A Year in Reading: 2016

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Well, it’s been quite a year, personally, professionally and politically. As I sit down to write this, my annual year-end reading list, I am realising that 2017 will begin my ninth year of being a blogger, and even though the blog has changed in many ways over the years, it has consistently been there in the background humming along, telling whoever is interested what is on my mind. As we face a world that seems even more uncertain and frightening than in recent memory, it is good for me to remember the stability that my little blog has provided. Amidst change, stability is always helpful.

To mark the beginning of the holiday season — in the East as much as the West, the end of December has become a time of celebration and reflection — I am here to note all the books I read during the past twelve months. And again, as always, poetry books are not included. It’s not because I don’t read them. I read them all the time, but in a different way and without recording them as I do the works of prose. So with that caveat, here is my reading list from this year of change and upheaval, great joy and infuriating frustration. It’s a quirky list, but then again, it’s been a quirky year:

Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson. Beautiful and moving. A great entree to the next (and to me even more wonderful) books to come.

Limonov, by Emmanuel Carriere. An amazing and nearly unbelievable biography of the Russian political activist, Eduard Limonov.

Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. Read as background for writing the next novel, I found it surprisingly unfulfilling.

Mao’s Last Dancer, by Li Cunxin. Fascinating and powerful memoir of a poor Chinese boy chosen to study at Madame Mao’s ballet school.

Travels with Charly, by John Steinbeck. Another bit of background reading for the new novel, this is a book I had meant to read for a while. Interesting, funny, fantastic.

Golden Age, by Jane Smiley. Final instalment of her 100 Years Trilogy. Sometimes wonderful, sometimes confusing, ultimately depressing portrait of a new dystopian future gripped by climate change.

The Blue Guitar, by John Banville. A long stream of consciousness of a painter who no longer paints recounting his affairs, losses and gains. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes annoying.

Klondike House, by John Dwyer. Memories of growing up on a Beara Peninsula farm. Lovely reminiscences of rural Ireland.

What on Earth Have I Done, by Robert Fulham. Inspirational and funny stories.

Moonwalking with Einstein, by Joshua Foer. A journalist learns how to memorise and takes us through a year-long journey into the world of mental olympics. Fascinating and fun to read.

Our Kind of Traitor, by John Le Carre. To be honest, disappointing.

For My Sins, by Joe Stein. Short stories by one of my favourite crime writers. He never disappoints!

The Stairway Guide’s Daughter, by John Burgess. A historical novel set in the ancient temple of Preah Vihear on the Cambodian-Thai border. Beautifully written, with realistic characters living a realistic story.

The Circle, by Dave Eggars. Dystopic novel about technology run wild.

The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twon-Eng. An unusual and moving story about Chinese and Japanese in Malay after WWII. So beautiful!

Gideon’s Trumpet, by Anthony Lewis. Now an American journalistic classic, this tells the story of how in the 1960’s a poor Southern in-mate led the US Supreme Court to rule that all defendants, regardless of ability to pay, have the right to an attorney.

Who knows what books I’ll find in 2017? But whatever they are, I will share them with you. But for now, this is me signing off for this year, wishing you all a holiday season of love and rest, and a new year of optimism, openness, understanding and peace.

 

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