I read 34 books in 2016. Over the next few Mondays, I’m going to round up the list, starting with fiction:
Luckiest Girl Alive, Jessica Knoll. I rarely read crime fiction so I wasn’t immediately drawn to this until I read Jessica’s piece in Lenny. This is a gripping, plot driven story that had me hooked. I loved the protagonist Ani (though the reviews tell me she’s troubled and not likeable) and more than that, I learnt something about trauma and recovery. My favourite fiction of the year.
Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, Curtis Sittenfeld. Now,I’ve never read Pride and Prejudice because I am uncultured and have a low attention span. ACTUALLY, I haven’t read Pride and Prejudice because I’m not that interested in the classics. And because I think that life is too short to read books that you feel you “should”. To me, books are the best way to expand your mind and explore the world. Literature is a place I find company and companianship. The joy in doing that is by following the things that feel most vital and interesting to you at a particular moment, which is why a retelling of a classic ends up on my list but not the classic itself. Really glad I read this - it’s hilariously quick and very sharp. Also, Curtis wrote a beautiful piece in the New Yorker honouring a dear friend that you should read.
Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler. Like just about everyone else, I read Sweetbitter this summer. My therapist recommended it as an example of someone who spent a long time working very difficult jobs but eventually got a book out of it! Danler’s talent for description of food, life, the chaos of a restaurant and the particular kind of 20-something white girl self-destruction felt familiar and fun. Reading this made me hungry. It’s worthy of the hype.
If You’re Not Yet Like Me, Edan Lepucki. Read for the #ReadingThings bookclub. The tagline got me: “the novella is a romantic comedy—if romantic comedies were dark and screwed up and no one got exactly what they wanted.” Sold. It’s a very quick, one-sitting read that’s funny and dark and interesting. Also, really starting to love the novella as a form.
Grief is the thing with feathers, Max Porter. I thought this was a memoir and felt a little cheated when I learned it wasn’t. This is a quick, quirky read that blends poetry with fiction, echoes Ted Hughes poetry and breathes life into those early, echoy days after a bereavement. It has stayed with me.
Read Bottom Up, Shah Neel. I picked this up as a palate cleanser early in the year and it was exactly what I needed. Told in texts/emails, it’s the story of a developing/doomed relationship. I read it in an hour and giggled the whole way through. Rumour is that Sloane Crosley wrote the female part which is no surprise.
Rich and Pretty, Rumann Alam. Continuing the culture’s current obsession with female friendship, this is a great insight into the complicated relationship between two women as they grow up. Loved the depiction of their competitiveness in particular. This was one of those books that I knew was good but that would have benefited from more of a narrative engine to keep me engaged, though perhaps that’s my social media-adled brain which I ought to be (and am) ashamed of. Worthy of the hype.
Torch, Cheryl Strayed. I started this last year but finished in 2016. It’s not my fave of Strayed’s work. The characters were rich (especially Claire) but the plot was a little stuttering. It was interesting to see a fictionalised depiction of the mother character’s death (having read both Wild and Tiny Beautiful things).
The Small Backs of Children, Lidia Yuknavitch. This was disturbing and captivating but perhaps a little over hyped. The themes of the book (the impact of trauma, complexities of poverty tourism, death, art) all appealed to me but I found the disjointed structure to be a bit of a hindrance. The visceral language felt oddly flat to me, like the experimentation of the form didn’t quite match up with the plot’s simplicity. Still worth a read though, and I’d love to read her memoir.
My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Sprout. Love a good mother/daughter tale. This tells the story of a grown daughter going home to be with her mother, in her final days. The writer’s voice is strong, clear, familiar. A very enjoyable read.