The grand countdown of some of 2016’s best reads from Brit + Co Book Club continues this week (see here for January to June). There’s a great big beautiful world of literature out there, and there’s still time to make a New Year’s resolution to read more of it. This will get you started.
1. July: How to Be a Person in the World: Ask Polly’s Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life by Heather Havrilesky ($16): Sometimes we all need a bit of advice. For that advice to be worth anything, though, we need to want to take it; it needs to come from a person we trust and it needs to be delivered with compassion and without too much sentimentality. Heather Havrilesky, the woman behind New York Magazine’s Ask Polly column, hits that sweet spot between sympathy and straight-talking, and her second book is a pretty fabulous guide for anyone trying to make it through life while becoming a better person. Not a simple task! Havrilesky’s truth bombs are mitigated somewhat by her willingness to turn the magnifying glass back on herself and admit to her own issues. It’s like a good soul-baring sesh with your bestie, without having to wait in line for brunch.
2. August: To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey ($20): Eowyn Ivey’s follow-up to Pulitzer Prize finalist The Snow Child was much anticipated and landed on several “best-of” lists. Written as a series of journal entries in two separate journals, To the Bright Edge of the World chronicles the journeys of Colonel Allan Foster and his wife, Sophie, in the dark and forbidding winter of 1885. Colonel Foster is on an exploratory expedition, mapping the unknown Alaskan territory, and Sophie is trying to map out a life for herself as an army wife in the Vancouver Barracks, pregnant and lonely. This historical novel gets as mythic and magical as the wilderness it describes, forming an escape as potent as Sophie’s venture into the art of nature photography. Full of letters, maps and sketches, the book forges its own path of discovery.
3. September: Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung ($16): September featured some absolutely beautiful novels (The Wonder by Emma Donoghue was a stunner), but one particularly unique work that caught our eye was Alice Pung’s YA smash, Lucy and Linh. If you’ve finished rewatching the new Gilmore Girls saga on Netflix for the fifth time, quietly ambitious Lucy Lam is a Rory Gilmore for the next generation, born to ethnically Chinese parents who immigrate to Australia via Vietnam, and finds herself the recipient of an “Equal Access” scholarship to a prestigious private school called Laurinda. Once there, Lucy must navigate both the academic and social landscapes. Here, it is automatically assumed she needs remedial classes, people can tell her uniform is new (and to think, her mother wanted to save money by sewing it herself) and a welcome into the Cabinet, a trio of girls with wide-reaching social influence, threatens to change everything Lucy once knew about herself. Grounding her are the letters she writes to Linh, her blunt and daring friend from back home, who is growing impatient with Lucy’s delayed realizations about the impact of class. Sharp and brutally honest, it’s a must-read for adolescents and anyone who believes in the power of simply being yourself.
4. October: Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple ($16): Maria Semple’s cutting work of satirical fiction, like Pung’s, puts another spin on the problems of the privileged. A veteran of such TV shows as Arrested Development and Mad About You, Semple gives us a fascinating protagonist in Eleanor Flood, a former creative on a beloved animated kid’s series called Looper Wash, who gives up her job to move to Seattle with her hand surgeon husband and their non-conformist third-grade son Timby. She feels trapped and incapable of putting even the most basic normal plan into place. The self-aware Semple asks us, “Why the agita surrounding one normal day of white-people problems? Because there’s me and there’s the beast in me.” A savagely witty day in the life of a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown, Semple’s book gives us the mantra we all need: “Today will be different.”
5. November: Moonglow by Michael Chabon: Chabon’s newest release is semi-autobiographical, but how much of it is actually true is in question. Of the consummate storyteller’s work, Moonglow presents us with a sprawling, almost mythologized world that centers around the life of Chabon’s grandfather. Written as a faux memoir by a character named “Michael Chabon,” the novel lets us find out the intricate details of his grandparents’ lives; confessional and intimate, it’s much like the 1989 trip home that inspired the novel, when Chabon was finally privy to his terminally ill grandfather’s secrets. The novel is impressive both for the power of the story itself (Chabon’s grandfather, at various times, attempted to strangle his business partner, hunted Nazis and almost blew up a bridge as a prank) and for its theme of the power of the stories we tell ourselves. Why just stick to the facts, when memory or narrative demand another “truth?” Unlike most of the lies we’re told, though, Chabon’s are an admitted conceit.
6. December: A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind by Siri Hustvedt ($26): We close the year’s best books with Siri Hustvedt’s nuanced collection of musings on art, biology, perception and gender bias. The first section takes a look at how these biases affect how people make judgments about the value of achievements in the humanities, such as literature and art, and how that affects the way we allocate value in general. In the second section, Hustvedt tackles what is basically the oldest human philosophical problem: the connection between body and mind, both on a physical and scientific level. Last, she gets her Oliver Sacks on and writes about the neurological aspects of the human condition, using a varied and diverse base of research from history to genetics. What better way to end the year of books than a look back on the arts and what makes us human? The impulse to tell and read stories is certainly one of the best traits we share.
And that’s it for Brit + Co Book Club 2016. To see the best of the first half of 2016 go read our January through June list here. See you next year for the best books of 2017!
What were your best reads this year? Tag us in your 2016 faves @BritandCo.
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(Featured photo via Getty)