Top 10 Books of 2016


Books—even paragraphs, sometimes even sentences—have the power to change us. To grow us. To move us.

The following books did that for me this year. They were not only enjoyable in the hours of reading, but they also stuck with me long after the last page was read.

Here are lists of my “Top 10 Nonfiction Books” and “Top 10 Novels,” plus 10 more books that are too important not to mention. Many, but not all, were published in 2016. But regardless of the copyright date, they all speak as loud and clear to our times as when they were originally written. Listed in no particular order.

Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2016

1. Warriors Don’t Cry
The Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High
by Melba Pattilo Beals


[my review here]

The author and eight other teens in 1957 (the Little Rock Nine) were the first black students to integrate Little Rock’s Central High School. Hearing the stories was hard, but so important to listen to, even years later. We must learn to walk beside the oppressed, even if we also become oppressed as a result.

2. Writing My Wrongs
Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison
by Shaka Senghor


When Shaka Senghor was 19 years old, he murdered a man. This book shares what he learned while serving a prison sentence and afterwards. Another important book that can change your perspective on many things.

See more quotes here on my post, “Stop the Humiliation and Restore the Dignity

3. I Am Malala
The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
by Malala Yousafzai


In Pakistan in 2012, 15-yr-old Malala refused to be silent about the closing doors of educational opportunities for girls. She was shot in the head by the Taliban. She survived and now tells her story. She is the youngest Nobel Prize recipient ever. And quite an inspiration, no matter your age.

4. Stumbling on Happiness
by Daniel Todd Gilbert


This engaging book describes what we think will make us happy, and what really does. Based on the latest scientific research, it’s quite eye-opening. We’re actually horrible predictors of our future happiness scenarios.

5. Without You, There Is No Us
Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite
by Suki Kim


Suki Kim is a journalist who went undercover to teach English at a boys’ college in North Korea. Kim’s stories are haunting and sad, but also endearing. This book helps us understand more about people who we think are very different from us, but perhaps not as different as we think.

6. Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me

Until we can move past our white privilege, everybody suffers. This is a profound book that the African-American author Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote to his teenage son about systemic racism in America.

[my review here]

7. The Boys in the Boat
Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics
by Daniel James Brown


This wonderful book is about the U.S. rowing crew from the University of Washington and their journey entering the 1936 Olympics. It’s beautifully told and reads like a novel.

8. Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age
by Bob Cutillo, MD


We live in the most medically-advanced era yet. But we are increasingly concerned about our health anyway. This book explores why, and from a Christian perspective.

[my review here]

9. Better Than Before
Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives
by Gretchen Rubin


How do we make habits? How can we break the bad ones and keep the good ones? This is a practical book about how to organize our lives in the best way possible.

[my review here]

10. No Mud, No Lotus
The Art of Transforming Suffering
by Thich Nhat Hanh

No mud no lotus

We each have trials in life. We can’t escape them. But we can be transformed through them. In this book Hanh talks about facing our suffering without being overwhelmed by it.

Top 10 Novels of 2016

1. The Underground Railroad
by Colson Whitehead


This is the powerful story of Cora, a slave on a Georgia plantation, in the 1800s. When she receives an opportunity to escape, she leaves on a literal underground railroad, a system of tracks and tunnels beneath the ground. The story chronicles the ups and downs of how she goes and where she ends up. Excellent in plot, in perspective, and in writing.

2. Underground Airlines
by Ben H. Winters


What if the Civil War never happened, and the states actually did divide into basically two countries, with slavery still existing? This novel set in modern times gives a haunting look at what might have been.

3. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven
by Chris Cleave


This novel is a beautifully-told story of World War 2 from the British side. It chronicles the journeys of the young socialite Mary in London, a black American student Zachary that she befriends, and Alastair, an art curator who enlists in the British army.

4. The Fellowship of the Ring 
(The Lord of the Rings, #1) 

by J.R.R. Tolkien

Fellowship of the Ring-Tolkien

I didn’t expect to enjoy it so much, after starting the trilogy when I was younger and finding it too confusing. But as an adult, I enjoyed starting over with Frodo Baggins and Sam and the Ring of Power.

5. The Two Towers
(The Lord of the Rings, #2) 


I couldn’t stop with book 1 of The Lord of the Rings. In this classic the Fellowship separates, but the mission to destroy the Ring goes forward.

6. The Return of the King
(The Lord of the Rings, #3) 


The adventures continue and finally come to a satisfying end in the final book of the trilogy. I’m so glad I invested time in reading them all this year, although I’m sure I still missed a lot. These books are as full of symbolism as they are of narrative.

7. Before the Fall
by Noah Hawley


This mesmerizing novel is about a small plane crash off Martha’s Vineyard and the story of the passengers’ lives before and after.

8. A Man Called Ove
by Fredrik Backman


I almost gave up on this one after 50 pages. I couldn’t connect with the grouchy main character, Ove. But I’m glad I listened to others who loved this book, and kept going. Ove’s reluctant yet inevitable encounters with his neighbors make this worth the read.

9. When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead


This 2010 Newbery Medal winner is about 6th grader Miranda and a series of anonymous letters she’s receiving in 1978 in her home in New York. It’s a fun and easy to read mystery (and includes a few A Wrinkle in Time references).

10. The One-in-a-Million Boy
by Monica Wood


This excellent novel is the moving story of 104-year-old Ona and her friendship with a special 11-year-old Boy Scout, even though he dies on the third page of the book. The novel travels nicely back and forth through time as you piece the whole puzzle together. It’s a heart-wrenching story.

10 More Books that Are Important

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What’s a good book you have read this year? Please share in the comments.


41 thoughts on “Top 10 Books of 2016

  1. Nicole Kauffman

    So many wonderful suggestions! I’ve been thinking of reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy myself, I might just have to add them to my Christmas list! I love how comprehensive this list is! Thanks for putting it together, Lisa!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I put off reading the LOTR trilogy for several years. But now I’m so glad I finally dove in! I don’t think you’ll regret it if you do decide to read them, Nicole. There were some sections that I skimmed (details about wars, descriptions, etc.), but the plot and the characters are so worth the length.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It was very difficult to choose, as you can imagine, Michele. I ranked the books I read from 1-10, and the 10s popped out in a perfect Top 10 list! This year I read more novels than I normally do, with no regrets. 🙂 Looking forward to the books we’ll share in 2017.

  2. Mary Geisen

    First of all you must read all the time. Second, you have given me so many new books to add to my own list. I have been wanting to read Between the World and Me for awhile. That will be a must read for 2017. I really enjoyed Beth Mooore’s fiction book, The Undoing of St. Silvanus. It was captivating and full of characters with depth. I also read John Ortberg’s book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat. It’s been the perfect read for me as I explore Brave Faith.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      It’s funny; I laugh with my husband that I don’t think I read that much. ha. But somehow books get finished. I read in snatches of time while I brush my teeth or fold the laundry or if I’m eating a meal by myself. And early in the morning or late at night (if I can keep my eyes open). I hope to get to Beth Moore’s book sometimes myself; thanks for sharing it here. I’ve heard good things about it. “Brave Faith” – that’s a wonderful topic to explore, Mary!

  3. Bill (cycleguy)

    I’ve noticed this year that my reading became more issue focused rather than rambling. I read a lot on the gender issue and the trafficking issue. I read a lot on “wounded issues.” One that was different but worth it was Tim Keller’s “Hidden Christmas.” I really liked Messy Grace by Caleb Kaltenbach. I have this sneaking suspicion my reading will again focus on specific issues with an occasional sidebar.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I noticed a theme more in my reading this year, too, Bill. A lot of my books ended up being about marginalized people. I didn’t intentionally set out to do that, but it was the books that drew me, so I trust that God knew what he was doing even in my to-read list. 🙂 You have had many heavy books on your shelves; I’m sure it helps you be an even wiser and more compassionate pastor.

  4. Barbara H.

    I haven’t compiled my list yet – I probably will the last week of the year. I always love to read other people’s end-of-year compilations! I enjoyed Ove and Malala, too. I keep seeing The Boys in the Boat mentioned and have wondered what in the world could be so interesting about it – but everyone who mentions it really likes it, so I need to check it out some time. Your list reminds me I never did finish The Return of the King. I wonder if I can pick up there without being lost from having read the others so long ago. I kind of don’t want to start over with the first, but I know I would enjoy it if I did.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I definitely think you will enjoy The Boys in the Boat when you get around to it, Barbara. It started off a little slow for me, but the more I read, the more I understand its draw. I thought there was supposed to be a movie about it already out (maybe there is?) so read it before you see the movie anyway. 🙂
      I don’t think I’ll be re-reading the LOTR trilogy anytime soon due to its length, but I wouldn’t mind re-reading it again in a few years. Good luck if you pick back up where you left off. I think you could do it since you’ll already be so familiar with the characters anyway.

  5. David

    My fave book this year was Vodolazkin’s Laurus. Best contemporary novel I’ve read in a long time.

    I’ve heard a lot of good things about Hillbilly Elegy, much of it at least semi-political. Did you like it?


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I remember you mentioned Laurus earlier, but it seemed daunting to me when I looked it up at the time. 🙂 I’ve added it to my Kindle sample queue now though with this hardy recommendation. We’ll see.
      I did like Hillbilly Elegy because of the perspective that the author moved through. He started in one place but transitioned through time in a way that not everyone does. For those totally unfamiliar with the culture that he was talking about, I think it’d be quite eye-opening. It wasn’t totally foreign to me, but it was still helpful to hear his stories. I also appreciated that he neither downplayed his background nor sanctified it; it just was what it was.

  6. Dolly@Soulstops


    You inspire me by what you read and how you seek to understand other people’s lives and stories.

    I have wanted to read LOTR after I watched the movies. And a neighbor just recommended Ove to me.

    Thanks for sharing and inspiring,

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Dolly. As I was reading the LOTR books, I would re-watch the movie I was on. 🙂 It really helped me make sense of it all. I’m not really into that genre in particular, but these books are so fabulous that it worked for me.

  7. Valerie Sisco

    Hi Lisa,
    I always love a list of books! I’ve heard so much about the Enneagram but I have no idea what it is (am I the only one?!) and I’ve read Gretchen Rubin before but didn’t realize she had a new book. Thanks for all these recommendations! 🙂 Happy holidays to you!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I didn’t know anything about the Enneagram until a couple years ago, so you’re not behind, Valerie. 🙂 It’s a personality typing system. It comes from ancient oral traditions; only in the past several years has it been written down. It is very thorough and deals more with WHY we do what we do rather than just WHAT we do. It’s been fascinating for my journey of spiritual growth.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad I mentioned that I almost gave up on it. 🙂 Give it another 20 pages or so and see if you change your mind, Becky. The book reveals itself in layers. I would sometimes go back to earlier chapters and say to myself, “Oh! Now I understand!”

  8. Beth

    There are so many gift ideas here, Lisa! I don’t know that I can add another book to my own reading list, but my son absolutely loves Lord of the Rings so I’m glad to know there’s a final book to the story! He will be thrilled. Thanks so much for all the info and resources you give us, my friend!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I didn’t meant to imply there is a new LOTR book. The Return of the King has been the third book of the trilogy for years, but if your son hasn’t read it yet, he is sure to love it! Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, Beth!

  9. Nicki Schroeder

    Girl, all I can say is I thought I read a lot of books this year. I was happy to hit 46 books as my goal, but just judging from your list, i feel like you may have surpassed me by TONS! I am going to put a few of this on my list for 2017. 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      No, I probably didn’t read that many more than you. ha. But I did enjoy quite a few that I did read! I read more new books than normal, but the oldies but goodies always deserve reading too. 🙂

  10. floyd

    I know where to go if I ever need reading guidance. You are the queen!

    All the books sound amazing. I don’t know if I’ll get that many books read the rest of my life!

    I know I’ve read a book or two this year, but for the life of me I can’t remember what they are right now. And I even looked through my book shelves.

    You get my vote for reading champion again this year!!!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Your comment made me laugh, Floyd. You and Jeff would get along very well! 🙂 He actually read 3 books this year, which is a big deal. And he enjoyed them, which made me happy as well. There are many ways to learn in life without reading! God made us all different; it’s a beautiful thing.

  11. ~ linda

    I just love your many recommendations, Lisa. I have written a number of the latest lists on my TBR lists. Out the many you list, I have only read a few so you have given me a good bunch. Thanks for encouraging the reader in us.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I still have several on my to-read list that I learned about from you, Linda. I don’t think I have enough days left to read everything on my list! ha. But I’ll do what I can. 🙂

  12. Jean Wise

    I always discover a new read on your lists and ordered a few from the library just now. Thanks for always sharing these. And love the mix of new and classics reads too. Merry Christmas, Lisa!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad you’re a library lover, too, Jean. I went to the library yesterday to get one book, but came home with three. Two of those may get in a brawl on my nightstand though: “The Organized Mind” vs “Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing.” I’m sandwiching a book on mindfulness in between them. 🙂 Merry Christmas to you, too!

  13. Lesley

    You have read a great selection of books! The only one of these I have read is The Underground Railroad, which I have just finished and I really enjoyed it too. Thanks for sharing these recommendations.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Glad you liked The Underground Railroad too. It was tough to read at times; I’d read a bit then set the book down because it was so heavy and sad. But I count those books as important to read because we don’t need to forget that things like that did happen.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Wasn’t that an intriguing novel? I really enjoyed When You Reach Me, too. It’s the kind of book I need to re-read now that I understand the premise a little better. 🙂

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