We’re avid readers at Craft Your Content. We have to be, it’s our job.
You’ve seen our stats below. We read over 250,000 words a month – and that’s just in client work. When it comes to our personal lives, well, we have no personal lives. Will you see us partying on New Year’s Eve? Probably not. We’ll likely be digging into another book on our never-ending list.
Reading is what we do, and we love doing it.
Every so often we come across a book that blows our minds, knocks our socks off, or whatever cliche you feel is appropriate for a book that you stay up until 4 a.m. to finish.
These are our 4 a.m. books. The one’s we just can’t put down, that we read this past year.
Our Picks for Favorite Books in 2016
I had planned on reading a lot more in 2016, but as it tends to happen, life got a bit in the way. Fortunately, it was because we’ve been so busy with the agency that all my spare time is taken up working on client writing and accounts. But I have managed to get in some reading when I can. Easily the book that had the most impact on me this year was:
Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg
The title of this book may deter you immediately, thinking, “Oh, the only reason Elisa loved this book so much is because it is for editors.” Not the case at all! It re-emerged earlier this year as a mediocre movie that was barely based on the book came out, but has been around for decades, since Pulitzer Prize winning author Berg wrote it as his university thesis in the 1970s. It examines the life and work of Scribners & Sons editor Maxwell Perkins, the quiet thread that strings together the works of such greats as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Ring Lardner, Thomas Wolfe, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and Marcia Davenport among many others.
The book tells the story of Perkins’ personal life, but also the lives of his authors through letters and correspondence between them all. By reading about the intertwined relationships, reviews and commentaries of each others’ works, and candid confessions, you get a sneak peek into not only the process, but also the realities that come with writing and publishing great novels.
Honorable Mentions: Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau, Deep Work by Cal Newport, Modern Lovers by Emma Straub, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
This year, I’ve spent a lot of time in transit. To make my lengthy bike rides and sticky Metro commutes more enjoyable, I’ve explored new podcasts, fortified my Spotify library, and discovered audiobooks. After finally giving in to Audible’s attractive free trial, this book fell right into my lap (or ears, as it were):
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, Eric Klinenberg
I love funny people. So, when my favorite stand up comedians, humorists, or actors write books, it’s all the excuse I need to go get it as soon as possible. As a Parks and Recreation fangirl (#Knope2020), it wasn’t long before I found Aziz Ansari’s poignant and hilarious book, Modern Romance.
To be honest, I started this book thinking it would largely resemble my other favorites (see below), which often lean on the particular humorist’s life experiences around a given topic. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book instead brought together a legit sociologist with an incredible comedian to study modern day romance across the world.
The result? An insightful and funny look at many aspects of romance, from dating to sex to marriage to soul mates through empirical research and relatable anecdotes.
As I mentioned above, I did in fact listen to this book, which made me enjoy it much more than I otherwise would have. Not only does Aziz actually read the book to you, but he manages to make fun of you throughout it for being that guy who was too lazy to read, and chimes in with other random bouts of unscripted chuckleworthy material throughout. Also, be prepared for the intro section slow jam. Yes, there’s a slow jam.
You might think a book like this would only be appealing to ladies, or the kind of people who have shelves of Harlequin paperbacks at home, but it is actually an incredibly fascinating and fun read for anyone living in the modern romance age and loving other people in it.
Honorable Mentions: Bossypants by Tina Fey, Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling, and Yes, Please by Amy Poehler
Another year passes with not nearly as much reading as I would have liked. But to be honest, if I’d actually managed as much as I would have liked, there probably wouldn’t have been time for sleeping, eating, occasionally washing and all those other mildly important activities.
I finally managed to break out of my non-fiction rut with some amazing, insightful, lyrical novels, but my top pick would be a brutally honest memoir by classical pianist James Rhodes.
Instrumental by James Rhodes
Usually a memoir by a reasonably privileged, troubled white dude would be just about the last book to attract me, but after getting over my prejudice, this book moved me more than any other. It’s a cliché to say I laughed and cried on the same page, but in this case it is one hundred percent accurate. You can ask the friends I was staying with, who probably thought I was going a bit crazy.
It’s not for the faint-hearted — Rhodes recounts the horrific abuse he endured as a child and the ongoing damaging effects to his life with harrowing honesty. What impressed me was how the book avoids falling into voyeurism, victimhood, or blame. The energy of the book is sustained by Rhodes’ great and abiding love of music, and the story of how this love redeemed his life.
Every chapter opens with snippits of the lives of famous classical composers, whom Rhodes humanises into inspired, brilliant, troubled people, often the rock stars of their time. This is a man on a mission: to rescue classical music from snobbish grey-heads and emotionally repressed cultural elites. I was so inspired I moved my piano 950km across the country in a van so I was able to play it again!
After enthusiastically giving copies to friends, I found that people either love or hate this book. Those against thought it was a self-indulgent whinge by an irredeemably messed-up unfortunate. Others found an excruciatingly self-aware narrator, who knows his own foibles, no different from the rest of us — he just names the elephants in the room.
Honorable Mentions: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, and a biography of Georgia O’Keefe by Roxana Robinson.
This year, I set my yearlong Goodreads reading goal to be 50 books. I wanted to establish a more active reading habit that would compel me to finish at least one novel within a week or so. I’m proud to report that I’m currently at 49 books with three books ahead of schedule, and I’ll likely finish beyond the 50 book mark by 2017.
As a result, I’ve tackled a lot of books stacked unread on my shelves and have discovered many enriching finds. My favorite this year by far has to be:
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
This book is actually the first of a duology, but I was delighted to find that the second book, Crooked Kingdom, lived up to the high standards set by its predecessor. Leigh Bardugo demonstrates a talent with prose that is often lacking in YA and contemporary fiction, melding a gritty, Victorian-esque cityscape with the heist genre and elements of fantasy. Above all, though, Bardugo understands that, no matter how detailed or original you make your plot, it means nothing if you don’t have compelling characters to see it through.
And oh my word, these characters. Reading about six characters who have conflicting ideals and personalities but who are all moving towards the same goal is guaranteed to be a good time, but they made every page a complete delight to read. Indeed, every character has their moments, and they are all fleshed out and, above all, diverse. We’re talking two POC characters, two LGBTQ characters, one character with a disability, and a canonically fat character (and it’s a girl!).
The dialogue will blindside you with its wit—I laughed aloud so many times—and the thrill of the heist will keep you guessing and in suspense, and that doesn’t even touch what happens in Crooked Kingdom.
It truly pains me to see the duology end this year. But as the Crows would say, “No mourners, no funerals.”
Outbound Flight by Timothy Zahn
The talk here about the book itself will be brief—not because I haven’t finished it yet (but I know it’s still a fav, sssh)—but because I refuse to dissolve into a fangirl mess over Grand Admiral Thrawn. I mean, I’ll try not to. It’s really, really hard, but I’ll try.
Many seasoned Star Wars fans know about the Extended Universe novels, having been starved for new content after the original trilogy came out in theaters, but with new films comes new fans, and it’s only right that they be inducted into the Star Wars bookverse through Timothy Zahn.
When I met Will Friedle, who played Eric Matthews on Boy Meets World, at Dragon*Con this year, he said that Star Wars wouldn’t be what it is today without Timothy Zahn, and he’s absolutely right. So much of what we have now is because other authors and creators involved with Star Wars were inspired by his works. Most notable about Zahn is his masterful creation and writing behind the iconic villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn, a charismatic military genius who outmaneuvers his opponents by studying their culture through their art. (He’s so iconic, in fact, that Disney made him canon again through their current show, Star Wars: Rebels.)
I’m telling you this so that you’ll start the Thrawn trilogy pronto (it begins with Heir to the Empire, continues with Dark Force Rising, and concludes with The Last Command.) So why bring up Outbound Flight? Because it’s clearing my skin, watering my crops, and healing my soul. It features young Commander Thrawn, and quite frankly you’ll need it after finishing The Last Command. Don’t ever say I never did you any favors.
Honorable Mentions: Uprooted by Naomi Novik, A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.
In the past year, my different projects have kept my reading mostly in the early nineteenth century, but there have been some fugitive periods, where I’ve managed to gobble up a book not officially included on my reading list. Inevitably, these reads are the best.
I had a hard time narrowing my list down, but I think the titles below represent the best moments of this year’s clandestine page consumption.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
All of Ronson’s journalism explores human concerns and characters that tend to make people uncomfortable. His deadpan style blends an acute ethical intelligence with an empathetic understanding of what motivates us to do some of the most ignoble and stupid things we do as humans.
In So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Ronson examines the phenomenon of mass shaming made possible by social media. Conducting interviews with people who have experienced the devastating effects of online shaming, Ronson playfully frames his expose as a self-help guide for those trying to recover from the social and psychological fallout of virtual lynchings. Taking his readers on a journey through the disturbing consequences of social control gone crazy, Ronson shows how the lighting-paced storm of a justice-motivated Twitter mob can mete out consequences far disproportionate to the alleged crimes of their victims.
Despite the nadir of human nature that his exploration uncovers, the book is powerfully funny. By illustrating the ubiquity of our collective failings, this inquiry into the horrors of shame allows readers to laugh at their own moralism, foibles, and fears.
The Green Road by Anne Enright
Recently named the inaugural laureate of Irish fiction and inducted into the Royal Society of Literature, Anne Enright’s short stories and novels set the contemporary standard for excellence in fiction. The sentences that make up her work are resonant, profound, and reflect the multidimensionality of life as it’s lived.
Set in a small town on the west coast of Ireland, The Green Road is a story of a family confronting the painfully fracturing effects of change, aging, and loss. The narrative delves into the complicated networks of conflict and obligation that hold the Madigan family in an uneasy tension and explores the personal histories of each family member, showing how every adult child’s life goes out from and returns to their formidable, yet agingly fragile, mother.
Charting the growth of her characters’ self-awareness as social beings, Enright touches on the stifling social conservatism and economic turmoil of Ireland’s recent past, the ravages of HIV and AIDS as it swept through New York City in the 80s and 90s, and the problems faced by NGO aid workers in Africa. After weaving all of the characters’ stories together, the novel builds to a final Christmas in the Madigan home, which recalls them to the bonds of family as they subsist in mutual attention, compassion, and understanding.
Honorable Mentions: Adam Kotsko’s slim, theoretical series Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide to Late Capitalist Television, Awkwardness, and Creepiness. Also, Keith Thomas’s classic historical work Religion and the Decline of Magic.
In the beginning of the year, I wasn’t reading too much. I was caught up with work and moving and writing. Near the end of the year, though, I started an internship at a production company where my job was to read books and judge if they would make good movies. I’d read one, sometimes two books a week. These are just two of my favorites:
Tell Me Something Real by Calla Devlin
Minutes before I began this novel, I had finished a terrible novel about cancer. When I read the first few lines and realized Tell Me Something Real was also about cancer, I rolled my eyes. But alas, I had to read it. So I did — and this wasn’t a story about cancer.
It’s a story about mental illness and the destruction it causes to one family.
Vanessa Babcock is the middle of three sisters and the daughter of a woman with leukemia. Every week, the four of them get in their car and drive down to Mexico for an experimental cancer treatment involving laetrile, a form of cyanide. When her mother tells them that she’s terminal, Vanessa struggles to keep her family together and pursue the music she loves to play. Over time, her mother’s illness becomes more suspicious, and after an incident, Vanessa must deal with the betrayal of her mother, the secrets of her father, and the destruction left in their wake.
As I became engrossed in the story, I found I couldn’t just skim through it. It’s honest, heartbreaking, and just really well written. If you’re looking for a book to shock you, this one’s it.
The Boy Who Escaped Paradise by J.M. Lee
North Korean math savant Gil-mo wakes up in a hospital with a gunshot wound to the leg and a murder charge. As a nurse questions him about the many crimes he has committed in his lifetime, and why he claims he is innocent, Gil-mo takes the reader into his past, crime by crime, to explain what really happened through his own mathematical formula.
This one comes out tomorrow, December 20th, in the U.S., but I had the honor of reading it early. It’s not just the thrilling tale of a young boy committing crimes, it’s a story of a boy with Autism Spectrum Disorder who sees the world through numbers. Everything that happens to Gil-mo, he can explain with a formula. Though sometimes the sequence of events doesn’t quite make sense to the reader, everything makes sense in his eyes. It’s brilliant to read a story like this from a unique perspective.
The Boy Who Escaped Paradise has action, has love, and has heart. I wouldn’t be surprised if this hits number one on the New York Times.
Honorable Mentions: The Girl from Venice by Martin Cruz Smith, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, and Shrouds of Silver by Carissa Broadbent
Did You Read Anything Good?
While the team definitely has different tastes in books, they all have one thing in common: they delight. That’s what books are supposed to do, right? Otherwise, what would be the point of reading?
Reading isn’t just a way to pass the time, it’s therapeutic, it’s educational, and it makes your writing even better. That’s what we’re all about here at Craft Your Content, and we can’t wait to see what next year brings.
Until then, keep on reading!