I was listening to Anna Guest-Jelley‘s podcast, Love, Curvy Yoga, this morning, and I heard her talk about her favorite books of 2016. And I thought — why haven’t I ever written such a list? It’s appalling, really. For someone whose first or second favorite hobby is buying books by the dozens (if you think that’s hyperbole, check in with my postal delivery professional), why haven’t I been doing best-of roundups for DECADES?!
So, without further fanfare, here are my favorite books that I read in 2016 (not necessarily ones that were published in 2016, it’s important to note). There is no rhyme or reason to the order — it’s too hard to choose just a few, much less rank them!
Incidentally, the links below go to Amazon.com with my affiliate ID. If you would like to support my writing and/or yoga teaching, much of which I do without much or any compensation, please use these links to show your support. Thanks!
While much of the fiction I read is pretty terrible (I tend towards the 99-cent Kindle “women’s fiction” genre), a couple of the novels I read this year really stood out. Specifically:
- Dietland, by Sarai Walker
This book fictionalizes the growing movement of backlash against the diet culture. Plum finds herself on a bizarre mission to earn money for weight loss surgery, only … well. You’ll have to read this gem of a novel to see where she ends up.
- In Twenty Years, by Allison Winn Scotch
I absolutely love this woman’s novels, and this book was no exception. The characters and their adventures have stayed with me FAR longer than does the typical novel. It tells the story of a group of college friends who reunite somewhat unexpectedly twenty years after graduation. I strongly recommend this book.
- Me After You, by Jojo Moyes
I absolutely love this woman’s novels, too. They are always well-written and heartfelt, but in a way that lingers with you long after you finish reading. This sequel to her runaway bestseller Me Before You had me ugly-crying quickly and repeatedly. Nevertheless, it was WONDERFUL.
- All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr
Alternating between the perspectives of a young French girl and a young German soldier during World War II, this book is eloquent and capitivating. I wish I could re-read it for the first time. It just captured my imagination in a way few novels do.
This year, in an effort to become a competent instructor of world politics, I significantly expanded my knowledge of hot spots around the world… largely through reading narrative nonfiction accounts of these places. Here are my absolute favorites, books I think everyone should read:
- The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, by Sandy Tolan
This book moved me in profound ways. The story of a single house, inhabited by an Arab family and then an Israeli family, particularly as the children of these families attempt to reconcile their different visions of reality, helped me understand the Arab-Israeli conflict in a far more comprehensive fashion than I had previously. It was gorgeously written and incredibly powerful.
- Without You, There is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite, by Suki Kim
North Korea is just fascinating, and this quick read provokes us to think about what compels a society to follow a particular leader. It’s easy for westerners to think all North Koreans are either secretly horrified by their government or just really, really dumb. Suki Kim shows us a more nuanced view of the elitist of the elites in this country. It’s a great gateway book to other wonderful books about the DPRK, including Barbara Demick’s book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea and Wendy Simmons’s My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth.
- The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria, by Janine di Giovanni
The Syrian conflict is something much discussed and rarely understood. While Giovanni doesn’t set out to write the definitive explainer of the conflict, her book does take us to the front lines in a palpable way. This book so captured my consciousness that I read her other book, more of a memoir of a war correspondent, almost immediately (for the sake of comprehensiveness, that one’s Ghosts by Daylight: A Modern-Day War Correspondent’s Memoir of Love, Loss, and Redemption). They are quick but deeply moving reads.
- Iran Awakening: One Woman’s Journey to Reclaim Her Life and Country, by Shirin Ebadi
Ebadi won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in her homeland of Iran, a country that has changed radically in her lifetime and increasingly placed limitations and harsh penalties on women in particular. She has refused to leave the country, despite threats to her safety and even life. Her memoir is a powerful telling of one woman fighting for freedom, equality, and hope.
Y’know … the day job. I read a few books in 2016 that generally sharpened my thinking about politics and American government:
- America’s Constitution: A Biography, by Akhil Reed Amar
While this book was by no means a quick read — it consumed nearly half my summer — it really fundamentally altered the way I think about regional politics in American history and politics. Amar writes with an unparalleled authority and historical conscientiousness. On my list for 2017 is his later book, America’s Unwritten Constitution. Unbelievably, that book is even longer. Definitely for my summertime reading!
- Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler
This book talks about the fascinating social science around how connected we are. It makes the argument that people you don’t even know — your friends’ friends’ friends — can have a huge impact on the choices you make. The Hidden Brain podcast from NPR (episode #55, “Snooki and the Handbag”) recently made the same observation. For all of us who think we exert independent, critical thought over our choices and decisions, the research in this book is more than a little unsettling.
Yoga, Intuitive Eating, Being You, & Body Image/Acceptance
The biggest passion of my year has been this inward quest to understand, accept, and be present in my body. These books have resonated with me at a deep level:
- Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting & Got a Life, by Kelsey Miller
Holy moly, this book seriously changed my life! It was my first exposure to this thing called “intuitive eating,” and while it’s memoir (not manual), Kelsey’s refreshingly honest voice captivated me from the moment I began reading. And yet, I forced myself to spread this book out, because I found my mind so thoroughly exploded as I read that I needed breaks to process. I will never be the same person I was before I read this amazing book.
- Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, by Linda Bacon
This book also changed my life in extreme ways. It was so powerful and paradigm-altering that I bought nearly a dozen copies to give to women I knew would find its message similarly empowering. If you’ve ever struggled with thinking your body was the enemy, you simply MUST read this book.
- Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, by Glennon Doyle Melton
Every woman should read this book. It’s an incredibly honest accounting of what it’s like to be a woman in today’s world, beautiful and brutal (or brutiful) as it is. Glennon Doyle Melton is a force to be reckoned with, and I loved this book so much I went to see her speak live… my only life author event of the year.
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, by Brene Brown
Everything Brene Brown writes, speaks, or does deserves our attention, but this is the book of hers I fully read in 2016. Her message of self-acceptance and the need to be vulnerable is one we can all benefit from hearing. I will reread this book many times before I fully appreciate its nuances and wisdom.
- Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life, by Judith Hanson Lasater
This book was the first required reading for my yoga teacher training program, but its lessons have far broader resonance. The message of Lasater’s book really grounds our yoga practice in the simple acts of everyday that keep us present in our lives. I think everyone can get something humbling and profound out of this little gem.