2016 in Review: My Favorite Books

Friday, December 16, 2016

What do I love more than podcasts? (My kids you say? Ha, you’re cute). BOOKS! I love books!!! I’ve read about 45 this year (well 42 according to GoodReads but I’m reading 3 right now, so 45 it is). I’ve taken personality tests where I could answer all questions with books: what makes you relax, what is your ideal vacation, what are you passionate about? I’m kind of boring this way -but, also, easy to give gifts to. This year was good for books. I had time to read -lately thanks to Jude, since I lay with him and read whatever in on my Kindle App while he’s trying to fall asleep, which usually takes about 1-2 hours. Yes, I know, this is not the way to go. Shush. But hey, maybe it is. Who knows! 

I read some good and some terrible books this year. Here are my favorites (by the way, these may not have been published in  2016 but I read them this year):

Non Fiction

Bread and Wine,  by Shauna Niequist. Oh I love LOVE this book. In this series of essays, Shauna reflect on some moments of her life, from births to friendships to career highs and lows to traumatic life moments, -and all are bonded with food (she includes some awesome-sounding recipes at the end of each essay), the act of preparation, the act of eating. Some images remain with me. She starts everything with sizzling onions while having a glass of wine. This image brings serenity to my mind. I can just imagine slowing down, chopping these onions, sipping wine, and letting the worries of the world leave my mind. Other tips are more concrete, such as cooking scrambled eggs on the slow fire setting -which I don’t have the patience to try! But most of all, she’s talking about community in such deep and relatable ways. Feeding her people, sharing life’s joys and sadness around a table. You can see -the laughter, the tears, the food, the deep communion of souls. One of my goal since we’ve moved to our new rental is to have more of these life-giving meals, to have people over (crappydinner style) and just do life together. I crave warm community and I love bread (food) and wine. This book was so inspiring and I will come back to it times and times again.

Tribe, by Sebastian Junger. Another book about community (feel a theme?). This relatively small book (less than 200 pages) explores why people are attracted to the idea of a bonded community. He explains why European settlers were leaving their friends and families to live with Native Americans (because everyone has a role and communities were equal in terms of income and protecting their tribe). He also explains why people bond together in moments of deep trauma (wars for instance) and are happier during trauma than once the trauma is gone and life resumes, with its individualism and lack of connectedness. He also talks about the ways different people experience trauma (in West African countries for instance people who had gone through terrible times felt ok until the international community came along and classified them as “victims” that needed support. I don’t know how I feel about that but I can see the validity of this point somehow). This made so much sense to me. First, I do understand how people need to bond together, feel like they belong to a group of like-minded people who will understand them and support them. I feel this way! A lot of people do -that’s why there are so many moms groups, book clubs, etc. And this is also so relevant to my work: to identifying trauma and supporting survivors however they need it (not the way we in the US or the “West” understand trauma but in the way other communities do), to understanding that some people who have bonded together during traumatic times are so lonely post-trauma that they seek that community again (which we see when survivors of trafficking go back to their group or soldiers go back to war). Overall a really interesting and eye opening book!

Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria, by Beverly Daniel Tatum. This year I’ve read quite a bit about relationships between races (gosh I hate that term. Race? Who are we- Nazis? In France teachers tell us there is only one race: the human race. But here “race” is used every day so I’ll go with that word). This book was really instrumental in explaining how we come to understand race for ourselves and for others. I’ll just give one example: the author says that in college people of color are generally more inclined to identify strongly with their “race” and reject the rest -especially white people, for clear and understandable reasons. I remember that when I was at UCLA I tried to volunteer as a tutor for a group of Black students -I didn’t know that it was such a group at the time. They straight told me that they didn’t want me there because they didn’t want oppressors to feel they were superior to students who needed help. That left me completely frustrated and flabbergasted frankly. But then I read this book and understood how normal this reaction was and how naïve I was to not understand that -also at that time I didn’t understand the history of “race” relationships in the US, so… The book was great to walk one through one’s understanding and identification with one or plural “races” and how one can be an ally for people of color. This is especially relevant to his post-election atmosphere.
Bonus #1: In the same vein, I enjoyed Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates -though that one was challenging because I felt almost personally attacked, but I know this is not about MOI so I got over it and kept on reading and boy, was that a deep, serious, and important book.
Bonus #2: Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson explores the justice system in the US. I knew of injustices but this was really eye-opening on a racial and economic level.
Bonus to the Bonuses: watch the documentary 13th on Netflix. Really well done and the end was chilling before November 8th, and downright scary since.


Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mue. We follow a family of migrants from Cameroon (Jonde Jonga, his wife Neni and their son) who apply for asylum in the US. This book tackles immigration obviously but also marriage, the 2008 economic crisis (as the employer of Jende Jonga works for a Big Bank), cultural differences, and the idea of the “American dream.” This was an enthralling and easy read. I really wanted to know what happened to their legal case and whether their relationship would survive the whole legal and economic ordeal. Some of my family members are from Cameroon, so the fact that this story had Cameroonians definitely added to the book’s appeal. Also the cover is splendid, which is almost never a factor in my decision to read books -but hey, it doesn’t hurt right!
Bonus: I’m now reading Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi, which explores the lives of 2 Ghanaian half-sisters and their descendants as one was sold to slavery and the other stayed in Ghana. So far so excellent!

I Let You Go, by Clare Mackintosh. What a great mystery book! This is not a simple whodunit. It deals with… well, telling you what it deals with would be a major spoiler, so let me just tell you this is gripping and absolutely engrossing. The story starts with a mom, who, on her way back from picking her young son up from school non a rainy day, lets go of his hand for a split second, only to see him run over by a car, and killed. I kid you not, that’s the first scene. I was bawling. Because dead boy. Are you kidding me? Then we follow both the investigative team and the woman we learn is the one who was in the car -who has fled the town to a coastal small town. I loved this book. It kept me interested to the end and, unlike most mystery book, didn’t disappoint at the end.

What about you? Did you read a lot this year? If so, what did you enjoy?

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