ILU Lists, 2016: Bookses.

Following the films list, the books list… As ever, it’s not just stuff that was published this year, it’s just the stuff that I’ve read and enjoyed. I’ve read 34 books this year, and given up on just one. There’s still nearly two weeks to go, though, so I’ll let you know what I think of Six Four, Half a Yellow Sun (I know, finally) and The Sympathiser in due course.

Fiction
* The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
* Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeleine Thien
* The Sport of Kings – C.E Morgan

These are my top three (in no particular order), and they all work whether you just want a good yarn or whether you want to dig around being a literary nerd. The Underground Railroad and Do Not Say We Have Nothing have both been solidly acclaimed, but The Sport of Kings seems to have rather faded, which I think it a shame, because it’s a humid beast of a book.

  • Girl at War – Sara Novic
  • This Census Taker – China Miéville
  • The Gift of Rain – Tan Twan Eng
  • Hag-Seed – Margaret Atwood
  • Human Acts – Han Kang
  • Chaos Walking trilogy – Patrick Ness

Miéville and Atwood are long-term favourites, so it was delightful that their new books were magical (almost literally, in both cases). Hag-Seed goes well read alongside a trip to see a production of The Tempest if you can find one. I’d read Eng’s Garden of Evening Mists when it was on the Booker list, and loved it, and Gift of Rain has the same easy-to-read style combined with a depth of emotion and understanding of history and memory. Human Acts was on a lot of end of year lists, so I grabbed it and wolfed it down in a few days. It’s an intense account of a political rebellion, but so well worth it. Girl at War was one of our best book club picks this year. It’s not a flawless book, but it was so easy t read and it has so much in it that it made for a great discussion. And the Chaos Walking trilogy is just immense: I roared through it over New Year, and wished I’d had it as a teen.

Non-Fiction
* The Shepherd’s Life – James Rebanks
* Barbarian Days – William Finnegan

These two were flat out members of my top five reads this year. Both managed to convey whole ways of life that most people think they might know something about but generally only skate the surface of, and do so while using the languages of these worlds without condescending on either side of the boundary and still making sense.

I re-read these and they were still so good
* The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon
* War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
* Le Testament Français – Andrew Makine

It’s so nice to rediscover that old favourites are really as good as you remember – and to get something more out of them this time. I got so much more from Rosa’s story in Kavalier and Clay this time, a greater understanding of why the ending of Le Testament Français punches the gut the way it does, and oh, War and Peace – there was just MORE. I think I’m just going to re-read it once a decade until the end of my time. Tolstoy can make you see how people are shaped by their circumstances in to being terribly flawed people who hurt each other all the time, and yet make you love them all the same.

I read these books and they were overrated
* Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff
* Better Living Through Criticism – AO Scott

I really wanted to like both of these, but they just fell flat. Fates… didn’t rip the way I thought it could have, if it really wanted to play with the myths, and while I really enjoy Scott’s criticism, this book just felt like it didn’t really carry all his arguments through, AND I WAS ALREADY ON BOARD WITH THEM. Blart.

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