As far as my reading went, 2016 was a good year. (As long as I wasn’t reading the news— fivethirtyeight.com should be out of business by now, right?). I didn’t rank these books, but the top three would make my list of all-time faves, if such a thing existed.
•Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami. The first book I ever read by Murakami. I was a little leery as I began to read because the story had surrealist notes and my tolerance for surrealism decreases as I age. But the narrative became more realistic as it went on and reached a conclusion that made total, satisfying, revelatory sense.
Then I read Murakami’s Kafka by the Shore and had the reverse experience. But still, this one rocked.
•Stone Arabia , by Dana Spiotta. Rock music, imaginary histories artistic failure—it’s like Spiotta designed a guitar with some of my favorite strings and then started wailing on it.
•Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry. An epic dismantling of more shallow renderings of manliness. Also, at one point in the story, as a horseman rides alone, McMurtry reels off an amazing appreciation of silence. It made me want to drive the Lonesome Dove trail from Texas to Montana specifically in the hope that I’d never see anyone on it.
•The End of Everything, by Megan Abbott. A young girl growing into adolescence = perfect circumstance for a noir mystery. Abbott has an eye for what is really frightening.
•The Cry of the Owl, by Patricia Highsmith. This book reminded me of why Highsmith is one of my very favorite writers. The story is all about being an odd fellow, and the trouble that can ensue.
•Dark Passage, by David Goodis. Nasty, crazy old-school noir.
•The Throwback Special, by Chris Bachelder. Middle-aged guys get together every year to re-enact the Monday Night Football game when Lawrence Taylor broke the leg of Joe Theismann. A funny and smart rendering of middle-aged dudes, and the part that stayed with me the most was his riff on the value of marriage—how having a person watch you day to day helps you believe your personal dramas matter.
•Get in Trouble, by Kelly Link. Fantasy is generally not by bag, but these short stories are dark and weird and insightful in a way I’ve not encountered before.
•The Tortilla Curtain, by T.C. Boyle. Not flawless—in this story about Mexican immigrants in Southern California, the lead female is named America, for instance—but Boyle is ridiculously talented and for a book that’s a couple decades old, it’s depressingly relevant in 2016.
•Euphoria, by Lily King. A few decades ago a book like this, with its highbrow love triangle of anthropologists in the South Pacific, would have already been made into an Oscar-nominated movie. Now it’s all superheroes and Sausage Party. Which was fun, but still….
•Hungry Heart and The Littlest Bigfoot, by Jennifer Weiner. The wife hit a couple out of the park this year. I am biased, obviously, but others have agreed. For instance, check the good people at the PEN Awards.