In a year that has taken so, so much from us, I’d like to offer the smallest of consolations by putting something positive into the world with a quick rundown of books that affected me for the better and/or that I straight up enjoyed in 2016. I present to you my “Best Books of 2016” list, as always with the huge caveat that almost none of the books were actually published in 2016; they’re simply my favorite books I read during the year. Just like this whole courtroom, the list is out of order.
The Martian by Andy Weir – You’d think getting stranded on Mars would be a real bummer, and it is, but author Weir and his protagonist Mark Watney approach it largely with goofy, nerdy humor, which makes for a fun read if you’re into that sort of thing. Despite the hearty dose of lightheartedness, there is page-turning tension and uncertainty here, and though Watney has an unrealistically high success rate with his wacky schemes to get out of his many life-threating jams, I’ve read they’re mostly scientifically sound. The book has of course been made into a pretty decent Matt Damon movie, but, as usual, I give the book the edge.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – The literary landscape is bursting with heartrending World War II novels, but this is one that distinguishes itself from the herd with truly beautiful writing. Probably my favorite book I read this year, I give it my highest of recommendations.
Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris – At this point, David Sedaris has so thoroughly won me over that he could write the transcript of a city council zoning ordinance meeting and I’d eagerly read it. Fortunately, his most recent collection of essays, Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, is filled with more inherently interesting subject matter. The essay in which he likened his hairy, pants-less father wearing a shirt and tie to a bear dressed up for a job interview was enough to make the book for me. I almost never laugh out loud while reading, but that got me.
The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey – I got kind of unintentionally meta with this book, as it ultimately turned out I was reading a book about kids who didn’t know they were zombies, and I was a reader who initially didn’t know the book was about zombies. I was briefly disappointed because I was feeling a little zombied out, but I quickly got invested, as the book pulls off the tricky task of making a zombie story fresh, not just through raising questions about humanity, but through telling the story partially from the perspective of a young zombie who is unsettlingly un-monstrous.
But What if We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman – You know how we look back at history and think, “What were people thinking back then, that attitude/action/behavior/belief was totally ridiculous!”? Well, this book looks at the present as someone from the future may view it (the subtitle is “Thinking About the Present as if it Were the Past”) and attempts to determine what will be remembered, what will endure, what will fade, and what we may be just totally wrong about. Though tedious at times, it remains thought-provoking throughout and is a concept worth exploring.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby – For years, I was under the false impression this story only existed as a John Cusack movie. I’ve never seen the movie, but after reading the fantastic source material, that may have to change. I loved High Fidelity. Its protagonist, Rob, is the kind of guy you relate to for all the wrong reasons, like the stuntedness of being a grownup who never fully grew up or the selfish, often brutal thoughts you have about people and relationships. The book is hilarious and painfully real, and all of the informed song/album/artist talk is a nice bonus for music lovers.
Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin – Frequent readers of this blog, if such people exist, know that I heart Stephen King. For me, he’s THE guy for horror, and I had never found another horror novel that rivaled his in my personal pantheon…until I read Rosemary’s Baby. It’s an expertly paced, tension-ticklingly paced tale of baby coveting that’s genuinely creepy and nearly impossible to stop reading until the disturbing conclusion is reached.
Gun Machine by Warren Ellis – Equal parts gritty and darkly humorous with a splash of the fantastical, Gun Machine is a police procedural with unique flair. With a scarily odd villain and a likeable cast of heroes who are adept at comic banter, it’s recommended for those who’d like to try a bit more zesty flavor of crime novel.
Deadpool: The Complete Collection, Volume 1 by Daniel Way – The Deadpool hype was strong earlier this year leading up to and immediately after the release of the pitch-perfect movie adaptation, and I succumbed by giving the first volume of Deadpool: The Complete Collection a read. The one-liner-spouting, fourth wall-breaking, taco-loving mercenary is perfect for anyone seeking superhero comics that don’t take themselves too seriously.
Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow – Comedy lovers, this one’s for you. I don’t necessarily mean “comedy lover” as just someone who likes to laugh, but rather as someone with an appreciation for the craft of comedy and who is interested in the thoughts and process of some of the most successful, iconic, and hilarious comedians of the modern era. Presented as a compilation of interviews conducted by Apatow over a thirty year period, the book is a bit on the long side, and as is the case with any compilation of things, the quality and appeal vary from interview to interview, but there are enough funny/fascinating stories and insights into both specific comedians and comedy in general here to make it well worth the time investment. My personal favorites were the chapters with Jerry Seinfeld, Louis C.K., Roseanne Barr, and the “Freaks and Geeks” oral history.