Monthly Archives

December 2016

books and reviews

I read 55 books in 2016, and these are my top 5 favorites

At long last, I crushed enough books this year to warrant making a list about it.

I’ve always been into reading, but I haven’t always made time for it as an adult. Sometimes it seems like too much effort in comparison to easy internet browsing (my generation’s version of flipping TV channels).

On Reddit, I can read about reading. Or I can read short, easy-to-digest articles that pass through my mind without leaving a trace. I can look at pictures on Pinterest or Foodgawker, and I can even think it’s useful. I’m planning recipes, see. Or my mind is tired and I just need a break, see.

But it’s all brain junk food. Maybe there are kernels of thought-provoking writing in the echoes of the internet, but it’s mostly noise that blocks me from hearing my own thoughts.

So if I’m going to absorb other thoughts in lieu of my own, it might as well be from literature. I might as well absorb style, and depth, and live an alternate reality, instead of just doing shallow dives of itty bitty articles and images.

Like treats and chocolate, I’ve been dieting from these websites. Some of the books I’ve read this year wouldn’t classify as true health foods – Tolstoy was my broccoli but King was my pasta – overall, though, I’d like to think that my brain has been better-fed.

Anyway, my tirade is complete. What follows is a list of the 55 books I read this year, and what my top 5 picks are – books that I truly think will improve your life in some way.

Books on diet and health

My reads:
The Healthiest Diet on the Planet: 4/5
The Blue Zones: 5/5
Food for Life: 4/5
Super Immunity: 4/5
The Beauty Detox Solution: 3/5
Whole: 4/5
How Not to Die: 5/5

Winner: How Not to Die by Michael Greger
Runners-up: The Blue Zones and Whole

I read a lot of specifically nutrition-related books, so they warrant their own category. This year, the clear winner was “How Not to Die”, which I’ve probably read three times this year and bought for people (read: forced on people). I recommend it all the time and reference the information within. It’s a great read for anyone looking to – you guessed it – not die (of the most common diseases).

The runner up would be a toss-up between The Blue Zones and Whole. I like that The Blue Zones was written like a story – it’s great for people who struggle with non-fiction, or find it too dry. I love reading about cultures with high rates of Centenarians (people who live past 100), and there’s some good insights on what contributes to longevity.

Whole is more dense and informational, but it’s extremely interesting and an important read. The premise is that whole foods are always greater than the sum of their parts (an orange is better than taking a vitamin C supplement). It goes into lots of depth and spends quite a bit of time discussing industry as well. There were parts of this book that blew my mind and made me stop in my tracks, and I know I’ll be rereading it in the near future.

Fiction

My reads:
The Drawing of the Three (The Dark Tower #2): 5/5
The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1): 4/5
The Alchemist: 4/5
The Stand: 5/5
The Time-Traveler’s Wife: 3/5
Harry Potter 1-7: 5/5
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: 3/5
The Rosie Project: 4/5
The Martian: 4/5
Neverwhere: 3/5
Hunger Games 1-3: 3/5
The Signature of All Things: 4/5

Winner: The Stand by Stephen King
Special mention: Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

This list looks shorter than it actually is, since I put all of the Harry Potters and Hunger Games in one column.

I’m not going to rank the Dark Tower series yet, simply because that’ll come in next year’s review once I finish all seven books. I’m also not going to include Harry Potter in my picks, simply because I’ve read them before and it feels like cheating. But if you’ve never read Harry Potter before, what are you waiting for?

If you take those two series out, my #1 choice this year is The Stand. The full unabridged version is epic – well over a thousand pages – and the audiobook, which I listened to 2/3rds of, is also epic at around 40 hours long. It was just such a great ride. It wasn’t without flaws, but I loved the adventure of it, I loved the characters, and I loved that I couldn’t predict it. If you’re into apocalyptic scenario novels, this is a great one.

Classics

My reads:
Pride and Prejudice: 4/5
Rebecca: 5/5
Murder on the Orient Express: 4/5
Anna Karenina: 5/5
Animal Farm: 5/5
The Death of Ivan Ilych: 5/5
Tao Te Ching: 5/5

Winners: Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and The Death of Ivan Ilych

My Classics list is a little small compared to the other categories, but I hope you’ll cut me some slack since these ones generally take longer to read.

This is probably the most challenging category to assess. Because really, it comes down to two books, and they’re both by Tolstoy.

One is a novella, The Death of Ivan Ilych, which was my gateway into other Classics and has haunted me ever since I read it. The other is a lengthy, full-blown novel – Anna Karenina. Anna Karenina is a relevant and human tale (well, the Russian politics and land discussions aren’t current, and those parts felt a little long), detailing with precision and insight the mental decline of the heroine.

Anna just felt so true, and so ordinary. It’s not a story with crazy plot twists and bizarre events – it’s daily life. It’s all the little ways in which a person can slowly unravel. Because usually it’s not just one big event that makes or breaks us; it’s a chain of seemingly insignificant events that are our undoing.

Ivan Ilych is about a middle-aged man who is confronted with disease. Having never contemplated death, the novella is his experience of going through denial, avoiding it, descending into poor health, and finally accepting his eventual demise.

I love the start, when Ivan is already dead, and his lawyer “friends” are at his funeral. The funeral makes them uncomfortable, since death is unpleasant to contemplate. Ivan wasn’t well-loved, and his death was untragic and ordinary. He wasn’t even an interesting character. But because of that, the story was fascinating. Tolstoy just gets people.

I thought that reflecting on these two stories would allow a clear winner to emerge, but I think we’re going to have to resort to a good ol’ tie.

Non-Fiction

My reads:
Better than Before: 4/5
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: 4/5
Master Your Workday Now: 5/5
Talking to Heaven: 3/5
After This: 4/5
The Artist’s Way: 4/5
Why Not Me? 4/5
Modern Romance: 4/5
Tiny Beautiful Things: 4/5
Committed: 3/5
On Writing: 5/5
The Art of Mindful Living: 5/5
Outliers: The Story of Success: 5/5
Yoga Sequencing: 5/5
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus: 4/5
Big Magic: 5/5
Daring Greatly: 3/5
Lean in: 4/5
Spark Joy: 4/5

Winner: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Runners-up: Master Your Workday Now and On Writing

Finally we’re left with non-fiction. I always read whatever seems interesting at the time with no regard for a “type” of book, so the topics here are all over the place. Some are historical, some spiritual, and others are about creativity and personal development. I read comedy books and autobiographies, weird books and standard business books.

Master Your Workday Now and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up are the two books that had the biggest impact on me this year. Master Your Workday is not a popular book, but it’s really useful and completely changed how I organize my work and to-do list. There are some solid ideas in there that I’ve been using for months.

The Life-Changing Magic is a book I felt was a little silly, since the author loves tidying so much she personifies her home and belongings. That being said, it’s a book I think about often, and it has really started to transform my perspective on belongings. The whole idea is that if you spend the time to tidy your house once, you never really have to do it again. All you have to do is put things where they belong, and clean surface dirt. It’s an oversimplification, but the book is really quite profound.

On Writing by Stephen King deserves a shout-out, because, if it weren’t for that book, I wouldn’t have read any of the other Stephen King books this year. It re-introduced me to his style, and reminded me that his novels aren’t strictly for teenagers.

But since I can only pick just one, it’s going to be The Life-Changing Magic. Interestingly, even though I gave this one a lower rating (4/5 instead of 5/5 like some others), it has stuck with me more than books I considered much more interesting at the time.

Conclusion

So my top 5 picks are as follows:

1. How Not to Die by Michael Greger (health/nutrition)
2. The Stand by Stephen King (fiction)
3. The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy (classics)
4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (classics)
5. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (non-fiction)

And five honorable mentions go to:

6. The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner (health/nutrition)
7. Whole by T. Colin Campbell (health/nutrition)
8. Master Your Workday Now by Michael Linenberger (non-fiction)
9. On Writing by Stephen King (non-fiction)
10. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (fiction)

It was with great pleasure that I was able to create this list. I’m very proud of my January 2016 self who decided to read more books, and I am eager to tackle new books in the New Year.

Come and join me on Goodreads if you haven’t already, and let’s read some books together!

Happy reading, friends!