‘Tis the season for reminiscing and hygge, so here I am, back at blogging to tell you about my favourite books read in 2016. As per usual, most of these were not published in 2016, although there are also a few of those lurking on the list. Due to the (on-going) blogging slump [enter vague explanations here] there are no reviews to link to, so I’ll try to be brief with my praise.
Saga, volumes 2–6 by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
For me 2016 was the year of Saga (which is why I’m counting this series as one book). Although I read the first volume of this science fiction graphic novel series back in late 2015, it was only after volumes 2 and 3 that I knew I was properly hooked. This genre-defying kickass story tells of an unlikely couple running from the wrath of two warring races and its diverse cast of characters, dark humour and wider themes make each volume and each issue such a joy. In short, Saga will keep you at the edge of your seat and still manage to surprise you with its twists and turns.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Another science fiction favourite of the year is Huxley’s Brave New World. It’s a classic for several reasons and often compared to Orwell’s 1984 – which I read last year and that also made it’s way to the top 10. Personally, however, I found that its pleasure-seeking, conditioned and manipulated population was far more scarier than any of the prospects in Orwell’s dystopia. Perhaps it’s the clear parallels in today’s society or the chillingly good writing that made this such an unforgettable read.
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
Both in 2015 and in 2016 one of the big and debated issues in print media and literature was race – especially in the US. The Black Lives Matter campaign and many instances of wrongful conduct raised awareness of these injustices. One of the buzz books at the heart of the discussion was Citizen, a brilliant, thought-provoking and angry collection of poetry and essays on what it’s like to be black in America. It opened my eyes, made me furious and angry cry at the unjust world.
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Dept. of Speculation is a special book in the sense that I’ve never heard of it anywhere else but the blogosphere. That is not say that Jenny Offill isn’t a household name, because she sure as hell should be. This book is deceptively short but it still manages to map the course of a woman’s life – relationship, marriage, trust, family and career, family versus career, artistry, the mundane. I devoured this book in a day and I know for sure that I’ll return to this book in years to come.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
So I’m probably the last person in the world to read and adore Elena Ferrante. I purchased my copy at the beginning of 2016, but held back a long time in order to try and let the hype die down. And I loved it. I think the charm of My Brilliant Friend is that it’s nothing extraordinary – if you’re looking for a new and exciting, unique story, this is not your book. However, if you’re looking for well-written characters that come to life, that you recognise and that become your friends, this is your book. Perhaps 2017 will be the year of Ferrante?
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
This book. I have a draft of a review on A Little Life which I started back in January and have since then unsuccessfully tried to edit and polish. It’s hard to put to words what this book did to me, what it made me feel and how it made me think. I know it’s the big marmite book of 2015 – you either love or hate it, with passion. I don’t think it’ll be a modern classic or something taught at schools, but it is very much “of its time” and manages to capture something essential of this generation of individuality.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Do you know those books that suck you in from the first page and keep you in their grasp until the last page? The Vegetarian is one of them. Told from three outsider perspectives, this story of a young woman’s decision to become vegetarian is a harrowing, raw and almost titillating. Moreover, Deborah Smith’s translation is so fluent that it feels like the story could have been written in English. It also won this year’s Man Booker International Prize.
Silent House by Orhan Pamuk
To be completely honest, I’m actually quite surprised to find Orhan Pamuk’s Silent House on my favourites list. Similarly to My Brilliant Friend, it’s a rather quiet and calm book – although with a lot simmering under the surface – and it’s that overall sense of stifling heat, guilt and shame that’s captured in this book. Funnily enough, this was passed on to me by my mother who gave up on it because “it’s dull – nothing’s happening”. A family saga on the cusp of Turkish revolution”.
Where I’m Reading From by Tim Parks
In 2016 I managed to read a few non-fiction pieces, but translator-author-columnist Tim Parks’ Where I’m Reading From blew me out of the water. It’s one that I’ve seen many times in the Goodreads “Because you read X you might enjoy…” bar, which to be honest is often a hit-or-miss. Being a translator and a budding editor this naturally covered a lot of the things I already know about and am interested in, but it’s the style in which Parks presents his ideas and doesn’t mince his words that really had an impact on me.
Compartment no. 6 by Rosa Liksom
Inspired by the Around the World in 80 Books reading challenge I picked up this Finnish Finlandia Prize winning novel set on the Trans-Siberian Express Train. I didn’t know what to expect and was positively surprised by this novel. Similarly to Silent House, Compartment no. 6 has also slowly sneaked its way to my favourites list. The vivid descriptions of Soviet surroundings and the sense of constant movement have stayed with me for the most part of the year. I read this in its original Finnish, but I’ve heard the English translations by Lola Rogers doesn’t pale in comparison. (Pssst. It also gained a mention on the WSJ best books of the year list, you know.)