Michael H. takes a look back at the books he read in 2016 and tries to pick his favorites.
I have real trouble doing this sort of thing with books: Out of the 40+ books I read this year, there were maybe three or four that I didn’t say “loved it” after turning the final page.
I did my best to make some top ten/five lists. I broke them down into Fiction and Nonfiction. I will give short story collections their own category. Each category will have its own post (so three total). Fiction is up first.
10. Dave Eggers – Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? (2014)
Weird title for a weird book. But weird in a really good way. They story is told only through dialog, which is jarring at first. I’m guessing some won’t ever get used to and will not like it. I did get used to it and liked it very much.
The main character is a troubled, relatively smart “millennial” who kidnaps an array of people and confines them in an abandoned military base in California. He thinks he is doing a good thing that must be done; his victims tend not to agree. Eggers speaks directly to the aimless, the discontented, and the debt-saddled in this quick read.
9. Brian Evenson – Last Days (2009)
This was the first book I “reviewed” for The Open Field in this TOP SHELF BOOKS series, so you can check out this much longer write up on this terrifying novel. Brian Evenson’s writing will make your skin crawl and will also make you unable to stop reading. Additionally, the unexpected dark humor really made this one for me. Gist: a one-handed cop goes undercover in a gross religious cult whose members dismember themselves to show their faith. Sounds fun, right?
8. Terry Pratchett – Guards! Guards! (1989)
I wish I lived in Discworld – the insane and hilarious planet created by Terry Pratchett. He explored this world in over 40 novels before he died in 2015. I wrote about him and this book more in a stand-alone post earlier this year, but Guards! Guards! is really funny and really enjoyable.
It centers around a group – the City Guard – of misfit and mostly incompetent dudes charged with “guarding” the city. But no one really expects them to do anything so that’s what they do. Until a dragon shows up. I would encourage you to pick up any Discworld novel if you haven’t read Pratchett yet.
7. Don DeLillo – White Noise (1985)
I came across Don DeLillo thanks to David Foster Wallace: the two were pen pals, with DeLillo serving as a kind of mentor to DFW. In White Noise, DeLillo uses the constant crap – TV, radio, news, ads – we are bombarded with to explore the relationships within a specific family. I think effective satire is hard to do; DeLillo does it excellently.
6. Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
This classic also deals with, and predicts, the effects of media and technology on humanity. In a sea of dystopian novels, this one is probably my favorite: it’s centered around books! But not in a good way: Guy Montag, the main character, is a fireman, but instead of putting out fires he burns books (bastard!). Books and reading are illegal; violators can be put to death. But ol’ Guy gets a little curious…
This is peak Bradbury. This is a must read.
5. Blake Crouch – Dark Matter (2016)
This is another one I reviewed for the site, and it’s also the only book I read this year that came out this year. It includes alternate universes/realities/whatever, giant feelings of “what if I had chosen a different path in life?”, and a pretty good love story. I plowed through this one quickly. If it doesn’t hook you then we can’t be friends because anyone that doesn’t like what I like is wrong and dumb.
4. Douglas Adams – Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (1987)
Douglas Adams is obviously most well known for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series (a trilogy in five parts). That series is the most must-read thing in this list. Do it. Right now. I’m not sure why I’m drawn to these British writers – besides that they are awesome and funny – but Pratchett and Adams are easily among my top ten authors.
Dirk Gently is not a good detective. He eeks out a living by charging scared old ladies ridiculous fees – mostly for extravagant trips he says are integral to his investigations – while sitting around in his office. Then he gets a job searching for a missing cat and ends up trying to save humanity from extinction. In-between there is a bunch of weird, hilarious shit including an Electric Monk, who was created to go around believing in things so humans wouldn’t have to worry about religion any more, and quantum mechanics. It’s as befuddling and bewildering as it sounds. And I love it so.
BBC America recently developed the story for television, so that’s neat.
3. Ernest Hemingway – The Sun Also Rises (1926)
It took me awhile to latch on to Hemingway. This was the book that did it. Heavily influenced by Hemingway’s own experiences as part of a group of expats in Europe after World War I (aka the Lost Generation), The Sun Also Rises follows a group around Paris and Spain. They are mostly aimless and disillusioned and unsure of what to care about. Hemingway’s prose sneaks up on the unfamiliar reader: it seems airy and almost bored at first, but, when you get into the grove, it becomes forceful and irresistible.
2. Stephen King – The Stand (1978)
Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy. I just finished this one so it’s fresh in my mind. I put out a Twitter poll to see which “long” book I should finish the year with: King’s The Stand or DeLillo’s Underworld. All three votes were for the former – I’m very popular online – and I’m glad they were.
The Stand has been on my to-read list for quite some time. I found it in a used-book sale earlier this year. I finally read it. It’s huge – I didn’t even read the “uncut” version – and awesome (M-O-O-N that spells awesome, laws yes). A flu wipes out most of humanity. The survivors divide up between the good side and the bad side, each with its respective leader. Someone’s got to lose. It sounds really simple. It is not.
The room given to character building pays off, the action/suspense sequences left me holding my breath, and, yes, it’s creepy as hell at points. King is operating at full tilt in this one. Read it.
1. David Foster Wallace – Infinite Jest (1996)
A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again converted me (the title piece from that book is the single greatest essay I have ever read); Infinite Jest shattered my brain into a million pieces. There’s isn’t much left to be said about David Foster Wallace or his masterpiece – especially from the likes of me.
A lot of the books I read make me pause to appreciate the beauty or brilliance of the writing contained within them, but Infinite Jest had me shaking my head and cracking up with awe and confusion. It’s so surreal and insane and amazing and hyper-intelligent and relatable and laugh-out-loud funny (if you don’t lose your shit while reading the Eschaton scene you aren’t human).
I can’t begin to get into the characters or the unspooling and seemingly completely separate story lines. I simply cannot explain this book. It was a personal accomplishment just to finish the massive thing. And it was so worth it.
I false-started about three times with Infinite Jest. I read three different editions, picking up where I left off each time. I probably read 20 books alongside it (not a bad idea, but definitely slows you down). But after you make it to around page 200, things start to clear up a bit – just enough. I read the final 300 pages solely focused on it; no other books. I will never forget the experience. I don’t read things the same way anymore. The books I read directly after Jest seemed frail and inconsequential, like they didn’t have enough weight to them. I hope to find the time to read it at least one more time through before I die.
I didn’t even mention the footnotes…
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