My Top 8 Books of the Year

Hopefully next year I will read enough new releases to have a top 10. For now, here are 8 good books.

8. Better Than Before – Gretchen Rubin


I confess that I was attracted to this book because of the cover design. It is gorgeous and minimal and feels “aimed at me.” I’ve also been curious about daily habits as they relate to mindfulness, something else I’ve been reading about. This book provided some wonderful frameworks — for example, are you an upholder, a questioner, an obliger or a rebel? These frameworks allow you to eschew prescriptive advice for ruling as a person (e.g. always work out in the morning!) and instead understand yourself first, and build habits around how you operate. This is simple, but smart, and helps you wade through the seas of diet/writing/whatever advice out there. I definitely recommend this book.

7. The Summer of 40–  Jay Gabler


I was excited to see my good friend and Tangential co-founder Jay just went out into the world and self-released a short memoir this fall. It’s a quick read, but a wonderful reflection on our relationships to our age, our life-stage and our generation.

6. The Seven Good Years – Etgar Keret


Israeli writer Etgar Keret’s first memoir reflects on the seven “good years” between his son’s birth and his Holocaust-survivor father’s death. It’s a quick read, and a humorous and honest look at how world events trickle down into our family relationships. Bonus if you choose the audiobook: Alex Karpovsky (of Girls) narrates it.

5. On the Move: A Life – Oliver Sacks


For whatever reason, I hadn’t read any Oliver Sacks books until this year. It’s probably better that I started with his memoir, where he talks about his career, his challenges in academia and the criticism he faced from both the psychological/ medical world and the writing world. He also lets you into his love life (I hadn’t realized he was gay), and the wanderlust that sets him, as he says, “on the move.”

4. Purity – Jonathan Franzen


I like Jonathan Franzen’s fiction. I read this book knowing he’s faced criticism from feminists, and kept my eyes peeled for instances of this. I found some, but still felt that Purity, the protagonist at the heart of this book, was a thoughtfully-fleshed out female character whose family and adventures were written about in a captivating (if sometimes problematic) way. I would still read it, even if certain parts about ladies forcing men to pee sitting down are a bit **eye roll**.

3. The Art of Memoir – Mary Karr


I’ve been on a quest for writing advice this year, mostly because I’m trying to learn how to write long-form fiction rather than just burn-and-churn blog posts, and it is hard. I found Mary Karr’s book, while not about fiction, some of the best writing advice around. She doesn’t try to hide under the mask of effortless genius, but lets you see how much she has to learn, screw up and try again. That is brave, meaningful and yes, helpful! I would recommend the audiobook, which she reads herself! Here’s my full review.

2. The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins


But Becky, you might be saying, what was the Gone Girl of this year? Luckily for you, I have an answer. The Girl on the Train was this year’s most addictive, amazingly written “psychological thriller” (what a term). The narrative here builds out the perspectives of three women, all who see the same situation from a different vantage point. (The audiobook features three different voice actresses, all amazing.) I was so obsessed with this book that I found myself taking long walks in horrible weather so that I could listen to it and find out what happens next. It’s not written with as much pop culture savvy as Gone Girl (although it’s not really about pop culture at all, so that’s fine), but it’s just as satisfying in its own right.

1. Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates


I’ve enjoyed Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writing in The Atlantic for a long time, so I was excited to see that he had a book out. I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into, but it turned out to be a an instant classic. Between the World and Me features a father trying to explain to his son what it means to grow up as a black boy turning into a black man in modern America. It’s heartbreaking, poetic, beautiful, sad, and timeless. Toni Morrison is not lying in her blurb. Everyone who votes should have to read this. I listened to the audiobook, which Coates reads himself, and found myself walking my dog around my neighborhood crying under my sunglasses. I noticed a lot of people getting it for Christmas, and I only expect its influence to grow.

Honorable mention:

Ongoingness: The End of a Diary – Sarah Manguso

This book is a short memoir about an addiction to keeping a diary. I found myself thinking about this book a lot as I watched people Instagram and Snapchat all the most important moments of their day. This idea of needing to write down/record/ preserve meaningful moments isn’t just a social media era idea — it goes back to an innate desire to keep, examine and rehash even the most minute details of our short lives. When Sarah has a baby, her perspective on her idea of self and time starts to shift, and it’s beautiful and fascinating.