A year makes a big difference. 366 days ago, I was starting my second semester as a high school junior and I was looking with deer-in-the-headlight eyes into the year to come. 2016 was the year that I would start my last year of high school, the year I would start writing my first novel as part of my independent study, the year I would apply to college and, with any scrap of luck, get into the school of my dreams. 2016 was loaded with opportunities and all I wanted to do was take advantage of them.
And now, 366 days later, I am not at all the person I thought I would be, but I think that that’s for the better. I accomplished my goals, checked off the boxes, but the changes I’ve experienced over the past year cannot be defined by a checklist. I’ve grown as a reader and a writer, a student and a person, and I owe most of this change to the amazing literature that I encountered in 2016.
Listed below are just a few of my favorites. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to talk about all the fabulous books I read this year, but these three left a definitive mark on my relationship with reading and writing. So, without further ado, let’s take a trip down memory lane and reminisce on what reminded me why I love words.
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
Words cannot describe how much I loved this book—I’m honestly getting chills just thinking about it. The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan, which was published posthumously after her tragic death in 2012, is a collection of nine essays and nine short stories that capture and encompass snippets of human life in it rawest form. Keegan picks us up and drops us in the war-torn Middle East, the passenger seat on an exterminator’s truck, a hometown Christmas pageant, and makes each seem unique and worthwhile. I have a sneaking suspicion that The Opposite of Loneliness will continue to be one of my favorites for a long, long time.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
I’ve never been much of a nonfiction gal, but boy did I enjoy this book. The Devil in the White City is the story of Dr. H. H. Holmes, womanizer and con artist, and Daniel Burnham, renowned Chicagoan architect and the man in charge of building the World’s Columbian Fair in 1893. Erik Larson allows the stories of two very different men to unfold almost like plotted fiction, twisting the reader’s perceptions until you can’t help but be on the edge of your seat. If all nonfiction books were like this one, then I certainly wouldn’t mind crossing over to the dark side again.
My final favorite of 2016 was a required read for my AP Literature class. In the past, I have found great distaste in required reads, but this book was an extreme exception to the norm. The History of Love documents the stories of Holocaust survivor Leo Gursky, witty teenager Alma Singer, and late obituary writer Zvi Litvinoff, and the ways in which their stories intertwine. It is impossible to read this book without simultaneously smiling and crying at its poetic beauty and tragedy. Krauss weaves a story so intricate that the reader finds something new every time he cracks it open. My only advice is this: The History of Love does not pair well with mascara, but enjoying this literary masterpiece is well worth the runny makeup.