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The Year in Books

Some years ago — at least a dozen or so, in fact — I began the habit of recording every book I read. Upon finishing one, I write its title and author in a small, hardback journal adorned with a rosy finch  perched on a lavender thistle. As many would agree, 2016 has largely been a real bitch of a year for a myriad of reasons I honestly don’t have the energy to discuss here. Instead, I’ll just leave my Year in Books.

I do recommend most of them with varying levels of enthusiasm, but you can catch up on the best of the best in some of my previous posts here, here, and here, or just look for stars next to choice titles. My top seven are in bold, too.

For the most part, the theme of the year was escapism, so these are mostly fiction with a few non-fiction, poetry, and graphic novels in the mix.

2016

The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing — Kevin Young
*Lab Girl — Hope Jahren
*Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude — Ross Gay
The Bone Clocks — David Mitchell
*Station Eleven — Emily St. John Mandel
*Behind the Beautiful Forevers — Katherine Boo
*The Magicians — Lev Grossman
*The Magician’s King — Lev Grossman
*The Magician’s Land — Lev Grossman
First Bad Man — Miranda July
Boy, Snow, Bird — Helen Oyeyemi
*Ready Player One — Ernest Cline
The Museum of Extraordinary Things — Alice Hoffman
*The Lowland — Jhumpa Lahiri
*Blankets — Craig Thompson
*Between the World and Me — Ta-Nehisi Coates
*Gold, Fame, Citrus — Claire Vaye Watkins
*Euphoria — Lily King
Night Circus — Erin Morgenstern
The Nest — Cynthia Sweeney
*Elfquest (Books 1-8) — Wendy and Richard Pini
*Dune — Frank Herbert
M Train — Patti Smith
*Annihilation — Jeff Vandermeer
*Authority — Jeff Vandermeer
*Acceptance — Jeff Vandermeer
*Dear Mr. You — Mary Louise Parker
Cat’s Cradle — Kurt Vonnegut
*Fun House — Alison Bechdel
Beautiful Ruins — Jess Walter
Fables (volumes 10-13) — Bill Willingham
*The Girls — Emma Cline
*Fool’s Crow — James Welsh
*Where’d You Go, Bernadette? — Maria Semple
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child — JK Rowling, J Tiffany, J Thorne
Girl on the Train — Paula Hawkins
*Six of Crows — Leigh Bardugo
*Crooked Kingdom — Leigh Bardugo
Shadow and Bone — Leigh Bardugo
Siege and Storm — Leigh Bardugo
Ruin and Rising — Leigh Bardugo
Purity — Jonathan Franzen
*Little Terrarium — Hannah Fries
Big Magic — Elizabeth Gilbert
*The Wet Engine — Brian Doyle
*The Underground Railroad — Colson Whitehead 

Bonus: Notable Netflix shows:
Stranger Things (creepy 80s nostalgia!)
Black Sails (pirates!)
Peaky Blinders (post-WWI English gangsters!)
Catastrophe (Irreverent marriage/parenting)
The Americans (Soviet Spies!)
Vikings (awesome hairdos!)
Jonathan Strange and Dr. Norrell (Napoleon-era magicians)
Bob’s Burgers (animated family life)
The League (Assholes!)
Frankie and Grace (70-something women reinventing themselves)
Orange is the New Black (life in a women’s prison)
Miss Fisher’s Mysteries (fabulous clothes!)
The Red Road (reservation intrigue and Jason Momoa)
Game of Thrones (basically all of the above)

 

 

More Recommended Reading

Here’s the best of what I’ve been reading the last few months…

1. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel.
If you’re looking for a chill, poetic, post-apocalyptic book free of zombies and cannibals, or just a really solid read, try this one. I loved it. The chapters flip between events before and after a worldwide flu pandemic that kills most everyone on Earth, but somehow that’s not as bad as it sounds. Much of the narrative focuses on a caravan of traveling actors and musicians who wander old roads in deconstructed pick-ups pulled by horses, and put on shows for whatever settlements they find twenty years after the event. Their motto is Survival is Insufficient, and the whole story feels extremely realistic.

2. The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell.
I think you need some patience to read one. I guess I’d call it half character study, half sci-fi dystopian literature… fairly epic and meandering in scope, but with an interesting idea at its core. Lots of time spent in the head spaces of humans and immortals, some likable, some decidedly not.

3. Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo.
Read this if you’re in the mood to get your heartbroken about a hundred times in the most matter of fact kind of way, or if you want to gain a better understanding of how global economics, political corruption, opportunity, and poverty play out on a local level. Boo writes a non-fiction account of life in Annawadi — one of Mumbai’s biggest slums — by getting into the heads of its many diverse denizens in a way that reads like fiction. Horrifying and complex, brutal yet often tender, hopeless and hopeful. I have thought about these people often since finishing the book.

4. First Bad Man, by Miranda July.
Look, this book is definitely not for everyone. July is kind of polarizing in her unique intensity, and even as a huge fan of You, Me, and Everyone We Know and some of her other projects, I spent the first half of this book cringing. The characters are imaginative, wry, and raw; the relationships are complicated and awkward as hell, often both sordid and innocent at once. But the book is funny, too, and it did me some good to spend time in the heroine’s head. Check out The Times’ review if you want to know more.

5. Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi.
Ms. Oyeyemi has a singular writing style that is both lyrical and discordant —  Mercutio’s Queen Mab rant one minute, mundane 50’s day-in-a-life stuff the next.  The book’s jacket references a “retelling of Snow White,” but I think, despite the stuff about mirrors, that link is pretty abstract. The story examines how race, shame, abuse, and truth play out through a few generations, and what it means to hide versus own your past. It’s compelling, and unsettling.

6-8. The MagiciansThe Magician King, and The Magician’s Land, by Lev Grossman.
In pursuit of escapism I recently binged this series, which is often tagged as “Hogwarts College,” but isn’t really similar to Harry Potter in any deep way. It does have a Narnia element, though. To be honest, the main characters annoyed me in the first book — mainly by just being their selfish, angsty, insecure (but brilliant) boozy twenty-year-old selves… but they evolve in a really honest and meaningful way throughout the series. Plus, there are some pretty interesting ideas about the theory and presence of magic in this world.

“This, now, stopped him. He’d known that adventures were supposed to be hard. He’d understood that he would have to go a long way and solve difficult problems and fight foes and be brave and whatever else. But this was hard in a way he hadn’t counted on. You couldn’t kill it with a sword or fix it with a spell. You couldn’t fight it. You just had to endure it, and you didn’t look good or noble or heroic doing it. You were just the guy people felt sorry for, that was all. It didn’t make a good story — in fact he saw now that the stories had it all wrong, about what you got, and what you gave. It’s not that he wasn’t willing. He just hadn’t understood. He wasn’t ready for it.”

Poem of the Week: In the Walking

“In the Walking” by Afaa Michael Weaver

It will happen like this for many of you, the house suddenly too
much, the garden so full you go out, maybe thinking of the way the earth
gives under your feet, the water makes circles around them if you have
to cross a river, leaves and branches lift up and then brush against you
when you have crossed, these things or the very structure of things, the
making of the hip joint, electrical plots in the heart, thalamus sending
reminders to the moving, you looking up into the still wings of gliding
crows on this day when you know in one second there is the power to give
things new names, so you decide this is not leaving but returning, that
ends are middles or that there are no points, no time, so by the time
you are miles away from leaving it is only the eternal very first moment
of anything, making a pound cake from scratch, moving your hand across
the hem of a new skirt, the slight fear and tremble when a sudden sound
hits your wall, like children throwing the ball against the fire escape
until it rattles like an empty skeleton, the hot shower where you are
alone until the memories step in with you, deep solitude of living
alone, falling to where you are connected with everything, and it
happens, the stepping out, mind full of seeing yourself move out into
the world without difference so you can see every move you make is a
change in the current, the arrangement of patterns under a brush, a
twisted calligrapher’s stroke, all these things, walking while the
bones of who you are become roots.

Of a Feather

Wow, just look at what artist Chris Maynard can do with a feather…

Check out his gorgeous shadow boxes and Featherfolio here.

Feathers, Form and Function: New Cut Feather Artwork by Chris Maynard feathers birds

Feathers, Form and Function: New Cut Feather Artwork by Chris Maynard feathers birds