Books—even paragraphs, sometimes even sentences—have the power to change us. To grow us. To move us.
The following books did that for me this year. They were not only enjoyable in the hours of reading, but they also stuck with me long after the last page was read.
Here are lists of my “Top 10 Nonfiction Books” and “Top 10 Novels,” plus 10 more books that are too important not to mention. Many, but not all, were published in 2016. But regardless of the copyright date, they all speak as loud and clear to our times as when they were originally written. Listed in no particular order.
Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2016
1. Warriors Don’t Cry
The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High
by Melba Pattilo Beals
The author and eight other teens in 1957 (the Little Rock Nine) were the first black students to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School. Hearing the stories was hard, but so important to listen to, even years later. We must learn to walk beside the oppressed, even if we also become oppressed as a result.
2. Writing My Wrongs
Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison
by Shaka Senghor
When Shaka Senghor was 19 years old, he murdered a man. This book shares what he learned while serving a prison sentence and afterwards. Another important book that can change your perspective on many things.
See more quotes here on my post, “Stop the Humiliation and Restore the Dignity”
3. I Am Malala
The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
by Malala Yousafzai
In Pakistan in 2012, 15-yr-old Malala refused to be silent about the closing doors of educational opportunities for girls. She was shot in the head by the Taliban. She survived and now tells her story. She is the youngest Nobel Prize recipient ever. And quite an inspiration, no matter your age.
4. Stumbling on Happiness
by Daniel Todd Gilbert
This engaging book describes what we think will make us happy, and what really does. Based on the latest scientific research, it’s quite eye-opening. We’re actually horrible predictors of our future happiness scenarios.
5. Without You, There Is No Us
Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite
by Suki Kim
Suki Kim is a journalist who went undercover to teach English at a boys’ college in North Korea. Kim’s stories are haunting and sad, but also endearing. This book helps us understand more about people who we think are very different from us, but perhaps not as different as we think.
6. Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Until we can move past our white privilege, everybody suffers. This is a profound book that the African-American author Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote to his teenage son about systemic racism in America.
7. The Boys in the Boat
Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
by Daniel James Brown
This wonderful book is about the U.S. rowing crew from the University of Washington and their journey entering the 1936 Olympics. It’s beautifully told and reads like a novel.
8. Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age
by Bob Cutillo, MD
We live in the most medically-advanced era yet. But we are increasingly concerned about our health anyway. This book explores why, and from a Christian perspective.
9. Better Than Before
Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives
by Gretchen Rubin
How do we make habits? How can we break the bad ones and keep the good ones? This is a practical book about how to organize our lives in the best way possible.
10. No Mud, No Lotus
The Art of Transforming Suffering
by Thich Nhat Hanh
We each have trials in life. We can’t escape them. But we can be transformed through them. In this book Hanh talks about facing our suffering without being overwhelmed by it.
Top 10 Novels of 2016
1. The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead
This is the powerful story of Cora, a slave on a Georgia plantation, in the 1800s. When she receives an opportunity to escape, she leaves on a literal underground railroad, a system of tracks and tunnels beneath the ground. The story chronicles the ups and downs of how she goes and where she ends up. Excellent in plot, in perspective, and in writing.
2. Underground Airlines
by Ben H. Winters
What if the Civil War never happened, and the states actually did divide into basically two countries, with slavery still existing? This novel set in modern times gives a haunting look at what might have been.
3. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven
by Chris Cleave
This novel is a beautifully-told story of World War 2 from the British side. It chronicles the journeys of the young socialite Mary in London, a black American student Zachary that she befriends, and Alastair, an art curator who enlists in the British army.
4. The Fellowship of the Ring
(The Lord of the Rings, #1)
by J.R.R. Tolkien
I didn’t expect to enjoy it so much, after starting the trilogy when I was younger and finding it too confusing. But as an adult, I enjoyed starting over with Frodo Baggins and Sam and the Ring of Power.
5. The Two Towers
(The Lord of the Rings, #2)
I couldn’t stop with book 1 of The Lord of the Rings. In this classic the Fellowship separates, but the mission to destroy the Ring goes forward.
6. The Return of the King
(The Lord of the Rings, #3)
The adventures continue and finally come to a satisfying end in the final book of the trilogy. I’m so glad I invested time in reading them all this year, although I’m sure I still missed a lot. These books are as full of symbolism as they are of narrative.
7. Before the Fall
by Noah Hawley
This mesmerizing novel is about a small plane crash off Martha’s Vineyard and the story of the passengers’ lives before and after.
8. A Man Called Ove
by Fredrik Backman
I almost gave up on this one after 50 pages. I couldn’t connect with the grouchy main character, Ove. But I’m glad I listened to others who loved this book, and kept going. Ove’s reluctant yet inevitable encounters with his neighbors make this worth the read.
9. When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead
This 2010 Newbery Medal winner is about 6th grader Miranda and a series of anonymous letters she’s receiving in 1978 in her home in New York. It’s a fun and easy to read mystery (and includes a few A Wrinkle in Time references).
10. The One-in-a-Million Boy
by Monica Wood
This excellent novel is the moving story of 104-year-old Ona and her friendship with a special 11-year-old Boy Scout, even though he dies on the third page of the book. The novel travels nicely back and forth through time as you piece the whole puzzle together. It’s a heart-wrenching story.
10 More Books that Are Important
- Hillbilly Elegy
A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
by J. D. Vance
- The Bridge to Brilliance
How One Principal in a Tough Community Is Inspiring the World
by Nadia Lopez
- Listening Is an Act of Love
A Celebration of American Life from the Storycorps Project
by Dave Isay
- 10-Minute Digital Declutter
The Simple Habit to Eliminate Overwhelm from Technology, Social Media, and Online Distractions
by S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport
[my book review]
- The Road to Character
by David Brooks
- The Path of Centering Prayer
Deepening Your Experience of God
by David Frenette
- Christianity After Religion
The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening
by Diana Butler Bass
- The Great Spiritual Migration
How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian
by Brian D. McLaren
- The Wisdom of the Enneagram
by Don Richard Riso, Russ Hudson
- The Upside of Irrationality
The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home
by Dan Ariely
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What’s a good book you have read this year? Please share in the comments.
- Is There a Better Way to Be Christian?
- What Will You Tell? “Go Tell It on the Mountain”