My year in reading, 2016

10 books I loved this year, in no particular order:


Brit Bennett, The Mothers

A lovely debut novel in which a church community and an abortion have equal heft and importance in three young black lives.

Glennon Doyle Melton, Love Warrior

A memoir of the modern relationship. Melton writes about her history of addiction, disordered eating, and intimacy issues with a lucid, loving voice.

Ann Patchett, Commonwealth

A gorgeous family epic that makes me feel like maybe I could write a sprawling story with such economy and beauty.

Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

I chose this novel because it won the Pulitzer the year I was born. It’s a beautiful American origin story. I wanted to be outdoors and horseback the entire time I read this book.

Rebecca Traister, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation

This is a book that ought to be read by all women in their twenties (and thirties). We’re unmarried and childless or maybe feeling pressured to have kids or thinking about adopting solo or tired of crappy first dates or secretly enamored of our solitary lives, and this book tells us that we are not alone.  

Michael Zielenziger, Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation

A fascinating look into the cultural malaise that runs rampant among Japan’s young adults, particularly the hikikomori, young men who shut themselves in their rooms and withdraw from society. 

Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club

A fierce, unsentimental memoir from the woman who brought this genre to its current staggering popularity. Recommended for anyone who wanted to escape their hometown.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

The work that we need in these times. Required reading for all Americans.

Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things

A surprisingly engrossing and richly researched novel. This feels like a book Liz Gilbert wrote for herself, which made me love it all the more.

Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies

Oh my god, this novel blew me away. I loved the flawed characters and the lush writing. Scenes from this book still play across my mind months after I closed the cover.

Here are ten more books I read and liked, any of which could probably go in the list above:


Read the newspaper daily

Age nine: I read the newspaper for entertainment. I sit at the kitchen table with my dad in the mornings as he reads the sports pages of the Statesman Journal and I read the living section, laughing at the black-and-white strips about vikings and talking crocodiles, a hapless cat owner and some fun-loving Army soldiers. I am obviously steeped deep in my nerdiness, but I hardly notice. I just want to read. I’ll take the backs of cereal boxes or any book on the bookshelf. All I need are words. 

Baby Blues teaches me that kids are exhausting and messy and funny. Zits teaches me that teenagers never grow up. Sally Forth teaches me that pop culture is fun and my parents can be my friends unless they’re trying. Comics open up a world larger and more diverse than my hometown, and I tumble in headfirst.


Age sixteen: I read the newspaper to know what’s important. A precocious and diligent student, I’m trying to wrap my head around the war in Iraq and an upcoming election. My grandpa decides to talk politics after a glass of wine at the Thanksgiving table, and I’m ready to engage him, spouting jobs numbers and arguing for my candidate like I understand what I’m talking about. 

I want to be informed, to be able to respond with intelligence when my government teacher puts forth a debate topic, and I find answers and perspective in the newspaper.     


Age nineteen: I read the newspaper because it’s shaping my career. A college sophomore and declared journalism major, I am now not just a reader of the newspaper but also a writer for a newspaper. The Gonzaga Bulletin runs my first article, a feature on Spokane’s Centennial Trail and surrounding recreation. Seeing my byline on the page sends thrills up my spine. 

I marvel at my own wit after I pen a headline for my second article, this one on seasonal affective disorder: “Feeling SAD? It could be the weather.” I unfold the issue only to note that my editor swiftly dispatched my clever creation for the droll alternative, “Lack of sunlight may cause mild seasonal sadness.”

I festoon the bulletin board in my dorm room with passionate op-ed columns and the clever weather squares that run on the front page of the Spokesman-Review, giving a cheeky little summary like “Plenty of clouds” or “Clearly a sunny one.” My college roommate comes back to our dorm room one day and shouts, “Ew! What’s a newspaper doing on my desk?!” I dissolve into giggles and tell her to read it for the twelfth time that semester


Age twenty-one: I read the newspaper to learn what’s hip. My girlfriends and I sit around an oversized wooden table at a downtown coffee shop on Sunday mornings, eating toasted bagels and drinking giant Americanos. We pretend we’re there to study, but we tend to page listlessly through The Inlander instead. We know we should be writing term papers. Instead, we’re trying to finish the crossword puzzle. 

We laugh as we read aloud the I Saw You submissions, we place too much importance on our silly horoscopes, we read movie reviews and ask each other what we would say in response to the On the Street question. Bonding over the alt-weekly paper, we affirm that we are finding ourselves in this world.

I have just finished a semester-long internship writing for this very paper, and now I Know Things. I have spoken with citizens at the voting booth and panhandlers on freeway exits, affluent couples pushing acai juice products and indie filmmakers. Newspapers continue to expand my perspective.


Age twenty-eight: I read the newspaper to understand the world. I didn’t become a journalist immediately, despite my earnest efforts. The magazine I interned for after I graduated from college ceased publication at the end of the summer, right when I was hoping to get a job.

Recently, I’ve been freelancing for my college’s quarterly magazine and submitting creative nonfiction pieces to far-flung literary journals. I am one of the few people I know at any age who subscribes to the newspaper, which has dropped home delivery to four days a week. My office receives the New York Times on weekdays and I gobble it up over lunch. If I’m traveling or at a meeting, it remains largely untouched.

I read articles about gender-fluid fashion and profiles on Syrian refugees. The New York Times writes a lot about the pope and my city. I read it all. I tear out recipes and drop pertinent articles on my coworkers’ desks. The newspaper helps me to form opinions, to empathize, to take a breath, to escape.

Last week, I accepted a job offer with a newspaper. As the engagement editor for National Catholic Reporter, I will be helping the 50-year-old paper reach new audiences and expand their storytelling efforts. I’m going to be learning about global initiatives and social justice efforts in serious detail. I am going to help others understand the world. I can’t wait to bring the stories on the page to life in conversation. 


Read more books

I don’t know how I first learned to read. My parents won’t take credit. My kindergarten teacher can’t claim she helped, because I was reading before I ever walked through the classroom door. I have no memory of how it started, so I hardly have the right to an opinion, but it’s a story I know well.

Sitting in the backseat at age two, I looked out the window at a sign and said, “Car!” My mom laughed, thinking I was mimicking her. “Wash!” I said. She stopped laughing.

When we stopped at a red light, she looked back at me. “Brittany, what does that sign say?” she asked, pointing. “Sale,” I said. 

She took me to her parents’ house that evening. “Mom, I think Brittany can read,” she said. My grandma took out a small chalkboard and wrote simple words. I read what she wrote: BOY. CAT. DOG. MOM. No one could understand it, but there I was, a reader.

– – –

Often during the holidays, my family sits down to watch a favorite video on VHS of me reading to my sister Erika. On film, I am four years old and she’s two. We’re wearing matching nightgowns and sitting by each other on the couch, although she keeps twisting around to ham it up for the camera. The Christmas tree twinkles behind us. 

My lispy voice squeaks as I read a Little Critter book, my delivery like a freight train. Nothing can stop me, not even Erika’s protests: “I wanna sing Jinga Bells!”

“‘Twas da night befoah Chwistmus and allll fwoo da house,” I lilt, charmed by the story. I am a reading machine.

My mom tells me how I used to plow though books sitting in the exam room at the pediatrician’s office. I’d happily oblige her, reading a Berenstain Bears book aloud, but once Dr. M walked in the door, I clammed up. “Brittany, please read a page for Dr. M,” my mom would ask, but I would stay silent, acting like I wasn’t in the room. I read for the books, not for other people.

– – –

In grade school, I had moved on from Bookmobile to school library, gladly devouring random selections from the shelves. I scared myself reading Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians in seventh grade and relished it from cover to cover. Later that year, I joined my friend Justine’s family for a road trip to Boise, where I learned to ski, but what I remember just as vividly is when we finally arrived at her brother’s house and I refused to socialize or go to sleep until I had finished Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

I’ve rarely let my social life keep me from reading, for better or worse. I was the girl on the hallway couch in high school who was reading during a free period. Maybe early on it was mostly the latest offering from Nora Roberts or Danielle Steel, but even the glittering, impossibly perfect lives in those novels taught me to think about what I truly want in life. Later, it was Literature, and I would have been happy to tell you why that was important if you asked. I thought I was a charming little scholar.

– – –

Books are a delicious escape from the world and a new horizon unfolding. They bring comfort and reality. They nurture and challenge. Even now, when I tell myself I’d rather be watching the latest episode of SNL or lying on the couch as I binge on an entire season of Orange Is The New Black, when I choose a book instead, I never regret it. Books help me understand other people and myself. They let me feel things. They help me seize possibility and growth.

Whether it’s a used paperback or a brand-new first edition, something I’m reading for the third time, or a book on the Kindle, I’m with Borges, who said, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”

– – –

A sampling of favorite books, in rough chronological order

1 Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss 

2 Corduroy by Don Freeman

3 Richard Scarry’s To Market, To Market 

4 Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

5 Snuggle Piggy and the Magic Blanket by Michelle Stepto

6 Little House on the Prairie (series) by Laura Ingalls Wilder

7 Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

8 Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

9 The Giver by Lois Lowry

10 The BFG by Roald Dahl

11 The Saddle Club (series) by Bonnie Bryant

12 Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples 

13 The Babysitters Club (series) by Ann M. Martin

14 Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

15 The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

16 Joyride by Gretchen Olson

17 The Gift by Danielle Steel

18 Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling

19 The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

20 East of Eden by John Steinbeck

21 Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

22 Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

23 All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

24 Spartina by John Casey

25 Mink River by Brian Doyle

26 The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

27 The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

28 Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

29 Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

30 Light Years by James Salter

31 Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

32 The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

33 Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

34 Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

35 Yes Please by Amy Poehler

36 The Dream of A Common Language by Adrienne Rich

37 Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

38 An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

39 Lit by Mary Karr

40 All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr