I’ve upped my game reading wise. I quit flicking through the Metro on the way to work some time ago and replaced it with books. Not my phone or my iPad or some other device I already spend too much time with, but books.
Last Christmas my brother told me that he keeps a list of everything he reads each year and I thought I’d steal the idea and then write about it. So here it is – 16 books I enjoyed in 2016. And I’d recommend every single one of them.
1. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – by Jon Ronson
If you spend as much time on Twitter as I do (and I hope for your sake that you don’t), you’ll find this book particularly fascinating. It’s all about people who have made a mistake – be it on social media or at work – and then been publicly taken down, and their lives changed forever. It’s a pretty scary look at the power of the angry mob that’s ready and waiting to shame anybody who makes an ill-advised comment online. I’ve certainly tweeted more cautiously since reading this book…
I devoured my first read of 2016 and recommend it strongly.
2. The Psychopath Test – by Jon Ronson
Yes, ever since I read this I’ve been wandering around believing I have the ability to identify who is and is not a psychopath. I don’t, of course, but I understand it’s an inevitable side effect. I really like Jon Ronson’s investigative approach to writing – a bit like Louis Theroux on paper. I’m really interested in mental health and how our psyche works and, again, sped through this as it was so interesting. It also made me laugh lots too, which, when the main subject matter is psychopaths, is no small achievement.
Bonus recommendation: Another thing I’ve really enjoyed this year is Adam Buxton’s podcast (no we’re not related, although I’m amazed how many people ask me if we are) and his chat with Jon Ronson is one of my favourites.
3. We Should All Be Feminists – by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“Every 16-year-old in Sweden is being given a copy of this book, so you should own it too” – that’s what my younger brother wrote on the gift tag attached to this book when he gave it to me last Christmas. Because he’s a good present buyer AND a feminist. (Yes, you can be both). This book is an essay adapted from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk of the same name. I read it and then I watched it too because it moved me so much that I wanted to hear it all again. It’s only 52 pages long so takes up only a small but crucial space on your bookshelf.
4. Bad Feminist – by Roxane Gay
As you’ve probably noticed, I’m a big fan of non-fiction. My love of it began a couple of years ago when I read Bossy Pants by Tina Fey and has grown and grown ever since. This collection of essays by Roxane Gay is about what it means to be a woman and the range of contradictions involved with her (and all of our) experiences of being a feminist. I loved it because it’s brilliant but also because it made me want to be a better writer – these essays are just SO good. She changed the way I think about politics, culture, race, female friendship (and particularly the film ‘The Help’) whilst making me laugh, cry and want to throw things all at once. Perhaps read this whilst surrounded by soft furnishings in the interests of safety.
(Ridiculous side point – are you familiar with the song ‘Bad Medicine’ by Bon Jovi? Well, I’ve had ‘Bad Feminist’ in my head to that tune since approx. March when I read it. And now you have it too.)
5. Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret – by Judy Blume
I’d been feeling a bit out of the loop, Judy Blume wise. People always talk about this book like it was something everybody read when they were growing up, but somehow it never found its way to me so I thought I’d read it now. It doesn’t matter how old I get, I will always find what girls go through when they’re growing up – the first period! The constant broken and rebuilt friendships! The boys! – amusing and heart-wrenching in equal measure. This was a welcome trip down memory lane, a reminder that I’d definitely rather be an adult, and that I’ll try and hold on to what that time felt like so that, if I have a daughter or a niece, I can offer the support, sympathy and the promise that THIS WILL END that they need.
6. The Goldfinch – by Donna Tartt
You know when you’re presented with a huge plate of food and you feel so overwhelmed that you think “I can’t eat any of that. I need to go and lie down” – that’s a bit like how I felt with The Goldfinch. When you don’t read a lot of fiction and then you decide to take on a book with over 800 pages, you can wonder if you’re going to be able to handle it. But everybody was talking about The Goldfinch and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and I’m glad I did. Whilst I agree with those who said that it could have lost 100 pages and still been just as good, I still think it was excellent. For me, reading this was a bit like reading To Kill A Mockingbird – not because the stories are alike, but because I really missed the characters when their stories were over, and their images have stayed with me ever since.
7. One More Thing – by B. J. Novak
This collection of short stories blew my mind. I don’t even really know how to describe them – they’re just so original, often really funny, and always so exciting to read; you never know what the next one is going to be about. One minute it’s a retelling of The Hare and the Tortoise, and the next it’s a bizarre and hilarious tale about the inventor of the calendar. I’ve given this book to my older brother now because it’s one of those that you just feel the need to force onto other people and say “You must read this so that I can talk to you about it.”
8. The Girl on the Train – by Paula Hawkins
Sometimes you need a book you can just whip through, gripped on every page, desperate to know who did it. This gave me that hit. I read it in the bath until the water got cold and then passed it on, satisfied that I now knew what everyone was talking about. For some reason, the pages of my edition had red edges, which looked like they’d been dipped in blood, and added an extra level of drama to the whole experience.
9. Why Not Me? – by Mindy Kaling
I loved ‘Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)’, Mindy Kaling’s first book and was super excited when the second one came out. Having watched every single episode of The Office U.S, Mindy’s voice is so familiar that I felt like she was reading each page to me personally, which was nice. This is another collection of essays offering life advice, stories so funny they’ll make you spit out your milkshake (or other chosen beverage), and enough inspiration to make you think YES, I can and I WILL do what I want to do with my life. Mindy, you’re my hero.
10. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman – by Lindy West
I first heard Lindy West on a brilliant episode of This American Life called ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, SAY IT ALL IN CAPS’. It’s about Internet trolling and features a fascinating conversation between Lindy and a man who pretended to be her father (who had recently passed away) in order to write incredibly nasty things to and about her online.
This book is a collection of insights into all the things that have helped Lindy find her voice, and accept herself for who she is. Shrill changed the way I think about weight, it made me want to work harder to be confident and speak up for myself, and it made me laugh out loud on numerous occasions. The delight I feel when I discover another amazing writer I can learn from and share with other readers is one of my very favourite things about being alive. Read this please and then ring me so that we can talk about it.
11. The Opposite of Loneliness – by Marina Keegan
Marina Keegan was an incredibly talented writer who tragically died in a car accident just five days after she graduated from Yale. This book brings together a collection of her fiction and non-fiction work, including the title essay which went viral. There’s a huge range of stuff in here, from pieces on relationships and the highs and lows of growing up, to thoughts on how we can all have a positive impact on the world. It’s one of those books that you see all the time on ‘must read’ lists and ‘don’t miss’ piles in bookshops and now I know why.
12. The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo – by Amy Schumer
My husband bought me this book for our wedding anniversary. Regular blog readers will know that our ‘romantic’ trip away to celebrate three years of marriage didn’t quite go as planned, but the one good part of recovering from food poisoning is the opportunity it gives you to read. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this book – would it be laughs throughout? Or would I get to find out a little bit more about the woman behind the stand-up?
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo is so beautifully warm and full of love – for Amy’s friends, her family, her job, and for herself, which is really inspiring. The best books are the ones that double up as pep talks, so this is going on my shelf alongside Amy Poehler’s Yes Please and Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants, and all my other favourite females for when I need a kick in the right direction.
13. Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body – by Sara Pascoe
This book was the education I didn’t even know I needed. The eye opening I will never recover from. The book I want to talk about most at parties but I don’t have enough post-it notes to mark up all the bits I need to refer to. Animal taught me more about my own body and mind than anything else ever has. I feel strongly that if every man and woman were to read this book, our interactions would be so much easier. It’s an investigation into all the forces that make us the way we are. I don’t just want you to read it, I NEED you to.
(See Adam Buxton’s podcast for an excellent chat with Sara Pascoe about this book too).
14. The Glorious Heresies – by Lisa McInerney
One of the few pieces of fiction on this list, I was inspired to read this book after hearing Lisa speak on a panel at the Emerald Street Literary Festival in June after she’d won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. (I shared the marvellous writing tips I picked up from Lisa and the rest of the panel in this blog.)
Set in Cork, Ireland, this is what you’d call a gritty read and has everything you’d expect from such a thing – drugs, alcohol, prostitution, murder, religion, love and loss. It’s so descriptive that it’s like you can smell the blood, feel the damp air on your skin, see people’s lives crumbling apart in your hands. This was a new type of book for me and I liked it.
15. I Feel Bad About My Neck And Other Thoughts On Being A Woman – by Nora Ephron
Can you believe I hadn’t seen When Harry Met Sally OR Sleepless in Seattle until this year? I know! And so began my (better late than never) relationship with the work of Nora Ephron. This book is a collection of essays – as you’d expect from the title – about being a woman. I particularly enjoyed the chapter about the various types of ‘maintenance’ women are required to do to their hair, skin, nails and how the time you need to spend on it only goes up as you get older. It made me laugh (and weep at the thought of how many hours I’m going to lose to this BS). I also loved reading about her love affair with her New York apartment, with cabbage strudel, and with an unconventional handbag. Welcome to the list of female writers I will harp on about forever, Nora E.
16. Moranifesto – by Caitlin Moran
This is a bit of a cheat addition because I’m actually still reading this book – but ’16 books read in 2016′ just felt so neat that I let myself add it to the list. I always enjoy a Caitlin Moran book – so much so that I’ve been to see her read twice, including on International Women’s Day where she shared some excellent life advice which I wrote about afterwards. Moranifesto is a collection of her most recent columns, as well as some new material. It covers a range of subjects – from Tom Jones to The Apprentice to Twitter – but it’s also a call for change. For us to stop shouting at each other over the Internet and to, instead, take it upon ourselves to help make things better. To not fear politics because we’re not ‘expert’ but to get involved because it affects everyone and everything. It feels particularly important to be reading this at the moment, so I shall continue!
Got any books you’d like to recommend? Please tell me, I cannot get enough.