2016 Year in Reading
I’m writing this from a basement room in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where I’m spending New Year’s Eve alone because I wanted quiet and solitude and time to read and write. It seemed like a fitting end to a year where I felt very alone indeed.
Spurred by some motivational article I read, I made a list of my 2016 accomplishments and memorable events a few weeks ago–it included a publication of another essay, riding rollercoasters at Disneyland, taking another writing class, two writing retreat weekends with two of my best friends, starting therapy again, being maid of honor in another best friend’s wedding, seeing my brother get married, and the first first-edition book I worked on at my job being published (on time!). 2016 was extremely difficult in terms of politics, but for me, personally, the word that most embodies the year 2016 is “stagnancy.” Even in my reading life, usually so rewarding and vibrant, I felt stuck, bored, uninspired. In trying to read what I felt like I “should” read, I often ended up reading books that left me unsatisfied.
I started reading Infinite Jest in March. Because it’s gigantic, I decided that I would only read it on weekends, with the idea that a couple of hours of dedicated reading time would be better than trying to read it in 15-minute increments on the train to and from work. There were some weekends where I was good about it and others that I was just too busy. Even on weekends when I sat down for an hour with it, though, I would only manage 20-30 pages at a time. By September, I’d made it to page 470–less than halfway. And then, I just…stopped. I liked reading it, mostly, but I wondered if the payoff was really worth all the time. I’m still on the fence about whether I should finish or not.
I read books I hated (The Nightingale, Lovers at the Chameleon Club Paris 1932–both for my book club) but mostly I read books that I was just totally lukewarm about, books I ended up abandoning. It feels like I read more books I resented reading than books I enjoyed reading this year. Out of the 48 books Goodreads said I read this year, I didn’t finish 9, and actively disliked 7. I didn’t love the books I wanted to love (The Sellout, Pond, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Sweetbitter).
There were books I loved, though–mostly surprises, which in a way, is even better than loving a book you expect. I read a series of books I knew nothing about that I ended up loving: Goodnight Beautiful Women, Here Comes the Sun, and Black Wings Has My Angel were standouts. Here are my top 5 favorites of 2016:
Euphoria is a lovely story of curiosity and love and bravery–a quick but beautiful book.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I loved the last Neopolitan novel–the ending was wrenching but shocking and satisfying.
Spinster was my favorite of the “single ladies” genre (I also read All the Single Ladies, Lonely City, and Future Sex...there was a theme) that I indulged in this year–it gave me hope and inspiration in ways I desperately needed.
And last but not least, Michael Chabon’s latest, Moonglow, really got me out of my reading rut and reminded me what a pleasure it is to just get lost in a beautifully told story.
So in 2017, I hope to seek out books that enthrall me and keep me guessing, wanting to turn the page rather than put the book down forever. I will do less of reading because I feel like I should–I admit that the well-intentioned but abandoned Bookshelf Project of 2016 added a sense of dread and obligation I didn’t need to my reading life this year–and more of picking up books because I genuinely want to. I know this isn’t necessarily a recipe for a 100% 5-star 2017 (there were plenty of books I picked up eagerly in 2016 that didn’t fulfill my expectations), but it’s a start.
It remains to be seen whether this will include Infinite Jest. Tune in next year to find out.
Happy New Year, wherever you are–may you find peace and wonder in the stories you read and live in the coming year.