The snow is falling, multi-colored lights encircle windows and doors, and I just received my annual “Year in Books” summary from Goodreads. New Year’s is definitely around the corner. I’m still hoping to read another book or three before the bell tolls on 2016 (good riddance), but I’m happy to receive the annual summary early, as it dovetails nicely with this week’s post which is all about my favorite sentences/passages from the books I read this year.
A quick glance at my reading stats for 2016 is all it takes to know that I didn’t read any of the books nominated for the multitude of “Best of” awards this year. That’s normal for me. One of the things I enjoy about reading, particularly compared to movies and video games, is that books don’t ever look dated. Sure, styles may change over decades and centuries, but unlike video games, my imagination always generates the images with photo-realistic graphics.
Speaking of technology…
The Kindle Highlighter and Scrivener
I’m currently reading The Stone Raft by Jose Saramago, a softcover I purchased at the famed Lello Bookstore in Lisbon, one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. Sadly, I wish I had it on Kindle. Aside from the obvious issue of having to hold the book open while reading it, I am an avid user of the highlighting feature built-into the e-reader. And I miss it. I am constantly highlighting important facts, quotes, unique turns of phrase, and even examples of really good/bad writing and dialogue with my Kindle.
Once a year, I pull the MyClippings.txt file from the Kindle and cut/paste all of those highlighted excerpts into a master file in Scrivener. I’ve created a separate document for each book I’ve read (108 since getting a Kindle in 2010) and am in the process of tagging each of the clippings with descriptors (metaphors, dialogue, description, etc) so that it is easily searchable in the future. Yes, this is a lot of work. But maintaining a searchable catalog of inspiration and great examples is worth the effort.
My Favorite Readings From 2016
I’m going to leave out the how-to and story craft books I read and focus on those with a narrative, both fiction and non-fiction. But before I launch into my favorite highlights from the year, here’s a rundown of my favorite reads from 2016 in three categories: Fiction, Classics, and Non-Fiction. I’m going to set Water for Elephants apart from these lists, as it’s one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve read it numerous times over the years.
- The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
- The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
- Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf
- The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek
- The Big Burn by Timothy Egan
- The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, Master Thief by Ben Macintyre
- The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Dracula (Bram Stoker)
No man knows till he has suffered from the night how sweet and dear to his heart and eye the morning can be.
The Voyage Out (Virginia Woolf)
Marriage, marriage that was the right thing, the only thing, the solution required by every one she knew, and a great part of her meditations was spent in tracing every instance of discomfort, loneliness, ill-health, unsatisfied ambition, restlessness, eccentricity, taking things up and dropping them again, public speaking, and philanthropic activity on the part of men and particularly on the part of women to the fact that they wanted to marry, were trying to marry, and had not succeeded in getting married.
The Time Traveler’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
Town was groceries and hardware and Mackenzie’s Bakery and the sheet music and records at the Music Emporium, Alicia’s favorite store. We used to stand in front of Appleyard’s Photography Studio making up stories about the brides and toddlers and families smiling their hideous smiles in the window. We didn’t think the library was funny-looking in its faux Greek splendor, nor did we find the cuisine limited and bland, or the movies at the Michigan Theater relentlessly American and mindless. These were opinions I came to later, after I became a denizen of a City, an expatriate anxious to distance herself from the bumpkin ways of her youth. I am suddenly consumed by nostalgia for the little girl who was me, who loved the fields and believed in God, who spent winter days home sick from school reading Nancy Drew and sucking menthol cough drops, who could keep a secret. I glance over at Henry and see that he has fallen asleep.
The Rescue (Nicholas Sparks)
Every time you do something crazy, I can feel my little hairs committing suicide by jumping right out of my head and plunging all the way to my shoulders. If you listen carefully, you can sometimes hear them screaming all the way down.
The Piano Teacher (Elfriede Jelinek)
Friendship in sports ends where the other guy threatens to surpass you. A buddy is someone who measures his own strength against his buddy’s lesser strength and increases his own lead.
The Napoleon of Crime (Ben Macintyre)
“Never under any circumstances do an action which could be called in question if known to the world.” Morgan’s principle, and that of Worth, was closer to: “Do whatever you want, and so long as you maintain a consistent front, the world remains in ignorance.”
Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen)
With a secret like that, at some point the secret itself becomes irrelevant. The fact that you kept it does not.
Turning Pro (Steven Pressfield)
Here’s the truth: the tribe doesn’t give a shit. There is no tribe. That gang or posse that we imagine is sustaining us by the bonds we share is in fact a conglomeration of individuals who are just as fucked up as we are and just as terrified. Each individual is so caught up in his own bullshit that he doesn’t have two seconds to worry about yours or mine, or to reject or diminish us because of it.
Do the Work (Steven Pressfield)
You can board a spaceship to Pluto and settle, all by yourself, into a perfect artist’s cottage ten zillion miles from Earth. Resistance will still be with you. The enemy is inside you.
The Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler)
God can’t be resisted or stopped, but can be shaped and focused. This means God is not to be prayed to. Prayers only help the person doing the praying, and then, only if they strengthen and focus that persons resolve. If they’re used that way, they can help us in our only real relationship with God. They help us to shape God and to accept and work with the shapes that God imposes on us. God is power, and in the end, God prevails.
To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
Had I ever harbored the mystical notions about mountains that seem to obsess lawyers and judges, Aunt Alexandra would have been analogous to Mount Everest: throughout my early life, she was cold and there.
Storming (K.M. Weiland)
“I think… running away is also kind of cage, yes? How can we ever run far enough to run away from running away?”
A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway)
The questioners had that beautiful detachment and devotion to stern justice of men dealing in death without being in any danger of it.
The Big Burn (Timothy Egan)
“What better way can an old man die than doing a young man’s work?”
The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah)
In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are. Today’s young people want to know everything about everyone. They think talking about a problem will solve it. I come from a quieter generation. We understand the value of forgetting, the lure of reinvention.
The War of Art (Steven Pressfield)
The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had had the guts.
The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
All that crap they have in cartoons in the Saturday Evening Post and all, showing guys on street corners looking sore as hell because their dates are late–that’s bunk. If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she’s late? Nobody.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J.K. Rowling)
October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and faces.
It (Stephen King)
How you don’t stop being a kid all at once, with a big explosive bang, like one of that clown’s trick balloons with the Burma-Shave slogans on the sides. The kid in you just leaked out, like the air out of a tire. And one day you looked in the mirror and there was a grownup looking back at you. You could go on wearing bluejeans, you could keep going to Springsteen and Seger concerts, you could dye your hair, but that was a grownup’s face in the mirror just the same. It all happened while you were asleep, maybe, like a visit from the Tooth Fairy.
Fates and Furies (Lauren Groff)
We’ve got some cash now, a house, you’re ripe still. Your eggs may be getting a little wrinkly, I don’t know. Forty. We’re risking some springs going sproing in the kid’s head. Though it may not be so bad to have a dumb kid. Smart ones are off as soon as they’re able to escape. Dumbos stick around longer. On the other hand, if we wait too long, we’ll be cutting his pizza for him until we’re ninety-three.
So that’s it for 2016. I’ll be taking a look at the first sentences of each of these books in the coming months. Until then, happy reading! And, as always, if you have any book recommendations you think I might enjoy, please leave them in the comments.