Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2016 Can Bite Me: a Book List

2016 has been a bad year for most people, us included. We've had a cross-country move, multiple job losses, insane stress, financial struggles, and the election. Prince, Florence Henderson, and Gwen Ifill died. Like many people, in times of stress, I turn to books. Books can make things feel better. But if you're not careful in your choices, they can also make things worse. It's not always that easy to tell, as some book descriptions are deceptive or just difficult, but this has been a year when being careful with book selections was more important than ever.

For me, when I'm really stressed, I tend to revert to reading a lot of memoirs, my favorite genre. This year while I did start out reading a lot of them, I tapered off dramatically the last few months, outside of audiobooks. I've read 26 memoirs out of 96 total books so far. Usually schadenfreude is helpful, not to mention reading about people who went through worse times than I have makes me feel like I can make it out the other side too. But I started to feel like I just couldn't read about any more horrible stories about bad things happening to nice people. And the memoirs that aren't about bad things just felt fluffy and silly.

Some weeks I almost felt like I couldn't read at all. I was too exhausted, wiped out, had no ability to concentrate or might fall asleep or I just wanted to watch Friends and play Solitaire on my phone. So a solution was audiobooks. I listened to 14 audios this year which might just be an all-time high.

I was surprised that at times I turned to fiction. That's not usually my go-to for a feel-good book, as they often are filled with tragedy and pain. A Man Called Ove nearly had me weeping on the floor around page 80 but it more than redeemed itself, catapulting to one of the top spots as one of the most feel-good books ever. The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood I really identified with emotionally. And some more thriller-esque books like The Girls by Emma Cline and The Last September by Nina de Gramont were completely and totally distracting.

But what I've really gravitated to in the worst of times is science and history. Those books can't surprise you with a tragic twist. They can't hit too close to home. I can read about James Buchanan and about genetic mapping without worrying something will remind me that I'm unemployed and broke. I can read about Cold War spies and about animal behavior without worrying about feeling too many emotions that open not-even-closed wounds and threaten my precarious emotional balance.

This terrible year has been the year of feel-good books a la A Man Called Ove, and I have a few other books in that vein in my queue, but I personally think that science and history are going to be in heavy rotation for me in 2017 (at least until I get a new job!) A few on my list are Hero of the Empire, The Soul of an Octopus, Dead Wake, and I Contain Multitudes. What science and history books ought I add to my list? Do you have any great recommendations? What do you read when you're in the doldrums?


Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry about all the rotten personal things for you this year, on top of all the regular rotten things. When i'm blue I like to re-read favorites like Pride and Prejudice, Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions, Brock Cole's Celine, Lorrie Moore's story "How to Become a Writer." Annie Dillard. I can see what you mean about science and history. I guess re-reading gives me the added assurance that I know what's coming. Though Celine gets sadder to me each time I read it, the older i get.

Dusty said...

I too like history as it reassures me that times have been precarious before. But I enjoy essays as my attention span is not what it was.