A Brief Retrospective: Books Read in 2016

Books about Nature

Books about Nature

My intended focus during 2016 was to read about nature (as a precursor to writing about nature) while learning from non-fiction works and seeking enjoyment and perspective from fiction writing. In retrospect, my list of books read reveals some surprises: my non-fiction reading was centered around four areas: nature, health/sports/nutrition, autobiography/biography, and history. My fiction reading included several of my favorite authors (Ian McEwan, Per Petterson, and Colm Toibin), a trilogy (“The Last Hundred Years” by Jane Smiley) and a quartet (“The Neapolitan Novels” by Elena Ferrante), several works of short-stories, and a play. Sprinkled among my chosen books were book club choices, spur-of-the-moment reads, and recommendations from friends and family.

My non-fiction works were varied, but several nature books stand-out as brilliant writing combined with fascinating subjects (“H Is for Hawk,” by Helen MacDonald; “A Natural History of the Senses,” by Diane Ackerman; “The Best American Nature and Science Writing 2015); several autobiographies were less about the person writing the book than about universal themes that forced me to think more deeply about the issues presented (“When Breath Becomes Air,” by Paul Kalanithi; “One Hundred Names for Love,” by Diane Ackerman; “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel (my first graphic memoir)); and two history books delved into subjects with intense historical but also current application (“Bloodlands, Europe between Hitler and Stalin,” by Timothy Snyder; “Five Days at Memorial,” by Sheri Fink).

I prefer fictional works that convey intriguing stories with excellent writing and thoughtful and unique perspectives, often selecting works from Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker, and Orange Prize award finalists. This year I was disappointed in some of my readings, either not well-written (in my opinion), trite, or not compelling, reminding me that I need to keep these goals in mind. A few of the highlights, though, were “The Secret Lives of People in Love,” by Simon Van Booy; “A Little Life,” by Hanya Yanagihara; “The Book of Salt,” by Monique Truong; “A Tale for the Time Being,” by Ruth Ozeki; and Smiley’s trilogy and Ferrante’s quartet. Anthony Doerr’s “The Shell Collector: Stories” and Lorrie Moore’s “Bark, Stories” were both substantive and satisfying short story collections.

Non-fiction (mostly) Works

Non-fiction (mostly) Works

The complete list, compiled by genre but within each genre in no particular order, follows:



H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald

The Best American Nature and Science Writing 2015

Bird Cloud, Annie Proulx

This Incomparable Land: A Guide to American Nature Writing, Thomas J. Lyon

A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman

The Hidden Half of Nature, David R. Montgomery and Anne Bikle

The Soul of an Octopus, A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, Sy Montgomery


The Obesity Code, Unlocking the Secret of Weight Loss, Jason Fung, MD

My Marathon, Reflections on a Gold Medal Life, Frank Shorter

How Bad Do You Want it? Mastering the Psychology of Mind over Muscle, Matt Fitzgerald

The Way of the Runner, A Journey into the Fabled World of Japanese Running, Adharanand Finn

 Autobiography; Biography

The Science of Leonardo: Inside the Mind of the Great Genius, Fritjog Capra

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

One Hundred Names for Love, Diane Ackerman

Life in Motion, Misty Copeland

Fun Home, Alison Bechdel

Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance

Diane Arbus, Portrait of a Photographer, Arthur Lubow


Where Men Win Glory, Jon Krakauer

Bloodlands, Europe between Hitler and Stalin, Timothy Snyder

Five Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink

Dirty Old London, The Victorian Fight against Filth, Lee Jackson


A Spool of Blue Thread: A Novel, Anne Tyler

Miller’s Valley: A Novel, Anna Quindlen

The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah

Brooklyn: A Novel, Colm Toibin

Nora Webster, Colm Toibin

The Blackwater Lightship, Colm Toibin

Last Bus to Wisdom: A Novel, Ivan Doig

Fates and Furies: A Novel, Lauren Groff

The Price of Salt, Patricia Highsmith [Carol, movie]

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia: A Novel, Mohsin Hamid

I Refuse, Per Petterson

A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki

The Secret Lives of People in Love, Simon Van Booy

A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara

The Door, Magda Szabo

Circling the Sun, Paula McLain

The Marriage of Opposites, Alice Hoffman

Black Box, Amos Oz

A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman

Commonwealth, Ann Patchett

Nutshell, Ian McEwan

A Slant of Light, Jeffrey Lent

The Book of Salt, Monique Truong

The Piano Lesson, August Wilson [play]

Short Stories/Essays

Bad Feminist: Essays, Roxane Gay

The Shell Collector: Stories, Anthony Doerr

Bark, Stories, Laurie Moore


My Brilliant Friend; The Story of a New Name; Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (The Neapolitan Novels, 3 of 4), Elena Ferrante

Early Warnings: A Novel; Some Luck: A Novel; Golden Age: A Novel (Last Hundred Years Trilogy), Jane Smiley




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