2016 | A Year in Books

Every year, for the past couple of years, I have listed (at least mentally) “read more” as one of my goals. This usually meant setting a goal in Goodreads with the number of books I planned on tackling, reading about half my book goal in January and February, falling off track from March through November, and then scrambling to complete my goal by cramming in as many books as possible during the holidays. My yearly book goals were often pretty low – from 12 books (one book a month) one year, to 24 books (two books a month) another year. I learned not to set my goals too high because I ultimately I never seemed to meet the challenge.

Last year, I just barely accomplished my goal of reading 20 books, so this year I thought I’d challenge myself to read 25. I ended up blowing that number out of the water by reading 80 books, exceeding my goal by 320%! As someone who has always loved reading, but could never seem to “find the time” to read, I think I finally found the right mix of factors that motivated me to read consistently throughout the year.

Here are a 5 tips that helped me “read more” this year:

  • Join a book club or surround yourself with friends who are reading the same books/have the same interest in books. When a couple of friends (Rachel & Karen) and I realized we were consistently reading and extensively discussing the same books via blogs and social media, we decided to start an online book club. I have belonged to several IRL book clubs in the past and they were always pretty lame. Usually I hated the book that was chosen, procrastinated reading it the entire month, and then pulled an all-nighter in order to to read it the night before our club met to discuss the book. It made me feel as if I was back in school again, and because I didn’t enjoy it, I started to dread attending my book club. Our online book club is a lot different. Our book choices are more or less collaborative and the reading time is flexible. To be honest, sometimes all of us read the monthly book within the allotted time frame, and sometimes none of us do, but because our discussion forums are accessible online there’s no pressure or hard dates. This format allows our conversations to continue months after we have moved on to a new book. Taking part of a book club has exposed me to a lot of books I probably would not have read otherwise, including a few truly awful books. Sometimes the worst books have made for the liveliest, most hilarious, discussions. Being in a book club has also provided motivation during the weeks/months when I had no desire to read because I knew I could at least force myself to read ONE book in any given month. Finally, our book club has extended well beyond the topic of books as we talk about everything from travel to television.  As an introvert, I tend to shy away from anything that involves a group of people, but in this case, being part of a book club has really made reading fun. I not only look forward to reading more these days, but I love being able to discuss what I read with like-minded people.
  • Set time aside to read every day. I added reading to my morning routine, setting aside 30 minutes to an hour in the morning to sit down in a quiet space, sip on a cup of tea, and read. This usually required me to get up a little bit earlier every day, but once I got used to my new schedule, it felt like the perfect, almost meditative, way to start my mornings. Over time, I also replaced watching my reality TV shows as a means of falling asleep with reading a few pages from a book. After a year’s time, reading has become so integrated into my daily schedule, that it often feels strange on days when I don’t read. It may seem like reading 1-2 hours a day wouldn’t amount to much, but consider this: a 350 page book takes approximately six hours to read (according to my Kindle). I tend to read a bit faster than that, but on average if I read every day for an hour (30 min. in the morning and 30 min. at night) I’ll have read about one book and then some a week.
  • Set a measurable reading goal. I don’t think reading goals necessarily need to be numbers, but I think that having a goal of X amount of books tends to be a better goal than “I want to read more.” At the very least it makes the goal seem more concrete and therefore harder to brush off as a fleeting wish. Personally, I like having a number of books to read as my goal (this year’s goal is 50 books), but really a goal can be anything from joining a book club, to reading all the Pulitzer Prize finalists, or maybe reading all the books in a particular series.
  • Read when you have time. One of my favorite things to do is browse around in my local library and come home with a tote bag filled with books. Unfortunately, I tend to hoard library books, and as a result, I end up with a stack of overdue books that I can never seem to get around to returning. And while I love flipping through actual pages of a book, I’ll rarely ever carry a physical book with me throughout the day or on my travels. Digital books aren’t a new concept, but for the first time I synced all my books across all my electronic devices, allowing me to pick up where I left off on any and every device I own. Normally I wouldn’t choose to read on my cell phone, but having access to my books while riding the bus or waiting in line often meant the difference between reading and not reading that day. Instead of wasting time scrolling through social media or reading news feeds that made me angry, I knocked out a few pages of a book. Similarly, I don’t typically prefer to read audio books because they tend to take way longer to get through than if I read the physical book, but a couple years ago, when my commute to work took about an hour each way, I started listening to audio books and found that it was a great way to enjoy doing an otherwise monotonous and boring chore. I can’t listen to audio books when I’m doing something that requires a lot of focus, but they are great for things like road trips, organizing closets, cooking/doing dishes, and working out.
  • Choose books you enjoy reading. This is probably a no-brainer, but as someone who loves reading about books, I have often pressured myself to fill my reading lists with books I should be reading over books I actually wanted to read. Many times those books were too long, too pretentious, and/or bored me to tears (H is for Hawk, anyone?). This year, I chose many books that I knew I could easily gobble up in one or two sittings. I used to always make fun of my dad who constantly read books with police badges on the cover, but then I discovered that I too loved reading mysteries and thrillers (I still avoid books with badges on the covers) because they are easy and, most importantly, fun to read. When I needed a break from the meatier, deeper, darker literary fiction books, or found myself in a reading slump, I read a graphic novel or indulged in my guilty pleasure: Y/A books in a series. For every “serious” book, I probably read five fun, easier-to-read, books.

These ‘tips’ are all pretty obvious, and I could stand to apply them to other aspects of my life (working out, learning Korean, drawing in my sketch book), but they seemed to really work for me once I really put them into practice. Sometimes, when things are really hectic or there’s a lot going on, I’ll tell myself I’m “too busy” or “don’t have the time” to read, which I know is a cop-out. Everyone has some time to spare in the day, and when I broke down the numbers to 30 min. in the morning and 30 min. at night, it seemed that much more manageable. Unsurprisingly, this had a snowball effect: once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. Now I feel like a kid again, with my nose in a book (or headphones on listening to an audio book) at all times.

I won’t be reviewing every book that I read last year (this post is already boring enough), but here’s a quick rundown of some of my most memorable – good and bad – books of 2016.


Best MemoirWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Even before this book was published, there was a lot of buzz surrounding When Breath Becomes Air. Normally that would dissuade me from reading it, but I felt the book lived up to the hype. Beautifully written and both heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time.
Best Book of Essays: A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin. Anthologies and short stores aren’t usually my thing, but I read this because it was a book club pick. The first 50 or so pages were pretty hard to get into, but by the time I reached the end of the book, I actually wanted to read it again! Definitely not a page turner or even a book I’d recommend to everyone, but great writing and a voice unlike any I’ve read.
Best Book with Food as its Subject: Relish by Lucy Knisley. I bought this graphic novel for my sister a couple years ago and finally got a chance to read it when I spotted it at my library this year. I love graphic novels, so a wonderfully illustrated graphic novel/food memoir is the holy grail of books. Honorable mention: this was also my favorite graphic novel that I read this year.
Best Book I Didn’t Expect to Like: The North Water by Ian McGuire. When this came up as our book club read I sort of dreaded it. From the description, I thought I would be reading something along the lines of Moby Dick meets Master and Commander and in a way it was sort of that, BUT it was also exciting, gruesome, graphic, and heartbreaking. From the first few pages, I could not put it down and I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to finish it.
Best Audiobook: Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan. Some of the best audio books are those read by comics, and Jim Gaffigan’s book had me literally laughing out loud while listening to it at the gym. His famous “Hot Pocket” bit is included in this book, and still makes me laugh. Honorable Mention: Kitchens of the Great Midwest, a sweet and funny feel-good book about food and family that I really enjoyed listening to as an audio book.
Best Book in a Series: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. I have always been a fan of Elena Ferrante’s work, but admittedly avoided this series because the book covers were so corny. My Brilliant Friend is the first book in a four-part series, and it starts off with a bang. Her intricate story about love and friendship in a small Italian town can only get better as I read more about the characters in future books.
Best Guilty Pleasure: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. I’m a little bit late to the game with Liane Moriarity books. I always thought they would be too girly for me but now I get why people love them so much. They are super easy to read and very entertaining.
Best Summer Read: The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. As one of the buzziest books of the summer, I had pretty low expectations, but it turned out to be one of our most talked about book club books. If you love reading about dysfunctional families with lots of money, then you’ll love this book.
Best Book I Loved to HateTiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton.  Even though I gave this book a pretty low rating on Goodreads, I can’t deny that a tiny part of me enjoyed reading it in the same way that I enjoy watching Dance Moms or The Bachelor. As a former wannabe dancer, I have a sick obsession with dance books (and tv/movies) and couldn’t resist one described as “Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars.” (It is exactly that.) While I wanted to strangle all the characters in this book, I still found myself completely, and embarrassingly, absorbed and looking forward to reading the next book.
Best Book with a Red Stiletto on the Cover: Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Remember when I said I refused to read books with a red stiletto on the cover? Well, it was pointed out to me that I actually did read a book with red stiletto cover art – granted with the leg of a cyborg in the shoe – and enjoyed it. Cinder is a dystopian take on the classic Cinderella fairy tale, and the first in The Lunar Chronicles series. If you liked books like The Hunger Games and/or the Divergent series, then this will be right up your alley.
Best Book About Science: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. This is probably the number one book that I have recommended to people this year. I liked that a female scientist – and author – could write so plainly and objectively about nature and science  – the way a male author/scientist would approach the same topics. What I mean is that it’s a pet peeve of mine when female authors, especially in this genre, feel the need/pressure to write about things other than the adventurous, exploratory, analytical, factual aspects of their story, and instead muddle/water down their book with other aspects of their lives, like boy drama. As if the only way anyone could be interested in reading a book about a female scientist would be if it included stories about what she wore and who she dated. While those are also valid perspectives, sometimes I just want to read a book about a female scientist doing science-y, outdoors-y things instead of how many dudes tried to get in her pants. As a memoir, it’s unavoidable that Hope Jahren would write about what it’s like to be a female in the very male-dominated world of scientific research, but the book is not wholly about that. It’s about her love of nature, the trials and tribulations of being a scientist, and the strong friendships she makes along the way.
Best Book to Scratch the Gone Girl / Girl on the Train Itch: The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson. The problem I have with thrillers and mysteries is that they can be so formulaic and predictable, which was not the case for this book. Actually, there were quite a few good books that I enjoyed in this genre – Woman in Cabin 10 and Behind Closed Doors to name a couple. All three of these books are fast-paced and make for great beach/summer/plane reads.
Best Book Club Book: Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg. This award-winning book sucked me right into the story in a way that few books do. The story is a sad one, but also such an elegant story about love and family. I usually find myself rolling my eyes at books like these, but instead I found myself misting up quite a few times while reading it.


Worst Nonfiction Book: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Against better judgement (Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed are two authors on my black list) I read this book based on all the glowing reviews. As expected, I hated it. It was self-indulgent and narcissicistic, just like EG’s other books. If you have never worked in the creative field and have been dreaming of doing so, and/or are maybe in high school or middle school and trying to figure out what to do, then you might find inspiration from Big Magic (I even hate the title). Otherwise, this book pretty much sealed the deal for me: I will never ever read another Elizabeth Gilbert book. Ever. Sidenote: I read an excerpt from a different creative self-help book via the Amazon book blog site, Omnivoracious, and found this succinct article to be more well-written and more helpful than 288 pages of EG drivel. If you are drawn to Big Magic because you have always wanted to pursue your creative side, or need inspiration to continue pursing your creative endeavors, then go ahead and skip her book and read this instead.
Worst Book that Takes Place in a Restaurant: The Dinner by Herman Koch. The premise of two keeping-up-with-the-Joneses type couples, eating dinner at a fancy restaurant, trying to pretend like everything is perfect while their personal lives crumbles around them was good in theory, boring in execution.
Worst Book I Can Barely Remember: Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson. Once again, I was drawn to this book because it was about ballet. Unfortunately, I have barely any recollection of the plot except that it was more or less boring, and apparently very forgettable. I would rather read Tiny Pretty Things (see above) any day of the week over this book.
Worst Book in a Series: Glass Sword, from the Red Queen Series by Victoria Aveyard. When I read Y/A novels in a series, I sort of know what I’m getting into. I expect a lot of boy drama and somewhat ridiculous plot lines. But I also expect the book to be well-written. The first book in this series, Red Queen, met my expectations: a light and fluffy read that took place in a dystopian world. But the second book in the series, Glass Sword, borders on Twilight series level of awful. This book was so truly terrible and poorly written that I skimmed through most of it – and didn’t miss much. Now that I have read two books out of the series, along with a couple more mini-novels, I have found myself in the troubling position of deciding whether I should stop wasting time reading any more books from the series or continue to hate-read the rest of the books.
Worst Book I Expected to Like: A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott. Golden age of Hollywood-era historical fiction books are totally up my alley, so I was really looking forward to reading A Touch of Stardust. Granted, I wasn’t expecting to read a Pulitzer Prize-level book, but I wasn’t expecting to be bored to tears either. I had to check out this book from the library three times before I finally finished it. Normally, I would have given up, but I don’t like having half-read books lingering on my “to read” list.
Worst Historical Fiction Novel: See above.
Worst Graphic Novel: Girl in Dior by Annie Goetzinger. What a waste of a beautifully drawn book. Lovely drawings with barely any plot. I get the point of this book was to show exquisite Dior fashion, but surely there was a more compelling story that could have been included as well.
Worst Memoir that I Still Sort of Enjoyed Anyway: Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi. To even mention Nora Ephron and Padma Lakshmi in the same sentence, as the book description does, is beyond laughable. What an insult to Nora. I love Top Chef, but have never been a Padma fan, and after reading this book, I think I like her even less. The recipes are a joke (How to make chili cheese toast. Step one: toast bread. Step two: top with chili. FIN) and I found Padma to be extremely narcissistic and out of touch with reality BUT admittedly it didn’t stop me from reading the book all the way through and sort of enjoying it (?) though I attribute the latter to just loving to read food memoirs in general. Her childhood food memories while growing up in India are the best, most compelling part of her story. Unfortunately, a bulk of the memoir is devoted to her trying to explain her way out of all the poor press she received from her ex-husband and crazy, volatile relationship with her Baby Daddy.
Worst Book I Read this YearH is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.  H should stand for how the hell did this book receive rave reviews? I don’t get it. This is not an exaggeration, but every single time I tried reading this dumb book, I fell asleep within 15 minutes. It was that tedious. The only thing that kept me going was ripping it to shreds in our book club. (Thankfully I wasn’t the only hater.) Sometimes I feel like pretentious books like these gain momentum because nobody wants to be the ONE person who wasn’t enlightened or intelligent enough to get the book. All I got from this book was that it sucked. A lot.


Total Books Read: 80
Number of Pages: 24,038
Shortest Book: 96 pages, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
Longest Book: 688 pages, Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
Average Book Length: 304 pages
Fiction: 56
Nonfiction: 24
Graphic Novels: 20
Audio Books: 4

What were your favorite books of 2016 and what do you look forward to reading in 2017?

As I mentioned, I have set a goal of reading 50 books this year, though in my head, I’m sort of shooting for 100. I’m also thinking of adding a monthly or quarterly book round-up to my blog to further motivate me to read, and to further bore any readers I have out there.

If you’re on Goodreads, you can see my full list of 2016 books here.

If you’re on Goodreads and interested in joining our small book club, click here. Our book club is set to private, but anyone can join! Click on request to join and one of us will approve the request and add you to our group.

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  • Funnelcloud Rachel
    January 14, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Love this post, obviously! And considering that we both exceeded our reading goals last year, I have to give SFVBC a lot of credit! I love that we were laid-back and I never felt pressure or like the reading was an assignment (though I still hate that I missed some of the books – I’m still on the waiting list!). But it also encouraged me to pick up a book and read one book per month even if I wasn’t feeling like it (and of course, once I started reading, I always got into it) and I lived for those little red notifications that there was a new comment on our discussion threads! And I’m actually really grateful that we did suffer through H is for Hawk because I think it set the tone for our discussions. But god, that book was horrible.

    I’d love to be one of those people who reads 100 books a year, but honestly, I’ll be pretty satisfied if I consistently read 50ish books per year. I decided not to set a reading goal this year, but I unofficially would like to hit 75 books, or at least more books than I read last year. But I’m going to strive for quality and enjoyment over quantity. I was consistently reading a lot of graphic novels during the first half of last year, but by June I had mostly exhausted the options in the Fairfax County Library system! 🙁 I do need to catch up on some of Lucy Knisley’s newer ones.

    Love your superlative categories. Still laughing at the cyborg in the red stiletto!

    Oh, and I think you mentioned before that you hadn’t really listened to Jim Gaffigan’s comedy before, so if you liked his audiobook, you should definitely watch his stand-up shows on Netflix. We’ve seen him live, too. Always hilarious. Snot in a rock!

    I’ve always meant to write a post with reading tips, and I agree with all of yours! My other tip is that when I start reading a new book I try to get a good 50 pages in during my first reading session. (Or at least 30ish pages.) I’ve found that only reading a chapter or 5-10 pages doesn’t get me hooked on the book enough and I have trouble returning to it.

    Also, I totally roll my eyes when people say they don’t read because they don’t have time. Everyone is busy. But you choose what you make time for. A certain family member says she doesn’t read because she doesn’t have time, but I know that she watches TV, so really she should say that she chooses to watch TV instead of read. Many of my friends with kids also say they don’t have time to read, but growing up, my mom was always reading! I didn’t think anything of it until I heard people complain that they can’t read with kids, and I realized that growing up I was always exposed to parents who read. My mom would read us bedtime stories, and then she’d read her own books. Every night. She reads more books (and big fat 1000 page biographies) than anyone I know and she always has. It’s just part of her lifestyle. Perhaps this is a judgmental/bitchy comment, but I just think people choose what they make time for. It’s a good reminder for myself, because I could obviously sketch in my sketchbook/make art/get shit done/read even more if I wasted less time on social media/my phone/internet!

  • veronika
    January 14, 2017 at 7:51 pm

    The red notifications are the best! Especially when you’re suffering through a book…or reading something where you’re like wtf… I go back sometimes and reread some of our past discussions and they still crack me up…and makes me miss Karen… 😐 I was so relieved that I wasn’t the only one who hated H4H, and you’re right, having a crap book to read really set the tone (and f bombs) so I guess it was worth enduring a horrible book.

    I think I’ve exhausted the graphic novels at my library too. My sister had all the Lucy Knisley books at her home so I binged on those. Are you still doing the read harder challenge this year? I agree – I have a set goal in my head but I’m not feverishly trying to hit it. I just want to enjoy what I read and maybe once in a while I’ll read something a little more weighty. I’m hoping to read or reread a few classics this year – maybe 5 or so. But if that doesn’t happy I’m good with reading my dumb ballet Y/A novels. The point is to read, right?

    I’ve never watched Jim Gaffigan, but I’ve seen some youtube videos like hot pocket. In a way I’m glad I hadn’t seen too much before listening to his book bc it was mostly new material for me. I have a Steve Martin audiobook queued up next.

    Reading 30-50 pages to start a book is a really good tip. I’m pretty bad about starting, getting distracted, stopping, and then starting on a new book, usually with a better, more alluring cover. Which is how I find myself simultaneously reading 3-4 books, and sometimes not finishing one until months later, at which point I will have forgotten most of the story and need to re-read entire chapters. Maybe the 50 page rule is a better approach…

    Sly and I always talk about the “too busy” phenomena and we have totally come to the same conclusion: if it’s important to you, you’ll make time. When someone says they are “too busy,” I hear, “It’s not important to me.”

    Yet another pet peeve of mine is when people assume that bc they have kids they are busier than those without. We have even been asked, “what do you do with your time?” Because obviously we couldn’t possibly understand what it is to have a life. I always resented how at work it was ok if someone skipped out early to pick up their kids, but if I wanted to skip out early to go to yoga class or something, that was somehow wrong. In my opinion, time is time, and how one chooses to spend it is no more/less valuable than another. I often see my friends with kids – the ones too busy to reply to emails, keep in touch, etc – the ones who are so much busier than me and I wouldn’t understand bc we don’t have kids – are the same ones who post incessantly on social media. And I’m talking full-on paragraph (with multiple edits) updates and an hourly stream of curated photos, which you know took WAY more than 30 minutes … So yeah. You can find time if you really want. [end snark]

  • Kevin
    January 18, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    What are your top five, A-One, all-time favorite, left a mark in the binding of your soul books?

    Keeping Good Thoughts…

  • veronika
    January 18, 2017 at 1:50 pm

    Way too hard to answer, as I associate certain books with certain times in my life, and for that reason are sentimental favorites. I was obsessed with The Chronicles of Narnia as a kid. In school, I loved anything by F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck and the books On the Road + A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. As I’ve gotten older I’m hardly ever blown away by any books in the same way I was when younger, but I really loved The River Why. Bone was my first real graphic novel/series that I read, and it was as an adult, but once again I found myself obsessed. Funny how tastes change and evolve.

    What about yourself? Faves of all time? Faves from recent memory?

  • Kevin
    January 19, 2017 at 11:28 am

    Fair point. E.B. White held my attention back when (who else could make you cry for a spider, though I could never quite see that swan playing a trumpet). I got into the obligatory Stephen King in high school. I carried It around everywhere for a month. William Faulkner has a style I enjoy. Still Life With Woodpecker was fun. Ancient Evenings was dense. The Lonesome Gods was dusty. I haven’t read for pleasure in years. It’s gotten tedious having to flip back every few pages to remember where I’m at in the story. I did get East of Eden based on how you enjoyed it (“There’s a reason why this book is a classic.”).

    Keeping Good Thoughts…

  • veronika
    January 20, 2017 at 6:27 am

    Oh yes, I totally forgot about EB White. Remember Stuart Little? I also love anything written by Roald Dahl. As a teen/preteen there were a bunch of stupid books I enjoyed and made an impression, but they aren’t the types of books that would make top 10 lists.

  • veronika
    January 20, 2017 at 6:34 am

    Also, try audiobooks. I admit I had a hard time reading anything without falling asleep or having to start a billion times. In fact, I just finished a book I started over 3 years ago – and I’m glad I took it up again bc I loved it. I think the key is to commit to at least 50 pages or so when you start reading (as Rachel mentions ^^) – that way you’re mote likely to invest time to finish the rest of the book. Also, there is no shame in reading books you find at the grocery store check out ( those were my dad’s faves). Find a genre you enjoy or find to be a guilty pleasure – those books can be seriously read in a day.