Reading List 2016

Every year I try to read twenty-six novels, or about one every two weeks. In 2016 I read twenty-two. Here are my very short reviews.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James — The first book I read in 2016 ended up being one of my favorites. At almost 800 pages, this is one of those rare books that lives up to the clichés like “epic” and “tour de force” splashed across its jacket. Spoiler: there are significantly more than seven killings.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — I liked this book. My previous idea of Lagos came from Teju Cole and I was happy for a different perspective.

The Sellout by Paul Betty — This book was fantastic. I described it to a friend as Richard Prior and Kurt Vonnegut collaborating on a novel. I’m not sure what Paul Betty would think of that.

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin — This was the first Le Guin book I did not enjoy. She is one of my favorite authors and I’ve been chipping away at her huge catalogue for years. Seemed flat compared to her other work.

NW by Zadie Smith — I really enjoyed White Teeth up until the disappointing ending. NW was exactly the same — great characters and writing but the ending lost me. Still thought it was a good book.

The Peripheral by William Gibson — I haven’t read any Gibson since The Neuromancer in high school, but I heard this was one of his best in years. I thought it was an interesting but not groundbreaking view of the future. Must be hard to write near-future science fiction these days, when drones are using facial recognition to assassinate people in real life.

Violence by Slavoj Žižek — I’d never read Žižek but his moniker “the Elvis of philosophy” makes my eyes roll and I wanted some basis for my negative opinion. My preconceived opinion was not affirmed — I enjoyed his critiques of neoliberalism — but I was not smitten either.

Hyperion by Dan SimmonsHyperion is one of those sci-fi classics that high school me might have enjoyed, but adult me has lost patience for — rather thin 1970s pseudo-philosophy mixed with fan service for teenage boys. Yawn.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz — I know Diaz is well-loved, but I did not like this book. Please forgive me, Michiko Kakutani.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath — Well this book was depressing as hell.

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin — I’m working through the Baldwin catalogue after reading Giovanni’s Room and The Fire Next Time only last year. Baldwin’s writing from the 1950s and 1960s feels so contemporary it’s shocking.

A Story for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki — On paper I should have loved this — a book-inside-a-book narrative about a mysterious Japanese diary found washed up on the beach. I just could not get into it. Part of this was the author’s success in writing half the chapters in the voice of a 12-year-old, by which I mean poorly written and slightly annoying. Also the main character had a cat named Schroedinger.

The Keep by Jennifer Egan — I liked A Visit from the Goon Squad and I also liked this book, although not as much.

On Violence by Hannah Arendt — I picked this up because it was referenced a couple of times in Žižek’s Violence, and I wanted to read her directly and not through the lens of a male philosopher. This was pre-November 8th and before everyone started quoting Arendt and her Origins of Totalitarianism. I wish I could read philosophy in German.

Snow by Orhan Pamuk — Kat loves Pamuk and has all his books, but she has the Turkish versions so I’ve never been able to pick one up and read it. Snow was fantastic and I will definitely start to read more of his novels over the next few years.

The Three-body Problem, The Dark Forest, Death’s End by Cixin Liu — One of the best selling sci-fi series of all time in China, the third book in this trilogy just came out in English last year. This is one of the greatest sci-fi series I have ever read. Right up there with Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. Highly recommend if you like science fiction.

Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges — I read a few Borges stories in college, but this was my first full collection. I don’t love Borges like some people do, but after reading an entire collection I could see his influence clearly on many other writers I have read and loved.

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz — Months later I still think about this book almost every day. Everyone should read this book. Takes apart the mythology of manifest destiny piece-by-piece. She even goes after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Tell that to the original inhabitants of these lands whose bones are buried beneath our cities. Yikes.

A Night of Serious Drinking by René Daumal — I picked up this short (~110p) novel as a gift for a friend solely based on the title and ending up reading it before I had a chance to give it to him. A bit dated but kind of a fun critique of art and art criticism.

The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Seibald — Rambling, digressive and infused with melancholy, reading Seibald’s writing felt like I was reading my own internal monologue (perhaps I flatter myself). I finished this book on a New Year’s Eve flight from California to NYC, and it felt like a fitting end to one hell of a bizarre year.