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Back Again - Top 10 of 2016

January 1, 2017

Happy New Year Everyone! I know that it has been, again, some time since I posted a blog post. Turns out that since I only had a desktop computer (I know - how 1990's of me) that it made it hard to find time to sit down and write. Then the husband bought me a new MacBook for Christmas - and life has changed! I can now take it anywhere. Isn't it pretty - raccoon pillow was also a gift - and Berkeley will never leave my side.

 

 I was thinking that the best way to start 2017 is to tell you about my top reads of 2016.  The year came to a close and I had read 67 books this year. This was a mix of novels, non-fiction and graphic novels. Personally, I had a really rough September and October and did not really read a lot. So, the number could likely have been a bit higher but this has been about my average over the years. So, I will take it. 

 

This list is going to start with my top two books - which were the clear winners for me this year.  The ones that follow are in no particular order, but the first two are the books that have stuck with me the most since I read them.  (I have put a link in each book picture to purchase the book from some of my favorite independent bookstores across the U.S). 

 

 

Christodora by Tim Murphy : There is something to be said for any book that teaches you something as you read it and opens your mind. As a gay man, I have attempted to connect myself with the history of the AIDS epidemic and how it shaped the 80's and 90's for the gay men that came before me. What this novel did for me is open my mind to all of the heterosexuals, especially woman, that have also dealt with the disease.  This book focuses on a boy who lost his mother to the AIDS virus, and how it affected not only him but those around him. It is a very powerful story. I also really liked had the book used art and literature as mediums to discuss how people get through addiction and illness. This book made me laugh, made me cry, disgusted me and gave me hope about the world. I loved it! 

 

 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi :  I have already written a long review on this book, so I will point you there for details. I will say that it was tough competition and up until I read Christodora this book was firmly in the lead for my favorite book of the year. The story of two sisters in late 1800's Ghana and how each of their family trees take very different paths moved me beyond compare. Each chapter is about another member of each family, but Gyasi is amazing at keeping you connected throughout. I have recommended it to a number of people and they have all loved it. So, if you have not - go pick it up right now. 

 

Numbers 3 - 10 on this list are really in no order. Overall, I had a very good reading year. I read a lot of books published this year as well as a number of backlist books that I needed to read.  

 

As We Are Now by May Sarton: Thomas over at Hogglestock.com had raved about May Sarton on the podcast The Readers and had recommended this novel on one of the episodes. The story of a woman who is moved into an home for the elderly and the drama that surrounds her - this novel is slight but packs a punch. It made me think about growing older and the fear that exists for me. Also, how the elderly are treated almost like children again at the end of their lives. I just adored this book. I have since bought three more of her novels and she is on my 2017 to read list! 

 

 

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Haniff : I love books about books. They are one of my passions. I cannot tell you why it took until 2016 for me to find this book. It is really non-fiction as it tells of the relationship by a woman living in New York and a bookstore in London at 84, Charing Cross Road. Told in letters, this book had me laughing and wishing that I had such a relationship in my life. I will say that there is also a very good movie version with Anthony Hopkins. So, read it first and then watch the movie.

 

Miss Jane by Brad Watson : This is another book that I have already written a review about. The story of a woman who is born with a sexual birth defect that affects her life and the choices she can make throughout life was touching and so well written. I admit that I bought this book for the cover - it is amazing! But it was the story of Miss Jane that kept me going. She was so strong and determined to enjoy her life no matter the obstacle.  I have never read Brad Watson prior, and his other book was won the National Book Award (I think?). 

 

 

 

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe  by Benjamin Alire Saenz : This YA gay coming of age novel touched my heart and made me cry out loud. Which was embarrassing because I was listening to the audiobook mainly while I was at the gym. The audiobook is read by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame and he is excellent. The story of two boys and their friendship as the learn about who they are, the book is a powerful testament to family and friendship and first loves. I also thought that the perspective from a Latin family was refreshing and new. I don't often tell people to listen to a book - but this is one that I promise will keep you in your car a bit longer or your earbuds in your ears just that few extra minutes.

 

 

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa : This is one of two books that I read in translation this year that really made an impact on me. The simple story of a woman who takes over the housekeeping for a professor that has suffered a major brain injury and cannot remember more than 80 minutes in the past since the loss. There are really three characters - the housekeeper, the professor and her son. This book is all about how deep relationships can form between people regardless of the obstacles that are put between people. I loved this book so much that I immediately bought her two other novels that are out in translation in America. And the cover! 

 

 

The Vegetarian by Han Kang : This book was just plain weird, and I loved it. I should also say that it won the International Booker Prize this year as well. So, if my recommendation is not enough. The story of a woman that has a nightmare that leads her to become a vegetarian and the affect that it has on her family and herself. Told in three sections the book continued to get stranger and stranger as it went along, but I was so entranced that I could not stop reading. In a way it reminded me of a Murakami novel. I am on pins and needles for Ms. Kang's next book! 

 

 

Grief is a Thing With Feathers by Max Porter : This is the poetry selection for my year. And the fact that this is a first book is astounding. Told in little poems, this is the story of a family that is deals with the death of a wife and mother. Powerfully told from the Dad, the boys and a Crow that is a metaphor for the anger and fear of the future  - I devoted this book in less than two hours and then went back and read sections over and over again. I cannot imagine losing my husband suddenly. This book captured that grief in such a way that I was heartbroken from page one through out. A tough but necessary read. 

 

 

A Man Called One by Fredrik Backman :  This is the most commercial and popular book on my list. But that does not mean that it is not worth reading. I wrote a full review on the book on the blog already. But if you just want a feel good, easy to ready book that makes the day go by and you feel good about the world - this is the one for you. I think we have all had an Ove in our lives and have all been an Ove at one time or another. Here is hoping we do as much good for others as he does for the people in this book.

 

 

 

So there you have it. My top 10 reads of 2016. I hope that at least one of these titles makes it on your TBR for 2017. 

 

Happy New Year. 

 

Russell

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