One day, he walked into a magic shop and met a strange woman who taught him how to breathe.
In 2016, I was 10 books short of my goal. I joined the Goodreads Reading Challenge and decided I would read 100 books. This might sound like a bit much for one person, but I listen to audiobooks (they count!) and have a book with me everywhere I go. I fell short, however, and only read 90. There’s always next year, right? Of the 90, these were the ones that resonated the most, made me snort-laugh in the car, made me think or cry or wonder. These are the books that make up my Best of 2016. Enjoy.
1. James R. Doty M.D. | Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart (Avery)
Dr. Doty takes us through his very difficult childhood to life as a successful neurosurgeon—a rather improbable journey that likely only happened because, one day, he walked into a magic shop and met a strange woman who taught him how to breathe. This is a fascinating look at the science behind neuroplasticity, the power of positive thought, and the magic of compassion.
2. Nick Offerman | Good Clean Fun: Misadventures in Sawdust at Offerman Woodshop (Dutton)
I am not a woodworker. I am, however, enchanted by storytellers, and Nick Offerman is a wonderful storyteller. Not only did I read this entire book, but I got excited about the process of building and got it for my husband and kids to use. They’re going to start building things for our house together, and I’m going to watch approvingly. This is a how-to book, but it’s not just how to build. It’s about how to treat your friends, how to have a good work ethic, and how to take care of your tools. I find that his writing, while useful in the woodcraft field, is also useful in character building and belly laughs.
3. Amy Schumer | The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo (Gallery)
I don’t always like Amy Schumer’s comedy, and I’m not always a fan of her public statements; however, there is a lot to like about this woman. She is brave—opening up in this book about her insecurities, missteps, and family heartaches. She is smart—showing us how hard she worked and owning her screw-ups so she could learn from them. She is funny; she has a sharp wit and wry observation skills. I liked this book, and I liked Amy Schumer more after having read it.
4. Jim C. Hines | Revisionary (Magic Ex Libris, #4) (DAW)
This is the fourth in a series. I had somehow missed the release by a few months and was furious with myself for having waited for two whole months to pick the story back up. I love sci-fi and fantasy fiction. I love books. I love librarians. This story is about a magical librarian who can pull a lightsaber out of a Star Wars book, a Time Turner from Harry Potter, and Lucy’s little red vial of medicine from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It would have been easy to write this series without a clear narrative in mind. The characters can literally do almost anything they want! But Hines pulls together a strong story, interesting and diverse characters, and a wonderfully exciting narrative at the same time. This is a great freakin’ series.
5. Joe Hill | The Fireman (William Morrow)
The only thing I don’t like about audiobooks is that sometimes they glitch. I had one of the most painful audiobook experiences this summer when I was listening to The Fireman. I was nearly halfway through it when the audiobook glitched. I had to delete it, tried to re-upload it, and I got put back on the library wait list. For nine weeks. I had this story living in my head for nine weeks. I don’t read horror or even scary books, and I only got this damned book because my mother-in-law said it was amazing (so I blame her). In those nine weeks, I dreamed about the characters. I wondered how they were doing. I wondered if they would make it. When I finally got the book back from the library, I listened to the whole thing over again, and I tell you this: It was worth the wait.
6. Maggie Stiefvater | The Raven King (Scholastic Press)
You know those series you start reading for no particular reason, and the next thing you know, you’re recruiting your whole squad to read them, taking notes in the margins, and following the author on Twitter? Just me? Anyway, these books are about magic and not-magic. About rich kids and poor kids. They talk about what it is to love and what it is to watch love walk away. For a YA-ish book, it’s awfully mature in regard to how it speaks about friendship and love and responsibility. For a “mature” book, it’s awfully approachable for teens or tweens or anyone who still wonders. Or wanders. I would say the overriding theme of these books is connection: to each other; to our world; to ourselves.
7. Dick Van Dyke | Keep Moving: and Other Tips about Old Age (Weinstein)
I love that the world is full of happy people. You know those people who make you feel better just by coming around? That’s Dick Van Dyke. He’s got strong opinions and is quite political, but is so graceful about it that even if you disagree, you don’t mind. I loved reading about his long history in Hollywood and on Broadway. About his family life and struggles he views as obstacles he had to overcome to succeed. It’s a lovely book by a lovely man. And in the audiobook, he even sings a little, too.
8. Ta-Nehisi Coates | Between the World and Me (Siegel & Grau)
I don’t think I’m exaggerating by saying that this is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. As a white person raising white children, it is my responsibility to teach my children about white privilege and how to use it to protect and empower those who don’t. Reading this beautiful book, from a black man to his black son, gave me dialogue I could use with my own children, and taught me how important it is to listen to people of color. Listen. Even the most aware of us are still steeped in privilege, and often get too busy trying to fix things that we forget to listen. This is an important book; I’m glad I read it.
9. Elizabeth Gilbert | Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Penguin)
One of the most important things I got from this book was that when you live a creative life, fear is always going to be present. Whether you’re a writer or a painter or an actress, fear is always going to come along for the ride. Elizabeth Gilbert gives us advice about this: “Fear is always triggered by creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into reals of an uncertain outcome. And fear hates an uncertain outcome. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It is, however, something to be dealt with.” She suggests dealing with fear by telling it that you and creativity are going on a ride; fear can come along, but it has to sit in the back seat with its mouth shut. It can’t touch the radio, can’t read the map, and absolutely cannot drive. For anyone who creates for a living or just to live, this is a lovely book.
10. Sara Benincasa | Real Artists Have Day Jobs (William Morrow Paperbacks)
While you are creating, or learning how to create, you still gotta eat. You have to hang out with your friends and take care of yourself. You’re going to need a job to pay bills, and it might be a muggle job that doesn’t get you closer to your creative goals (except that whole giving-you-money thing). In the meantime, you might start doubting your creative abilities and realities, get a little down on yourself, and start plodding through life. Don’t do this. Instead, read Benincasa’s book about self-care, self-doubt, and self-confidence (you can have both). She’s walked the walk and she has sound advice for people who are just starting out, or who are building their creative resume while waiting tables. She’s also funny and—disclosure—a friend of mine. The friendship just makes me lucky; it doesn’t make her book any less fantastic. | Melissa Cynova