Best Books of 2016
Thursday 8 December 2016
The past six months have reminded me why I love stories so much: they’ve been a great escape from real life. With the U.S. presidential election dominating almost everything - my posts here at InThinking, the work in my classroom with my students, and the news that I read - I needed a break from reality.
The top two books on my reading list left me emotionally devastated. Although Grief is the Thing With Feathers clocks in at only 114 pages while A Little Life is over 700 pages long, both novels crushed me. Be forewarned.
There are also two graphic novels on the list and I read both thanks to the larger community of IB English teachers. Super Mutant Magic Academy was recommended at an IB conference and it was superb. A Distant Neighborhood was a text an InThinking subscriber mentioned and I finally got my hands on it. Thanks for the recommendation Jon! It was worth the wait to get it. The artwork was stunning.
If you have a holiday break coming up, maybe you purchase one of them for a family member or friend. Perhaps you buy one for yourself. I put this list out there to get us talking about books and reading. I strongly believe in the power of reading and in creating a culture of readers and I hope you find yourself with a book in your hand if there isn’t one there already. If you do read this and have any recommendations from your own reading in 2016, put them in the comment section below.
Because I get sentimental at this time of year, please indulge me for a few more sentences. I want to thank you – with deep gratitude – for making it such a pleasure to be a part of this community of IB English Language and Literature teachers. I also want to thank David; it’s wonderful to work with someone so committed and dedicated to his work, his students, and you.
If you are on break soon or celebrating a holiday in the near future, may it be relaxing and joyful. Happy reading!
Tim's Top 10 Books of 2016 (July-December)
1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
I can’t stop talking about or recommending this novel. It comes with a warning though: it will depress you. Jude, the main character, endures so much pain – both physical and psychological – that I’m still wondering if it’s possible for an author to be any crueler to a character. I even went to see Yanagihara speak at the Singapore Writer’s Festival this year to know more. She’s super smart and really funny in a sarcastic kind of way. And while I left knowing more about Jude, it didn’t make me feel any better. Jude is unforgettable.
2. Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
Stylistically, this was the most gorgeous novel I read this year. Told in prose poetry, it follows the story of a dad who has lost his wife, two boys who have lost their mother, and a crow who comes to help them deal with their grief. Read it in one sitting. The emotional development and intensity requires that you don’t put it down. By the last page, you’ll feel as if you’ve grieved with this family over their loss and you’ll understand just a bit more about what it means to be human.
3. The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
These interconnected short stories, by the author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon, are thoughtful. While some are set in present day Chechnya and others are placed in Stalin’s Soviet Union, each story has one character that continues into the next one. By the end of it all, you realize how Marra connects them all together, revealing small truths about our lives.
4. The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Winner of the Man Booker International Prize last year, this novel will make you catch your breath. The main character, Yeong-hye, decides to become a vegetarian and in doing so she begins to reject not only meat, but also her family and the larger society around her. It’s tough to read because you are witnessing a character self-destruct, and yet it’s also quite amazing to see her defiance and courage to do so.
5. Super Mutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki
This graphic novel knocked my socks off! I wasn’t expecting to find it so funny. Each page, an individual vignette usually totaling only 6 panels, depicts the lives of the characters who live at the magic academy. Although they have mutant powers and abilities, the characters go through everyday teenage issues ranging from friends to drugs to sexuality to the humors of high school. It takes a bit of time to recognize the same cast of characters reappearing in individual stories, but once you do, it’s a lot of fun to read.
6. Nutshell by Ian McEwan
An unnamed and still in the womb 35-week old baby narrates Nutshell. It is one of the most interesting narrative voices I have ever read. He listens in on his mother and her lover plot a horrific crime. Of course, McEwan has created an impossible narrator. His knowledge about wine and world politics says as much. It’s a literary mystery that will have you searching for answers.
7. You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
You Will Know Me follows the story of 15-year-old Devon as she competes in elite gymnastic competitions in the U.S. Told from the third person limited perspective of her mother, this thriller will delight. I read it just after the Olympics ended and I flew through the book. What would you do to have it all? How far would you go to protect your daughter?
8. Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers
I’m a fan of Dave Eggers’s novels. What is the What stunned me and I still think about the way in which technology and technology companies act like Big Brother in The Circle. Although I don’t think this novel lives up to either of the novels I just mentioned, I like Eggers as an author and this one is worth picking up if you’ve read any of him before.
A woman and her two kids are trying to escape their ho-hum Ohio town. The pick up their lives, rent an RV and explore Alaska instead, leaving everything behind. It’s a wonderful social commentary about suburbia, success, ambition, and parenting.
9. The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton
If you are looking for a light book with action and crime, this one fits the bill perfectly. Nick Mason – the titular character – is released from prison (you find out why part way through) and he is now indebted to those who helped get him out of jail. After a wild crime spree in Chicago, Nick attempts to break free from these newfound chains and reunite with his ex-wife and nine year old daughter. It’s a great read when stuck on a plane.
10. A Distant Neighborhood by Jiro Taniguchi
A forty something year old man returns to his 8th grade self in this beautifully drawn graphic novel. Ideas about memory and the past are explored in this novel as the main character tries to make sense of his father’s disappearance.