I find books to be a profoundly important part of my life, albeit one I feel like I don’t sufficiently prioritize. That said, I finished 27 books in 2016, which is one more than last year, and among those I had several that are still with me as I start 2017.
Here are a few books I read this year that had an impact on the work I do and how I live in the world.
Red Bird, Mary Oliver. (78 pages) Mary’s poetry is incredibly powerful, with a consistent fresh clarity. Red Bird is among her most celebrated volumes. I recommend reading it in a sitting: it has a subtle narrative that is best experienced all at once.
Bringing Your Life Back To Life, Brian Andreas (72 pages) Brian Andreas combines his simple, often funny, poems with beautiful, whimsical images. It’s a quick read but one that is worth seeking out. I have two of his poems hanging in my home as prints, including one I received as a Christmas gift this year.
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel (333 pages) I came to this book late: it was the Michigan Book Club pick in 2015. That said, it’s a wonderful meditation on art and artists, and how we consume and crave art even in the midst of turmoil (in this case, a post-apocalyptic, devastating flu pandemic).
The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell (624 pages) I don’t know if I’ve read a novelist more virtuosic that David Mitchell. The sprawl, the beautiful writing, the sheer magnitude of the story he tells – including fantasy elements seamlessly incorporated into a realist story that spans decades. The Atlantic review of this novel said, “He is, at his best, a superior writer to Jonathan Franzen, a better storyteller than Michael Chabon, more wickedly clever than Jennifer Egan, nearly as fluent as Junot Diaz in multiple dialects, and as gifted as Alice Munro at catching 10,000-pixel snapshots of characters in quick drive-bys.”
100 Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write, Sarah Ruhl (240 pages) This book of 100 short essays does a brilliant job of encapsulating the artist’s job, especially as pertains to also being a parent. Ruhl is a celebrated playwright, but I found her insights to speak perfectly to me as a musician.
Originals, Adam Grant (322 pages) What does it take to be an “original” – to contribute in a new way to society. Grant’s insights from the world of organizational psychology (including his own groundbreaking research) and stories and anecdotes to paint the picture for us. Watch his TED Talk for a sneak preview.
Catastrophic Happiness, Catherine Newman (215 pages) I’ve been reading Catherine for a decade, both in her first book, Waiting For Birdy, and on her excellent food/parenting blog. This takes us through about a decade of raising her family, with the inevitable ups and downs. She will make you cry, make you laugh out loud, and positively impact your parenting and teaching. (Incidentally, we picked a lot of Christmas presents off her excellent annual list, and were gratified to know that she used her Amazon Affiliate links to donate more than $7500 to worth charities!)
Every year I am surprised by what books speak to me, and by what books I’m not thinking about even a few months later. I hope you find some books among this list that speak to you!