Bookworm: My Top 2016 Book Recommendations

Last year I finished 180 books, according to my records on Goodreads. My reading tastes generally lean toward fiction, but include a healthy dollop of non-fiction, especially books related to behavior change, education, and design. In recent years I’ve gotten stingier with my highest ratings, reserving five stars for only the books that really leave an impression on me. In 2016, there were seven books that I gave five stars (a little fewer than 4% of my total reading). Here they are.


The Fireman, by Joe Hill. I’m a Stephen King junkie; Hill is his son, and his writing reminds me of King’s, although the subject matter is less (differently?) macabre. This is a 700+ page fantasy novel about a deadly contagious spore that causes self-immolation. If you like that kind of thing, check it out.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. I swear, I’m normally not into sci-fi/fantasy, but this book blew my mind. This book is about a physics professor who finds himself exploring alternate universes after an assault. I thought it was both exciting and smart, like a great action movie. The book review from NPR conveys my enthusiasm pretty accurately.

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter. I’ll confess this one is less of a “good” book than the two preceding. It’s a murder mystery/thriller type novel about two sisters trying to uncover the disappearance of their third sister decades before. I like these kinds of things, what can I say.


SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient – Powered by the Science of Games by Jane McGonigal.  I can’t believe I hadn’t read this book before. It was everything I love: Sound behavior change science in an appealing, ready-to-implement package. Framing positive change as a game will make a big difference in helping some people succeed at their goals.

Design for Real Life by Eric Meyer and Sara Wachter-Boettcher. So many product designers assume a “happy path” for their users, not considering the occasions in which a user might approach the product in a distress state. Meyer and Wachter-Boettcher make a compelling and data-driven argument for considering worst-case scenarios in your design process.

Evil by Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us Into Temptation by Chris Nodder. Nodder provides a comprehensive overview of effective design patterns organized according to the deadly sin that permits them to work. It’s a fun framing device to think about design patterns, and was enjoyable for me as someone whose education is not in design to review these concepts.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. When I first read this book, I immediately wrote several posts inspired by it. I loved the concept of opening oneself to possibilities, pushing beyond what feels comfortable, and ultimately discovering new paths to happiness. Don’t feel like committing to the book-length experience? Rhimes also covers the topic in a TED talk.