Thursday, December 22, 2016

My Year In Reading

By now we have seen dozens of Top 10 lists and even some awards for books released in 2016. It has been a good year in reading and hopefully you have all read a few novels that took your breath away. Instead of a Top 5 or 10, however, I am gonna do something a little it goes:

The Book That Blew Me Away

Those who have followed my blog or thoughts on Facebook know by now that Madeleine Thien's Giller winner, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, was the book that shook me up. Thien delves deep into world shaking events in post-revolutionary China, told through the eyes and hearts of three musicians, whose voices are silenced during the Cultural Revolution and try to find vindication during the Tienanmen Square protests. Thien's writing is technically ambitious and filled with emotion, and the story she tells will sit with me for a long time.

The Book That Lived Up To The Hype

Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad was getting hyped months before it's publish date and when Oprah bestowed upon it her sticker and announced its surprised release in August the buzz became deafening. Thankfully the book delivered. A unique rewriting of the slave narrative, Whitehead takes the story of an escaped slave and uses all his genre-bending tools to explore the devastation of white supremacy and black enslavement. The writing is tight yet hallucinatory, a piece of historical fiction that chooses to not be trapped by history. Already having won the National Book Award and making almost every year-end list, The Underground Railroad's legacy is well established already.

The Series I Wish Never Ends

The Red Rising trilogy was a non-stop gore-filled political adventure in the best tradition of space operatic science fiction. Pierce Brown's concluding chapter, Morning Star, lives up to its two preceding books and offers a very satisfying conclusion to the story of Darrow, a lowly miner from Mars who infiltrates the ruling ranks of Golds in hopes of bringing down the brutal authoritarian and rigid class order that has befallen humans hundreds of years into the future. I had some political issues with the book (that I explored in my review), but even so these books are great and I look forward to Brown writing about the post-civil war period.

Two Books That Were Highly Acclaimed But I Just Didn't Get

Elizabeth Strout's My Name is Lucy Barton and Nathan Hill's The Nix have gotten lots of love from
critics and bloggers. Strout's book is a quiet exploration of a deteriorated relationship between a mother and adult daughter. The writing is good and Strout explores a complicated relationship admirably, but I found myself bored at times. There was nothing particularly ambitious here and I found it passable at best. Hill's efforts are more ambitious, offering another complex parent-child relationship in the context of presidential politics. Timely to say the least, but I found the writing aggravating at times. There are annoying tropes (the writer who spent all his advance but failed to write the book) and a useless character whose only purpose is to advance the plot yet is given way too many pages.

Two Books For the Beach

Going to get some sun during the long winter and needing some good but not too heavy reading. Stephanie Danler's Sweetbitter is an edgy inside story of the service industry in high-end New York restaurants. It's funny, harsh, and endearing. Similarly, Emma Straub's Modern Lovers is a deep yet light look at middle age relationships, and how longstanding couples are forced to address their disappointments, regrets and hopes for newness.

Books I Plan To Read Next Year

I likely won't be getting to Annie Proulx's Barkskins and Zadie Smith's Swing Time until January, but they are certainly at the top of the list. I am also challenging myself to finally read Stephen King's It, a vintage classic soon to be released as a new miniseries. In terms of 2017 releases, we are still waiting to see what will be hyped in The Millions "Most Anticipated" list but Omar El Akkab's American War is set to be one of the big deals next year. It's a dark, depressing dystopian novel that has had an effusive
shout out from Ann Kingman (of Books On The Nightstand fame).