2016 was a pretty interesting year in reading for me, starting up my new blog here to complement my Goodreads account. While in the end I failed my Goodreads challenge for the first time, only making it to around 90 out of a hundred and down from my record of 209, only occasionally managing to post something here, I read a lot of interesting material. Hey, I kind of had a lot of stuff going on, not least getting engaged to my sweetheart! I still managed to read a lot of great books, some of which on the recommendation of my wonderful fiance. Reading next to her on the couch or in bed are some of my best memories from last year. Here are a few of the favorite things I read in 2016.
Favorite Fiction found at the Library: I Hate the Internet
Probably my favorite book I read last year, as I discuss in more depth in this post, Jarett Kobek’s I Hate the Internet is the bleak, darkly humorous account of the terrible world we find ourselves in. Presaging the advent of “fake news” meme months before it’s swift blossoming and even swifter perversion, it continues to remain horrifyingly accurate. Check it out for a darkly sober and razor edged account of our current world, on and off line.
Favorite Fiction Recommended by my Dear: Freedom and The Wind Up Bird Chronicles
After we moved in together, my dear began lining my to-read shelf with some her favorite reads from her own shelves (of course, I was doing the same!). I have greatly enjoyed all of them so far, but two really stand out, two thick, dense, delicious texts that I’d always been meaning to read but never had the impetus before. It was also interesting that they both have birds on the cover!
First was Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which had quite a moment a few years ago (particularly here in Minnesota- nothing perks up the local literary circles like a nationally acclaimed novel that mentions us!). Freedom was quite a deep, thought provoking novel, one that followed a lot of tangents but presented a complete picture, meandering in a way not too unlike life. Freedom follows the troubled relationship of a married couple and their children in the gentrifying St. Paul neighborhood my fiance and I currently call home, intertwined with the societal changes and concerns of the late ‘90s and 2000s United States. No more accurate record of the zeitgeist, personal and cultural of these baby boom age Americans exist, I feel, though it feels almost as epic, as rife with interesting but superfluous details as one of those door stopper high fantasy novels, only with the setting of turn of the twenty first century rather than some fantasy world. Fascinating, in any case.
Haruki Murakami’s The Wind Up Bird Chronicle was also a thick, weighty novel that entranced me for all of its hundreds of pages of shifting viewpoints, mysterious encounters, flashbacks through history, and mundane lives turned weird. This was my first full Murakami novel, and I’m definitely craving more. I can definitely see why Murakami is rated as Japan’s (and perhaps the world’s) finest writer.
The Wind Up Bird Chronicle is an eminently genre defying novel, mysterious, horrifying, hilarious, and realistic, delving into Japan’s dark past and it’s everyday present, as the bemused everyman narrator finds his life becoming increasingly bizarre following the disappearance of his cat. I think than on each rereading of this book, the reader would discover new insights and tangents that they had not noticed before. I’d definitely like to reread it some day!
Favorite Nonfiction: A Good Time for the Truth
Among the most topic books I read last year, this, I feel, is a very important book, especially now. A collection of essays by writers of color living in Minnesota published by the Minnesota Historical Society, A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, reflects the diversity of voices that has long been neglected in telling the story of contemporary Minnesota, often seen as a “white” state (among the whitest) while also being among the most progressive. As the visibility of the persistence of racism in our culture rises, now is definitely a time for the truth regarding race and racism in Minnesota. After I began reading it, this became all too clear as Philando Castile became the latest victim of police violence in the United States, again showing that the great state of Minnesota is not immune to the perpetration and perpetuation of white supremacy. Like everywhere in the United States, racism is a legacy that Minnesota needs to face and the authors in this collection present a great, and sobering, introduction.
Favorite Comics: Hot Dog Taste Test
Best known for her work in the masterful Netflix black comedy Bojack Horseman (among the shows binged last year), Lisa Hanawalt’s dry and absurd sense of humor brings the surreal to the everyday and imbuing even boring objects like roots and tubers with lives of their own. This collection of comic art focuses on food in all it’s delicious, savory, and occasionally gross wonder, ranging from impressionistic fables using her trademark animal people and autobiographical travelogs. Here, Hanawalt’s humor and languid, outrageous, bawdy, and detailed watercolors and got me laughing and also got me craving Argentinian pastries.
Most of the books I read this year were at least okay, with one glaring exception. During our summer vacation, we traveled to my family’s traditional vacation spot of Door County, Wisconsin where I decided to read one of the local history books I picked up on the quaint little resort towns on the Lake Michigan coast, Old Peninsula Days. Wow, that was a mistake! The self important prattling and ugly racism of author Hjalmar Holand made it a deeply unpleasant experience- I wrote more in this post.
Now that February is more than half over, I’ve definitely got some new things planned for this blog in 2017.