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The 10 Best Books I Read in 2016

In previous years, picking ten best books was harder because I read nearly 200 books a year.

Then I had more than one kid.

This year, I barely scraped past 70 books read this year (plus forty two thousand picture books), but I feel like I still read a LOT of good stuff.

These are the ten that stand out most to me as the very best and most notable. If you’re looking for something to kick off your 2017 reading year, all of these are excellent choices.

Looking for some new titles to start off the year? These are ten fantastic books!

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
I read this in January and I knew immediately that this book would make it onto this list by the end of the year. It’s been wildly successful this year and for good reason – Kalanithi’s memoir about his life as a neurosurgeon and then his unlikely lung cancer diagnosis was published after his death and it’s beautifully written, witty, and full of love for life, learning, and people. Absolutely worth reading (full review here).

How to Celebrate Everything: Recipes and Rituals for Birthdays, Holidays, Family Dinners, and Every Day In Between by Jenny Rosenstrach
I loved her book Dinner: A Love Story and this one is equally delightful. I love her down-to-earth way of dealing with food and her absolute love of cooking, traditions, and family. After this book, I was dying to move in next door to her.

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
I kept meaning to write a review of this and never got around to it (is that a clear sign that I really need this book or what?). He’s total no-nonsense about figuring out what you really want to accomplish in your life and then clearing away the clutter to make it happen. And whether you work in an office, an academic setting, or stay home with kids, I think there is lots to learn here. The perfect book to start out the new year, for sure.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
This book was so fascinating to read – I blazed through it in less than a day – and I was glad to have read it before Trump won because it gave me lots to think about when his upcoming presidency was announced in November. I kind of want to go back and read it again now (full review here).

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
I know everyone loves All the Light We Cannot See, but that book took me forever to get through and frankly didn’t do that much for me (I know, I’m a terrible person). This one, also about WWII, I found much more gripping. I loved the cast of characters and thought it was just extremely well done.

The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grown-Ups by Leonard Sax
I feel like I should be required to re-read this twice a year. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s pretty darn good with lots of useful, important ideas (full review here).

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
I love it when I get completely sucked into a book and just want to spend all my time reading it. I was a wary of this one at the beginning with dual story lines, but I quickly was immersed in the book and read it in just a couple of days. It’s reminding me that I need to go find some other orphan train books (full review here).

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Another WWII book, this one a YA one. It takes place in Amsterdam and it was phenomenal. It was just such an exhilarating read from the first page to the last. Quick, intense, and well-written, I need more books like this in my life (full review here).

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
I’m sort of trying to read all the Newbery winners (not fast or on any sort of timeline), so I’ve been meaning to read this since it won, but since it was both basketball and novel-in-verse, two things I’m not particularly into, I didn’t get around to it for ages. And then I listened to the audio version and LOVED it. So well done and completely deserving of the Newbery.

The Children of Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren

It’s not that often that I read a book to Ella that I haven’t already read, but this was a new one to me and I loved every second of the old-fashioned world in Europe it described. Just a perfect little read-aloud (full review here). 
I’d love to hear what your favorite books this year were so I can add them to my list of things to read. I’d really like 2017 to be the first year in the last five where I read MORE than the year before instead of less. 

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  • Reply Sara T. December 29, 2016 at 3:53 pm

    Some of the best books I read this year were recommended by you – When Breath Becomes Air, Deep Work, and Bomb. Thank you!
    If you haven't yet read these, I'd recommend from my 2016 reading – And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery, Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, and Bright from the Start by Jill Stamm.
    Some books I'm hoping to read in 2017 – History on Trial by Deborah Lipstadt, A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Pure Grit by Mary Cronk Farrell.

  • Reply MC December 29, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    My top five this year were The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, A Man Called Ove, Life After Life, A Monster Calls, and The One-in-a-Million Boy.

    I would love to know how you create your graphics. I tried for hours last night to make something like this for my ten favorite books this year, and was wholly unsuccessful and thoroughly frustrated.

    Any tips or tricks?

    • Reply Janssen December 30, 2016 at 2:57 pm

      I use Picasa – I just download the book covers, use the "create collage" function and arrange them how I like. Then I open it in Photoshop and add the square box and text overlay. (You could also just add the text in Picasa without the square box under it).

      So frustrating when something that seems pretty straightforward takes forever!

  • Reply Marisa Mohi December 29, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    I also loved Orphan Train. I wasn't expecting to like it as much as I did, but I'm glad I picked it up. Do you have any recommendations for adult orphan train books? (I'm not opposed to re-reading the series I read as a kid, though.)

  • Reply Torrie December 29, 2016 at 7:52 pm

    Ooo, thanks for so many good ideas! I've read a few of these myself this year (including When Breath Becomes Air, which I literally just finished this last week), but I'm excited to check out the others. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Randa December 30, 2016 at 1:07 am

    I just picked up Everyone Brave is Forgiven today – glad to see you recommended it! Also – I completely felt the same about All the Light We Cannot See. The books I loved from 2016 are: Smarter, Faster, Better; Big Magic; Big Little Lies; Simplicity Parenting; and You Are Your Child's First Teacher. I'm hoping that I read a LOT more fiction in 2017 – this was definitely a nonfiction type of year! Thanks for sharing your list!

  • Reply Ashley December 30, 2016 at 2:20 am

    Pinning this now so I don't forget! I haven't read any of these…ahh!

  • Reply Feisty Harriet December 30, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    For maybe the first time in history, I've actually READ two of these books (Everyone Brave is Forgiven, and When Breath Becomes Air), have TWO MORE on my nightstand (Hillbilly Elegy and How To Celebrate Everything) and have now added Deep Work to my library list. Woot woot!


  • Reply Melanie December 30, 2016 at 10:50 pm

    Wasn't Everyone Brave is Forgiven just delightful?! I felt the same as you about All the Light We Cannot See (and also felt like there was something wrong with me for not being over the moon about that book because everyone else seemed to be).

    Have you read The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson? I think you'd like it.

  • Reply Paige Flamm December 31, 2016 at 5:26 am

    I still need to get my hands on When Breath Becomes Air! I've been wanting to read it for ages now!

  • Reply Laura H January 1, 2017 at 12:02 am

    I didn't like All the Light You Cannot See at all. Super depressing. I did love Orphan Keeper by Camron Wright

  • Reply Kayla January 1, 2017 at 1:00 am

    The only one from your list that I've read is When Breath Becomes Air but it is definitely on my top 10 list for the year as well. Some of my other favorites in no particular order: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (I recommend the audiobook- great narrators!), A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (I could see you handing this to Ella as a primer in science at the beginning of her high school years- it is a very engaging overview of the history of modern science in just about every area), Revenge and the Wild by Michelle Modesto, A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston, and Death Coming Up the Hill by Chris Crowe. I also finished off Rick Riordan's Heroes of Olympus series and loved them. He writes the best snarky teenage boy characters.

  • Reply Life of a Doctor's Wife January 1, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    I loved All the Light We Cannot See, so much that I have been reluctant to pick up the Cleave lest it fail to measure up. I guess I need to correct that immediately!

    My favorite book this year was A Doubter's Almanac. And The Skunk, kids books wise.

  • Reply Katie January 3, 2017 at 8:10 pm

    I have 3 audible credits that I'm trying to use. If you could only choose a few books to download from your list, which ones would you choose?

  • Reply diana January 3, 2017 at 9:53 pm

    I read quite a few of these and added too many more to my TBR list! I blogged my most enjoyable reads for 2016: I don't know that they were the best best books of the year (that I read) but they are the ones I most enjoyed readinG!

  • Reply Tina's Blog January 5, 2017 at 11:09 am

    I'm sending you my three links for the best books I read in 2016. I feel like this is super annoying, but then I did read your post and remember that you did ask to hear what other people enjoyed 🙂

    Happy Reading in 2017!

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