Our Favorite Books of 2016

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Reading is one of our favorite pastimes. Whether we’re sitting in a cozy coffee shop devouring a novel or reading a fascinating non-fiction from our airplane seat, we love books.

Nathan has always been an avid reader, and I was too, especially when I was very young, but in the ensuing years, I didn’t make reading a priority so I didn’t check many books off my list. Last year, I shared that I was going to do a 2016 Reading Challenge. Well, sad to say, I was a bit overly ambitious with that attempt. Plus, the reading challenge felt restrictive with its many specific categories. So while I did not complete the 40+ books on that initial list, I had an awesome year of reading nonetheless, reading about 30 titles in all. Nathan doesn’t count his, but he probably read a similar number. And amongst those several dozen books, here are the 10 that stood out as our very favorites.

Amy’s Favorite Books of 2016

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History is my all time favorite read of 2016. It was so great, I even read it during our honeymoon! A newcomer at a New England college, Richard quickly is drawn into the tangled, secretive world of an elite group of Classics students. Follow the tale of this strange group from obsession to ultimate destruction and discover how their motives evetually turn to murder. You’ll definitely be fascinated from page one.

Here’s a great review of the novel.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Do you ever go into books with very little idea of what they are about? That’s what happened with Middlesex, and I’m so glad I dove in. This book takes you across decades, countries, and genetics tracing a Greek-American family’s legacy (and the consequences of their actions) through the years. With a fascinating narrator (who keeps you guessing) and absolutely stunning writing, Middlesex is a compelling read.

The Name of the Wind /The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

I’ve loved books like the Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter series, but never had I sat down and read what I considered a straight-up modern fantasy, the type of books lining the sci-fi/fantasy shelves at bookstores. After several recommendations from friends (and Nathan himself!), I started a huge book: The Name of the Wind. It. Was. Incredible. With a somewhat slow start (fantasy can be so complex as a book introduces you to an entire world) it became a page turner about 1/4 of the way in. I can’t do the plot justice, but there’s magic, myth, science, and even a bit of romance. The world created by Rothfuss is genius, and because I was so invested in the story of Kvothe and his friends, I loved the 2nd book in the series, The Wise Man’s Fear, even more. And the 3rd book hasn’t been released yet, so get on this awesome series ASAP.

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls’ Trilogy) by Deborah Harkness

After the heady reading of the first two novels, my brain needed something on the “lighter side.” This three part series is about the relationship between a modern-day witch and a vampire. It doesn’t sound appealing when you put it that way, but man, these books were addictive. The first book is set in Oxford and heavily involves libraries. I personally knew I’d be swept up by that setting, and I was. While I wouldn’t class this series as high literature, if you want to be entertained by a fascinating plot, complete with time-travel, this is definitely one to check out.

The Terror by Dan Simmons

For some reason, I am really drawn to books about seafaring. Nathan had a copy of The Terror and said it was awesome, so despite its imposing size, I gave it a try. Part historical fiction and part horror, this book is a fictionalized account of the lost Franklin expedition of the 1840s. A pair of ships are stuck in the unforgiving arctic ice, but it’s not the threat of starvation or exposure that is most imminent. Something is hunting the men out on the ice. A creature that snatches crew members in a flash and they are never seen again. Will the crew survive? This is a dark and intense read, but one that will stick with you.

Nathan’s Favorite Books of 2016

The Dreaming Tree by C.J. Cherryh

An immortal elven woman guards her wood, the last bit of Faerie left on earth, as generations of humans live and die around her. This is a short book, but it is complex and beautiful and, unlike a lot of other epic fantasy, requires a careful read. I had never heard of it until I stumbled on it in a coffee shop in England, but it should be a lot more famous than it is.

The Mind and the Machine by Matthew Dickerson

A powerful nonfiction book about the nature of humanity, spirituality, free will, and the brain. The author warns against the implications of scientific materialism, which he argues are crippling for the human mind and spirit when taken to their logical conclusions. Over the course of the book, he lays out an alternative viewpoint—one that leaves open the possibility of a world beyond the physical and thus, a world in which true meaning, morality, and sanity are possible.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

A mind-bending fictional portrayal of totalitarianism, set in an alternate England in which constant pursuit of pleasure is obligatory and pain and suffering have been all but abolished. The results are hellish. A young couple from London encounters a man from one of the few remaining hunter-gatherer settlements on Earth. Known as “the Savage,” this man returns with them to their world. There, he finds himself caught between the abuse and rejection he suffered in his old life and a new land of harmonious madness in which “nothing costs enough.”

Duncton Wood by William Horwood

An epic story on the scale of The Odyssey or The Lord of the Rings, this is one of those books that (to paraphrase Amazon reviewer Stephen B. O’Blenis) seems to be about everything. Most directly, it is about a colony of moles in a forest in southern England. This story of two young moles, each with a special destiny, whose fates intertwine as they fall in love and struggle to be together, takes place over the course of their entire lives. Through famine, war, disaster, and the reign of a brutal, tyrannical mole named Mandrake, they fight for their community and search for the truth behind a mystical force known as “the Stone.”

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

The true story of the author, a psychotherapist, and his experience in the Nazi concentration camps. Frankl struggles in the camps to hold on to hope and to his soul. During his ordeal, however, he stumbles on unexpected moments of love and beauty, finds the humanity in his captors, and watches as circumstances bring out the underlying natures, good and evil, of the people around him. He would later turn his insights from this time into a new school of therapy—one based around establishing a sense of meaning in the patient’s life.

Sounds good? Want to give a few of these books a try?

You can buy them from Amazon below!

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8 thoughts on “Our Favorite Books of 2016”

  1. Will have to add these to the list! I’ve always been an avid bookworm and thought I’d read so much on our recent travels – I read all of 3 books in 12 months, which is pathetic because I’m a speedreader too! Time to get stuck back into it – I’ve just purchased the entire Outlander series, so they’re the first on my list this year!

    • it’s easy to get out of the habit. this is definitely the most books I have read in years!! I read the first Outlander book which I enjoyed a lot! You might like the Deborah Harkness series I mentioned.

  2. I’m so envious of your book list! Sounds like some great reads! As a parent of a “spirited” 2 year old and sensitive 4 yr old, my nightstand is stacked with parenting books. Currently reading The Explosive Child! How’s that for pleasure reading! Hahaha the joys of parenting!

  3. Ahhh The Name of the Wind/Wise Men’s Fear are two of my favorite books of all time. Rothfuss can just WRITE. I’ve always been a fantasy lover but this one just blew me out of the water. A lot of fantasy novels don’t pay as much attention as I’d like to the craft of writing, but Rofthfuss makes up for it. I love him!! I can’t wait for the next one, though it seems like it will be a while. The Secret History has been on my list for some time, since I loved The Goldfinch so much. Looks like I’ll have to check it out! Just Kids, Patti Smith’s memoir, was my favorite book of the year. Normally I don’t like memoirs but this one just really spoke to me in a lot of ways.

    • awesome Sam! Sounds like we might have similar tastes. Nathan is a true fantasy lover, tho, but I’d say the rothfuss books really made me want to read even more fantasy. Also, I need to read the goldfinch too. And Patti Smith’s memoir sounds awesome. That era of music just speaks to me too….my favorite movie is Almost Famous.

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