“The Best Books I Read in 2016”
CWR editors and contributors share their favorite reads from the last year.
Essayist and author Alberto Manguel, in A Reader on Reading (Yale, 2010), in a chapter titled “The End of Reading,” asks: “Why, at certain moments in our life, do we choose the companionship of one book over another?” He observes that “the author of Ecclesiastes and Pete Seeger have taught us that for everything there is a season; likewise, I might add, for every season there is a book. But readers have learned that not just any book is suited to any occasion.”
Ever since I was a young boy I have enjoyed book lists, which so often have introduced me to books and authors I might not otherwise encounter. There is, of course, a definite subjectivity to a “best books” list, and yet we also find that certain books, because of any number of qualities and merits, tend to arrive on such lists. In a world increasingly filled with countless videos, streaming information, audio files, and digital communications, books still hold a special and vital place, as Manguel argues in his book. Contemplating the increasing move away from physical books and the use of “virtual libraries,” he notes that fundamental questions need to be asked: “rather than wonder, Why is reading coming to an end? (a self-fulfilling assumption), we might ask instead, What is the end of reading?”
One answer, I think, is that we read both to know and to be known. What we seek, desire, and love says something about who we are—and Who we are meant for. Of course, not every book has to be deep or brilliant or life-changing, but we surely recognize that the greatest books are deep, brilliant, and life-changing.
It has been 11 years since I posted the first “Best Books I Read in…” piece, and it continues to be one of the most popular features on the CWR site. The criteria given to the contributors is quite simple: “What were the best books you read in the past year?” The books chosen can address any topic and could be published recently or centuries ago. I hope that reading this list of good reads begins with expectation and closes with both delight and profit—not just for the moment, but for all of eternity, that is, for The Eternal End.
Carl E. Olson
Editor, CWR and Ignatius Insight