Helen Jon’s Favorite Books from 2016
It’s that time of the year, when so many Best Of… lists appear. We love, love, love pulling together our own “literary” version of the highlight-reel. So, without further ado, here are some of our favorite books from 2016. They range from the dishy and fun to the relevant and hard-hitting to the moving and inspirational to silly and wry… we’ve even included something from the Dalai Lama’s translator on compassion. Why not?!? Something for everyone! We hope you enjoy these as much as we did. Happy reading, everyone. And here’s to many more great books in 2017.
In a three-part novel told from the perspective of a woman’s status-conscious husband, libidinous brother-in-law, and desperate sister, the central character, Yeong-hye, suddenly chooses to give up all meat and animal products. This seemingly simple act totally transforms and upends her entire social and family life. This novel is unusual but very, very read-able… and it’s no wonder it’s been placed on so many “Best of 2016” book lists this year. Take a chance on reading something powerfully haunting and different and see where it takes you.
Possibly my favorite fun-read of the entire year. This book is the one I recommend any and every time someone says, “I just want a good, fun read that doesn’t feel vapid or like I’m wasting my time.” This is that book. You won’t want to put it down and you will want it to keep going on and on. It’s so funny and warm and relatable. Curtis Sittenfeld uses Pride and Prejudice as the blueprint for this incredibly well-written and unpretentious story. Have fun with this one. I imagine even Jane Austen herself would approve.
This is the dazzling story of an independent American woman whose path takes her far from her native Minnesota all the way to the Galapagos Islands as the “wife” of an undercover intelligence officer at the brink of World War II. It is part spy-story, part unconventional-love-story, and part historical-yarn. If you like Elena Ferrante and John Le Carre and stories of interesting, independent, provocative women, you will love this.
A coming-of-age novel set in a thinly-veiled version of Manhattan’s Union Square Cafe, with a wide-eyed post-collegiate waitress as your protagonist. Part love story, part kitchen-confidential, this is for any arm-chair foodie who wants a fun and dishy read.
Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World by Linda Hirshman
Funny, fast-paced, and even sometimes a little light-hearted, but very well-researched and informed. This is the story of two women: one, a staunch Republican, raised by a hard-scrabble rancher in Wyoming; the other a dyed-in-the-wool Jewish Democrat from Brooklyn — but both smart, shrewd, strong, and driven. This account details O’Connor and Ginsburg’s distinctly different routes to the Supreme Court, what and who shaped and inspired them along their way, and how their nearly 12 years spent together on the Supreme Court impacted and transformed our Constitution and the essential fabric of our legal system. It is a moving story of a remarkable friendship and the trails they blazed.
Incredibly emotional, never overwrought, sublimely powerful and humble, and at its very core — beautiful and meditative. This book challenges us to ask ourselves the ultimate questions about what makes a life truly worth living. Paul Kalanithi is confronted with his own mortality after a lung cancer diagnosis at 36. He says, “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, has changed nothing and everything. Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” As will you, once you read this, you will feel forever changed by the power of his words. All told, this is a beautiful legacy and a life-affirming reflection on life and, ultimately, death.
A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to be Compassionate Can Transform our Lives by Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D.
Written by a Buddhist monk who also happens to be the English translator for the Dalai Lama and a Stanford professor. This is that rare book that shows how melding compassion into your everyday routines can profoundly and positively impact your life. Compassion is a quality of the heart which we all possess, but which we might also need to cultivate in order to realize its full potential and scope. Jingpa, without being too erudite or woo-woo, allows us to believe that if we cultivate more compassion, we might just transform our lives, our relationships with others, and even our world.
A fun, wry, and surprising collection of autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect. Scrappy Little Nobody fits the bill if you’re looking for this year’s answer to the celebrity-turned-memoirist-i’m-funny-have-lots-to-say-about-myself-and-yes-i’m-a-writer-and-i’m-an-actor-too fix.
And, in a class of its very own…
Well, to be fair, it’s not a book published in 2016, but it feels so very relevant and powerful and important. If you haven’t read it since you were in school, do yourself a great favor and pick this up again. You will not be disappointed. And you might just be reminded of the good that exists in the hearts of most people. We would all be best-served by pausing and thinking of the great, wise, compassionate and eminently intelligent Atticus Finch and turn ourselves into mini-Scouts who might just grow into our own versions of that fine, strong, benevolent role model.