The Best of What I Read in 2016

Have time? Why not read?
Have time? Why not read?

This may have gotten out of hand. Pocket, which gloriously feeds my addiction to reading articles, recently informed me that I read more than 5 million words on their app in 2016.

As far as addictions go, it could be worse. Sure, I could use more time with real people and fewer words on a glowing device, but we live in a seems-too-good-to-be-true world where great writing is available at our fingertips for free. It’s pretty great.

A few years ago, I started sharing with family and friends a list of my favorite articles from the past year. More recently, I’ve shared my lists with The Jesuit Post in 2015 and 2014.

Here are my faves from 2016 in no particular order:

1) “I Used to Be a Human Being” by Andrew Sullivan

For about 15 years, Andrew Sullivan made my internet addiction look like the minor leagues. He writes:

If the internet killed you, I used to joke, then I would be the first to find out. Years later, the joke was running thin. In the last year of my blogging life, my health began to give out…My dreams were filled with the snippets of code I used each day to update the site. My friendships had atrophied as my time away from the web dwindled. My doctor, dispensing one more course of antibiotics, finally laid it on the line: “Did you really survive HIV to die of the web?”

I want to be a human being, too. Sullivan’s masterful essay helps.

For another captivating essay by Sullivan from 2016, check out “American Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny.”

2) “The Binge Breaker” by Bianca Bosker

This story about Tristan Harris complements Sullivan’s piece. Internet addiction – like obesity – is not simply the result of individual weakness. There are larger issues at play, and Harris, who has worked in Silicon Valley for years, is trying to fight the forces keeping us hooked.

3) “My President Was Black” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I cannot not read what Coates has to say. His work is always enlightening and challenging. He was also on my lists in 2015 and 2014. In this one, he writes:

Only Obama, a black man who emerged from the best of white America, and thus could sincerely trust white America, could be so certain that he could achieve broad national appeal. And yet only a black man with that same biography could underestimate his opposition’s resolve to destroy him.

What O.J. Simpson Means to Me” was another great reflection by Coates this year.

4) “What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class” by Joan C. Williams

This year revealed how I live in a bubble and am woefully ignorant of the experience of many of my fellow citizens. I found this to be one of the most helpful articles for making me a little less dumb.1 Williams writes:

The white working class (WWC) resents professionals but admires the rich…Why the difference? For one thing, most blue-collar workers have little direct contact with the rich outside of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But professionals order them around every day. The dream is not to become upper-middle-class, with its different food, family, and friendship patterns; the dream is to live in your own class milieu, where you feel comfortable — just with more money.

5) “The American Dream Is Killing Us” by Mark Manson

2016 was a big year for lemonade. While Beyoncé got far more attention, this provocative article uses the analogy of a lemonade stand to discuss how the American Dream hasn’t been too dreamy in recent years. I highly recommend it.

6) “America is obsessed with happiness – and it’s making us miserable” by Ruth Whippman

Whippman, a Brit, gives a pretty devastating critique of the American pursuit of happiness. It’s challenging to my American identity, but it’s hilarious and may actually help my happiness in the long run (which of course I’m interested in, because #merica). Whippman writes:

American problems are routinely rebranded as “opportunities”; hence the filthy bathroom in our local supermarket displays a sign saying, “If this restroom fails to meet your expectations, please inform us of the opportunity,” as if reeking puddles of urine are merely an inspirational occasion for personal growth.

7) “Single by Default” – or “when a vocation is not a vocation” –  by Jessica Keating

For those who feel they have found their vocation – and for those who haven’t – this article by Keating is powerful. She writes:

I am deeply skeptical that unconsecrated single life is a vocation at all, any more than infertility is a vocation, or chronic illness is a vocation. I suspect our inclination to call the unvowed single life a vocation comes from anxiety about putting people into categories, about making the suffering and the scandal of our unfulfilled desires a bit safer, about comforting ourselves with the idea that God will always act according to our will.

8) “Why Do We Work So Hard?” by Ryan Avent

Avent describes how jobs have become “prisons from which we don’t want to escape” for many professionals. It’s a fascinating look at the role of work today.

9) “Why the Post Office Makes America Great” by Zeynep Tufekci

There was much talk about America’s greatness – or lack thereof – in 2016. This was my favorite essay about it. The author, originally from Turkey, describes how she told her friends from home that U.S. mail gets picked up from your house for free six days a week. She writes:

They shook their heads in disbelief, wondering how easily I had been recruited as a C.I.A. agent, saying implausibly flattering things about my new country. The United States in the world’s imagination is a place of risk taking and ruthless competition, not one of reliable public services.

10) “How to Fix Politics” by David Brooks

My yearly tradition of putting together a list of my favorite articles was partially inspired by David Brooks’s annual Sidney Awards. This year, the presidential election occupied far more of my mental bandwidth than is healthy. I found this column refreshing. Brooks writes, “If we’re going to salvage our politics, we probably have to shrink politics.”

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What about you? What have you read this year that has expanded your mind and heart? Leave your suggestions in the comments below. And happy reading in 2017!

  1. All of the these are articles, but Hillbilly Elegy is a book from this year that was also extremely illuminating.

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