. I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.

November Reads

I can’t believe it’s already Christmas time. Where have the months gone? Everything after our trip to Wyoming in August is a complete blur. So much so that I couldn’t have named a single book I read this month off the top of my head.

But after perusing my Goodreads, I can’t see how I could ever forget. My November reads were perfectly eclectic, and I think I’m finally back into the swing of things with fiction again. Well, I might have something to say about that next month given how my reading is going lately, but at least it was true this month.

November Reads

November Reads

 

The Unseen World

Oh man, so good! I really enjoyed the story, so much so that I spent an entire day reading after picking it up at lunch. Oops.

The characters feel real, and the story is rich and engrossing. The book follows Ada’s unravelling of her eccentric father’s past. It was one of those books where I didn’t see the ending coming (and I also wasn’t furious at the end of it like Gone Girl).

If you have an interest in tech or programming, I think you’ll enjoy it even more.

 

The New Better Off

There is something both comforting and off-putting about reading a book that so perfectly aligns with your beliefs. I started to feel weird about it at the end, like maybe I needed to have my views challenged a bit more. Then I realized that’s what every day life is for in Silicon Valley.

Courtney E. Martin believes that while we may not end up wealthier than our parents in the traditional sense, we have the opportunity to be happier and more fulfilled. She argues for discovering what you really want to be doing with your time, and she made me take a hard look at my community and how I could build it.

While I won’t be moving into a co-op anytime soon, it was a nice reminder that I have more control over my life than I often realize. It also made me want to start putting in more effort to my friendships and building new ones.

 

The Curated Closet

I stumbled across Anuschka’s blog a couple years ago when researching capsule wardrobes. To say she takes detailed consideration seriously is an understatement.

After reading the book all the way through, I’ve been slowly working my way through the exercises. My closet is already cut down fairly significantly–I’m still somewhere around my 50 or so pieces in total–but it doesn’t feel cohesive. Before reading this book I couldn’t have told you my ‘style’ or put into comprehendible words what I like to wear.

I can now answer mot of those questions, and I feel like I have a good roadmap to slowly updating my wardrobe, defining my style, and replacing my worn out pieces. If only it involved never having to shop.

 

Today Will Be Different

I loved Where’d You Go, Bernadettebut this one fell flat for me. The narrator does nothing to make you like her, if anything, everything she does makes you dislike her more. This one was just an ‘eh’ for me.

 

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

After walking the aisles of Powell’s for well over an hour in a frenzied daze, I finally settled on Hunger and got out of there. I had seen Carrie Brownstein around here and there, but I knew nothing of her band Sleater-Kinney. Turns out it’s probably important that you know about the band. The book was alright, but I think it would have been way better if I had listened to the music and been a fan before opening it.

 

Little Victories

Please excuse me while I pat myself on the back for (accidentally) perfectly timing this one with Thanksgiving.

This short book is full of stories from Jason Gay’s life and quick tips for modern life. Nothing life-changing, but enjoyable for a lazy Thanksgiving weekend.

 

PS. You can see all of my book reviews here.

October Reads

The best thing about recovering from surgery is ample time to read. I skipped the doctor-recommended Netflix (seriously) and instead read so many incredible books this month. From the new(ish) Harry Potter screenplay to YA suitable for adults to hand drawn illustration, my October reads were a nice mix of things. Despite blowing through 10 books this month, my hunger for books is still insatiable – please send more immediately!

October Reads 2016

Ego Is the Enemy

There were a few great points and a couple things that made me think and reach for my notebook, but overall this one fell flat for me. I didn’t figure out what all of the hype is about.

 

The Kid

I had trouble with this book from the very beginning. After reading Shrill I couldn’t connect with Dan Savage as a narrator. The things he said to Lindy West tainted my view of him, and he certainly didn’t try to make me like him. It also didn’t help that so much has changed since the ’90s.

 

Girls & Sex

Please read this book. Everyone. It made me rethink everything I had learned about relationships, sex, and self-confidence. It also made me so thankful that I was in high school 10 years ago when social media and texting were just becoming a thing. Just hearing girls talk about their online lives and the pressure they feel was stressful. I wish I had this book in high school.

 

Every Exquisite Thing

From the author of Silver Linings Playbook, this YA fiction stood up to the hype. I enjoyed reading it and the story didn’t feel dumbed down or overly simplistic and shallow (my biggest problems with many YA books).

 

Fangirl

Oh man am I a fan of Rainbow Rowell. Eleanor & Park and Attachments were so good that I picked up two more of her books this month. I read them both in a day or two each. I just couldn’t help myself.

 

Smarter Faster Better

Not life-changing.

 

Landline

After reading Fangril where I was constantly reminded of my own time in college, Landline felt like a real glimpse into married life and the struggles of being a fully grown adult and not knowing what to do with yourself. I loved this book, quirky time-travel phone and all.

 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Sad: This is not a full J.K. Rowling Harry Potter book. Happy: More story. Eh: Reading a play was not nearly as satisfying.

 

You’ll Grow Out of It

Yes! Just yes. I really connected with Jessi Klein. We have so much in common… minus being Jewish, comedy writing, living in New York and LA, and our daily lives. But everything else was spot on. I laughed, spent a great deal of time nodding my head, and realized we don’t spend enough time talking about women who don’t look like they came from a cover shoot every day.

 

Knives & Ink

I will read anything Wendy MacNaughton publishes. Anything. Also, this one was good. I liked their first book on tattoos, and it was fun to hear about why various chefs got their ink.

 

When Breath Becomes Air

I’m super late to the party on this one – it often seems like everyone I know has already read it or at least knows what it’s about. While I struggled to get into it at first and connect with Paul, by the end I was crying. The kind of crying where snot drips down your face and your eyes are red for hours afterward.

I don’t suddenly better understand life or what it’s like to be diagnosed with lung cancer. I don’t see the world radically differently. I wouldn’t call it life-changing. But I enjoyed it.

 

Do you have any suggestions for what I should read next month?

September Reads

This month was a rush of reading, but even so my September reads were nourishing in the best way possible. I’ve been laying low after surgery, and I have to say I don’t mind the extra time for a good book (or six). These books are perfect for fall. They have the right mix of cozy, uplifting, and embracing change.

September Reads

The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2009

Confession: This book took me longer to read than any other book before it. People read the Bible faster. I started reading this in 2010. I finished it the first week of September. I’d like to blame college and generally business, but really I let shinier books distract me. I would also get bogged down in some of the dense articles, set it aside, and forget it was on my shelf.

But I persevered. Two vacations later, and it’s finally finished. If science and nature writing is up your alley, I would suggest starting with the most recent collection. Please let me know how it is so I can read it in 2022.

 

The Book of Unknown Americans

I haven’t been reading much fiction lately, but this book reminded me why I like it so much. The heart-breaking story was a powerful view into a life so different from mine. From what it means to start over to feeling at home, this book dives into the lives of two immigrant families and takes you along for the ride.

 

Cabin Porn

I picked up this book as a treat for after surgery… and I read most of it before then. I was slightly dissapointed when I first flipped through it to realize that there longer stories about specific cabins throughout the book, but once I started reading them I realized they added way more to the book than if it was just more beautiful photos. I wish it had showed the inside and outside of more cabins, but overall I still liked it. It totally fit in with my tiny house/vanlife obsession.

 

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

There is a reason this book got so much attention and praise. I loved it. The story is silly, but totally engrossing. I frequently laughed and I was upset every time I had to put it down. To be fair, there were so many times when I had quiet the voice inside of me that would say “that would never happen!”, but if you treat it like the fiction it is the story will take a hold of you. My favorite fiction this month by far.

 

Lab Girl

Lab Girl was my favorite book this month. I didn’t know what to expect, and I wasn’t convinced I was going to finish it after a couple of chapters. Suddenly, I was tearing through it and all I could think about was working faster so I could read it.

Hope Jahren gives a vulnerable look into what it’s like to be a female scientist. She carved her own path, and bared her struggles. Her self-doubt and passion were a soothing tonic for my own life fumblings and confusion. I started to love her amazing facts about trees and plants, and they have really stuck with me. This book is a must read for science lovers and a highly-recommend for everyone else.

 

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph

NFL teams swear by it. Tim Ferriss won’t shut about it. I didn’t get it.

At just over 200 pages, this wasn’t a particularly long book or one that dragged on. And yet I didn’t make through a single page without getting distracted and thinking about something else. I could not stay focused on this book. I don’t know what to say, other than maybe it just wasn’t for me.

I took a couple notes and overall it was a nice reminder, especially when I’m currently navigating an obstacle of my own, but it just didn’t do it for me.

 

Want more recommendations?

Check out what I’ve read so far this year:

August
July
June
May
April and March
February
January

August Reads

Last year four books in a month would have been a great feat. But after my run, I was a little disappointed this month. Work and a vacation at the end of the month left my August reads a little shorter than normal.

But just because I didn’t bring home the entire library doesn’t mean I didn’t snag some great reads! I really enjoyed every book this month.

August Reads

Simple Matters: Living with Less and Ending Up with More

As a long time reader of Erin’s blog, I wasn’t sure if this book would feel like an overplayed song on repeat. After tearing through it, it’s safe to say this wasn’t the case.

I could not have picked a better time to read it. I would snuggle up with this book during my recent move when I was feeling overwhelmed by stuff or like we were missing the perfect solution. I highly recommend it to everyone – whether you want a little more simplicity or you are just curious about how Erin and her family of three (soon to be four) live.

Rad American Women A-Z

Just because this book was written for children doesn’t mean it’s not great for adults too. I loved it! I had never heard of most of these women, let alone their impact on America. It’s also a great gift for your next baby shower.

Shrill

Confession: I didn’t really know who Lindy West was before I requested this book from the library. I heard her on one of my favorite podcasts, Call Your Girlfriend, and added it to my list on impulse.

I’m so glad I did. I laughed out loud and had some of my flash judgements tested. I’m a sucker for any book that puts me into the mind of a successful writer, but even more than that I enjoyed seeing the world from her eyes. This book got the elusive five stars from me on Goodreads.

Americanah

I don’t know why it took me so long to pick up Americanah. I’m so far behind the times on this one, it’s embarrassing.

This book dragged me in and wouldn’t let me go. I was so far into it that when the main character was down I was in a mood for days. I just couldn’t shake the story and I couldn’t stop myself from behaving like I knew her in real life. Brace yourself now and be prepared to need to take some breaks to digest.

Bottom line: Drop what you are doing and read this if you haven’t already.

How to Make Time to Read

If I could, I would spend all day curled up with a great book. I cannot read enough. Even still, I have to make time to read. Life is busy, there are so many other wonderful things to do – I get it. But you won’t regret squeezing in a little extra time to read.

This year I have read more than ever, and a lot of that is because I have prioritized reading. I’m currently on track to read well over my goal of 52 books this year. (I’m secretly shooting for at least 60 now.)

Make time to read with these tips!

How to make time to read

Carry a Book

I take my book(s) with me everywhere. Instead of pulling out my phone and passing the time, I read my book. Each 5-10 minute chunk adds up! I read in waiting rooms, during the in-between moments of work, and anytime I have a few extra minutes throughout the day.

 

Put Down the Remote

You don’t have to give up TV entirely, but each time you pick up a book instead of the remote you drastically increase the amount of time you have to read. It’s impossible (for me at least) to stop watching once you’ve started. Try just reading for 10 minutes and then watching TV. Or better yet, pick a TV free day and read instead.

 

Read What You Love

Who cares if it’s a “classic”? If it’s boring, drop it. No one has time for that. Read the books you love! You won’t struggle to make time to read if you can’t put your book down.

I used to force myself to finish books, and half of my to-read list was full of other people’s “must reads”. One uninspiring book would derail my reading habit and leave me stuck for weeks. Once I gave myself permission to admit I didn’t like a book and stop reading it, I flew through the books I really wanted to read.

 

Two-Time It

I love to read, but I can easily get restless with a book. For the past couple of years I’ve read a non-fiction and a fiction at the same time – double the fun! It keeps me from over-dosing on a good story or burning out on knowledge. You don’t have to stick with fiction/non-fiction. Toss in a magazine, grab a book of poems, settle down with essays, whatever you like.

 

Schedule It

Scheduling doesn’t have to kill the romance. Whether you set aside 15-30 minutes a day or pick a day where you read for an hour, marking your calendar will hold you accountable. It will also remind you to read and help you make reading a habit. I usually make sure I have time on Sunday afternoons to laze about with a book. It’s a relaxing end to the week.

How to Make Time to Read

Stock Up

I can’t help but tear through a stack of library books. While I am notorious for checking out too many at once (I swear my library is set up to encourage impulse shopping. I always leave with more books than I intended), try to keep it reasonable so you don’t feel overwhelmed. If you only have a few minutes to read each day, pick 1-2 short books.

 

Turn Off the Screen

My phone and computer can sing siren songs. I will sit down to read and waste 20 minutes on Instagram. I have “closed tabs” on my computer (a.k.a. reading the entire internet) and blown all of my free time. Swap reading for screen time and you’ll start flying through books.

July Reads

I have grand dreams of a warm, relaxing summer vacation, but so far no dice. My July reads were all read at home, except for one that came along for an exhausting trip to Seattle.
July Reads: All the Single Ladies, Between the World and Me, Not Working: A Novel, Open, and The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion

Open

Things I know about Tennis: Serena and Venus Williams are bosses, it’s played with rackets and green balls, and the scoring makes no sense. In other words, I know nothing, but I loved this book.

I first heard about it on a podcast – It’s one of Tim Ferriss‘ favorites, and he won’t shut up about it. Andre Agassi’s memoir is a fascinating look into what it’s like to be a professional tennis player and devote your life to a single sport. Some of it felt a little too fantastical to be true, but if you give yourself over to the story it’s a great read.

 

All the Single Ladies

After hearing Rebecca Traister on Call Your Girlfriend, I was excited for this book. I was not prepared for how depressed it would make me. I know it wasn’t the intention, but I came away feeling like if you get married you are screwed and if you never get married you are screwed to. Maybe I just wasn’t prepared for the reality of being a woman in the United States.

But outside of the depressing bits, I really enjoyed the look into America’s past and all of the strong women who have paved the way. More than anything it reminded me that there is no right answer for everyone, especially when it comes to marriage and children, and we all need to chill out and give each other space to make our own decisions.

 

Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates is incredible. His book is gut wrenching, especially in light of the recent shootings and violence. Too many.

I’m a small white woman, and I will never truly know what it’s like to be anything but. Coates’ experience and his criticism of The Dream hit me hard. I know what it’s like to always be on guard, to always be afraid, but I have always had privilege to shield me from the worst. This book is as good as everyone says it is. Read it.

 

The Unspeakable

I had a really hard time connecting with Meghan Daum. Our lives and personalities are just so different, and I really struggled through this one. I’m leaving My Misspent Youth on my list – maybe that one will speak to me.

 

Not Working

Have you recently been laid off? Don’t know what you want to do with your life? Feel like you have no passion or direction? Don’t read this book. This one was a little too relatable – minus the excessive drinking and hatred of exercising. (To be fair, I tore through it and it was a good read. It did, however, ignite some serious ennui.)

More:

June
May
April

See all of my book recommendations here.

And say hi on Goodreads!