Best of 2016

bestof2016I’ve had one of my best reading years in a long time. My book nerd stats: I’ve read 40 books (likely 41+ by the time the ball drops), or 14,068 pages. Thirteen of the books were over 400 pages, and as usual, the longer books tended to be my favorites of the year. Here are those favorites, with only the first one being in order:

  1. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren: This doorstopper (600+ pages) is unquestionably my favorite book of the year, and on my list of all time best. The writing is absolutely sublime. I read this long before it even seemed possible that Trump would be elected, but I now find it ironic that it’s about — on one hand — an unscrupulous populist politician. On the other hand, it’s a love story and one man’s journey down a deep rabbit hole of identity, honor, and self-respect. Big literary themes and tons of nuance. You could write a dissertation on this book.
  2. The Neapolitan Series by Elena Ferrante: Once I read the first book in the series (My Brilliant Friend), I had to read them all, and my goal was to complete them in 2016. Reading them all in this fashion, really allowed me to see the character development. When I started book four, I almost wanted to put it down again because Elena and Lila’s lives and relationships were so complex that it was exhausting. But then I thought about the arc of the narratives: book one has simpler relationships because they were children. By the time book four rolls around, they are adult women with children of different fathers and tangled relationships of in-laws, friends, lovers, colleagues, neighbors, etc. Just like many of us in middle age. A spectacular, Shakespearean series.
  3. Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson: I’m always about a year or two behind in reading the popular contemporary novels, such as these two published in 2013 and 2015 respectively. So much has been written about them and it’s all true — they are wonderful. For me, they charged up an interest in stories about the early 20th century and the World Wars. I think I like waiting a year or two after the chatter and hype about a new book dies down; the books that remain floating on the surface afterward are likely the ones worth reading.
  4. HHhH by Laurent Binet: My nascent World War interest led me to this book which has an interesting narrative style. The author is constantly reminding us of how he writes and why he writes while he tells the story of the assassination of Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich in Prague during WWII. Fascinating true story served up in a fascinating fictitious style. Loved it.
  5. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple: I had this one on my iPad for a while before I read it. What a treat! A warm, funny, smart story told mostly in a series of emails and other documents and otherwise narrated by the missing Bernadette’s daughter. Makes me want to visit Seattle (and be glad that we moved here instead of there, which was in the cards). I don’t often like “funny” books or biting satire, but this is really well-done and I look forward to reading her latest.
  6. Fidelity by Susan Glaspell: I got a six-month Persephone gift for my birthday, and managed to read all but the last one each month, as they arrived. Fidelity was my favorite of the five I read. During this election season, I have thought a lot about my own journey as a woman and the arc of feminism intellectually and socially in this country. This book arrived in November, right after the election, and made me think even more, especially about how women are socialized against each other, and the importance of…fidelity.
  7. The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen: This is a beautiful, reflective memoir of Matthiessen’s five-week trek deep into the Himalayas accompanying his scientist/friend to study a rare mountain goat. Ultimately, it becomes more a journey into the self and soul. Gorgeous both in language and thought. Think enlightenment.
  8. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner: I’m still ticked off that Stegner co-opted (plagiarized) so much original material from Mary Hallock Foote, but damn if this wasn’t a good story.  I think about it often and imagine that this is a book I can and will reread. It’s a pioneer story, plus the settings are in states and places that I am familiar with — which added to its enjoyment for me.
  9. The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh: Science (dolphins), scenery (the Sundarbans), and a love story–perfect!
  10. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert: I only rated this book a 3 because there are so many places in this book where Elizabeth Gilbert’s dazzling and relentless self-importance and privilege come cheerfully poking through. But still…she offers uncanny nuggets of wisdom and ideas about the creative process that outshine her obliviousness. I surprise myself that this book makes it on my top 10, but I think about some of her ideas often enough, and with interest, that it definitely made an impression.

5 thoughts on “Best of 2016

  1. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    Some terrific books on your list! Kate Atkinson is one of my top authors, so I’m so glad you got to enjoy those particular books this year. I still haven’t finished the Neapolitan Series yet! I’ve got the last one sitting on my shelf and I just haven’t gotten to it for some inexplicable reason.

    Liked by 1 person

    • RareBird says:

      And I have another Atkinson lounging unread on my shelf for some inexplicable reason! I am going to do the TBR Dare Redux next year, so perhaps I will get to it then. Look forward to your thoughts on Ferrante 4.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bellezza says:

    I read All The Kings Men years ago, and I still remember it well. What a novel! I agree it was a great read, and worthy of being on an all time best list. I also liked Fidelity when I read it; I’ve not read a Persephone book that wasn’t outstanding. Great list, with several titles I’d like to get to.

    Liked by 1 person

    • RareBird says:

      I finished A Gentleman in Moscow about an hour before midnight on New Year’s Eve. It was terrific — I can see why it made your best list! I think I would have swapped it for Big Magic had I finished earlier. I am traveling now, but hope to review it soon….


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