Here are the best books I read this year:
- East of Eden – John Steinbeck – a classic novel about Steinbeck’s own family in central California, but also a bigger picture look at sibling relationships, the nature of free will, and what it means to be “good”.
- Burial Rites – Hannah Kent – I can’t recommend this book enough. Fascinating telling of a true story of three people who are sentenced to death for committing a murder in early 1800s Iceland. Told through the eyes of one of the convicts, this book is haunting.
- Tell the Wolves I’m Home – Carol Rifka Brunt – a story of a young girl coping with her beloved uncle’s death, and her relationship with her sister and family.
- The Golem and the Jinni – Helene Wecker – historical fiction and fantasy about a golem and a jinni trying to find their way in turn of the century New York City. This book had so much unexpected depth and complexity. What it means to be yourself when you don’t fit into your community, what it means to be free, what it means to love.
- The Dovekeepers – Alice Hoffman – historical fiction about Masada in 70 A.D.. I expected this book to be dramatic given its subject matter, but what you also get is a down to earth portrayal of the lives of women in this community.
- Kindred — Octavia Butler – another historical fiction meets fantasy, this time about a black woman who is transported from modern times to the antebellum South. Her experience is terrifying but it’s also a nuanced look at slavery in the South.
- The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck – Classic novel about China in the 1900’s, about the life of a hard-working farmer and the corrupting influence of success over the generations.
- The Confidence Code – Katty Kay and Claire Shipman – A must-read for most women, this book researches the differences in confidence between men and women, the possible causes, and the impacts on our career and personal lives. More importantly, it has good suggestions for accepting “how we’re built” but strengthening our confidence.
- The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell – while some of this book rambled, it’s the kind of book you think about long after you’ve finished. This acclaimed work of science fiction is unique in that it’s written by a woman and the main character is a non-white male. It’s also a fascinating look at first contact with an alien species and the interplay of religion and science.
- Astray – Emma Donoghue – I loved this collection of short stories based on real historical events. Donoghue covers centuries and continents, telling haunting stories about people taking emotional and physical journeys.
- Wild – Cheryl Strayed – I just finished this book so I had to add it. Like Astray, this is Strayed’s telling of the ultimate physical and emotional journey. I wasn’t sure it would work, but I found it inspiring.
Interestingly, all but one of these books were written by women, and nearly all are historical fiction. As always, a tough list to put together. What were your favorites this year?