2016 was a huge reading year for me—in fact, it’s the biggest reading year I’ve had as an adult since I started faithfully tracking all my books (back in 2011).
Ranking books is always a hard process because different books bring up different feelings and fulfill different needs, but I decided to pick the top 10 books this year that were life- or perspective-changing in some way, or that were absolutely unforgettable for one reason or another (in a good way).
To make it a *little* easier on myself, I decided to choose my top 5 non-fiction picks, and then my top 5 fiction (which was the harder of the two). ***Note: these aren’t in any particular order, since it was hard enough to just narrow it down to 10 favorites!
Top 5 Nonfiction Reads
Title: French Kids Eat Everything
Author: Karen Le Billon
This book is part memoir, part self-help/advice that’s about an American mother who moved to France with her husband and two daughters and discovered that her kids’ very American eating habits were not going to fly in one of the world’s most celebrated food cultures.
Over the course of several months, Le Billon picks up on many differences between the way that French parents teach their children to eat and the way that American parents do, and she discovered that picky eating, like so much else, is largely a learned (and reinforced) behavior.
I’m so glad I read this book before Raven got too old because I dreaded having a super picky eater, and this book outlines very specific tips for helping your kid(s) to be willing to try new foods, eat healthier, and to eat a variety of different foods. I definitely plan to buy this one for our own bookshelf (which is saying something, since I’ve basically sworn off buying books unless I plan to read and re-read them).
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
I’d definitely heard of this book several times (and it’s been a bestseller for ages), but I didn’t actually know that much about it before I finally read it this year.
In Outliers, Gladwell rips apart the notion that people come from absolutely nothing and become phenomenal successes with simple hard work. Basically, he’s saying that although hard work is super important, there also has to be just the right combination of factors working in your favor, including possibly being born at the right time, getting the right breaks from the right people, having a certain kind of parent, and even speaking a certain language or coming from a certain culture.
This book was utterly fascinating, and it definitely has forever changed the way I look at the “traditional American success story.”
Title: An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace
Author: Tamar Adler
I would be remiss if I failed to include this one on my list, as it is one of the main reasons I am so much more comfortable following my own intuition while cooking and trying out new things in the kitchen. (Also, an honorable mention should go out to The Kitchen Counter Cooking School for similar reasons.)
Part poetic prose, part dead-useful guide to using up every last scrap of food in your kitchen, this book is a celebration of cooking and the wise use of resources and the art of experimentation.
I will be referring to this again and again.
Author: Greg McKeown
This book has forever shifted the way that I will think about how to pursue what is the most important in life, and it’s a book I plan to visit (in part or in whole) year after year after year.
I shared a graphic from this book in my last post, but essentially this is a book about how the way to being successful lies in pursuing FEWER things, not more. When you harness all your energy towards what is most important, you make much more progress than if you try to spread out your energy and do it all.
While I think the concept can only be applied so far (since we obviously need to be pursuing several different types of goals at once to be a well-rounded person), the reasoning in this book is sound, and it will help you if you’re trying to accomplish something huge but don’t know where to begin.
Title: My Kitchen Year
Author: Ruth Reichl
I had a really tough time picking my fifth nonfiction book for my top 10 (because I read some amazing memoirs this year, including The Glass Castle and Unbroken), but the more I thought about it, this book (which was the first one I read all year long) is the one memoir I keep coming back to (and the one I hope to own one day).
I was first introduced to Reichl’s work last year, and I was an instant fan. She’s a renowned food writer/restaurant critic, and she knows how to write about food and the pleasure of eating in such a way that it’s about much more than the food—it’s about the connections and the social ties and the memories and the emotions driving it all.
My Kitchen Year is about how Reichl, after being told that the food magazine she’d been the editor for for ages was unexpectedly shutting down, took a year off to figure out who she wanted to be now, and what her direction forward should be. The book talks about how cooking through certain recipes helped her to cope with her grief and move on, and with the plethora of gorgeous photos and the close-up look at her home life, this book reads more like a fabulously-written blog than almost anything else. I didn’t realize how much of an impact this had made on me until I realized that I’ve never stopped thinking about it.
Top 5 Fiction Reads
Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Anyone who has talked to me in person about books this year can hardly be surprised that this is at the top of the list (since I’ve basically tried to push this one into the hands of seemingly everybody).
I’ve read a lot of books about WWII this year, but this one is a standout in every way–plot, writing style, the ability to stay with you loooong after you’ve read the last page.
I don’t plan to reread much fiction in my lifetime (just because my motto seems to be, “So many books, so little time”), but I do plan to buy and read this one again. I heard that it took Doerr ten years to finish this, and I’m so glad he took the time to make it as perfect as it is.
Title: A Gentleman in Moscow
Author: Amor Towles
2016 was the year I discovered Amor Towles, and what a happy discovery that’s been for me! Although there are many GOOD writers, Towles is the kind of writer that I myself wouldn’t mind seeking to emulate a bit. He has such a gift for evoking a sense of place and time and unforgettability that you just can’t help but fall into the world he creates with his words.
Now, that said, Towles won’t be for everyone—these aren’t the kinds of books that you’ll probably sit down and read in an afternoon, but rather the ones that you might savor over a few weeks.
A Gentleman in Moscow is about a Russian gentleman who is sentenced to spend out the rest of his days living in a guarded hotel in Moscow, or risk being shot the second he tries to leave. I had a tough time deciding which Towles book I liked better (this or Rules of Civility), but A Gentleman in Moscow narrowly won out since I felt the ending was much more satisfactory overall.
Title: A Man Called Ove
Author: Fredrik Backman
I read a lot of intense, emotionally-gripping, gut-wrenching kinds of books this year, so A Man Called Ove was definitely a breath of fresh air (and laughter) after so much seriousness.
Although this story of a crotchety old man has a strong emotional message at the end, it is, first and foremost, a pretty lighthearted read (especially considering the subject matter) that will make you want to resolve to be just a little bit better than you were before.
Title: These is My Words
Author: Nancy Turner
It’s kind of funny that I’m including this one because I never intend to read it again (since it’s just so absolutely sad), but I am sure that this is a book that will stay with me for a long, long time. (I also will add that this might be one of the books that was most recommended to me by various people over the past few years.)
This book starts off pretty slow, but as it goes along, you will fall in love with the heroine (Sarah Agnes Prine) and find yourself nodding in absolute agreement as she talks about the truths of marriage and parenthood and wanting to be the best you can be.
Also, if you want a love story for the ages, this one’s for you.
Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M. L. Stedman
Once again, the book for the last slot was the toughest (since it was a close call between this and The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah). In the end, this one won out for being slightly more emotionally believable than Nightingale was (which fell slightly flat in a couple crucial places for me) and for being the perfect example of the writer’s technique of giving your character an impossible choice.
Although I didn’t *love* the ending of this, I found this to be one of the most gripping novels I read the entire year (and, as I’ve joked on more than one occasion, I feel like my heart is STILL recovering from having read this).
Having said all that, this novel about a lighthouse keeper and his wife who discover a (live) baby and a dead man washed up ashore their island will forever stay with you.
If you want some additional titles that I’ve read this year, check out these posts:
My Summer Reading List (and Books You Should Read Next)
What I’ve Loved Reading So Far in 2016 (and What I Haven’t)
Okay, now it’s your turn! What were YOUR top reads for 2016?
*Note: I have included some Amazon affiliate links throughout this post, but these books are fabulous no matter where you get them from!