Most of the books I read this year weren’t from this year. Here, though, are four novels published in 2016 that I quite enjoyed.
Could McEwan possibly have had more fun? I doubt it. It’s as though the author said to himself, “I want to write an extended essay on the state of the world, right now, and I want to do so thrillingly.” And he did, and he thrills, because as a craftsman, McEwan is as bad-ass as they come. And because it’s McEwan, telling this bitter comedy from the perspective of a fetus is more than just a clever device. It’s the fetus as writer, the fetus as reader, the fetus as all of us, living in a world so complex and so unclear that our allegiances toss and turn, our morals are endlessly compromised, leaving us Hamlet-like in helpless inaction. What a piece of work, indeed.
Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves
For a novel that touches on so many dramatic themes – prison life, marital breakdown, race, the guilt and blame we impose on others and ourselves, how we define ourselves through work – this could have been an overwrought melodrama. But Reeves controls the prose masterfully and with lyrical restraint in this story about a discontented electrician sent to prison for accidentally killing a man. She lets the reader mull over the allegories rather than impose them. This is a touching, thoughtful book full of beautifully drawn characters.
Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers
This is a book in which the reader expects calamity to strike at any moment – an unprepared mother and her children winging it across a fire-scorched Alaska. Thankfully, calamities pass most of us by in this life; most of our tragedies are internal. And that’s where this story lies, in the heart and mind of Josie, who does not always make the best decisions but does so in such a human way. Eggers generates terrific empathy for this flawed character. In the end, Josie’s quest finds purpose and clarity, though we know, as does she ultimately, that it will be fleeting. Eggers writes a heartfelt, funny and surprisingly moving book. All is forgiven for The Circle.
“Get out! This ain’t for you! This is our thing” a black comedian yells at two white audience members near the end of The Sellout, and white readers may feel a little of that discomfort, laughing along nervously, wondering if the comedian/author is being serious or not. But don’t get out; stick with it. This rollicking satire about race, blackness and the imperfect notion of equality as we perceive it is hilarious and biting, oftentimes more commentary than fiction. But it just may be the satire we need right now. My favourite book of the year and winner of the Booker Prize.
Honorable Mention: Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
I’m four-fifths through this 500-page autobiography. Springsteen writes his life like he writes his music: cleanly, honestly and sometimes over the top. But he’s honest about his ambition and his demons, making this compelling stuff for even the casual Springsteen fan.
I half expected the Elvis Costello memoir to pop up on your list! I’m almost through with it and loving every page. Saw your Goodreads review and said to myself, “Ah, a fellow MacManus traveller.” Now it looks like I’ll have to add the Springsteen to my TBR stack.
Considered it, but some might be frustrated by its non-linear approach. I also read David Byrne’s How Music Works this year, which is likewise unconventional but insightful about music and Byrne’S process as a whole.
Oh yeah, that Byrne book was terrific. I always like discovering that my musical heroes are actually … deep!
good recommendations. i love dave e., he is from my town, ann arbor, and created a non-profit writing center for kids of all ages here. the adults support the with guidance as needed, but it’s a haven for creative kids. also interested in the springsteen book, he’s always been a fascinating guy in my book –
I loved Hologram but really disliked The Circle. But Eggers gets a free pass forever for McSweeney’s.
Thanks for the suggestions. Happy New year, Ross.
My pleasure. All the best, Lynette.
“Nutshell” sounds utterly terrific. Thanks for the recommendation. I read about two books a year, and this will be one of them.
And it’s really short!
In that case, maybe I’ll fit 3 books into my year!
For someone who reads as much of my stuff as you do, I need to read the other stuff you read to understand why you do. You see, who needs an editor? Whom, really?
That’s kind of canny, actually.
The progression of my 2016 reading history list at the local library is rather telling.
“The Object of My Affection is in My Reflection : Coping with Narcissists,” by Rokelle Lerner.
“Complex PTSD : From Surviving to Thriving : A Guide and Map for Recovering from Childhood Trauma,” by Pete Walker.
“Trauma and recovery, ” by Judith Lewis Herman.
“All the Single Ladies : Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation,”
by Rebecca Traister.
“People’s Pops : 55 Recipes for Ice Pops, Shave Ice, and Boozy Pops from Brooklyn’s Coolest Pop Shop,” by Natalie Jordi.
Yup. I’m surprised it took that long to get to the boozy pops.
46 and a half years.
I kind of bailed out on Eggers. Maybe I should go back. I got ‘The Sellout’ as a stocking stuffer. I can’t wait! Re: Springsteen. He could’ve left out that stuff about his daughter’s show-jumping. Just sayin’.
I wasn’t just not impressed with The Circle, I actively disliked it. But I’m glad I tried again with this one.
They’re making The Circle into a big budget film with Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. Don’t forget to miss it!
Social media = 1984 with better haircuts. I just saved you 10 bucks.
Thanks for adding some books to my TBR pile! I completely agree with you on the Sellout – a very worthy Booker winner.
Have fun. If you have any to recommend in turn, feel free.