top of page

Reading Life: My Year In Books

I did set one goal for 2016, which was to read a minimum of 20 books. At 9:30p on December 31st, 2016, I finished my 29th book of the year.

Read for pleasure; read for knowledge; read for escape. Read because books can take you around the world and let you peek inside distant cultures without leaving your home. Spend less time on Facebook or watching TV and more time reading. The payoff stays with you far longer.

My rules for reading are simple: read whatever seems interesting, and stop reading a book if it isn't. Doesn't matter who the author is or the awards it may have won; if it's boring or poorly written or too outlandish to take seriously, move on. There's an endless supply of great books to read. Read fiction and non-fiction. Read things that challenge your beliefs. Read authors you've never heard of. Read a minimum of 20 pages per day and you'll read a lot of books at the end of the year.

These are the books I read in 2016, in chronological order. There's only one I wouldn't recommend...

  1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

Fabulous, funny, and heartbreaking book. Oscar is an indelible character. You won't only feel his pain; you'll feel his awkwardness, his loneliness, his sadness, and his righteous pride.

  1. The Bohdran Makers, John B. Keane

I read this on the way to Ireland in January and it set the tone well. It's an affecting glimpse at rural Irish peasant life at the turn of the previous century.

  1. The Martian, Andy Weir

At its core, it's a pulp action novel dressed up as literature. Highly entertaining, and the technical bits aren't intrusive. I still haven't watched the movie version.

  1. As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner

A classic for a reason. Everyone is entitled to their dignity. Not an easy read, but deeply affecting.

  1. A Wild Sheep Chase, Haruki Murakami

My first experience with Murakami, and instantly grasped his mastery of all facets of writing. The story hooks you quickly, and his writing style keeps you there. Highly recommended.

  1. Darkness Visible, William Styron

Styron's masterpiece detailing his descent into a crippling depression, and his recovery from it. For anyone that's dealt with the black dog of depression, this is a must-read.

  1. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar, Cheryl Strayed

My favorite non-fiction book this year. A friend had given me a copy as a gift, and I fell in love with it from the first page. Whatever troubles you're dealing with in life, you'll find solace (if not answers) in these chapters. Even if you've got your shit 100% together, her writing is so beautiful that you'll be captivated all the same. I've since given this as a gift to several friends and can't recommend it strongly enough.

  1. The Dog of the South, Charles Portis

Such a fun read! Portis wrote "True Grit," and although this is a much different story, it's pure entertainment.

  1. Absurdistan, Gary Shteyngart

Authorial pretentiousness narrowly eclipsed by a clever yet ridiculous story. This was one of those books I chose based on reviews and critical praise, and ended up finishing only because I was at a resort in Florida for a couple days and didn't have anything else to read.

  1. Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut is, if not the best ever, one of the 5 best American writers of all time. Sad, funny, heart-wrenching tale of an unlikely hero. Loved it.

  1. Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It, Kamal Ravikant

I heard about this via a James Altucher blog post. It's a very short read, and it made a transformative difference for me. If you're struggling with depression, anxiety, or a lack of self-confidence, read this. Embrace the philosophy. It's simple, and it works wonders if you stick with it.

  1. The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Hardon

My favorite fiction book this year, and a personal favorite overall. Such a clever, original tale! The writing is original and fresh, and the book is funny, touching and true. READ THIS ONE!

  1. Choose Yourself, James Altucher

Altucher's guide to choosing the life you want to live, told through his own failures (and successes; the guy is a multimillionaire and this book launched a cottage industry for him). It's inspiring in that it's not a rah-rah self help book; it's straightforward advice for following your own path.

  1. My Struggle, Book 1, Karl Ove Knausgaard

I took on this beast, the first of a 6-part autobiographical fiction series that's been lauded the world over. It's not an easy read, and at points I wondered if I was hate-reading this self-indulgent navel-gazing asshole. Yet I kept coming back to it, and I'm glad I did. I don't know if it's truly a Proustian masterwork, but after finishing it I was haunted by his melancholy for days.

  1. Live By Night, Dennis Lehane

I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, as I haven't read much Lehane. It's well-written and cinematic in scope (and implausibility). Enjoyed it very much. Curious to watch Affleck's adaptation, and how he, a big beefy 40-something actor, is going to interpret a character that's supposed to be a slight fellow in his early 20s.

  1. The Intern’s Handbook, Shane Kuhn

"Don't judge a book by it's title," is the cliche. This is especially true with this ridiculous action-flick screenplay disguised as a novel. I read it in a day, which is the only praise I can offer it. Don't waste your time...instead, find an airport, go to the Hudson Booksellers, pull literally any novel off the shelf and you'll have a better book to read.

  1. How To Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie

Still the gold standard for personal development. The advice is as relevant today as it was when it was published 80-something years ago.

  1. The Plot Against America, Philip Roth

Harrowing, intense novel that imagines an alternate America in which Lindbergh becomes President and allies with the Nazi government. It's a terrific book, highly recommended for serious readers.

  1. Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut

Another one from the icon. I loved this one too, and converted to Bokononism shortly after finishing...

  1. A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman

This isn't a book I'd normally gravitate to, but a friend who's opinion I trust lent it to me with a recommendation that I'd enjoy it. She was right--it's a terrific book that starts out seeming to be a silly riff on the grumpy-old-man trope and becomes a touching, insightful look at the humanity of a misunderstood man.

  1. Man’s Search For Meaning, Victor Frankl

Another non-fiction classic that resonated deeply with me. Frankl was a psychiatrist who was sent to the concentration camps by the Nazis. It's a difficult read because of the subject matter, yet the universal truths he shares are so important to absorb. The main pursuit of life isn't happiness, it's meaning. Frankl's philosophy explains how to do so via the free will of our consciousness.

  1. The Fall, Albert Camus

Kind of a mind-f*ck, and loved it so much that I wish I spoke French so that I could read it in its original language.

  1. Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger

If you're in marketing, this is a must-read. Simple language and deep insights into the psychology of viral success.

  1. Kafka On The Shore, Haruki Murakami

Another heavy-duty masterpiece from one of the best writers in the world. Kafka is like an alternate universe Japanese Holden Caulfield. Murakami once again tells a story so precisely, so vividly, with elements of magic realism that blend seamlessly with the story. In my opinion, Murakami rivals Marquez for mastery of the magic realism genre.

  1. Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I loved "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Love in the Time of Cholera," yet hadn't read any of his other work in some time. This novella is more straightforward than his other work, a morality play that leaves no character un-indicted in their complicity.

  1. The Road, Cormac McCarthy

Holy sh*t! One of the best novels I've ever read. A father and son traversing a post-apocalyptic America. Survival isn't just day to day, it's minute to minute. It's a love story too, a father willing and capable to do anything to protect his boy.

  1. The Stranger, Albert Camus

A classic that I couldn't put down. This is one of those stories that builds steadily, and at the end leaves you blown away. Moral relativity and social norms are exposed to profound effect.

  1. Dubliners, James Joyce

An uplifting collection of stories about happy, well-adjusted Irish folks in the early 1900s...just kidding. It's a downer, but the stories are so rich and vivid and relatable 100+ years later. Joyce is a literary icon for a reason. If you haven't read any of his work, start here.

  1. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Haruki Murakami

One more from the brilliant mind of Haruki Murakami, on the recommendation of an old friend who's opinion I trust. Tsukuru Tazaki may describe himself as an empty vessel, yet this character is a bright flame doing a slow burn as he discovers the truth about himself. Loved it.

Happy reading in 2017!

PS: I don't have a Kindle. I read physical books. I don't discount the value of the Kindle; it's just that I spend enough time staring at screens every day. There's a tactile pleasure in holding a book, turning the pages. And don't get me started on the joy of browsing bookstores, especially the racks at Raven Used Books in Harvard Square...

You Might Also Like:
bottom of page