I read a lot of really great nonfiction books in 2016! I actually think I had better luck with nonfiction than fiction. The first three listed are my top three favorites; everything is listed in alphabetical order.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016)
When Breath Becomes Air focuses on Kalinithi’s a career as a neurosurgeon, which was cut short by a rare and terminal form of lung cancer. The memoir — which he was still striving to complete at the time of his death — offers reflections on life and death. In doing so, he reflects on past interactions with patients who had been on the receiving end of bad news that came from him. It’s a gorgeous book.
The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing (2016)
Mixing memoir, biography, and art history, Olivia Laing explores the different meanings of loneliness in New York City through the lives of different artists who lived there. The essays offer beautiful, elegant explorations of human interactions (or the lack thereof).
So Sad Today by Melissa Broder (2016)
Steeped in dark humor, So Sad Today is a collection of autobiographical essays by Melissa Broder. She writes about her struggles with extreme anxiety low, self-esteem, and addiction, but she also throws in some off-the-wall essays about sex and relationships. There’s one essay in there revolving around sexting that had me going, “This woman is completely nuts. I love her.”
These were my favorite ten fiction reads of 2016. The first three are my absolute top picks; everything else is listed in alphabetical order.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (1985)
Lonesome Dove remains my biggest shocker: I was extremely reluctant to pick it up, but it ended up being my favorite book of the year (and one of my favorite books, like, ever). At face value, it’s about a ragtag group of cowboys that drives a massive herd of cattle from South Texas to Montana, but it’s also about bigger ideas like duty and friendship and mortality. And it’s a helluva wild adventure.
The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya (2015)
The Big Green Tent is about an unlikely trio that bonds as LORLs — Lovers of Russian Literature — an informal school group led by a popular but subversive teacher. They come of age in 1950s Moscow under the threat of Stalin, where brazen independent thought is dangerous. The book follows the boys throughout the rest of their lives. It’s a modern version of the classic, sweeping Russian novel (but way easier to read).
The Gringo Champion by Aura Xilonen (2017)
I feel kind of weird putting The Gringo Champion on my 2016 list because it won’t be out for a couple more weeks; I got an advance copy. It’s an immigration story that’s unlike any other immigration story I’ve read, in the most surprising and refreshing way. I’ll write more about it on its release day, but I will say now: OMG, the vocabulary in this book is insane! And the author was only nineteen years old when she wrote it!
2016 was kind of brutal, no? (My personal low was when my beloved cat died while I was away on vacation. The second half of the year wasn’t much better.)
It shows in my reading. I was either too unfocused to really concentrate on anything, or too busy to commit to books that actually managed to grab my interest. My blogging also suffered. I went through a ton of audiobooks thanks to my work commute this semester, but if not for that, my stats would have been way dismal.
In 2017, I want to get back into the swing of things. I want to get better at DNF-ing books that don’t click with me (something I did actually get better at in 2016). I want to reread more books. And I want to get back into the head space (and life space) to do more actual reading. If December was any indication, I’m already getting back there.
Victoria McQueen was born with a special gift; whenever she’s riding her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, a bridge will appear can transport her wherever she needs to go. Once there, she can find things that are lost. It starts out innocently enough, with Vic looking for things to keep her parents from fighting, but the temptation to do more with her trick is always there.
Meanwhile, Charles Talent Manx is out on the prowl for children. He has a special vehicle of his own, a Rolls Royce Wraith, which he uses to transport children to Christmasland, a ghoulish twilight zone of yuletide cheer where soulless children revere Manx unconditionally. Hundreds of children (and sometimes their parents) have mysteriously disappeared over the years, and when Vic figures out that she might be able to find them, she goes looking for trouble. She ends up barely escaping from Manx’s Sleigh House, the only child to ever have done so. In the process of her escape and subsequent rescue, Manx is caught and imprisoned for life, assumed to be a pedophile and serial killer.
Now Vic is an adult, and Manx has never stopped thinking about her. But rather than come for her when the opportunity arises, he decides to come for her son, Bruce. Meanwhile, Vic is convinced that she’s always been mentally ill; once would have to be schizophrenic to actually believe that magic bridges and places like Christmasland exist. Unless she can find a way to trust her instincts and her sanity, her son’s life is on the line.
Ever since 2010, I’ve been working my way through all of the Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction. To make it more manageable, I set a goal to read all the winners for the years ending in the current year’s number (so in 2016, I focused on the winners for the years ending in 6). I’ve yet to actually complete those mini-tasks, but they serve as good reminders to not just focus on recent contemporary winners. They also not-so-gently nudge me into reading the books I know I’ll probably hate, just to get them over and done with. *cough* Updike *cough*
Which brings me to Lonesome Dove, a cowboy Western that’s 850+ pages long. I don’t really do cowboy Westerns, and the thought of one that’s the size of 2-3 average books put together was just not my idea of a good time. But there it was, sitting on my Pulitzer TBR list for this year. What finally pushed me towards it? On Goodreads, several people whose reading tastes I trust had all reviewed the book with variations of, “Don’t let the Western thing throw you off. This book is amazing.”
Y’ALL. Don’t let the Western thing throw you off. This book is amazing.