Best Reads of 2016
I got a lot of reading done when my first son was born. In fact, it seemed like all I did that year was nurse and read, nurse and read.
I thought this year might be the same with the birth of my second son, so I set a goal to read 100 books in 2016. There’s still two days left in the year, so if I read 42 more books between now and Saturday I’ll still come out on top.
That said, I did read quite a few good books in 2016. And Goodreads organized them all in a helpful infographic:
My Favorite Books of 2016
Susan Branch’s illustrated memoirs stand out as the highlight of the year. I’ve read two of the three: Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams and A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside. There’s something deliciously cozy about Branch’s work. And the intimacy of her writing tempers the whimsy of her watercolor paintings and inspirational quotes. I’m eager to read The Fairy Tale Girl in 2017.
Alex Mar’s Witches of America was both captivating and helpful for understanding the occult. After I finished the book, I visited her website and read every one of her online essays. (She has a brilliant one on genealogy.)
Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces blew my mind wide open. It’s a dense book, but surprisingly poetic:
"Full circle, from the tomb of the womb to the womb of the tomb, we come: an ambiguous, enigmatical incursion into a world of solid matter that is soon to melt from us, like the substance of a dream. And, looking back on what had promised to be our own unique, unpredictable, and dangerous adventure, all we find in the end is such a series of standard metamorphoses as men and women have undergone in every quarter of the world, in all recorded centuries, and under every odd disguise of civilization."
Campbell’s book helped me better understand the Hero’s Journey (a storytelling structure) and the similarities between the world’s religions, modern psychology and ancient myths.
Mother Nature by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy was another dense book—752 pages!—but it gave me a new perspective on motherhood across centuries and cultures. The chapter on foundling homes was both fascinating and harrowing. Between 1400 and 1800, millions of babies were abandoned to overcrowded hospitals. Mortality rates averaged eighty percent. Eighty percent! I came away with a much deeper appreciation for birth control and other modern conveniences.
On the lighter side of the motherhood spectrum, I loved Mama Tried: Dispatches from the Seamy Underbelly of Modern Parenting by cartoonist Emily Flake. This should be required reading for all new mothers. Its hilarious candor and occasional profanity is the perfect balm for those early postpartum days.
And finally, I enjoyed Mark Wolynn's intriguing book on epigenetics, It Didn't Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are, and How to End the Cycle. I checked it out of the library back in October and later ordered a copy for myself, because I wanted to keep it on hand as I write the next draft of my memoir in 2017. (I did an interview with Mark Wolynn here.)