I read a lot of books last year. Here are the ones that I enjoyed the most all lined up on my shelf:
I read 22 titles from the New York Review Children’s Collection in 2016. One of the best was Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill. I originally read it a couple years ago, but decided to revisit the entire Jenny Linsky series (with the exception of the mysterious Jenny’s Bedside Book from 1959, which remains frustratingly out-of-print). Jenny and the Cat Club really isn’t better than Esther Averill’s other books, but it’s the one I read first. I include it here as representative of the entire series.
The next book is A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. It examines the political situation in Jamaica in the mid-70s and how what happened there later contributed to the development of the crack trade in Miami and New York City in the 80s. The central event around which the entire book is built is the real-life assassination attempt on Bob Marley in 1976. A Brief History is a complex and frustrating book. And at over 700 pages, it’s anything but brief. As soon as I finished it, though, I wanted to start over at the beginning and read it again.
I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but the non-fiction books I do read tend to be music related. I read seven titles in 2016 that were written by or about musicians. Although Bruce Springsteen’s memoir got more press, Elvis Costello’s Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink was the better book. With the possible exception of that crazy “unauthorized autobiography” Ray Davies wrote in the 90s, Unfaithful Music is probably my favorite musical biography.
My favorite book ever remains Life a User’s Manual by Georges Perec. I reread it this year and enjoyed it even more than I did the first time I read it in 2010. I feel like I could read this book every year for the rest of my life and never tire of it. There are so many different ways to read Life a User’s Manual. This time I read it out of order, picking a location in the apartment building each day and reading all of its corresponding chapters. For instance, I read the 11 chapters that took place in the Servants’ Quarters on Thursday, September 29 and then read the three chapters centered around Winckler’s unit on Friday, September 30. Some days I read for two hours; other days I read for ten minutes. It took me 26 days to complete the book this way. It would’ve taken me 27 days except I got impatient at the end.
The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll by Álvaro Mutis is one of the books I was reading when I got a detached retina back in 2013. I set the book aside until my vision recovered…and then set it aside some more. Years went by. My main reading goal for 2016 was to revisit the book and finish the dang thing. I had to start all over because I’d forgotten what happened in the first novella. I didn’t mind rereading that one and the six that followed were just as strange and wonderful. This is the book I want with me if I ever get lost in the jungle. I’d also like some fresh water and a supply of jerky, please.
Donna Leon’s The Waters of Eternal Youth is the 25th novel in the author’s Commissario Brunetti series (by my count, at least). And it’s the best book she’s written in over a decade. It made me cry on an airplane.
As I mentioned up top, I read a lot of those red NYRB children’s books. My favorite one was Seacrow Island by Astrid Lindgren. You should go read it right now. Really.
If you’d like to see which other books I read last year (including a couple one-star duds), you should check out My Year in Books 2016 on Goodreads.