Thursday, December 15, 2016


There are books I will never read.

That's the seven-word drumbeat of mortality, but also a rebel yawp, because there are, it turns out, books I do not want to read, like the Pray and Love portions of Eat, Pray, Love, and the remainder of the Twilight series and, apparently, the seventh volume of Harry Potter- though perhaps in some extremity of the future I'll be able to face the haunting possibility of Snape's death (don't tell me). 

But there are also books I will and do and have read.  37 this year, or at least 37 that are admissible, and I'll probably jam in one or two more before the year shuts down.  Many were alright.  Three I regret a little and two I regret a lot. But it was also a banner year for really good books, books that stick to your ribs or in your throat, and I want to share them with you.

My five best reads of 2016, in no particular order.

1. Most Tears on a Plane:  Being Mortal, Atul Gawande.  There should be a special warning sticker for books that make you cry on airplanes.   You are tens of thousands of feet in the air in a metal death trap, surrounded by strangers with colds, momentarily untethered from your early connections, and terrified of turbulence.  You are reading about death.  And life before death.  And oh, god, here comes your bloody mary mix.  Honorable Mention, Most Tears on a Plane: When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalinithi.

2. Read Out of Pique:  Swann's Way, Marcel Proust.  You know how sometimes several centuries of literary tradition shriek at you that something is really good and you ignore that shrieking because what could several centuries of literary tradition possibly bring to the table that you don't already embody with your deep knowledge of the Regency Romance back bench?  And then that thing they were shrieking about turns out to be really good?  Yeah.  Honorable Mention, Read Out of Pique:Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff.

3.  Proust Detox: The Trespasser, Tana French. Say you've just read something with syntax so long, so draggled and twisty, it's like what comes out of your drain once you manage to pry the P-trap off.  And untangling that syntax was deeply rewarding, and now your sink drains, but boy, you could really mainline some plot?  But good plot, with layering and nuance and, heck, a soupcon of nice prose?  This is the one.  Honorable Mention, Proust Detox: Wilde Lake, Laura Lippmann; Last Ragged Breath, Julia Keller.

4. You Make Me Want to Be a Better Man: Just Mercy, Brian Stevenson.   Our justice system is broken.  We need to fix it.  More tears on more planes.  Honorable Mention, You Make Me Want to Be a Better Man: Missoula, Jon Krakauer.

5. I Left My Heart in Bloomington: Staying Put, Scott Russell Sanders.  Essays about roots, place, and home.  I wish I could. 

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