2016 was an odd reading year for me. I read 59 books, which is roughly average for me, maybe slightly below, but I seemed to read a lot of ‘okay’ books but not as many great ones. For some reason this has meant I’ve ended up with 4 ‘best-of’ books and 5 honourable mentions. All 9 are great through. In no particular order:
The Vegetarian by Han Kang (novel, Korean in translation)
Translated by Deborah Smith. This is a book broadly about trying to understand a seemingly incomprehensible other person from your own perspective, about the relationship between humans and nature, about misogyny, about violence, about mental health, and about wanting a different kind of life. It’s weird and beautifully written. Full review here.
Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit (non-fiction)
This short book is about hope as activism, and describes different examples of how activism has worked, though sometimes over a long period of time, because “we can change the world because we have many times before.” It’s a little repetitive in places and I don’t agree with everything she says, but I love her writing style (I underlined so many sentences) and I think its central message is an important one, particularly as we head into 2017 – remember to be hopeful, and that hope means action, and that action does make a difference, even if you don’t see the larger changes in your lifetime. Full review here.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (novel)
Unsurprisingly, this was incredible. Disturbing, yes, but incredible. The language is lyrical and beautiful, and Nabokov is able to present this beautiful language coming from a narrator trying his best to justify himself, to make you see his side, but without making him any less repulsive. Monstrous and genius.
The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla (non-fiction)
This essay collection is powerful, important, challenging, and very readable. It’s about what it means to be an immigrant of colour in Britain today; what it means to be ‘other’. There was only maybe one essay I didn’t think was as good as the others, so twenty out of twenty-one truly excellent essays is pretty amazing. If you read nothing else on this list, read this book.
And the five honourable mentions which didn’t quite make the list:
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (novel) – This is one of those rare longer books that I don’t think could be any shorter. It’s not an easy read, but it’s worth your time. Brutal and violent and messy and genius. It only didn’t make the list because for some reason I don’t feel the urge to thrust it into everyone’s hands like the others. Full review here.
Wrapped in Rainbows by Valerie Boyd (non-fiction) – Absolutely fascinating biography of Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston lived a very full and varied life, and was in many ways quite a ‘modern’ woman. Boyd also writes beautifully and comprehensively, and I’d recommend this even if, like me, you haven’t read any Hurston before, as an interesting story about an incredible woman and life in the US in the early 1900s as a black female writer.
Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss (non-fiction) – The first essay (which begins as a discussion of the invention of the telephone and the fight to get telephone poles accepted by residents and turns into a discussion of the lynching of black people using telephone poles) has really stayed with me.
Peter and Alice by John Logan (play) – Really great fictional account of the real-life meeting between Alice Liddell Hargreaves (the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland) and Peter Llewelyn Davies (the inspiration for Peter Pan). Some of the dialogue is a little clunky, but there are also many moving and powerful scenes which make it well worth your time. Full review here.
Strong Female Protagonist: Book One by Brennan Lee Mulligan & Molly Ostertag (graphic novel – fiction) – A fun and enjoyable comic about a superhero trying to work out what really is the best way to save the world. She hangs up her cape to go to college but she can’t untangle herself from her previous life, or her fame/notoriety. It covers many of the same themes as Watchmen by Alan Moore, but in a slightly lighter way. I also particularly liked Feral’s arc, a superhero who can regenerate, who decides to remain in a constant state of surgery to donate organs, despite the fact she can have no anaesthesia.
Happy reading for 2017!