Hello all! As per tradition, here lies the top 10 books out of the 114 I read in 2016. While the United States’s political climate may have sucked this year, I did read a ton of stellar nonfiction, so that
served as a coping mechanism for me to escape the bigotry and prejudice so prevalent within our country benefits this blog post, at least. Fiction, on the other hand, did not satisfy me as much this year – perhaps because I read A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara in 2015, a masterpiece that has ruined my ability to appreciate less-than-stellar writing forever. I would love to see if any of our top picks match up, so without further ado:
Top 5: Fiction
5. Edinburgh by Alexander Chee. A haunting novel about twelve-year-old Fee, a talented Korean American soprano who undergoes sexual abuse at the hands of his choir director. Chee portrays the complex and devastating consequences of serious childhood mistreatment with empathy and eloquent, chilling prose. Full review here.
4. Shelter by Jung Yun. A visceral and startling debut novel that focuses on Kyung Cho, the son of Mae and Jin Cho, parents who gave Kyung little love as a child but must rely on him as an adult after a violent incident. Yun addresses the themes of intergenerational trauma, Asian American culture, and family with lots of grace and heart. Full review here.
3. After the Parade by Lori Ostlund. This silently revolutionary novel follows Aaron Englund, a gay ESL teacher who moves to California to escape a controlling relationship. There, Aaron learns that he must confront his dark, small-town Minnesota childhood to break free from the past that still defines him. A quiet, momentous book. Full review here.
2. You Are Not a Stranger Here by Adam Haslett. The best short story collection I have ever read. Haslett captures deep issues such as grief, sexuality, and mental illness with compassion and humanity. Some of these stories, with their poignancy and deft prose, made me literally scream out loud. Full review here.
1. Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett. A riveting book that delves full force into the joys and pains of having a family member with crippling mental illness. Featuring distinct characters and a sad yet hopeful tone, this book cemented my author crush on Adam Haslett. Not quite at the level of A Little Life, but close. Full review here.
Top 5: Nonfiction
5. So Sad Today by Melissa Broder. Intense. Shocking. Raw. In this bare-it-all essay collection, Broder writes about panic attacks, vomit fetishes, waiting for boys to text you back, body image struggles, open relationships, and so much more. Courageous and accepting of her own oddities, Broder shows that it is 100% okay not to be okay. Full review here.
4. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. Strayed earns her reputation as one of creative nonfiction’s best with this compassionate, no-bullshit essay collection that shows her at her finest. In the form of advice columns, she distills wisdom pertaining to relationships, self-improvement, and life overall, using a tone both friendly and fierce. Full review here.
3. An Abbreviated Life by Ariel Leve. In this stunning memoir, Leve describes growing up with a mother who had wild mood swings and no boundaries. With sharp prose, she describes the trauma she suffered under her mother’s control, as well as the strength it took her to seek help and to heal. A challenging and ultimately redemptive read. Full review here.
2. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. An important, revelatory read. With eloquence, passion, and careful research, Alexander shows how slavery in the United States still exists, in the form of mass incarceration of black men. Disturbing and eye-opening, this book proves that we need to talk about race more than ever. Full review here.
1. The Will to Change by bell hooks. With phenomenal compassion and intellect, hooks argues that we must honor men’s emotions and teach them to love and to nurture, lest they succumb to toxic masculinity. This book relates to feminism, mental health, and literally every part of society. I’d sacrifice my soul to have every high school student read it. Full review here.
My honorable mentions in nonfiction (I had to cut it off at 10 titles because I read so much fabulous nonfiction this year) go to Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, The Tender Land by Kathleen Finneran, We Were Feminists Once by Andi Zeisler, milk and honey by Rupi Kaur, When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley, Missoula by Jon Krakauer, The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel A. van der kolk, Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, and The Medicalization of Society by Peter Conrad.
Do any of these titles look familiar? What were some of your favorite books you read in 2016, and what are some books you look forward to reading in 2017? As I wrote in a Facebook/Goodreads status, extra points for books that include diverse characters and/or books that combat misogyny, white supremacy, and engaging in unhealthful drinking to cope with one’s emotions (I took a course on Ernest Hemingway this semester. You can tell it scarred me.) I hope you all have a fabulous New Year and read tons of resplendent books!