In 2016, I completed 123 books. Of course, this unrepentantly promiscuous reader could easily add another 250-plus titles of books left in various stages of “undress,” but only cover-to-covers appear on my annual list. Although I completed 16 fewer books this year, I read the same number of fiction titles (excluding graphic works) as last year: 57. Of the remaining 66 books, 15 were plays; 18 were non-fiction books; and 33 were graphic fiction.
Here are a few more numbers:
Number of plays read that were attributed to Shakespeare: 10 (of which 5 were rereads)
Total number of rereads: 13
Number of books read in 2016 that were published in 2016: 46 (of which 16 were novels)
Best fiction read in 2016:
■ A Good School (Richard Yates; 1978. Fiction.)
■ The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 (Lionel Shriver; 2016. Fiction.)
■ The Elementals (Michael McDowell; 1981. Fiction.)
■ The Shawl (Cynthia Ozick; 1990. Fiction.)
■ My Name Is Lucy Barton (Elizabeth Strout; 2016. Fiction.)
■ The Last Policeman (Ben Winters; 2013. Fiction.)
■ The Nest (Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney; 2016. Fiction.)
■ The Girls (Emma Cline; 2016. Fiction.)
Best plays read in 2016:
■ Arcadia (Tom Stoppard; 1993. Drama.)
■ The Life of Galileo (Bertolt Brecht; 1940. (Trans. John Willett; 1994.) Drama.)
Most compelling non-fiction read in 2016:
■ One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway — and Its Aftermath (Åsne Seierstad; 2015. Non-fiction.)
■ Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife (Barbara Bradley Hagerty; 2016. Non-fiction.)
■ Neighbors (Jan T. Gross; 2001. Non-fiction.)
■ A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy (Sue Klebold; 2016. Non-fiction.)
■ Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (Jon Krakauer; 2015. Non-fiction.)
Best graphic fiction read in 2016:
■ Fell, Volume 1, Feral City (Warren Ellis; 2007. Graphic fiction.)
■ The Silence of Our Friends (Mark Long; 2012. Graphic fiction.)
■ Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad; 1899. Fiction.)
■ The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell; 1996. Fiction.)
● Repeating this bit from one of my summer book posts: A Good School was, quite possibly, the best book I’ve read this year — which may have been the same thing I said about Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road eight years ago. In “The Lost World of Richard Yates” (Boston Review, October/November 1999), Stewart O’Nan wrote:
Once the most vaunted of authors–praised by Styron and Vonnegut and Robert Stone as the voice of a generation–he seems now to belong to that august yet sad category, the writer’s writer. Andre Dubus, who was his student at Iowa, revered him, as does Tobias Wolff, and the jackets of Yates’s books are adorned with quotes by the likes of Tennessee Williams and Dorothy Parker, Ann Beattie and Gina Berriault. When authors talk his name pops up as the American writer we wish more people would read, just as Cormac McCarthy’s used to. In the acknowledgments section of his novellas, Women With Men, Richard Ford makes it plain: “I wish to record my debt of gratitude to the stories and novels of Richard Yates, a writer too little appreciated.”
With his insightful and ranging appreciation, O’Nan — also a writer too little appreciated (if you are not familiar with his work, begin with A Prayer for the Dying and Last Night at the Lobster) — all but ensured that Yates would be revisited: Many of Yates’ books are, of course, back in print, and his “painful and sad” first novel received big-screen treatment in 2008. In fact, I finally saw the film over the summer, which led to the mentally intoned assertion, “The book was better,” and to the shelves, where several Yates titles awaited me. By the way, fans of John Williams’ Stoner will also appreciate A Good School.
● The Elementals deserves a much wider audience.
● My birthday wish is Fell, Volume 2.
● In this “Year of the House Sparrow,” I cannot imagine how I managed not to read Chris Chester’s Providence of a Sparrow: Lessons from a Life Gone to the Birds, which languished on my TBR pile all. year. long. (That’s not the worst of the indignity heaped upon it: I purchased the book — Shhhh! — nearly nine years ago.)
● Books like the brilliantly reported One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway — and Its Aftermath (Åsne Seierstad, 2015) and the upliftingly informative Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife (Barbara Bradley Hagerty, 2016) are the reason I read. I must read more non-fiction this coming year. It’s that simple.
● Speaking of Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife, here are a few passages I have pressed into my commonplace book:
You may be thinking, Who in midlife has the time for this? To which I say: Maybe you don’t now, but you will probably at some point. And how will you spend it? Frittering away the time? Or in full-throated pursuit of a passion? Even if you have full-time work and children at home, as many people in midlife do, you can still take small steps to punctuate the days and weeks with a hobby that gives you a little zing every time you think of it.
Middle age makes no exclusive claim to stress, trauma, and the need for resilience. People break bones, lose their jobs, develop cancer at all points in their lives. But it seems that for many of us, troubles start to cluster in midlife: You are more likely to lose a parent or spouse after forty, more likely to be diagnosed with cancer after forty-five, and much more likely to be replaced by a younger, cheaper, more tech-savvy employee after fifty. I never gave much thought to rebounding from setbacks in my twenties and thirties because life was ascendant and setbacks were rare. Now I feel as if I spend half my time trying to plug leaks in the dam. Happily, the research indicates, I may be better equipped because I have lived for five and half decades.