What I Read in 2016 - The Wholesome Handbook

When I think back to my girlhood, I think of books. I think of words illuminated by the thin beam of yellow hallway light under the door, long after I was supposed to have been asleep. I think of laying under the shade of the giant poplar tree in my front yard, my arms pleasantly sore from hoisting the newest Harry Potter over my head for hours. I think of the looming, mysterious slopes of the glass-walled pyramid library near the shopping mall, and how my heart would flutter in my ribcage when I entered those doors. I think of the agonizing punishment I would receive for misbehaving – my books locked away until bedtime, and nothing to do but (o, horrors,) interact with the other neighborhood children.

When I was a teenager, I’d leave my lunch at home to have more room for books in my knapsack. At any time, I had three notebooks with me – one for poetry and lyrics, one a journal, and one for sketches – and, of course, a novel or two. I read White Oleander by Janet Finch thirteen times in high school, practically eating the words, turning them over with my tongue. I was voracious. My first real boyfriend was a writer, and it was my favourite thing about him.

Somehow, as I grew older, I stopped reading for pleasure. It might have been the pressures of university, it might have been my depression, but I slowly dwindled my reading habit down to just one or two books a year. At the start of 2016, I made a promise to myself to get back into the groove and read forty books – and with six hours to spare, I slid into home.

The Best

Interview with the Vampire – Anne Rice
I couldn’t put this book down! It was chilling, gorgeous, and erotic, an immersive and intoxicating read that left my inner goth very much satisfied. I love a good, brooding anti-hero, especially one wrestling with the big questions of the universe while living between good and evil, life and death, eternity and oblivion. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read, in fact, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series someday.

Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
Neverwhere has magic, danger, darkness, and whimsy in equal measure. Although the story is your typical hero’s journey, Gaiman somehow always manages to put a unique spin on things. His villains are excellent, his heroes relatable, his settings atmospheric, and damn it, his books are just plain fun to read.

The First Book of Calamity Leek – Paula Lichtarowicz
This book is bizarre and beautiful, sweet and sinister. The slow reveal of the cult-like dystopia the girls live in is masterfully done. It isn’t until you reach the middle of the book that you realize the extent of the horrors in the garden, and by then, Calamity’s world is spiraling out of control and taking you right along with it. I read this book in two sittings, and I would have read it in one if I didn’t have to go to work that day.

The Worst

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
I don’t even want to talk about it. I feel personally betrayed by how incredibly awful this book was. The more I think about it, the more upset I get. It’s the same feeling the Hobbit movies give me – an exploitative, cheapened version of the real story that I refuse to accept as canon.

Indigo – Catherine E. McKinley
This book was self-indulgent and boring. The cover lied to me, promising me an exploration of the history, culture, and spirituality of the practice of dyeing with indigo – but it’s just a colourless first-person account of an academic whining her way through Africa. Maybe it was because I was expecting something completely different, but it really left a bad taste in my mouth.

Sleigh Belles – Janice Hanna
I almost feel like I shouldn’t be allowed to include this book in this list, because I genuinely loved reading it. But then again, I love anything campy and over-the-top, and that’s exactly what this book was. Let’s just say it’s exactly the quality of storytelling you would expect from a Christian romance novel starring a sexy cowboy-slash-painter and an anti-suffragette southern belle.

All Forty Books, In the Order I Read Them

1. Interview with the Vampire – Anne Rice
2. The Poetic Edda – translated by Jeramy Dodds
3. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Anne Sheffer & Annie Barrows
4. Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert
5. Poems That Make Grown Men Cry – compiled by Anthony Holden & Ben Holden
6. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Marie Kondo
7. The Moon is Always Female – poems by Marge Piercey
8. The Life of Elves – Muriel Barbery
9. The First Book of Calamity Leek – Paula Lichtarowicz
10. Bear – Marian Engel
11. The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro
12. Women Who Run With the Wolves – Clarissa Pinkola Estes
13. Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen
14. The Incarnations – Susan Barker
15. Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen
16. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
17. The Ghost Brush – Katherine Govier
18. Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery
19. Goddesses in Everywoman – Jean Shinoda Bolen
20. Indigo – Catherine E. McKinley
21. Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
22. The Enchantress of Florence – Salman Rushdie
23. The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
24. Alif the Unseen – G. Willow Wilson
25. The Glass Castle – Jeanette Walls
26. Practical Magic – Alice Hoffman
27. Sassafras, Cypress, & Indigo – Ntozake Shange
28. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
29. The Summer Book – Tove Jansson
30. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen
31. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek – Annie Dillard
32. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
33. Still Life with Woodpecker – Tom Robbins
34. The Ballroom – Anna Hope
35. The High Kings – Joy Chant
36. The Secret of the Jade Ring: A Dana Girls Mystery – Carolyn Keene
37. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce
38. Endless Night – Agatha Christie
39. Sleigh Belles – Janice Hanna
40. The Odyssey – Homer

In 2017, I’ve set a goal of 52 books for myself. That’s one book a week. You can follow along with my reading adventures by searching #wh52books on Instagram, or see each review of 2016 by searching for “#40books2016”.