Saturday, January 28, 2017

Top 10 of 2016

Though 2016 has sucked in a lot of ways, it's also been a pretty big one around here: we celebrated our first year being married, took a lovely honeymoon to Maine, I turned 30 (and didn't freak out too much), went to see Hamilton, and we bought a house! It's been a decent year of reading, too. Looking back at my list, I read a lot of forgettable books this year, but I did notch some that were gems. With our new house, my commute has gotten to be a little longer, but it's allowing me to plow through books like there's no tomorrow, so I'm hoping that 2017 will be an excellent year for reading!

Just like last year, a group of lovely ladies and I attempted to read all of the National Book Award shortlist (and some of the longlist) and this year we added the Man Booker Prize shortlist which was a nice change since I don't know if I'd have picked up many of those books on my own. We changed the format this year to a wiki-style review system which seemed to work well (though I haven't written reviews for 2 of the books I've read.. moving was time consuming!) and I hope that we keep it up for next year.

Enough with the boring stuff--let's get to why you're here.

This year, I read 51 books. The books on this list are ones that I completed reading between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016. These books were not necessarily published in 2016 (though most of them were published within the last three years) and anything that I have reread this year is not eligible for the Top 10. At the end of the top list, you'll find the list of all the books I have read this year. Also, the titles of the Top 10 books link to the book on Amazon (but go buy it in a bookstore).

Here ya go:

Stephanie's Top 10 Books of 2016

10) LaRose by Louise Erdrich: I've always been a big fan of Louise Erdrich and she did not disappoint with LaRose. The story follows two Native American families after a tragic accident--the father of one family accidentally kills the son of the other. In line with Ojibwe tradition, the father gives the grieving family his own son LaRose as penance. As LaRose is absorbed into this new family, Erdrich follows both families as they adjust to this new life. Her characters are vivid, real, and her storytelling is, as always, exquisite.

9) Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn: It may or may not surprise you that I've always been interested in Charles Manson and his Family. The psychology and sociology of what happened in the 1960s is fascinating. Jeff Guinn brings this to life in this book. It's a biography of Manson, but also a look at the era that spawned him. Manson did not become himself in a vacuum and Guinn really digs deep into how Manson's credo came to be powerful and, in the end, deadly.

8) City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg: This is definitely a long one, but worth it. I was actually reading this on the metro and someone stopped me and said "This book perfectly captures being there." It takes place in the year leading up to the blackout in New York City in the summer of 1977. Following the worlds of both the punk movement, art world, and higher society, Hallberg weaves together interesting, connected characters. I have a bias toward books that include margin notes or nontraditional text, and the use of 'zines in this book is well done. This was a good summer read for me!

7) The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: I read this one as part of our National Book Award shortlist read, and as you probably know, it won. Whitehead hasn't always been my cup of tea--his alternate realities usually just don't do it for me, and I won't lie, it took me a while to fully grasp why he made the "railroad" an actual railroad, but in the end I think it was effective. I think the story captured the abject terror felt by a runaway slave, as well as the mentalities of the people who wanted to capture them, and the people who wanted to help them. Cora's story is a powerful one that Whitehead tells in a unique way.

6) The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan: Here's another book that was part of the National Book Award shortlist. I walked away from this book in a state of awe. Mahajan's story starts with three boys who go to take a TV set for repair in Delhi when a "small bomb" goes off, killing two of the boys who were brothers. The story follows the family of the two boys who were killed and the boy who survived and his family. I came away from this book debating what the moral of the story was, and I still haven't landed on it because I'm still thinking about it, which to me, is the sign of an excellent book. What Mahajan makes clear is the ripple effect of a small event that only may kill a few people and may not necessarily be widely reported in the news. Very effective and thought-provoking.

5) Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson: I am a fan of Woodson already and the reason I've loved her so long is her poetic and easy language. She doesn't complicate things but makes her sentences elegant, spare, and bright--I wish I had read this out loud, which is how I prefer to read poetry (when I do). I related very strongly to this story of childhood female friendship and how it changes but also stays with you for your whole life. The story is small but packs a punch, focusing on August who finds a group of three girls when she moves to Brooklyn as a young girl. The girls are inseparable and as they grow up, they lose and find each other. The writing is divine and I definitely cried a few times. 

4) All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood: I could NOT put this book down. Seriously. I was hooked from day one. And it might be because, as my husband likes to point out, all my favorite books are about dysfunctional people and drugs, but I don't care. The story is gripping and I couldn't put it down. Wavy lives with her drug addicted mother and her drug dealing father and is more of an adult than both of them combined. When she meets one of her father's lackeys during a motorcycle accident, the two form a strong bond that will have you cringing and smiling. This is an unconventional story and I wish I had read it with people so I could have gushed about it as I read!

3) Underground Airlines by Ben Winters: There was an article in the New Yorker this year comparing the alternate worlds of Underground Railroad and this book, so I wanted to read it because it sounded intriguing. The premise is that the Civil War never happened, leaving four southern states with legal slavery. So the world is exists with today's conveniences (technology, etc) but also with these four states legally holding slaves. The world is seen through the eyes of a bounty hunter who works for the government trying to catch runaway slaves. He becomes involved in a case that is fishy for  a number of reasons and gets entangled in government secrets. It's an interesting premise and really well executed.

2) The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante: I know, I know--everyone read this book this year, but it is so much more than a fad. I was completely enraptured in the whole Neapolitan series and really loved the final installment. The epic story of the friendship of Elena and Lila was beautifully written, elegantly told, and absolutely heartrending. I loved every minute of these books and thought the finale was well done.

1) Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: Big Ann Patchett fan here and I was very excited to read this--Patchett always knows how to get to me. This is the story of two families who become entwined after the father from one family and the mother from another get involved with each other. But the interesting stories for me came from the kids who were part of these families--especially when they are all together during the summers. The story spans several decades and the kids form a bond through their times together. Lovely and really moving.

So that's it! This was a lovely year in my life in reading! Thanks for stopping by and checking it out. Below is the full list from 2016--anything with a star is an honorable mention.

  • *All Aunt Hagar's Children by Edward P. Jones
  • *The Country of Ice Cream Star Sandra Newman
  • The Sunlit Night by Rebeccan Dinerstein
  • *The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
  • The Sudden Light by Garth Stein
  • *Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
  • The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
  • *In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • *Pax  by Sara Pennypacker
  • The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel
  • *The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
  • The Past by Tessa Hadley
  • Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann
  • Moon Palace by Paul Auster
  • Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
  • *Dodgers by Bill Beverly
  • The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai
  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
  • *The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
  • LaRose by Louise Erdrich
  • The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeer Sahata
  • *The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
  • Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
  • Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn
  • Me Before You  by Jojo Meyers
  • *Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • *The Girls by Emma Cline
  • Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
  • The Green Road by Anne Enright
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  • The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt
  • All the Ugly and Beautiful Things by Bryn Greenwood
  • Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers
  • *Chistodora by Tim Murphy
  • *The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  • City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
  • Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
  • Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
  • *The Portable Veblen by Chris Bachelder
  • *The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
  • Underground Airlines by Ben Winters
  • *The Sellout by Paul Beatty
  • Miss Jane by Brad Watson
  • Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina
  • *Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck by Adam Cohen
  • Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Thanks for stopping by. I'd love to hear about your favorites this year, too! Wishing you a 2017 full of good books.