2016 Reading Log

I moved across the Bay this year, which increased my commute time from 13 minutes to 45-50 minutes every day. This did wonders for how much I read – I got through about 55 books this year (not counting a few shorter comics!), compared to 37 last year.

This year, I did a bunch of themed reading – pairing books on surgery (esp. neurosurgery), three books on the rise of modern radical Islamic terrorism, etc. About 25% of the books I read this year were nonfiction, which is higher than normal for me. Interestingly, most of the books I really really enjoyed this year were nonfiction. Maybe I should make an effort to reach for more next year!

About 55% were science fiction or fantasy, which is about par for me. Though I didn’t really make a conscious effort of it, I wanted to read more books that weren’t by white men. About 43% of the books I read were by women, and 38% were by people of color, which were higher numbers than I’d expected! I did read a lot of NK Jemisin this year.

This list is organized in order of how much I liked it (favorites at top!) Also, I’d love feedback on this format – is this easier to parse than a long list? I find it easier to scan, but harder to read the reviews. It was definitely more fun to put together!

For a different view, Goodreads has a great year in review.

Books

Click to filter. (Filters do not stack.)

Faves Nonfiction Literature Science Fiction Fantasy ✖ Clear all

Showing 56 out of 56.

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1) by N.K. Jemisin

★★★★★

Jemisin is a fantastic world builder, and the structure of this book is breathtaking. This was a fantastic allegory about race and power, and one of my favorite books this year.

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2)

The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2) by N.K. Jemisin

★★★★★

The second in the Broken Earth series. While not as breathtaking as the first, it lays out the groundwork for a (hopefully) stunning finale.

The Namesake

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

★★★★★

The writing was fluid and gorgeous, and the situations were intensely familiar. I don’t know why I didn’t read this earlier. This hit me really hard emotionally.

Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS

Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick

★★★★★

I started this right after Looming Tower. This picks up right after Looming Tower’s afterword, and follows a set of individuals through the history of ISIS. It’s a very compelling read, and deserving of the Pulitzer.

ISIS: The State of Terror

ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern

★★★★

Less focused on individuals than either Black Flags or Looming Tower, but it does focus heavily on ISIS’s use of social media to recruit. I found the discussions and contrasts between Facebook and Twitter fascinating. tl;dr: the internet has real world impact, and neutrality is a clear political position.

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Marsh

★★★★★

The book opens with a quote by a French surgeon about living with surgical mistakes: “Every surgeon carries within himself a small cemetery, where from time to time he goes to pray.” This stuck with me, and sets the tone for the rest of this book about an imperfect science.

When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales of Neurosurgery

When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales of Neurosurgery by Frank T. Vertosick Jr.

★★★★★

I read this simultaneously with Do No Harm. This was written about 20 years before that, and in a different country. Contrasting the differences in neurosurgery between the books made them pair really well.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb

The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

★★★★★

I finally finished this! I started this book in 2013. This was magnificent! Incredibly long, but it remained compelling through the entire book. The first third captures the delight of discovery really well. The last third, detailing the consequences of the bomb, is difficult to read.

The Mathematical Theory of Communication

The Mathematical Theory of Communication by Claude Shannon

★★★★★

Not really a book, but since this paper was 55 pages long, I’m counting it. It’s almost (almost) conversationally written!

Citizen: An American Lyric

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

★★★★★

I haven’t read much poetry before, so I didn’t know what to expect. The first half was incredibly compelling.

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation

The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation by Jon Gertner

★★★★★

It’s kind of surprising how much of an impact Bell Labs has had on EECS. This book covers a few of the really momentous changes in electrical and systems engineering. A favorite moment – the giant mylar balloon that was the world’s first communications satellite. The last third of the book drags a little, partially because it covers the era when Bell Labs was mired in legal battles.

The Complete Persepolis

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

★★★★★

Hm, I read a lot of books about consent this year. Premise: teach Apollo a thing about consent. I like the idea, but it didn’t quite gel for me. I think I value a little more subtlety?

The Traitor Baru Cormorant

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

★★★★★

I’m so conflicted about this. I’ve read many reviews that both love and are horrified by this book. I agree that it’s playing the queer tragedy trope poorly. The main character’s an accountant who joins the civil service of a colonial power in order to subvert it. I <3 everything about that premise, and I love the sheer amount of foreshadowing in the book. The author does a really good job of imposing a sense of doom over the whole story, and when the blow finally lands, it hurts no less for how expected it is.

Uprooted

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

★★★★★

Good YA fantasy! I really liked the world, and got fairly invested in the characters.

How to Build a Girl

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

★★★★

Captures being a teenage girl fantastically well.

Radiance

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

★★★★

This book is set in an alternate universe solar system, as imagined from the 1920s. I love retrofuturism, and the lush deco worlds of this system was delightful.

Sabriel (Abhorsen,  #1)

Sabriel (Abhorsen, #1) by Garth Nix

★★★★★

reread! I still really love this series. The audiobook is narrated by Tim Curry, which was delightful. <3 Sabriel's a well-balanced and interesting character, and while a little overpowered, there's definitely room for growth. The characters are a bit flat, and don't develop all that much, but the world and my nostalgia for the book more than makes up for that.

Lirael (Abhorsen, #2)

Lirael (Abhorsen, #2) by Garth Nix

★★★★

reread! I don’t like Lirael as much as a character, but I did enjoy getting a peek into the Clayr’s realm, and learning more about the Charter’s beginnings.

Abhorsen (Abhorsen, #3)

Abhorsen (Abhorsen, #3) by Garth Nix

★★★★

reread! This (mostly) makes up for Lirael. Nostalgia fave, honestly.

The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

★★★★

“Station by station, he builds a physical landscape out of the chronology of African-American history.” I read this for a book club, which really enhanced the experience! The New Yorker review really piqued my interest in it.

Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #1)

Hyperion (Hyperion Cantos, #1) by Dan Simmons

★★★★

Neat world, neat story structure. I enjoyed it, but wasn’t super thrilled with the female characters/some of the cornier stereotypes. I had to power through the poet’s tale.

The Days of Abandonment

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante

★★★★

An intense read. Emotionally unsparing, and hits its stride about a quarter of the way through. The writing’s really evocative, and it’s not easy to read on public transit. I’m not super satisfied with the ending, and some of the symbolism is heavy-handed.

Caliban's War (Expanse, #2)

Caliban’s War (Expanse, #2) by James S.A. Corey

★★★★

I enjoyed this more than Leviathan Wakes. There’s a tiny bit more effort put into the characterization, and there’s a lot of discussion about the consequences of truth.

Barrayar

Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold

★★★★

The second in the Vorkosigan Saga (or not, depending on how you count.) Cordelia’s a fantastic character, but I’m not sure I want to keep reading.

Kindred

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

★★★★

Emotionally effective, and a fantastic, horrifying tale.

Saga, Volume 1-6

Saga, Volume 1-6 by Brian K. Vaughan

★★★★★

A fun comics series. The artwork is beautiful, and the story rushes along, completely absurd.

Babel-17

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

★★★★

Sapir-Whorf like whoa. My first Samuel Delany (gasp!)

The Gene: An Intimate History

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

★★★★

I loved Emperor of All Maladies, and was excited for this followup. It’s skillfully written, but not as gripping as Emperor.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen by Michael Frayn

★★★★★

A play about the fateful meeting between Bohr and Heisenberg in 1941. There are many interpretations about exactly what happened that day, and this play retells several. I love the Rashomon-esque exploration of truth and memory.

Dawn (Xenogenesis, #1)

Dawn (Xenogenesis, #1) by Octavia E. Butler

★★★

Fantastic (and creepy) exploration of consent. The writing felt a little flat, but worth it for the story. Slight niggles about some gender tropes.

Red Mars (Mars Trilogy, #1)

Red Mars (Mars Trilogy, #1) by Kim Stanley Robinson

★★★

A great world ruined by frustrating, archetypal characters. Not the biggest fan.

Disgraced

Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar

★★★

A taut one-act play. I have mixed feelings about this one.

Spin (Spin, #1)

Spin (Spin, #1) by Robert Charles Wilson

★★★★

Enjoyed the science fiction, but found the characters slightly grating.

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

★★★

oh gosh, Ruth’s casual cruelty is breathtaking. It’s definitely a page turner. Beyond that, I wish I’d been given more of the world. It’s a little disappointing that it’s such a vaguely sketched out universe.

The Just City (Thessaly, #1)

The Just City (Thessaly, #1) by Jo Walton

★★★

Hm, I read a lot of books about consent this year. Premise: teach Apollo a thing about consent. I like the idea, but it didn’t quite gel for me. I can’t quite put my finger on why – maybe I value a little more subtlety?

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance, #1)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance, #1) by N.K. Jemisin

★★★

Not my favorite NK Jemisin. Things mostly happen to the main character, and I wasn’t entirely gripped by any of the gods. I might not read the rest of the series.

Love Minus Eighty

Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh

★★★

An interesting premise and world, but the plot didn’t really click for me. I’m not positive why.

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) by Patrick Rothfuss

★★

Interesting world (especially the mechanism for magic!), but a totally overpowered protagonist. Maybe this is because he’s telling the story of his own life, and embellishing it somewhat. You can get away with a lot of lazy stereotypes when you have an arrogant unreliable narrator doing most of the book in first person. Also, I kind of found the emotions a little flat, but that might be because I’m coming off the intense emotions of the Neapolitan cycle, and everything’s flat after Elena Ferrante. After the 10000th time Kvothe ends up in mortal danger, it doesn’t really mean anything, since you know he’ll get through it. Also, something about the way Kvothe describes women is irritating. I know it’s probably just Kvothe, but I’m not really here for that. Not sure I want to read the second book.

Comments