My year in reading, 2016

5 minute read

The irony of building a book discovery web site is that my TBR pile gets increasingly huge (~300 books and counting), while I have increasingly less time to read. Still, this year I spent a lot of time on planes. Handling family obligations, traveling to the Anasazi Southwest (and reading about it), traveling to the South Pacific (yes, Hawaii). As a result I had a lot of time to read. 44 books this year, compared to 38 the year before, and 27 the year before that. (I obsessively track what I read, on LibraryThing (since 2000!), and more recently Goodreads as well).

For many reasons, it was a personally stressful year; I read more than my fair share of “comfort food” books and guilty pleasures. I aim to do better this year. But still, I read what I read. Here’s what stands out to me.

Books that made me smarter or better. As a result of co-organizing Books & Spirits, a bi-monthly author speaking event in Hawaii, I’ve started reading more books focused on the environment, Hawaii and spiritually-oriented books. Not my usual. A standout was Saltwater Buddha, by Jaimal Yogis, very wise man who came and spoke at one of our events. You will leave this book with a renewed urgency to live in the moment. I read The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings, which really helped me deal with some things going on in my life. It’s special. And her new book How to Party With an Infant is absolutely hysterical. Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way is a refreshingly modern take on the Stoic philosophy. Shogun reminded me that waiting can be a strategy, and that management means ultimate responsibility.

Spy books. For some reason, this year I read even more spy books than usual. I love the genre — see some undiscovered gems here — but even so, 15 or so of my 44 books were spy books. Some were not very deep thrillers (Olen Steinhauer, Chris Pavone), some where classics (Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, Len Deighton’s Berlin Game, a few Alan Fursts), and some were the masters — John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor series, Graham Green’s Our Man in Havana, John McCarry’s The Last Supper. I also read the simply amazing biography of David Cornwell, aka John Le Carré — John le Carre: The Biography, by Adam Sisman. A must, if you are interested in his work. And John Le Carré’s book The Pigeon Tunnel — not quite an autobiography, more a collection of stories. But still quite interesting.

Comfort Food: After reading Martin Cruz Smith’s newly released The Girl from Venice, which I loved, I went back to Arkady Renko, one of my all time favorite characters. Polar Star and Havana Bay, this year. Arkady is just such a brilliant, morose character, I have to go back and re-read.

Guilty Pleasure: Jack Reacher novels. I read 7 of them, plus saw the movie. Gack. They’re good fun, but really? 7?

Steven Pressfield. The Knowledge and The Authentic Swing. A new novel by Pressfield, probably my favorite author, is always a treat. The Knowledge is like no other book he’s written. And The Authentic Swing is great re-motivation for those of you engaged in creative endeavors.

Books I couldn’t quite finish. I love Denis Johnson. I got most of the way through The Laughing Monsters but got bogged down. I’ll finish this year. I got an advance review copy of Black Sails, Disco Inferno, a modern retelling of the Tristan and Iseult legend in a modern day club culture (I’m not making this up). But I just couldn’t finish it. Too wacky.

Books that made me cry. I don’t cry easily. And almost never when reading a book. Song of the Exile will break you heart. More via my review.

Well that’s it for last year. This year, I’m going to try to elevate my reading. Less comfort food, and more books that will improve me. Fewer Jack Reacher books and more books to inspire me, or to give me insight.