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My 2016 Book List

December 31, 2016

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At the end of every year, a group of friends and I share lists of the books we’ve read and what we thought of them. It is one of my favorite annual traditions. Over the years, my “reviews” have gotten longer, sometimes more personal. Sometimes they wander. Books are a lens through which I try to understand the world. So these reviews are sometimes just me thinking out loud. And sometimes they’re just about the book.

It seems like forever ago that I kicked off 2016 with some random reads: books on method acting, Japanese artistic philosophy and prison life. None too notable.

But then I hit a string of excellent books: a re-read of Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, the Man Booker Prize-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings and Helen MacDonald’s amazing H is for Hawk.

For crime fiction, I’m a big fan of Dennis Lehane. Live By Night (soon to be released as a film) didn’t disappoint.

In other books-to-screen, The Revenant book holds its own. And I re-read No Country for Old Men, the awesome source material of my all-time favorite film.

I read a few novels set during wartime. David Benioff’s City of Thieves rose to the top, though Erik Larson’s Dead Wake is captivating too.

Two novels about the Underground Railroad this year: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters. Both deserve the hype they received.

I started reading stage plays this year and was blown away by Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman. Like nothing else I’ve ever read.

I was inspired by the ambition of Elon Musk, and the broad scope of Will Durant’s Heroes of History.

In understanding American culture at the moment, Hillbilly Elegy is a must read (paired with last year’s Between the World and Me, it should be required). But Gun Guys was also enlightening and entertaining. And Rise of the Warrior Cop leaves one dumbfounded and angry.

Looking overseas, Black Flags provides a good understanding of how ISIS came to be.

On the lighter side, Mary Roach is always an entertaining read. Grunt is funny and interesting, and Dan Lyons’s tales of start-up life are hilarious in Disrupted.

One book on writing this year, but it was a good one: How to Write Short.

And I like to end my years with a weighty, reflective book. When Breath Becomes Air is crushing. I’m still trying to digest it.

I write about books throughout the year on my blog, but here’s the full 2016 Book List.

As for my short list of recommended books…

 

FICTION

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

City of Thieves by David Benioff

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

 

NONFICTION

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Black Flags by Joby Warrick

Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko

 

Thanks to my friend Greg for convincing me to start this tradition 17 years ago. And to my mom who reads every review and makes astute editing suggestions.

What did you read? What did you love? Let me know. Happy reading in 2017!

 

 

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 1, 2017 9:48 am

    What a great tradition! I need to move Hillbilly Elegy up my reading list. I’ve been going back and forth about it- it looks good and important, but also a little bit too close to home.

  2. Aaron Andrews permalink
    January 1, 2017 11:15 am

    Here are the book I read in 2016.

    Beyond this Horizon, Robert Heinlein
    Sixth Column, Robert Heinlein
    The Puppet Masters, Robert Heinlein
    The Door into Summer, Robert Heinlein
    Farnham’s Freehold, Robert Heinlein
    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein
    Starman Jones, Robert Heinlein
    Citizen of the Galaxy, Robert Heinlein
    Podkayne of Mars, Robert Heinlein
    Tunnel in the Sky, Robert Heinlein
    The Client, John Grisham
    I, Robot, Isaac Asimov
    Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
    For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
    Anthem, Ayn Rand
    The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. LeGuin
    The Dispossessed, Ursula K. LeGuin
    Double Star, Robert Heinlein
    Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt
    The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
    Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card
    Lord of the Flies, William Golding
    The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu
    The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
    The Gods Themselves, Isaac Asimov
    As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
    Light in August, William Faulkner
    A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor
    The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
    Everything that Rises Must Converge, Flannery O’Connor
    Absalom, Absalom!, William Faulkner
    Intruder in the Dust, William Faulkner
    Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
    Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor
    At the Mountains of Madness, H.P. Lovecraft
    The Call of Cthulhu & Other Stories, H.P. Lovecraft
    The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
    Something Wicked this Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
    The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury
    Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
    Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry
    The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles
    Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
    The Moviegoer, Walker Percy
    Rabbit, Run, John Updike
    Rabbit, Redux, John Updike
    Redshirts, John Scalzi
    The Fountains of Paradise, Arthur C. Clarke
    Old Man’s War, John Scalzi
    Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
    A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
    Foundation, Isaac Asimov
    Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie
    Howl & other poems, Allen Ginsberg
    The Road, Cormac McCarthy
    Shane, Jack Schaefer
    Foundation and Empire, Isaac Asimov
    Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Phillip K. Dick
    Spin, Robert Charles Wilson
    Second Foundation, Isaac Asimov
    The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
    The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx
    Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
    Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
    Sundiver, David Brin

    It started out with me raiding my dad’s sci-fi book collection, and deciding to read every Heinlein book I hadn’t read. Of course, I had to re-read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress while I was at it, one of my absolute favorites. Of those new to me, Double Star was the best. The tale of a down on his luck actor who takes a gig impersonating the kidnapped President of Mars, and gets involved in all sorts of political intrigue. Hilarious at times, a really fun book. Didn’t hurt that I was listening to a great audiobook performance by Tom Weiner.

    Reading Heinlein got me back into sci-fi but also just reading in general and I decided to start using my longer drive to work to listen to audiobooks and put a dent in my reading list backlog. While searching for new books to read I saw the Ursula LeGuin books on a couple lists. They were very good intelligently written sci-fi that I really enjoyed.

    I picked up a copy of As I Lay Dying at a used bookstore, that got me reading more Faulkner and before I knew it, I was crossing a host of southern gothic novels off my list.

    Finally I decided to focus on two lists. The Hugo Award winning novels (sci-fi) and the Pulitzer Prize winning novels, adding in pre-requisites as needed, follow-ups where wanted.

    Notable mentions: The Flannery O’Connor short stories are biting and brutal and great. The Sheltering Sky had an incredible sense of place in the Sahara and a tragic story arc. Redshirts was a lot of fun. The Rabbit novels just plain sad.
    Ancillary Justice, another sci-fi was set in an alien culture with no gender pronouns in their language, so the author used ‘she/her’ for every single character, even after describing a character as male (for the few characters who even had their gender mentioned at all). A very interesting read, to almost completely drop gender as a character attribute.
    The Three Body Problem, first Chinese novel to win the Hugo Award was thought provoking and unique, read it on my trip to Hong Kong.
    A Confederacy of Dunces, which won the Pulitzer posthumously in 1981 is an incredible work. Strange, satirical, hilarious throughout. Ignatius J. Riley is quite a character.
    Finally, I borrowed my friend’s copy of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Incredibly sad, very funny, I enjoyed all the comic and sci-fi references throughout.

    This year I’m going to keep working on the Hugos and Pulitzers. Looking forward to reading A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jenifer Egan, that I got for Christmas.

    Recommends:
    Double Star, Robert Heinlein
    The Dispossessed, Ursula K. LeGuin
    The Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu
    The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles
    A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
    The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

    • January 1, 2017 3:53 pm

      What a great list! I went through a little Southern Gothic kick recently (last year?). Love Flannery O’Connor’s shorts and Carson McCullers. I picked up Absalom, Absalom! this year but didn’t start it since it was late December. Next year.

      Agree that Confederacy of Dunces is great, as is Oscar Wao.

      I haven’t read much Heinlein. Just Stranger in a Strange Land. I’ll have to pick up Mistress and Double Star.

      Did you read Ready Player One? Good sci-fi, particularly for our age.

      I loved Rabbit, Run, but haven’t read anything beyond that. Loved it. Have had Redux on my shelf for years.

      Thanks for sharing!

      • Aaron Andrews permalink
        January 2, 2017 11:49 am

        Absalom was long, long winded, bit of a chore. Still good, especially the history, but my least favorite of Faulkner. Have you read the Reivers?

        I read Ready Player One about a year ago when I heard about the movie. Good mix of new and nostalgia, like Stranger Things. I just might be able to do the Wargames challenge. Sucked at Joust though.

        Rabbit Redux was just as good as Run, just as sad. Some very interesting character choices. Shows a lot of the same economic concerns as today. Should read it. I’m going to read Rabbit is Rich / at Rest early this year and finish off the set.

        I should mention, if you want to read something truly unique, check out Asimov’s The Gods Themselves. Parts 1,3 are pretty standard fare. But part 2 is one of the most creative alien species I’ve ever read. Truly alien, like nothing on earth. Fascinating, but very emotionally touching.

  3. Jim & Pat Bosiljevac permalink
    January 2, 2017 10:49 am

    Nice mention of Mom. She appreciated it. — Dadd

  4. Uncle Bill permalink
    January 3, 2017 4:25 am

    Thanks for the list, Jimm. After a summer of reading candidate bios for the election, I’m due for some “enjoyable ” reading. I just re-read the “Clan of the Cave Bear ” 6-book series by Jean Auell…..still one of my all time favorites.

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