The Best Reads of 2016
It’s that time of the year again… where I’m left staring at the pile of books I’ve accumulated over the year and wondering:
A. Where on earth I’m going to put them all.
B. Why I can’t just join a library.
Anyway, I set myself a goal on Goodreads to read 55 books this year and I’m happy to say that I surpassed it in November! In fact, I’m hoping to hit 60 books by the end of the year. It sounds ambitious but I recently discovered a new Australian author who I’ve fallen head over heels for and there was a sale on all her books and they were under ten dollars and… you know how it goes. Right?
Let’s kick on with this year’s top ten.
The Year of Living Danishly – Helen Russell
This is a book that every expat should read. Or maybe anyone with a sense of humour.
The fact that I was dreaming of retirement at the age of 33 was probably an indicator that something had to change.
Helen Russell and her husband Lego Man are exhausted by London life (take that, Samuel Johnson). So, when Lego Man gets offered a job in rural Denmark at the Lego Company, they decided to pack up their lives and move to Jutland.
Russell, a freelance journalist, decides to embark upon a year long mission to find out why their adopted home of Denmark is the “happiest nation on earth”. With a winter spent in freezing darkness and total adherence to social traditions, how is it that most Danes manage to rate themselves at least an 8/10 for happiness? What are they doing right? What are we doing wrong? And how can we all try to live a little more Danishly?
I’ve read a lot of travel and expat memoirs over the last few years and Helen’s stood out for a couple of reasons. It’s funny, in a totally self-deprecating way, which I adored. Plus, it’s not just all about personal experience. Russell is a journalist first and foremost and intertwines research, interviews with other Danes and personal experience to present her findings.
Maybe I should start my happiness project by trying to be more grateful for what I’ve got.
House of Mirth – Edith Wharton
Here’s one from last year’s list that I actually got around to reading! Hooray!
Lily Bart is a member of New York’s “high society”. Beautiful, witty, sophisticated on the outside – in reality, she is a poor girl with expensive tastes. Bart is in want of a husband to help preserve her social standing amongst the nouveaux rich and maintain her luxurious lifestyle. Although many have sought her hand in marriage (and indeed, a rich hubby would see the end of her money problems), something – stubbornness, or her own integrity – prevents Bart from making a suitable match.Wharton’s novel became a scandalous sensation when it was first published in the early 20th century. Here was a woman actively rallying against the norms that society would want to press against her. I wish I could say it’s a happy story, but that would be a lie. The ending will hit you like a tonne of bricks.
She was so evidently the victim of the civilization which had produced her, that the links of her bracelet seemed like manacles chaining her to her fate.
The Anti-Cool Girl – Rosie Waterland
That was the exact moment I realised I was the Doug Pitt to my sister’s Brad.
Rosie Waterland has never been one of the cool girls – but typically, her sister always has. The two girls grew up in housing commission with two addicts for parents. Rather than going to MacDonald’s for Sunday lunches and hanging at the park with friends, Rosie attended AA meetings, narrowly escaped drug dealers, watched her Dad regularly pass out and often kept her Mum a step away from suicide.
Rosie eventually realised the key thing was to stop trying to be someone she wasn’t and embrace who she was: The Anti-Cool Girl.
She’s gone on to have a pretty cool career, writing for Mamamia.com.au and working in TV. Maybe she actually is cooler than she first thought. I think so, anyway.
Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susann
Oh look, another book that had me griped at the opening sentence.
What are dolls? They’re pills. Pills to help you sleep. Pills to keep you happy. Pills to keep you skinny. Wash them down with vodka or swallow them straight – Anne, Neely and Jennifer don’t give a damn, so long as they’re easily accessible.
We follow the three one-time friends, struggling to “make it” in New York City, as they climb to the very top of the entertainment industry… only to come plummeting down.
People parted, years passed, they met again- and the meeting proved no reunion, offered no warm memories, only the acid knowledge that time had passed and things weren’t as bright or attractive as they had been.
Crown of Midnight – Sarah J. Maas
Would I have started reading the Throne of Glass series if I knew I’d end up dedicated hours of my life to it? Probably. I’m a sucker for fantasy books and this is one that is worth the commitment.
Everything changes for Celaena Sardothien when she is dragged out of the mine of Endovier by Dorian, the son of the King of Adarlan, who just happens to be the man she hates most in the world. The beautiful, sharp and deadly teenage assassin must fight to become the King’s Champion in a world where magic has been outlawed. And then a bunch of other stuff happens because this is so far a five book series.Crown of Midnight has been my favourite book by far. Talk about feeling all the feels. Team Chaol for life.
The rest of the world quieted into nothing. In that moment, after ten long years, Celaena looked at Chaol and realised she was home.
Sigh. See? Emotional. Everyone is so ridiculously good looking and unfathomably sexy in YA fantasy books, aren’t they?!
My Family and Other Animals – Gerald Durrell
I got a bit hooked on Gerald Durrell after visiting his eponymous Wildlife Park in Jersey.
I picked up one of his memoirs on a whim in the gift shop, without anticipating just how funny it would be.
Durrell and his rather unconventional family, on the encouragement of his older brother Larry, pack up their home in grey and drizzly England and move to Corfu. Durrell meant to write a book about the natural history of the island, but as he once put it, his family always managed to worm there way in.
So, the book became an account of some of the years he and his family spent living on the Greek island of Corfu and the many animals they encountered (and adopted) along the way.
My childhood in Corfu shaped my life. If I had the craft of Merlin, I would give every child the gift of my childhood.
The Post-Birthday World – Lionel Shriver
It is never persuasive to argue that you are not the kind of person who does what you are actually doing.
Lionel Shriver is one of my favourite authors and I’ve been slowly working my way through her novels over the last few years. They’re deep, they’re intelligent and they always leave you… well, filled with despair when thinking about the state of the world and our place in it.
The two that stood out to me the most this year were her newest, The Mandibles and an oldie but a goodie, The Post-Birthday World.
The book follows a parallel-universe structure that hinges on one moment – when mild-mannered children’s book illustrator Irina McGovern decides whether she should, or shouldn’t cheat on her longterm partner Lawrence with the fancy snooker player Ramsey Acton. The future Irina’s career, familial relationships and day to day life will be determined by one single kiss. She can give into temptation or she can choose to stay loyal to Lawrence. Either decision will have lasting and not entirely pleasant consequences on her life.
We all have our own “what-if” moments, which we play on endless loops around our minds. What if I had taken that job? Gone on that first date? Said yes to that opportunity? Would my life be better, or worse off as a consequence?
In this book, we get to see the effects of one single decision, as Irina’s two possible life paths are laid out side by side. I can only imagine how much fun Shriver would have had writing this book.
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I actually ended up reading Americanah shortly after I wrote last year’s book review, as I just couldn’t wait any longer!
The book follows the stories of two teenagers – Ifemelu and Obinze, living in Lagos. Nigeria is under military dictatorship, with people fleeing the country if they can. Ifemelu heads to America to study, where race is thrown to the forefront of her mind for the first time in her life. Obinze hopes to join her, but post-9/11 America draws the line, so he moves to London illegally instead.
The two are not reunited in Nigeria until years later, with three continents and countless years between them. Their passion is reignited, but is it enough to keep them together?
How easy it was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives we imagined.
And my book of the year?
Three Wishes – Liane Moriarty
Liane Moriarty has been floating around my consciousness for the last few months and I’m so glad I finally sat down with one of her books.
Three Wishes is the first of Moriarty’s published novels and so far, my favourite.
Cat felt that sense of pleasure and pride that she always felt when she saw her sisters in public. “Look at them!” she wanted to say to people. “My sisters. Aren’t they great? Aren’t they annoying?”
This a book that explores the dynamics of family relationships, with humour and honesty. The Kettle sisters are triplets, about to turn 34. One has had her life turn upside down. One’s about to give birth. And the last is trying to keep up appearances, whilst she crumbles on the inside.
Do yourself a favour and buy any of Moriarty’s books. They’ll grip you as well as having you in stitches.
What’s on my list for 2017
Well. To start with, all the books I didn’t get around to reading that were on last year’s list.
I need to read more classics, particularly after majorly dropping the ball on them this year. This includes finally finishing Mansfield Park and starting North and South, which is sitting on my bedroom floor.
As evidence by this list, I read a lot of books by female authors. Not that this is a bad thing per sae – however, I would like my reading to be a tad more varied. I’d like to finish reading Kurt Vonnegut, Gerald Durrell’s and John Steinbeck’s books and make a start on some of the older classics written by men. Maybe attempt a Dickens!
Update:I’ve been on holiday in Northern NSW in Australia and finished “Tender is the Night.” Add F. Scott Fitzgerald to that list!
Either way, it’s been a good year of reading and I’m hoping 2017 will be much the same.
What were your favourite reads of this year?
NB: This post contains affiliate links, which goes directly back into feeding the book addiction. But remember – there’s no better feeling than walking out of your local independent bookstore with an armful of novels!