*not including the towering pile of art and illustration books I added to my collection this year
Happy new year, friends,
We made it to the other side. Though just barely, right? If ever there was a year to bury your face in a book and disappear, 2016 was it - for so many reasons. Not least of which was the passing of our beloved friend Kimberly, who was (among many things) a librarian and the one friend who never tired of talking books with me. This one's for her.
Tell the Wolves I'm Home
by Carol Rifka
I loved (loved LOVED) this book. Every page of it. Not only is it beautifully written, it is packed with heart. I don't want to spoil it with a plot overview, but let me just say that if you don't love it, you may be a broken robot.
by Curtis Sittenfeld
Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice reimagined in the modern day, by a really smart writer, who, in my opinion, totally nailed. it. (As she did with The American Wife, which I read years ago and also highly recommend). While you could certainly enjoy the novel on its own merit (if you're not an Austen fan), it's nerdy good fun to see how Sittenfeld recasts the story in today's reality-tv world. Highly recommend.
by Curtis Sittenfeld
Not the most endearing cast of characters, but it's a quick read. Identical twin sisters. One's a seemingly normal married, mom. One is an eccentric psychic, who sets the story in motion when she very publicly predicts a catastrophic earthquake. This is a quicky if you're curious to see how the story unfolds--and you haven't yet tired of the identical-twins-with-magic-powers plot device. I have.
by Atul Gawande
This is a powerful book on an important and often undiscussed subject in our culture - how we approach dying. Quality of life versus quantity. When is suffering worth it? And how much suffering is too much? My first encounter with Gawande's writing was in this (stellar) New Yorker piece about palliative medicine. It changed the way I think about death and dying. In Being Mortal, Gawande further examines medicine's approach to terminal disease - and invites us to rethink "what matters in the end". Highly recommend.
When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi
In the same vein as Being Mortal, a neurosurgeon who has been diagnosed with lung cancer chronicles his remaining days and the crisis of identity that happens when you can no longer do what you are - or what you think you are. There are so many poignant, make-you-think moments in these pages, as you can imagine. One that comes to mind: Paul and his wife are trying to decide whether to have a child, and she asks, "Don't you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?" His reply is the crux of his story: "Wouldn't it be great if it did?"
Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Difficult subject. Difficult reading - on a number of levels. Any sentence I could write about how this book contributed to my understanding of the black experience in America is quickly obliterated by the voice in my head screaming "DON'T DO IT, WHITE GIRL. JUST LEAVE THAT SHIT LIE." I'll let you form your own opinion on this one (isn't that nice of me?) , but I do know that we all have to keep reading and reaching. We have so, so much work to do.
by Bryan Stevenson
The statistics and stories are heartbreaking - and the writing is very accessible. A worthwhile (if not enjoyable, per se) read.
by Sarai Walker
This novel is BRILLIANT and subversive and supremely readable. It sparked my obsession with books about The Fat Experience and what it says about our culture and our values. Holy shit, y'all - we are WRETCHED! Wretched in our obsession with beauty and thinness and sameness. It's sickening. We have to do better for ourselves.
by Lindy West
Listen to this episode of This American Life and then go read this fabulous, funny, and poignant memoir. If you find yourself turned off by the noisy fat girl with her big thighs and even bigger opinions, you're part of the problem. Do not pass go. But go read the next book on this list.
by Kelsey Miller
Same important topic. Another personal memoir in my new favorite subgenre. (When I'm on a roll, I eat ALL THE ROLLS). Miller sets out, with the guidance of a counselor, to stop binging and yo-yo dieting once and for all and, instead, "eat intuitively" - which (I'm told) is how "normal" people eat. Her journey is fascinating and funny. And if you're first question is "does she get finally get thin in the end?" ... you really need to read this book.
by Neil LaBute
Ha ha ... this is getting weird, I know. Like I said up there about the rolls. I haz issues. This is actually a play. (Do you ever read plays? You should. They're kind of amazing for the brain.) Keri Russell (Felicity), Jeremy Piven (Entourage), Andrew McCarthy (my preteen fantasies) and Ashlie Atkinson (never heard of her? I wonder why! Perhaps because she's fat? Hmm.) were in the original cast and Keri plays the mean girl. If I've lured you into my fabulous FatLit web, add this to your list. Like the others, it will make you see the world in a different way. I promise.
by Dan Harris
Memoir/Inspirational/Self-Helpish, with the emphasis on Harris's personal experience and how he used meditation to manage anxiety and enjoy life more. His style is engaging, and he comes across as a genuinely likeable guy (whose life-changing panic attack happened live on television). If you've ever suffered a panic attack, you'll relate to and learn from Harris's experience. And who couldn't stand to be 10% Happier?
The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins
If you loved Gone Girl, you'll love The Girl on the Train. Unless you're a grumpy dick like me, who thought the (admittedly wretched) characters in Gone Girl were far more interesting. The psyhcological plot twists in Train felt overly engineered to deliver a certain (Gone Girl) experience, and it just didn't grab me. It grabbed a lot of other people though, so if you like suspense - it's probably worth ignoring my warnings.
by Mary Oliver
I read a lot of poetry, and I don't typically incorporate it into these lists - but on the (very) off chance you haven't met Mary Oliver - I need to introduce you. Especially if the word poetry makes your ass draw up. There is a lot (a. lawt.) of bad poetry out there - and it often appears right alongside the good stuff, so you read it and feel stupid and confused and it drives you to drink. Or maybe that's just me. Mary Oliver is all good, all the time. Poignant, life affirming stuff. Felicity is her most recent. They're all beautiful.
Be Frank With Me
by Julia Claiborne Johnson
This one's really fun. It made me think of Where'd You Go, Bernadette meets The Nanny Diaries, both of which I loved - though The Nanny Diaries was probably more appealing to me in my twenties than it would be now. Anyway, Be Frank is light and sweet, like a cronut for the mind. Eat up.
Is It Evil Not to Be Sure
by Lena Dunham
A collection of essays based on Lena's (I can call her Lena, we're close like that) journals from around 2005ish, when we were already adults, and she was like 12. She released this as a fundraiser for charity, and if you love Lena, you'll love it. If she rubs you the wrong way, well, maybe it's because she's not a size 2 and has the audacity to expose her flesh on national television. I kid! (Sort of.) If Lena Dunham rubs you the wrong way, that's completely understandable. She's an iconoclast. Iconoclasts are scary. And they don't give a rat's ass how you feel about it. It won't stop the millions of low-rent shitwads from making lewd and hideous comments on her personal Instagram, but the Iconoclasts keep on conoclasting. And I love them for it. Also! For Lena lovers who want more (MORE! MORE!) - check out her amazing interview with Judy Blume. Are you there, God? It's me Amanda. Thanks for sending us Lena Dunham.
by Glennon Doyle Melton
A bazillion articles have been written about the lovable spiritual wonderball that is Glennon Doyle Melton. If you missed her somehow (the way I missed the news of her latest love interest - holy whatballs!) you have hours and hours of glorious reading ahead. Glennon has a blog, momastery.com, and her first book, Carry on Warrior. Dive in. Love Warrior is a fierce little memoir (little only in stature, like Glennon herself) about infidelity and the fight to rebuild a marriage in the face of betrayal. It's also about addiction, anxiety, family, and faith. And love, of course. Always love.
Salt to the Sea
by Ruta Sepetys
This is an amazing novel that happens to be labeled "Young Adult" fiction (because it's short and there's no sex, I think. It doesn't feel like it's written for young people - which is probably why it's great for young people.) It's a historic novel set during World War II, inspired by the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff , the refugee ship--and savior that never was. If you haven't heard of the Wilhelm Gustloff, you're not alone. And when you finish reading this book, you won't believe this event was banished to the basement of history.
Fates and Furies
by Lauren Groff
Oh my god, I loved this book so much. I admired her other novel Arcadia, because the writing was beautiful and the subject matter was interesting - but it was so quiet. Like a meticulously drawn out secret. Fates and Furies has more feist and crunch and the plotting and mutliple viewpoints (think there are two sides to every story? holy shit, are there ever) are perfection. Have I used the word brilliant yet? Brilliant.
The Story Hour
by Thrity Umrigar
Note to self: Indian women do not write bad books. This one's a beautiful study of two women in two very different marriages, whose lives become intertwined by fate. Culture, race, love, friendship - it's all there. The Story Hour is one of seven for Umrigar - and the first of her work for me. It won't be the last.
by Jean Hanff Korelitz
I believe Tina Fey starred in the movie adaptation of this novel, which seems like an odd choice to me. Adapting this novel for film at all seems like an odd choice to me, because the drama of elite college admissions doesn't really play out in the physical world. It happens almost entirely on paper, and that's what makes it so interesting. (How do we put our best foot forward without setting foot in front of the decision makers?) I haven't seen the movie - but I imagine it turned this literary-ish novel into a comedic farce. It would have to. Inner monologues and the angst of college apps don't make for great viewing. They do make for good reading.
I Let You Go
By Clare Mackintosh
My sister in law was visiting over the holidays, and she was telling me about her addiction to literary suspense. Devouring a book a day in page-turning bliss is sometimes just what the doctor ordered. And this one would fit that prescription. A tragic accident sets the wheels in motion, and you think you know where you're headed, only to be spun around by a well timed plot twist. It's hard not to feel the commercial drive behind books like this (PLOT TWISTS AND CRAZY WOMEN SELL, BABY!) but if that doesn't faze you, and you liked the creepy feeling you got while watching Sleeping with the Enemy, (when she comes home and finds he's organized all the CANS in the cupboards OMG) you'll probably dig this book.
The Light of the World
by Elizabeth Alexander
I may be burnt out on grief memoirs. Perhaps because I've read so many - and also watched more than my fair share of real life grief memoirs play out over the last year. A lot of people loved this award winning memoir and love story - and the first half is gorgeous. The rest feels a little forced. As in, forced to deliver an entire manuscript, when a chapter would have done the trick.
by Kate Atkinson
Missing persons, daffy aging sisters, a handsome tortured detective, a perfect daughter, apple of her unsuspecting daddy's eye, multiple murders and unsolved mysteries. The Virgin Suicides, meets Grey Gardens, meets British detective novel. In lesser hands this book would be a hot mess, but Atkinson assembles it all and wraps it with a weird little bow.
by Ann Patchett
I loved this novel so much, I called an emergency book club. (That's my new strategy. Read a book. If you like it, ask other people who've read it to come to your house and talk about it. You'll never have to slog through a bad book out of loyalty to the group again). This is Ann Patchett's best, I think - and her most autobiographical work of fiction to date. (I think it may be her only autobiographical work of fiction to date, though she's an absolute master memoir and essayist). This is the family saga at its best, bursting with symbolism and ideas that make it great book club material too. Highly, highly recommend.
And the Pursuit of Happiness
by Maira Kalman
I lied. I'm going to let one art book slip in here - because it's also a great piece of history/travel writing. Kalman is such a delicious high functioning weirdo (I mean that in the best way). I love her artwork and the quirky way she digests history. I read this out loud to the boys at night, and they settled right in, even if some of the content went over their heads. Kalman is a national treasure, and one of my inspirations. This tour of American democracy is the ultimate picture book for grownups - a genre I might have to dip my own creative mitts into one day.
One Amazing Thing
by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
A sweet and beautiful read to finish out the year (actually I'm about 60% of the way through the Goldfinch right now). My mom recommended this one to me (during our Commonwealth bookclub discussion, in fact). The plot: When a massive earthquake strikes the American visa office of the Indian Consulate, nine people, who couldn't be more different, are trapped. As water rises from the floor and they await rescue--or death--they each share a story about one amazing thing that happened in their lives. Intriguing, yes? Yes.
Happy 2017, and happy reading.