The Best Books I Read in 2016

Last New Year’s Eve, I was under (self-imposed) pressure to finish the book I was reading for my new book club. I set a goal of 52 books (one book per week) for 2015 on Goodreads and it was really satisfying to meet my goal, even if it was at the very last minute.

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Like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, I’m not afraid of a challenge.

This year, I set a goal of 55 books. Knowing I really wanted to hit my goal before the end of the year, I kept checking the status of how I was doing on Goodreads all year long, and I’m at 66 books with just over a week to go!  There are still so many books on my TBR pile, both in my apartment and on my Amazon wish list. If you’re interested in reading more, taking a reading challenge can help motivate you.

Here are some of the best books I read this past year.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

This fall, I took a Children’s Book Publishing course at NYU. My classmates and I read books from picture books to middle grade to YA (I included some of the middle grade and YA in my challenge, but not all). My favorite book from the class was Smile by Raina Telgemeier, which is a graphic novel/memoir crossover. I loved it so much, I chose it as the subject of my final presentation for the class, which was a mock pitch targeted towards the sales and marketing teams of a publishing house. The voice was so relatable and honest. Plus, I had braces (and headgear!) for several years. If you enjoyed Smile, I also recommend Telgemeier’s second book, Sisters.

Pretty Little Killers: The Truth Behind the Savage Murder of Skylar Neese by Daleen Berry and Geoffrey Fuller

I shared a link to a story about Skylar Neese in this post in September 2014. I finally ordered and read the book to learn more about the story. The short version: two girls killed their “best friend” and covered it up for many months. Their tweets play an interesting role in uncovering the truth behind what happened. True crime fans will find this fascinating.

American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales

I’m fascinated by the way social media shapes our culture, and Nancy Jo Sales does a deep dive into how social sharing platforms fit into the lives of young people in this book. Young women in particular are constantly criticized in popular culture for their use of social media, and this book is a great way to hear from teens directly how they feel about using these platforms. I also gained some takeaways for my personal and professional social media use.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

I was so excited to win an arc of this book on Goodreads that when it didn’t arrive, I tracked down a contact at the publishing house to make sure it was still coming (and it did!) I’ve previously read and loved Abbott’s Dare Me, The End of Everything and The Fever, and there is no one who captures the darkness of teenage girls in a more captivating way. This book, set in the world of competitive gymnastics, does not disappoint. It’s also a commentary on the sacrifices families make to for their children to succeed in a competitive sport.

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

👓 #girlsonfire

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Set in the early 1990s, Girls on Fire is the story of a passionate, dangerous friendship. Megan Abbott’s blurb of the book describes it as “A captivating, terrifying novel, and one you won’t forget,” and I second that! It was un-put-downable and resonated with me long after I finished it.

Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave by Jill Kargman 

Loved this collection of essays @jillkargman 📖

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I’ve been a fan of Odd Mom Out creator and writer Jill Kargman’s essays and novels for the longest time. The Right Address (co-authored with Carrie Karasyov) came out in 2004 and my best friend gave it to me. This Christmas, I got her a copy of this book, which is a follow-up to her most recent essay collection, Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut. I love her humorous take on the notoriously stuffy culture of the Upper East Side.

I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam

In my book club, we’ve read a couple of books in the women-work-life space, including #Girlboss, Unfinished Business and the novel A Window Opens. I was interested in this book because the author connected with real women about their lives and schedules. This book is a positive voice in what often feels like a depressing conversation about busy-ness and overscheduled lives and shows by example that having a job and a life is possible.

 The Girls by Emma Cline

#thegirls 📚

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This book got a lot of pre-publication buzz – and rightly so! I loved the writing. The Girls is a fictional account of the women connected to Charles Manson in the 1960s. It’s dark and engrossing, and there are a lot of universal truths about coming of age as a teenager that resonate, no matter the decade. If you enjoyed this book, you might also want to check out the author’s 2014 essay, “See Me,” in The Paris Review.

Where You’ll Find Me by Natasha Friend

@natashafriendauthor's books = all the feels 👓 #bookstagram @fiercereads

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Natasha Friend is one of my absolute favorite middle grade/YA authors (I highly recommend Bounce, Lush and Perfect) because her characters’ voices are hilarious but also emotionally authentic. Thirteen-year-old Anna is dealing with a breakup with her best friend, her mother’s suicide attempt AND a new stepmom and baby sister. The book details how she finds herself in the face of all of these challenges.

I’m hoping to read a few more books by the end of the year! What were your favorite books of 2016?

What my piano teacher taught me about passion

Or: why I spend my days off at the library.

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I began piano lessons in second grade. Although I don’t currently play, I was lucky to learn about music at a young age. I practiced often, though not religiously, and had lessons every other week at the home of my teacher, Mrs. G.

I don’t remember the exact context of the conversation — whether we were discussing how often I practiced, or her career as a pianist and teacher, but during one of our lessons, Mrs. G said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said that when she was at the piano, there was nothing else she would rather be doing. There was nowhere else she’d rather be. I thought that was so inspiring, for someone to have found an activity they love so much that there is nothing else they’d rather be doing. I knew that, although enjoyed playing the piano and taking lessons, that I didn’t feel that way about music. And so, at the end of seventh grade, when the time came to decide whether I would serve as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, which would mean the end of my piano lessons, the decision was not so difficult.

One of my favorite writers, Gretchen Rubin, created a list of Eight Splendid Truths while writing her bestseller The Happiness Project. The fifth splendid truth is: I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature

This summer, I’ve spent several of my vacation days at my local library. I love hanging out there; it’s a relaxing place to write, check out books, and do research for a writing project I’m working on. I can see why some people would think that’s lame, since there are so many fun activities a person can do on a summer day. But, when I’m writing or working on my project, there is nothing else I’d rather be doing. There is nowhere else I’d rather be. 

On Getting My First iPhone at 30

 

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I got my first iPhone a few weeks ago, at age 30. Not a lot of people know this, since most people who know me know that I like to keep up with the latest in social media and communication.

But it wasn’t always that way.

I was a middle schooler in the late 90s, when ~the~ hot way to communicate with friends  was to send messages to each other’s beepers from a landline using numeric codes like 143 and 133. Compared to the emojis and GIFs available on smartphones today, these codes seem comparable to using a carrier pigeon or chiseling a message into stone. But, as a blissfully clueless late bloomer, the only tech device I owned during my tween years was a Tamagotchi.

When I started high school, I was given my older sister’s maroon beeper, complete with a miniature elastic bungee cord, should it slide out of my pocket. As for voice communication, there was the family landline, which I would call collect after sports practice or play rehearsal ended, blurting, ITSKIMBERLYCOMEPICKMEUP when asked for my name. Then, I would hang up and wait.

When I was a junior, I got my first ~real~ cell phone. The year was 2002, and it was an Ericsson that did not flip closed, prompting a classmate to ask, “Does that thing come with its own briefcase?” The phone didn’t have a vibrate function, so it chirped during class whenever I got a text message, but I didn’t mind, because the Ericsson was a major step up from the pay phone.cellphone

I T9-texted my way through college on Verizon LG and Razr flip phones.  In my early and mid-twenties, hanging on strong to the family plan, I took whatever Verizon phone I could get for free during our biennial upgrade.

But, within the last five years or so, it became clear that I was an Android girl in a world designed for iPhones. Group texts with friends who had iPhones almost never worked correctly. Photos would materialize hours after the accompanying text message. The emoji selection was limited and often mangled in translation. (If an Android user sends a smile and it comes through as gritted teeth, is it really still a smile? Serious philosophical question.) I couldn’t use anyone else’s charger when my battery was low. And major retailers typically only offered cases for iPhones. 

 

While I wanted to be able to download the latest version of Snapchat and use iMessage, I recognized that these were first-world problems, not the end of the world. In the past, when I was eligible for an upgrade, upgrading to the iPhone was still several hundred dollars. A big expense like this wasn’t realistic or important while I was paying down my credit card debt, and even immediately after.

In high school and college, I occasionally got my hair highlighted with money I earned babysitting. My hairstylist said something that I’ve never forgotten. I asked her how long I should wait until getting my roots touched up, and she said, “Wait until you can’t stand it anymore.” That’s good advice when considering any non-essential expense: the better TV, a fresh manicure, a new couch, a phone.

The hairstylist’s advice was in the back of my mind when, a few weeks ago, I became eligible for an upgrade again. Several years ago, I interviewed for a job that involved managing social media for a major brand. In the midst of trying to explain why the brand could benefit from having a presence on Snapchat, I admitted that I didn’t currently use Snapchat. I had, for a while, but I had to delete it from my phone because there wasn’t enough space for it, and it drained the battery. It occurred to me that having an outdated Android phone had put me at a professional disadvantage.

Social media has become an important part of my current job, so being well-versed in popular and emerging platforms has become increasingly important to me. Plus, more and more businesses have developed apps that make everyday tasks easier, from banking to meditating to ordering coffee, but not all of them are available to Android users.

For just under $200, I got the iPhone 6+, and I’m happy with the choice I made. I got a lot of congratulatory “Welcome to civilization!” texts, but I’m glad I didn’t give into the peer pressure sooner. Is there anything more lame than someone with a new iPhone who complains about how “poor” they are?  (My friend Donna Freedman wrote a great post about this back in 2010 that still resonates.)

I waited until I couldn’t stand it anymore.

 

My Word for 2016: Permission

Two of my thought-leadership role models, Gretchen Rubin and Ann Shoket, recommend choosing a single-word theme to shape the new year.

Other than signing up for a new Goodreads Challenge (I’m aiming to beat my 2015 challenge of 52 books with 55 in 2016), I haven’t made new year’s resolutions in the past couple of years. Instead, I set small goals throughout the year. However, I like the idea of a one-word theme. Gretchen’s is two words, “Lighten up,” and Ann’s is “Deeper.”

For 2016, I’ve chosen PERMISSION as my one-word theme. One aspect of myself I’d like to work on is self-compassion because I tend to be highly self-critical.

A few months ago, I had planned to work through a to-do list I had made on a Sunday afternoon. I don’t remember what was on it, specifically. It was probably running errands, doing some cleaning and other things to get ready for the week ahead. But I felt too tired to power through the list. I wanted to take a nap, but the voice in my head told me that if I did, that would make me lazy and self-indulgent. What reason did I have to be tired? I hadn’t stayed up late. In a brief moment of self-compassion, I thought, I am giving myself permission to take a nap. And this permission was a light-bulb moment for me. As it turns out, I wasn’t lazy, I was sick. The next day, I woke up with a bad case of the flu. My body needed rest; I gave it permission to take that rest.

The theme of permission, to me, isn’t about sleeping. It’s about getting out of my own way. It’s about providing myself with opportunities to work hard and also to have fun. I want to give myself permission to say yes and permission to say no, and permission to let go of the guilt that comes with those choices. 

2015 was a good year for me. I finished paying off over $35,000 of credit card debt, adopted an adorable cat, took three courses at NYU (including fiction, which was terrifying, but fun!) and got promoted at work. In 2016, I’d like to do more writing, so my goal is to give myself permission to write, and permission to say no to things that aren’t as important as writing.

What would you do if you gave yourself permission?