All year long I’ve shared my reads with you, but now we get down to the good stuff: the best books of 2016. In order to make the lists manageable and catered to your interests, I’m breaking down the year’s best reads into three categories: Best Fiction, Best Non-Fiction, and Best Middle Grade/Young Adult. One thing to note: my Best Of lists consist of the best books I read in 2016, but is not limited to books published in 2016. Okay then, let’s talk non-fiction!
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Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
I’ve been waiting not-so-patiently for Shauna Niequist’s newest book, Present Over Perfect. Her previous book of essays, Bread & Wine, made my Best Of list in 2014. It’s a book I return to often, and love to give as a gift. I found Present Over Perfect to be just as lovely, but with one caveat: it won’t appeal to women as broadly as Bread & Wine does. Niequist writes with a certain woman in mind: the overworked woman who feels spread too thin. Niequist tells of her own breaking point, when the responsibilities that came along with a successful writing and speaking career threatened to overtake her health and her family. I found every part of Bread & Wine relatable, however there were a few essays in here which I couldn’t identify with. I still love the book as a whole, though, with its message that so many of us need to hear: you are enough.
How To Celebrate Everything by Jenny Rosenstrach
I’ve been a fan of Jenny’s from the moment I first stumbled upon her blog, Dinner: A Love Story. Her love of the family dinner, combined with her realistic view on just how difficult dinner can be as a parent, makes for a comforting, practical and useful resource. I own every one of her cookbooks (the others are Dinner: A Love Story and Dinner: the Playbook), and they show the signs of love and everyday use: stained and splattered. You might wonder how a cookbook ended up in my Best Of list. Isn’t it just recipes? Not this one. Jenny goes through the rituals of life, big and small, sharing her family’s traditions and encouraging you to create your own. Buy this now, make the Shredded Pork Lettuce Wraps and Chocolate Pudding Pie, and tell me you don’t love it as much as I do!
Grit by Angela Duckworth
Do you believe that the secret to great achievement is talent, and that some people are just destined for greatness while the rest of us slog along? Or is it possible that talent is only one part of the equation, and that effort, skill, passion and perseverance are far greater predictors of what one can achieve? These are a few of the questions that Angela Duckworth explores in Grit. I was initially curious to read Duckworth’s book out of a desire to nurture grit in my own kids. And while I learned a great deal about what grit is and how to foster passion and perseverance in my children, I was even more inspired to rethink my own attitude towards work and living a grittier life. We all have the potential to do meaningful, interesting and powerful things, according to Duckworth’s research. What we do with that potential is something entirely different. I love non-fiction that reads like fiction, and through Duckworth’s highly readable research and anecdotes, I felt like I was reading a personal journey through self-discovery as opposed to a dry book about how to be more successful. I found myself sharing snippets of the book often, both with Mike and the kids, which is a sign that a book is a game-changer for me. This book will stay with me for a long time, and I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t benefit from reading it.
168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam
168 hours: that’s how many hours we get in one week. How, exactly, do we spend those 168 hours? Most of us would say working, and many of us often wish for more time so that we could pursue interests outside of work and the other drudgeries of daily life. Vanderkam insists that we don’t need more time – that big pockets of time are available to use every day and we just don’t recognize them as opportunities. Vanderkam suggests keeping a weekly time log for at least one week, and then walks the reader through work, home and family life to discover what you want more of and how to make it happen.
This isn’t a typical time management book, and while the focus is clearly on readers who work full or part-time, I found it to be illuminating and helpful. I kept a time log for a week and it gave me incredible insight into how I spend my 168 hours (more on that in a future post for sure). Two things stuck with me, and can be transformative for those ready to make changes in how they spend their time. One: we spend more time than we think doing things that take up precious time and don’t bring us much joy or relaxation (such as mindless Internet surfing, scrolling through our phones, or watching TV). Two: if you don’t know what you want more of in life – whether it’s career, personal, or in your relationships – you can’t focus your valuable time toward making it happen. Vanderkam encourages readers to log and review their time, reflect on your dreams and goals (both very big and very small), and shows you how you can find time you already have to make them a reality. I initially only gave it 3 stars on Goodreads, which normally wouldn’t make the cut-off for the Best Of list. However as I wrap up my year and plan for 2017, I realize just how often the information I gleaned from this book keeps reappearing in my life in the most useful of ways – definitely a sign of a good book!
Untangled by Lisa Damour
If I could put this in the hands of every parent of a tween and teen girl I would. I can’t even begin to express what a gift this book is to parents wondering how to make it through the teen years. Damour, a clinical psychologist who specializes in child development and research on girls, writes a handbook for parents that guides them through the seven transitions girls need to go through on their way to adulthood. These transitions (Parting with Childhood, Joining a New Tribe, Harnessing Emotions, Contending with Adult Authority, Planning for the Future, Entering the Romantic World, and Caring for Herself) are necessary but tricky, leaving even the most confident parents and girls wondering what on earth is going on! What I love about Damour’s book is that it talks about these issues in a calm, informative way – never condescending, never preachy, and most importantly – never panic-inducing. Each chapter explains these developmental processes with the reasons why they need to happen and why they’re normal, and ends with specific examples of when a parent should worry. The teen years (unfairly) get a bad rap, especially teen girls. This book will help parents leave that notion behind and parent in a way that will ease the tension and drama, leaving them to enjoy this fantastic phase before their girls leave them for adulthood.
Rising Strong by Brené Brown
In Daring Greatly (one of my favorite non-fiction reads of 2015), Brené Brown invites us “to embrace vulnerability and imperfection, to live wholeheartedly, and to courageously engage in our lives.” In this follow-up book, Brown looks deeper at vulnerability: what happens when we’re brave and vulnerable – and we inevitably fall down? I find Brown’s writing both delightful to read and supremely insightful. I took so many notes, and there are ideas and passages that will resonate with me for a lifetime. At the same time, what Brown has to say isn’t always easy to take in. She looks deeply into what triggers shame, anger, fear, embarrassment, doubt and vulnerability, and shows us how easy it can be (in the short term), to stuff those feelings back down and cloak them in an entirely different story we tell ourselves. Best of all, Brown gives us to the tools we can use to break out of that cycle by recognizing our story, rumbling with our feelings and changing the way we live, love, work and parent. Buy your own copy and break out your highlighters!
How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims
Written by a former Stanford freshman admissions dean, Lythcott-Haims examines the generation of kids she helped usher through Stanford and investigates why this generation in particular has had such a difficult time adjusting to adulthood. She tells stories of young adults whose parents intervene in college courses and post-graduate job interviews, and of kids who don’t know how to manage themselves on their own. Using these anecdotes as a guide, she formulates a plan for parents raising this next generation, helping us raise grounded, confident and independent kids who will be ready to tackle adulthood equipped with the tools they’ll need. I found it inspiring, eye-opening and extremely helpful. I’d especially recommend it for parents of tweens and teens who are on the cusp of the college admissions process.
What non-fiction books inspired you in 2016?