My Best Books of 2016: Graphic Novels, Life-Changers & More

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What better way to kick off the new year than by recapping the amazing books I read in 2016, from true, simple, heart-tugging classics like “Of Mice and Men” to action-packed manga such as “Attack on Titan.” Here are my top 10 of the year, some of which may have even changed my life or my way of thinking. Let the countdown begin!

10. Honey and Salt, Carl Sandburg (Sandburg knew beauty and grace, the simple struggles of simple people, and the simple loveliness of life and death. He knew the truth of time and of silence. He knew nature. He knew love. His poetry always speaks to me, in this collection no less.)
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9. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates (“You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid to be you.” This book opened my eyes, as Coates writes a series of essays to his son on how to be black in America.)
8. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Rebecca Wells (This book made me cherish my own Ya-Yas – the people in my life who will always be a part of me, with whom I can always be myself. Regardless of the mistakes we make in life, the point at the end is that we loved, as best we could.)
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7. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black (I could not stop reading this amazing futuristic vampire fiction. Holly Black has “Twilight” beat a million times over. I dare you to enter this world that blends our obsession with reality television with the real-life appearance of vampires.)

6. Attack on Titan, Hajime Isayama (This manga series has literally changed a part of my life. I am now into watching the anime [the animated show], which enters its second season soon, and the live-action movie adaptations. The zombie-esque, human-eating Titans fascinate me [and tickle my zombie-loving side], but even better is the nuanced, heartfelt relationship between protagonists Eren and Mikasa. I cannot wait to see how the battle to save humankind progresses.)


5. Maus I & II, Art Spiegelman (Incredibly culturally significant, Spiegelman’s Maus graphic novels tell the story of his father’s survival of the Holocaust, and his subsequent tense relationship with his father years later. Such a fascinating story, so real and lifelike, even though the characters are actually depicted as animals – mice and cats. Highly recommend.)


4. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck (This classic hit me hard when I finally read it. I had always thought it was too long, but had never realized it is actually a very short, concise, self-contained story with characters and a plot that are unforgettable. I finished it in one evening. I can’t wait to teach it this year. Shout out to Ms. Baskett, a fellow teacher, for inspiring me to read it.)

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3. Turn Right at Machu Picchu, Mark Adams (One of the few non-fiction books I read this year, Turn Right made me fall in love with its descriptions of Peru, its fascinating people, historical facts and anecdotes, and the author’s journey retracing the footsteps of Hiram Bingham, the “discoverer” of Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is, of course, a lifelong obsession of mine, and finding this gem of a book was a joy to my ancient-city-loving heart.)
2. The Color Purple, Alice Walker (Unflinchingly blunt and soul-baringly beautiful. Alice Walker has a way of writing simple, truthful and poignant stories. The Color Purple is a fast read and one that will [should] make you cry, as it did for me. I also recommend her short story, “Flowers.”)
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1. The Red Tent, Anita Diamant (Going in, I anticipated that I would like this book, but I did not anticipate how thoughtfully written and beautiful its story would be. It offers a look into the lives of women in biblical times and challenges us to think critically about our own lives, our own mothers and our own choices. For anyone who knows the Bible well, it is fascinating; for anyone who doesn’t, it is an intriguing story in its own right. I cannot underscore enough how beautifully it highlights the story of women and the connection all women have to each other. In our power- and attention-hungry society, many women forget that “we are all born of the same mother.” If only we could learn something from this ancient story, this “midrash”, perhaps our connections would be deeper. Perhaps we could learn to respect and love each other, rather than to hate and tear down.)

HONORABLE MENTIONS:
The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman, Issues 49-101 (As a huge zombie and TWD fan, I would be remiss not to read the comics that inspired the show. It has been incredibly hard to get hold of them though, so my reading has been sporadic and slow. Here’s to catching up this year. I will say they are pretty darn amazing, but even more violent and graphic than the show. So, fair warning.)
Me Before You, Jojo Moyes (Sometimes I read a book that just plain annoys me. This one didn’t annoy me or offend me because of the subject matter [assisted suicide] or the fact that the protagonist [antagonist?] chooses an unconventional route. No, it annoyed me because it dragged on SO LONG. I liked it, I really did, but I felt the writer was overcompensating for her character’s choices and the difficult subject matter by overexplaining and dragging out the decision. The last book that annoyed me this much was Atonement which still holds the top spot, because Me Before You had some good spots.)
A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness (A recommendation from my dear friend and voracious reader, Martha. I loved Ness’ Chaos Walking series, so I had no doubts I would love this one equally as well. I thoroughly enjoyed A Monster Calls, but Ness’ series has more strength to the writing and storyline. Definitely recommended reading though, especially since the film came out this year.)
Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (A beautifully illustrated, incredibly human story of a girl growing up in Iran during the tumultuous years surrounding 1980. The history and details are fascinating, especially when told through such a personal lens. I read it in two sittings.)
Stargirl, Jerry Spinelli (A lovely, sweet story of a girl different from everyone in her high school, who eventually inspires them to be a little different, too.)
Sarai, Jill Eileen Smith (I have never delved into Biblical fiction, but from the moment I downloaded this as an e-book on my iPhone, I couldn’t put it down. It was over 800 iPhone pages, but the story was incredibly well-written. The character development was intricate, the story well-paced, and the dedication and attention to detail with Old Testament history was quite impressive.)
Lyra’s Oxford, Philip Pullman (A delightful companion to Pullman’s His Dark Materials series which literally changed my way of thinking about the stories in Genesis of creation and the garden of good and evil. A darn good series, and this short story related to it pulled me back into that world for a bit.)
The Green Mile, Stephen King (Honorable mention, even though the book is just as good as the movie, because it took me forever to read! Also, if you have seen the movie, the novel is very similar, so you aren’t missing much. However, it was cool to step into that story in a deeper way.)
Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell (A story that feels real, a story that is vulnerable, open and familiar. Two teens fall in love in the 1980s. They aren’t a perfect match. Tragedy ensues.)
Every Day, David Levithan (Enjoyed the beginning and the concept, but was disappointed in the direction the story took. Want to read the second book to see where the ending goes.)
The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein (A lovely book, written from the perspective of a very intelligent dog named Enzo. I really enjoyed the story, as well as Enzo’s philosophical wonderings.)
This Dark Road to Mercy, Wiley Cash (Wiley Cash never ceases to amaze with his down-home, Southern stories that are so true to the South, you know Cash is from North Carolina. This one is a Southern Gothic with settings in Gastonia [where I work] and Myrtle Beach [where everyone from ’round here vacations].)
The Guardian, Nicholas Sparks (Better than any other Sparks book I’ve read, especially considering that my main complaint is usually that his books are nothing but love stories. Throw in some crime and, well, you’ve got something a little different.)
Amulet series, Kazu Kibuishi (A beautifully illustrated, magical graphic novel series with a fantasy story I really enjoyed.)

GRAPHIC NOVELS:
Last but not least, I read a ton of graphic novels this year. Needless to say, it’s one of my new favorite literary forms. And my students LOVE them. Here’s a shortlist:
The Walking Dead comics 49-101
Maus 1 & 2
Persepolis
Attack on Titan 1-4
Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code, Eoin Colfer
Amulet 1-5, Kazu Kibuishi

What were your favorite books of 2016? Did you read anything life-changing? If so, I want to hear about it! For more on any of these, check out my Goodreads account, or the recap of my year in books. Happy reading!