Favorite Books I Read in 2016

I love to read. I read to learn and grow as a person and I read out of simple enjoyment. I enjoy a variety of subjects and genres. Here are my favorites among the books I read this year, in no particular order. I’m sharing as a means of offering recommendations for anyone who may find something here that piques their interest and that they may enjoy. 

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr. The 2015 Pulitzer-winner for fiction lives up to its billing as a stirring account of individual lives that converge during World War II. Doerr’s ability to move a work of literary fiction at a relatively quicker pace is nice and his ability to create suspenseful situations heightens the reader’s experience of brutal war-time realities.  

Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton. This was the first time I’d read Chesterton’s classic and it will be far from the last. Chesterton’s observations and conclusions work well logically, though his angles are routinely surprising. His wit and intelligence are fantastic and the book is imminently quotable. Chesterton would have done well on Twitter and, in fact, as with many famous figures, there is an account of daily quotes from him. 

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson. Wilkerson, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, chronicles the stories of three different participants in the mass migration of almost six million African-Americans from the American South to the North and West between 1915-1970. Her concentration on the lives of her primary subjects and their families allows the daily realities of their existence during this period of our nation’s history to be expressed with plain, inspiring, and harrowing honesty. This is and will continue to be a standard text for understanding race in America.  

A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson. The title really does say it all. Bryson, a prominent travel writer, delivers a sweeping survey of scientific understanding about the universe, the earth, and life here in all its forms. He goes from sub-atomic particles to galaxies. If you want a readable (or listenable–I did this one on audio, well read by Bryson himself) volume to give you a short course (long book, but short course considering the scope of the topic) on humanity’s scientific knowledge up to about the year 2002, this one is excellent.  

The Chosen, Chaim Potok. This 1967 novel is about growing up as a Jew in New York City during the middle of the twentieth century as Nazi Germany fell and a state of Israel became a possibility. It is also about navigating the waters of tradition and modernity, and about identity, both personal and collective. Finally, it is a story about fathers and sons. Reread it this year; it’s a favorite of mine. 

Miracles, C.S. Lewis. Do you believe in miracles? Lewis presents a case for them, noting the necessity of the miracle of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ that is at the heart of the Chrsitian faith and life.   

The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis. This is a short story about a man who takes a trip to heaven. Lewis is not proposing what heaven is like in terms of what one sees if one gets there, but he is talking about what makes a person fit for heaven. That is, he gives us a picture of what sort of soul-work one might need done in order for him or her to consider heaven a desirable place to be. 

On Writing, Stephen King. Though I haven’t read much of King’s novels, I’ve returned to this book several times. Any reader who a hearing about the writer’s process will get a kick out of this one. And you don’t need to be a fan of Stephen King’s other work to appreciate this book. 

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m slowing making my way through Tolkien’s classic. This is foundational stuff for fantasy lovers, of course–Middle Earth, Hobbits, etc. A terrific read if you like the genre. I’m not huge into fantasy, but I’m enjoying them a great deal. 

Breathing Lessons, Anne Tyler. This was out of my norm, but my mother has loved Anne Tyler over the years and this won her the 1989 Pulitzer prize for fiction, so I thought I’d try it out. I’m glad I did. Tyler uses one day in the life of a Baltimore couple to explore a panoply of family relationships and dynamics. Again, not my usual, but an enjoyable and worthwhile side trip.  

Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill, Candice Millard. Millard is a treasure who has a knack for finding compelling lesser-known stories in the lives of well-known figures (her first two books are likewise excellent). In this one, a young Winston Churchill has the military adventure he’s always dreamt of with an unexpected twist, his capture as a POW. Still he triumphs and this pivotal episode launches one of the great political careers in history. (An aside: The timing of this book is great with the elder Churchill being portrayed brilliantly by John Lithgow in the recent Netflix series The Crown.) 

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