My Favorite Books of 2016



I know it’s almost half way through February, but I decided to write about my favorites of all the books I read in 2016.  I read other good books too, but, looking back, these were the ones I enjoyed the most.  I’m sure you’ll find some common themes and maybe some authors you’d like to try.


North of Normal: A Memoir of My Wilderness Childhood, My Unusual Family, and How I Survived Both by Cea Sunrise Person

The author of this book is an amazing person who survived having almost no consistency or anyone to count on growing up.  And she had to grow up long before she was an adult chronologically.  Person’s happiest memories were those of her time spent with her extended family living off the grid in Canada’s wilderness.  But it all felt apart way too soon.  This book is a can’t-put-down story that is very well written.  I’m glad the author survived—her strength blows me away!


Dietland by Sarai Walker

This book is a crazy combination of revenge fantasy, fantasy-fantasy, and reflection on our culture and its attitude towards obesity and how we absorb those attitudes and hate ourselves.  It’s a novel and a very surprising one.  This book was one I didn’t want to stop reading!


The Giver Quartet Omnibus by Lois Lowry

This edition includes all four books in The Giver series.  I’d already read the first three, but not one right after the other.  Reading them consecutively cleared up some of my confusion about what happened in the second and third books and how it tied together.  The Giver, has to be one of the most profound books I’ve ever read and I think many people would agree.  I usually stay away from dystopian fiction, but this series is different.  The wisdom and people and relationships are the stars, not radiation, zombies, and destruction.  Once you read The Giver I’m pretty sure you’re going to want to read the next books.  It feels like an imperative to find out what happened to the people in the book.


People Farm: A Largely True Story of Exploitation, Redemption, and Organic Sex in a Therapy Cult of the Early Aquarian Age by Steve Susoyev

This is a story about an Eden and like all Edens, it was corrupted.  It’s a story about what absolute power did to one man and what giving away their power did to many people.   It’s a story about the idealism of the sixties, something we might need a little of (and I did say little!) now.  And it’s the story of Steve Susoyev and what happened to him when he thought he found the answers he’d been looking for.


The Mother of God by Luna Tarlo

The author of this book experienced something incredible rare.  But not precious or extraordinary.  More like destructive and depressing.  Her son started a cult and came to be regarded as a messiah.  She joined his cult and then left his cult.  Reading this compelling book is not really fun, it’s more like not being able to look away from a train wreck.   But I read it because I wanted to understand Tarlo’s unique experience.


Church of Marvels: A Novel by Leslie Parry

A novel set in New York City at the turn of the 20th century, this book brings together strangers trying to survive.  The Church of Marvels is a Coney Island sideshow, but it’s burned down and the mother of two young women burnt with it.  A baby is found in a privy.  A woman wakes up in an asylum.  Everything and everyone comes together in this compelling story and it’s hard to stop ready even if it is 2:48 a.m.


 Between Gods: A Memoir by Alison Pick

The author finds out her heritage is not what she was led to believe it was.  She feels she has to choose between the god of her family’s past and the god she was raised to believe in.  She’s trying to finish a book.  She’s engaged, but is she committed?   Because it comes through her father’s side of the family and not her mother’s, Pick jumps through hoops set up by the established religion to become what she feels she already is:  Jewish.   Her frustration is palpable.  There’s a quietness about this book that makes it engaging and powerful.


King David: The Real Life of the Man Who Ruled Israel by Jonathan Kirsch

Kirsch is a Jewish scholar who has written several books about the Old Testament—and one about the last book in the New Testament, Revelations—that are informative, interesting, and eye-opening.  I have never been bored reading a book by Jonathan Kirsch.  I just hope he plans to write more.  I’ve read all but two.  When he reveals something and you see it, there’s this feeling of why didn’t I see that before?  It was always there!  He’s good that way.  This book is about King David, one of the most controversial and complicated people in the Bible.  It’s hard to understand why David was favored by God when you read about all the wrong things he did.  It’s another mystery we’re expected to take at face value and accept.  I used to do that with the Bible.  Every word of it.  I don’t anymore.  If you’re at all interested in how the Old Testament was written and put together and what it contains, I highy recommend Kirsch.


The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless

This book is for fans of Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer or the movie directed by Sean Penn.  Into The Wild tells the story of Chris McCandless who turned away from his family and society.  He eventually decided to live off the grid in Alaska, where he starved to death.  Both the book and movie do an excellent job of telling who, what, when, and where—but there’s a puzzling lack of anything about why.  Now Carine McCandless has given us the missing pieces about her brother’s motivation. The family would not reveal what they knew to Krakauer or Penn.  Now Carine has decided to let the world know what led to Chris’ journey away from all that was familiar and into the wild.



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