It was the best of years and the worst of years. My crazy dream is one step closer to reality— I signed with a fabulous literary agent and sold my novel to the world’s biggest publisher in 2016. But someone I love died unexpectedly, the world still seethes in a stew of self-inflicted turmoil, and of course, there was the election process, which did not exactly showcase democracy at its finest. IMHO.
Which brings me to the bewitching thing about reading: it allows you to escape. You can visit any kind of world you choose. Looking back over my reviews this year, I was busy: I became a tech genius, a gay Manhattan writer, a guilded-era artist, a victim of quantum physics, a political hack, a twin at Auschwitz, an ex-Army black-unit Veteran, an escaped slave, and a damsel in distress, among others. I was also a scientist and Winston Churchill. That’s how I roll. Soooo….. here are some of my favorites from 2016, a year of much drama and fuss, but also a year of many excellent books.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
An enslaved woman makes her harrowing way through a literal underground railroad in this elegant, poetic, thought-provoking novel. This is a novel that will change the way you think. Full review HERE.
Buy it HERE.
The Nix by Nathan Hill
I’m a sucker for witty wordsmiths. I love long, descriptive, clever novels, especially quasi-political ones like this. Hill weaves together multiple plot-lines, dipping back and forth between eras and locations and characters. Brilliant book. Full review HERE. Buy it HERE.
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
I admit to being befuddled. The author is clearly a genius. The writing, once you get beyond the incessant but hilarious profanity, is some of the best I have ever read. I mean, this guy is CLEVER. But the subject matter! The plot revolves around a person of color who voluntarily enslaves himself in an if-you-can’t-beat-‘em, join ‘em parody, prompting his friend, the narrator, to embark on a deranged mission to save their disparaged minority community. As an ignorant white person, a lot of the book left me squirming. But that's what literature does: it challenges us, it bursts our little bubble, it messes with our heads. it So reading The Sellout was exhausting but worth it: it’s a torrent of satirical, filterless, scathing wit. Buy it HERE.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Hope Jahren should definitely be in Pulitzer contention for this spectacular nerd-girl science memoir. People like her are responsible for the ingenuity, critical thinking, and innovation that allows the rest of us oafs to lounge around bitching about how scientists keep changing their mind about whether butter is good for you, or the size of the EPA's budget, or whatever. My new idol. Review HERE. Buy it HERE.
Before The Fall by Noah Hawley.
Sometimes you just need a good thriller. This one--about a painter who survives a plane crash into the Atlantic ocean-- is it. Review HERE. Buy it HERE.
House of Windows by Nadia Hashimi
Hashimi’s story of a woman accused of murder in Afghanistan will transport you to a very different world, and it will be eye-opening. (Assuming, of course, that you are not already a woman accused of murder in Afghanistan.) Full review HERE. Buy it HERE.
The Guineveres by Sarah Domet
At once dreamy and sparkling, Domet’s coming-of-age debut novel tells the story of four girls named Guinevere abandoned in a war-time convent. Beautiful. Full review (and author interview!) HERE. Buy it HERE.
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple
I’m including this one because Semple’s voice is so quirky and cool and weird. Another tale of Seattleites-gone-wrong. Review HERE. Buy it HERE.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture In Crisis by J.D. Vance
Okay, these last two are ones I have not read yet. But I want to. I’ve long been fascinated with conservative scholar Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart, about the formation and solidification of a vast American underclass. Vance’s book sounds like it could be relevant to this, and it also sounds like it could be about a family much like my family. I’m intrigued about what he might say. From the publisher:
From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.
Buy it HERE.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
I know I should have read this already. I keep trying to. But it’s heartbreaking to launch into it, knowing the vivid, introspective, gifted author will die and that he knew he would die, and that he (and his wife, both physicians) still managed to create this shining, lovely, hopeful book. I feel weepy just writing this. Ima make myself read it this month, though. I swear. Buy it HERE.
Here’s to a bright and beautiful 2017, everyone! May you read many magnificent books.
* Technically this post should be titled Kimmery's Top Seven Books of 2016, Plus Two She Wants To Read, Plus One Book From 2015 That Just Came Out In Paperback.
** Purchasing a book through the links provided will return 4%-10% of the purchase cost to the reviewer, which is then donated in full to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Foundation. You can also can locate your local bookstore through indiebound.org.