From the great libraries of Glendale to the beaches of southern Portugal, 2016 was a year of reading near and far. Though it was a year stuffed to the gill with big moments (a trip to Taiwan with my brother’s family, acceptance into a new-fangled MBA program, our wedding(!), and a Portuguese honeymoon) as well as consistent producing work, I found the time to read just over a book a week, a consistency that allowed me to discover some of my all-time favorites.
2016 also saw the fall of two of my favorite book-related endeavors: my first-ever book club, co-founded with my good friend Dave, sputtered to an end after 3+ years of hilarious discussions and stunning debut novels; and I pulled the plug on Connect A Book, as the costs, both time and financial, proved too great to maintain my book-y social network.
Below you’ll find the five best fiction books and non-fiction books I read last year.
The Best Fiction I Read in 2016
Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal – This is a charming foodie novel about a girl with an incredible palate, told through the key moments in her life (while not always putting her at the center of the story), from before she was born to her mid-20s.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson – This is science fiction with a side of humor, and despite being released over 20 years ago, Stephenson’s accurate prediction of our current virtual reality boom makes it feel prescient.
The Nix by Nathan Hill – The range and depth of characters is terrific, the story is incredible, and the treatment of how our memories impact, inform, and guide our lives is powerful.
You by Caroline Kepnes – The second-person technique is used to disturbing success in this thriller. Before long, you’ll find yourself understanding and agreeing with the protagonist’s deranged motives.
The Sportswriter by Richard Ford – The beginning of a series I’m excited to take on, this novel is about a man who’s floating along in life, gainfully employed as a sportswriter, but reflecting on career risks not taken, a marriage dissolved, and the loss of a son.
The Best Non-Fiction I Read in 2016
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE by Phil Knight – A well-told story – bruises and all – of Phil Knight’s journey from the co-founder of Blue Ribbon Sports to his and NIKE’s rise through the world of sports. The book ends well before current times, but there’s far more to this memoir than the simple biography of a company.
Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler – Despite living in Glendale and driving by the Disney animation studio on my way to work in Burbank each morning, I knew little about Disney’s beginnings. This biography is phenomenal, an unflinching look at the personal sacrifices Disney made, and many of the controversial moments of his career.
The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business by Josh Kaufman – This is a guide for anyone thinking about starting a business, going to business school, interested in business, or, quite frankly, interested in how the world works. This helped clarify my understanding of the logistical side of running a business, and motivated me to apply to Smartly’s MBA program.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport – As the varied, digital seductions of our attentions continue to get louder and more vulgar, the importance of our ability to focus becomes more valuable, not just to our selves, but to the world at large.
Mastery by Robert Greene & The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene – I can’t recommend this pairing highly enough for anyone who wants to take better control of their passions, their skills and their life.
Reading in 2017
Looking back at what I read last year showed a similar openness to years past. What I found lacking, though, were classics of any sort: biographies, novels, plays. I’m eager to bring more of those works into this year’s reading. What I’m pleased with is the consistency. Though I may not have read as much as the year before, I still read. It may have cost me staying current on a few TV shows, and I’ve watched far fewer movies, but I am okay with those trade-offs. Simply put – there aren’t substitutes for reading. Reading compounds. The more you read, the more connections you’ll make, whether it’s between books, between experiences you’ve had, or between what’s going on in the world. While I strongly recommend all of the books above, and have other recommendations (including The Best Books I Read in 2015), the strongest recommendation I can make is just that you read. Read often. Read weird things. Read great things. Read things. Read, and reward your curiosity.