My Favorite Books of 2016

imagesAs Ann Patchett, author of several of my favorite books, said in the New York Times last Sunday, “If ever there was a year to turn off the television, throw the phone out the window and pick up a book, this was it.” Not that I complied with her directions about tv and phones, but I did plenty of reading. Here are the best ones:
La Rose by Louise Erdrich. Erdrich is a national treasure, the absolutely gifted writer of Native American characters and culture. This novel starts with a tragedy and searches for atonement. Despite almost being annihilated, Erdrich shows that Native American people and culture is still standing.
The Underground Railroad by Colin Whitehead. This book just won the National Book Award. It is the fictional story of Cora, a slave trying to escape the South via the underground railroad, which the author turns into an actual subterranean railroad. It’s about people who are willing to do anything to accomplish change.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. This is an engrossing family drama where two families collide like dominos, where everyone behaves badly, and you are rooting for the kids because their parents are so completely uninterested in and overwhelmed by them.
The Wonder by Emma Donaghue. From the author of The Room, this is an entirely different kind of story. In the mid-1800s an English nurse, trained under Florence Nightingale, is sent to Ireland to solve a mystery: an Irish family claims that their 11 year old daughter has not eaten in four months. The family deems it a miracle. Read and find out.
A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny. Another great Louise Penny mystery set in Three Pines, with Gamache at his very best, smart, and built on relationships.
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. If you read Olive Kitteredge, you know there will be suffering in this novel…and very powerful. It is the story of a hospitalized writer whose estranged mother is visiting. Lucy has managed to escape her background of abuse and poverty. During the visit her mother is unable to say the words I Love You, but she shows it in her way. Very moving.
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson. This novel based on a black girl’s reminiscences of growing up with her girlfriends in the slums of Brooklyn in the 1970s. Very fresh with beautiful writing.

The Perfect Girl by Gilly MacMillan. This mystery novel is about a seventeen-year-old female musical prodigy with a genius IQ. Three years ago, she was involved in a tragic incident that left three classmates dead. She and her mother try to start life again after she serves her time. More trouble ensues. Fast paced, character driven story you will love.

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta.  A young Nigerian girl, displaced during the Civil War, begins a powerful love affair with another girl. The pair discover the heavy costs of living among taboos and prejudices.

A list of Non-fiction recommendations:

At the Existential Cafe by Sarah Bakewell

American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin

In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi

Untangled by Lisa Donovan

Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein

Highsmith: A Romance of the 50s by Marijane Meaker

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Jerry Polon
    Dec 30, 2016 @ 22:16:52

    Stimulating list. Though I’ve never before been drawn to mysteries/detective stories, I got hooked by the genre this year when discovered Tana French. Her Dublin murder squad series recently added “Trespasser,” which got lots of attention. It sounded so good that I decided to start from the beginning, and have read the first four. I’m waiting for “Trespasser” now from the library. So naturally your choice of Louise Penny caught my attention. I again decided to start at the beginning, with “Still Life.” What I like so much about Tana French is that the plots are really just the action stimulus for the characters to engage. So the detectives (of both gender) are stories in themselves, and not easy ones. And sometimes they cheat and lie like their criminal foils.

    I’m also interested in Louise Erdrich’s subject. I’ve been reading Sherman Alexie, whose entrapment in the awful history of Native American tragedy opens up a world of pain and drunk escapism, while also laughing about some of it, as he tries to find a balance as an Indian and an American. I’ll look into “La Rose.” >



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