My best books of 2016

I read less this year (19 books), compared to last year (40 books). But I think 2015 was a bit hectic, a bit of a race to see how many I could actually read. This year the books were a bit longer, on average 372 pp compared to 295 pp in 2015. So, if the number of books read in 2016 was approximately half those in 2015, the number of pages was around 64% of 2015 (total of 7429 pages in 2016 /11800 pages in 2015). Suprisingly for me, all but one of the books I “read” this year were audiobooks (Organization Man was a paperback copy which I could easily rip apart and carry around chapters), compared to 72% audiobooks in 2015.

I made a little slide with all the books of 2016, their surface area being a reflection of their length, no easy feat for a biologist! First I chose the most averaged size book, which was “Overwhelmed” by Brigid Schulte, 362 pp. I set that to measure 3.4 cm wide by 5 cm high (on the powerpoint slide), giving a surface area of 17 cm2. Then I made the rest of the books a percentage of that, but area wise, i.e., the area of each book = total pages/362 pages (from Schulte) x 17 cm2. Then to get the height I calculated the square root of the area / 0.68, where 0.68 is the ratio between width and height on the average book. Cute no?

books16

Figure 1. All books read in 2016, with surface area of each book being a reflection of their length (in pages). The most averaged sized book was “Overwhelmed” by Brigid Schulte, 362 pp.

In any case, again this year, my impression is that the best books were the longest ones, or at least longer.The most impressive one, a real eye-opener for me, was “Far from the tree”, by Andrew Solomon. I first heard about him via a TedTalk and was convinced that I should listen to the book. It’s a bit too long in places, but a nice journey through of series of stories about “special children”, kids with different disabilities and how they and their families and friends cope with it all. Since then I’ve stopped using the term weird to characterize a person.

The two Updike books at the beginning of the year were a continuation of my Updike saga I started at the end of 2015, reading all the Rabbit books. It was nice overall but not sure would read again. Regarding fiction, the Third Policeman was great, rather amazing. I heard about Flann O’Brien via a short story I read in the New Yorker, entitled “The Bog Girl” by Karen Russell. I liked the story and looked up Karen and she mentioned that one of her favorite authors was Flann O’Brien (real name, Brian O’Nolan 1911-1966), and I just went out and bought the book. It’s about a man who spends most of the book trying to find out where he is, discovering new places in his mind.

Regarding non-fiction, the best one for me was The Ego Tunnel by Metzinger. A friend of mine told me about it (thanks Wes!). It basically takes you on a ride through what we know about consciousness, but by the hand of a philosopher turned neuro-scientist and with lots of personal stuff about vivid dreams different states of consciousness. Next for non-fiction would be the Black Swan (Taleb), Overwhelmed (Schulte) and on Being Mortal (Gawande), took a lot of notes on all three of those, and would highly recommend all.

I had a Nicholson Baker spree in the last two months, ending with Substitute, which was nice, but like Solomon, a touch long. That length was on purpose we assume, just to get a better feeling of those long, excruciatingly long, days at school.  Probably my favorite, one I actually listened to about 3 times, was “The Anthologist”, which I mentioned a few weeks ago. It’s just very relaxing. I can just picture the poet in his barn singing out Robert Frost, or sitting in the middle of a stream, sinking into the mud on his plastic chair. Streams are so nice.

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