Books I read and enjoyed in 2016

I met my 2016 reading challenge of 60 books, just barely. I won’t recount everything I read last year here. Instead, I’ll cover the highlights, the books that I recall best because they resonated with the most.

Speculative fiction discoveries

I discovered three series, two speculative fiction and one mystery, that I really enjoyed.

Jo Walton’s Small Change series (Goodreads), set in an alternative post-WWII England where Britain has joined with Hitler instead of the allied forces. I enjoy historical fiction, particularly anything set in the UK, so this was a treat. Each book in the series focuses on a different set of main characters. The first is Farthing (Amazon, Goodreads), followed by Ha’penny (Amazon, Goodreads), and finally Half a Crown (Amazon, Goodreads). I enjoyed each installment as much as the other. I recommend reading them in order. You wouldn’t be too lost reading them out of order, but there is a story arc developed and resolved across the entire series.

Connie Willis’ Oxford Time Travel series (Goodreads), another speculative fiction work that takes place in England. The central conceit of the series is that time travel is possible and that its main use is by historians, Oxford University historians, as a method of studying the past. The first novel, The Doomsday Book (Amazon, Goodreads) is set primarily in the 14th century during the Black Death. The second in the series, To Say Nothing of the Dog (Amazon, Goodreads), involves an absurd plot to retrieve the “bishop’s bird stump” and jumps between WWII and Victorian England. Delightfully, one of the protagonist’s sidekicks ends up being an English Bulldog, which I couldn’t help but picture as Bertie. The third and forth novels in the series are actually one story split into two: Black Out (Amazon, Goodreads) and All Clear (Amazon, Goodreads). While each book in the series shares some characters, you could easily read them out of order, with the exception of Black Out and All Clear, which you should read sequentially. To Say Nothing of the Dog is the most humorous of the series, almost a true farce, and the one I would recommend if you are weary.

M. J. McGrath’s Edie Kiglatuk series (Goodreads) is a detective series set in the Canadian arctic where the protagonist is an Inuit hunter and guide. So far I’ve read the first two books in the series, White Heat (Amazon, Goodreads) and Boy in the Snow (Amazon, Goodreads). The author is not Inuit herself, and I can’t speak to the veracity of how life in the arctic is portrayed or vouch that the novels aren’t culturally appropriative. But I did enjoy the characters and setting and found the plot interesting. Recommended if you like detective fiction and are craving something new.

More in series I already know I love

And I read additional installments in series already familiar to me:

Laurie R King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series (Goodreads) continues to be among my favorite mystery series and I read the sixth in the series, Justice Hall (Amazon, Goodreads), through the eleventh, The Pirate King (Amazon, Goodreads).

I listened to the Jim Dale audio version of most of the Harry Potter series (Goodreads), which was highly enjoyable. Even more so when I re-watched the original Pete’s Dragon the other day and realized Dale’s voice sounded so familiar because he played Doc Terminus.

I read a couple more installments in Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins (Goodreads) and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone (Goodreads) series. I continue to love each of these, but I’m trying to pace myself with each of these, because I am nearing the ends of what’s available.

Other fiction notables

Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower (Amazon, Goodreads), which I found quite compelling and, now, uncannily prescient. It’s speculative fiction set in a near-future America undergoing widespread environmental, social, and economic crisis. Lauren Olamina is the protagonist, and the novel follows her upbringing in a struggling, gated community and then her departure from it and journey towards creating something better. It’s the first of the Earthseed series (Goodreads) and I look forward to reading Parable of the Talents (Amazon, Goodreads). I recommend this as well as Kindred (Amazon, Goodreads), another great piece of speculative historical fiction.

Although I struggled with Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer (Amazon, Goodreads) and Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence (Amazon, Goodreads), I’m glad I read them. I did have to skip some of the more violent parts of The Sympathizer.

I loved Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, and so I picked up Swing Time (Amazon, Goodreads) shortly after it was released. I had a harder time getting into Swing Time than I did On Beauty (subject matter is less familiar to me), but enjoyed it nevertheless.

Non-fiction that impressed me

Moving on to the non-fiction that I read last year.

Who Really Matters: The Core Group Theory of Power, Privilege, and Success (Amazon, Goodreads) by Art Kleiner and Leadership Without Easy Answers (Amazon, Goodreads) by Ronald A. Heifetz gave me a lot of insight into how organizations and leadership work.

The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century (Amazon, Goodreads) by Grace Lee Boggs and Unearthing Seeds of Fire: The Idea of Highlander (Amazon, Goodreads) by Frank Adams gave me insight into organizing for social change.

I very much appreciated Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Amazon, Goodreads), which tells the story of the mass migration of Black Americans from the South to northern and western cities during the 20th century.

Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life (Amazon, Goodreads) was a delightful read.