Year in Reading Outro

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Well, that’s a wrap. We hope you enjoyed the series as much as we enjoyed putting it together. There's so much here. We read about P.G. Wodehouse and Vladimir Nabokov accompanying the living as they bid farewell to the dead. We learned that Jacqueline Woodson won't finish a book she doesn’t love. We learned The Golden Bowl is full of “yuge, yuge objects,” and that Tana French really, really likes Watership Down. We heard from writers who were living the dream, where the dream is living out of a suitcase. We discovered just what exactly is the thing about Los Angeles. That Book Twitter needs to fix its shit. That Zora Neale Hurston is the best way to start a new year. The Anaïs Nin will cast you into the “unmoored realm of trenchant lust and forensic self-scrutiny.” That 100% of rock stars surveyed were inspired by Elizabeth Bishop. That books are “not only the bearers of ancestors, but, themselves, ANCESTORS.” That "balneological" means "relating to healing baths." That there is a book devoted solely to the words needed for “uplands, waterlands, edge places, woodland, coasts, and stones.” What a series.  We don't have official numbers, but by our crude estimate, Year in Reading 2016 featured some 500 books. So happy reading, and happy new year.  More from A Year in Reading 2016 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

A Year in Reading: Michelle Dean

You don’t need me to tell you that 2016 was a horribly misbehaved cat of a year, careening after poltergeists, tearing up the furniture, and generally knocking over the usually steady water glasses of your soul. The tumult didn’t leave me with as much space for reading as I would have liked. I suspect I’m not alone in that. The upside is that the books I did manage to read, the ones that briefly unscrambled my brain, stuck in my mind a bit better this year than they would in most. It’s only a small blessing, but you can’t have everything. I try, mostly, when I am not being paid to read something, to read only old books. Books born before 1990, for example. Time has a way of sifting out much of the crap that humanity publishes. What’s left are only the more interesting artifacts of what writers are writing, some books more successful at being art than others. Plus: old books remind you that we have been through bad things before, and will go through bad things again, and we will live through the tiny interstitial moments of joy that we get in dark times. Not because it is fair, but because we have to. I am not talking about famous famous books, per se. I tend to pick up odd little artifacts just for the hell of it. For example, in September I ended up with a copy of Calvin Trillin’s Killings, at the suggestion of a friend and by the good graces of the folks at Abebooks. (Though now out of print, mercifully the book will reappear in a Kindle edition sometime this April.) This is a book of Trillin’s articles about random murders around the country, all filed as New Yorker pieces in the 1960s and 1970s, during the tenure of William Shawn, who believed in letting writers do what they loved. “Reporters love murders,” Trillin writes. He is right. But not all reporters can write them up the way Trillin can. These stores all have the kind of careful narrative construction you don’t see much of anymore, not in the sprawling “investigations” of a Serial or a Making a Murderer. Trillin believes in beginnings and middles, though not in clear-cut Hollywood endings, which is something that was on my mind when I did some of my own murder reporting. The lack of an ending is starting to haunt me a bit, if I’m honest. I am beginning to wonder if anything is ever really, truly over. In a single evening in May, at a point in my life where I was beginning to wonder if my attention span would ever return to me, I consumed the whole of Poets in Their Youth, Eileen Simpson’s memoir of, among other things, being married to John Berryman. Spoiler: he was a difficult man. I had read bits of the book before, in service of other research projects, but never had I sat down to read through the whole thing. It was delightful. Fair warning: I am more susceptible than the average person to the intrigues of mid-century-poet gossip. I like them, even the drunk, dissolute, and occasionally abusive ones: in between royally fucking up, they seemed to be doing such meaningful work. They were not constantly publishing, of course, but also they were not tweeting. They were not debating the end of tweeting. They were not participating in whatever passes for the “cultural conversation” at all. Instead, they were trying to live lives that allowed them to write whatever the fuck they wanted. This, I have decided, should be a mission statement for me going forward in 2017. I am trying to make arrangements for the freedom to write what I really mean to write. Which brings me to Hannah Arendt. I spent a good chunk of this year completing a book manuscript for which Hannah Arendt is something like an organizing principle. So for most of the year, I had her entire body of work at my side. Obviously she is a popular choice right now. People on Twitter claim to be reading her constantly, though sometimes it looks like they’re just scanning for quotes to tweet, particularly quotes from The Origins of Totalitarianism or Eichmann in Jerusalem. But rather than tell you about the content of Arendt’s arguments -- some of which map onto our current moment better than others -- I want to make an observation about the attitude that underwrote all of them. To brutally oversimplify her for a moment (and sweep all the arguments about the factual underpinnings of her arguments in Eichmann aside): Arendt worried most, in authoritarian regimes, about people who could not think. Thinking, for her, was both a function of intellect and a quality of attention. It was not mere ordinary stupidity. She had, in her lifetime, watched both very stupid people and very smart ones fall prey to the delusions and lies. She had known some pretty dark times. But still, she’d write in the preface for one of her books, that she believed: That even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination, and that such illumination may well come less from theories and concepts than from the uncertain, flickering, and often weak light that some men and women, in their lives and their works, will kindle under almost all circumstances and shed over the time span that was given them on earth... Pulled out of context, that also seems to me a brilliant reason to keep reading in a time that threatens to upend almost everything the world thought it knew about itself. More from A Year in Reading 2016 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

A Year in Reading: Chris McCormick

The subtitle for Hisham Matar's The Return -- Fathers, Sons, and the Land in Between -- hints at its breadth. Turns out the "land in between" -- intellectually, emotionally, and morally -- is vast. A memoir, a work of investigative journalism, a political and cultural history, a meditation on family, art, freedom, loss, and home -- Matar's story is almost mystically vaster than the 240 pages between its covers. More suspenseful than any novel I read this year, more haunting than any poetry I read this year, more illuminating than any academic take on the political landscape in Libya or anyplace else, The Return is a treasure. In the end, there is no end. Matar's search for his politically imprisoned father -- and the Libyan people's search for new life after the trauma of Muammar al-Qaddafi -- continues hazardously on. I heard once that the reason a song gets stuck in your head is because you didn't finish listening to it, that the only way to exorcise the song is to hear it out until the end. The Return is a book about unendingness, and for that reason and uncountable others, it'll remain singing in my head and my heart for a very long time. More from A Year in Reading 2016 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

A Year in Reading: Jane Hu

For me, 2016 began -- as most years do -- in coldest Canada. “Edmonton,” as Wikipedia tells me, “is the most northern North American city with a metropolitan population over one million.” Last week, the temperature dropped so much that they made public transport free. Edmonton sprawls, and because it's always so damn cold, the transit system becomes a necessary part of staying alive. If anything, the city is as much connecting infrastructure -- tunnels, ravines, subways, indoor walkways, sprawling malls -- as it is actual living space. Here, we are constantly in motion, and we are also constantly stuck. During warmer weather, I take long walks along suburban highways with a book and often run into nobody. I read George Eliot’s Middlemarch five summers ago that way, and Edmonton's flattening landscape has since merged for me with scenes of, for instance, Dorothea crying alone in Rome. In 2016, I read for my English PhD qualifying exams --  which meant revisiting Middlemarch, though in vastly different climes. (Edmonton is obviously the more felicitous place to read about Eliot’s provincial town.) I have actual lists of what I read this year. Turns out, I love making lists. (Less loved: Following them.) The only books I read in 2016 that were published in the same year were Alexander Chee’s Queen of the Night, Ruth Franklin’s Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, Claire Jarvis’s Exquisite Masochism: Marriage, Sex, and the Novel Form, and D.A. Miller’s Hidden Hitchcock. More often, I was reading the greatest hits of British literature from Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814) onward. All I know about Scott is that he grows on you. During these last few months, I’ve begun describing how it feels like we’re living in historical novel time, which maybe only confirms that Waverley will never stop being relevant. I read William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1847) -- another historical novel -- and for a week, fell asleep to documentaries about Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Revolution. There are a lot. Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton (1848) and George Eliot’s Mill on the Floss (1860), and Middlemarch (1863) are also about very recent history. The Victorians loved historical novels. I wonder what kinds of novels these next few years will produce. I’m not a good reader of poetry, but Arthur Hugh Clough’s historical long poem Amours de Voyage (1849) has something for everybody. It’s about the Roman Revolution, and is framed as a series of juicy letters. Speaking of, I started rereading Samuel Richardson’s epistolary novel Clarissa (1748) after reading Frances Ferguson’s shatteringly good essay “Rape and the Rise of the Novel” (1987). I didn’t finish Clarissa, but there’s always next year. I read a lot of Victorian sages in 2016, and for what it’s worth, a lot of their work feels relevant too. Walter Pater might be my favorite -- especially his essay “Style” (1888). William Morris is a close second. Say what you will about Thomas Carlyle, but Sartor Resartus (1833) is incredible. Due to its focus on canonicity, exam prep often involves rereading. There will always be some things, however, that one will not reread: I never revisited James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), I watched the BBC Bleak House (2005) starring Gillian Andersonand crossed  Charles Dickens’s novel off my list. Alternately, there are also some things that one finally reads for the first time. In my case, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902), Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (1945), Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1959), Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day (1989), and Derek Walcott and Kamau Brathwaite poems. At some point I think I described Heart of Darkness to someone as “an oldie, but a goodie.” The most rigorous of critical reflection. There was literary criticism too. I learned this year that tracking and reproducing other people’s arguments is often more difficult than we know. I combed through Fredric Jameson’s Antinomies of Realism (2013), and am maybe just starting to “get” it. It’s enormously productive, I believe, but there’s a bit of Stockholm syndrome in reading it too. By the end of November, I had drunk the cool-aid on two particular texts: Georg Lukács’s The Theory of the Novel (1916) and the final chapter of Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis (1953). Things I never thought I’d want to do: read more Lukács over Christmas break. I read, much of the night, and go north in the winter. Two more recent novels that mean a lot to me (and which I shoe-horned onto my lists) are Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans (2000) and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life (2013). They’re by no means deep cuts, but if you haven’t read them, I couldn’t recommend them enough! The night of my exams, I was celebrating with friends and two of them remarked how they despised Life After Life. This came as a surprise, but it’s also a response that I want to think more about—because I ~~love~~*~*~* it. I keep selling When We Were Orphans as the Ishiguro novel that is better than both the one about clones and the one about the English butler. If Ishiguro’s historical novel (about WWII, the opium wars, and the golden age of detective fiction) could speak, it would ask, “Girl, why you so obsessed with me?” I’m not sure if the Year in Reading tends toward synthesis or sprawl, but I know I personally incline toward the latter. Happily, some of the novels I read this year seemed to welcome this. Emily Brontë’s messy and muddling Wuthering Heights (1847) is still, like, The Best Novel. It’s just the best! It’s so bonkers!! I want someone to make a Wuthering Heights game, in which one (of course) never gets to leave Wuthering Heights. I finally finished Henry James’s The Golden Bowl (1904) and, did you know, this dizzying, late James novel can be broken down into less than 30 clearly defined scenes? This was somehow a revelation to me. So much stuff in The Golden Bowl! Metaphors upon metaphors involving -- among bowls -- other stuff! Stuff stuff stuff. Yuge, yuge objects. And yet -- static scenes, a 30-scene-roadmap for a Hollywood 90-minuter, carefully set out, as though there were some logic to all this madness. Immediately after my exams, I picked up Ed Park’s Personal Days, which both merits rereading and, really, everyone’s reading. And finally, a year in reading is incomplete without Eve Sedgwick’s crucial essay “Paranoid Reading or Reparative Reading, Or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay is About You” (2003). I’ve read this essay more times than I can count and it always teaches me something new. More from A Year in Reading 2016 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

A Year in Reading: Lilliam Rivera

If I’m not reading at least two books at a time I’m failing somehow. And yet, my to-read pile this year never seemed to dwindle. There’s no real strategy to what I will read. I’m not a snob about it. I’ll read everything from speculative fiction to young adult to poetry. When a book I’m reading strikes a chord, I feel it so violently that I want to throw the book across the room. The selections below are just a sample of what moved me to extreme emotions this year: The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera When I finished reading this slim novel, I immediately wanted to read it again. Then, I wanted to read it in its original Spanish and locate all of Herrera’s works. The Transmigration of Bodies is bleak, hilarious, and so full of grit. Herrera is one of Mexico’s most exiting novelists and I eagerly await his next. The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma “We went wild that hot night. We howled, we raged, we screamed.” The first two lines of this young adult novel pulled me right in. The Walls Around Us is a ghost tale with prose so beautiful and images so visceral I wanted to protect the young girls from the pain depicted on the pages. Certain Dark Things: A Novel by Silvia Moreno Herrera How do you subvert the vampire story? You set it in Mexico City and replace the stereotypical bloodsuckers with feuding families of vampire narcos. This is an exciting new world of gangster vampires that’s full of suspense and emotion. Kendra by Coe Booth I love flawed characters that make questionable decisions. Kendra is such a character, a 14-year-old who desperately wants to connect with her very young mother. Sexuality is handled with brutal honesty in this young adult novel. Booth also depicts the Bronx, New York, my hometown, with such love and authenticity. The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee This book came with me on my vacation to Hawaii. The island was the perfect setting to get lost in Chee’s lush world. Every single detail transported me to 19th-century France with its lavish costumes and baroque drama. In between novels, I usually turn to poetry. These collections sit by my nightstand. Right before I go to sleep, I randomly open a page and read with the hope that the images evoked by these poets will seep into my dreams. Song of the Simple Truth: The Complete Poems of Julia De Burgos Burgos is one of the most important Puerto Rican poets. Her work is revolutionary. She has such a strong influence on me that her writing makes an appearance in my young adult novel, The Education of Margot Sanchez. Reliquaria by R.A. Villanueva Villanueva’s poems seem like prayers, calling out to the past. I’m also attracted to how he plays with Catholicism and its colonial nature in language. Our Lady of the Crossword by Rigoberto González González has such a way with words. His poetry is packed with sexuality and culture. The chapbook is also small enough for my purse and travels with me. More from A Year in Reading 2016 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

A Year in Reading: Hamilton Leithauser

My Struggle: Book Five by  Karl Ove Knausgård I see that last year I recommended books one to four, so I won’t go too much into this again. Book Five is pretty much more of the same, but mostly focuses on young adulthood.  I’m looking forward to Book Six...I still have absolutely no idea what the Mien Kampf connection is.  But the book is great. Dream Boogie by Peter Guralnick Sam Cooke had a kind of funny problem early on in his career.  As a teenager, he started singing in the Chicago Gospel circuit.  Everywhere he went, people noticed. His voice was angelic, and he was charming and appealing. Within a short time, Sam was invited to be a member (then soon promoted to frontman) of The Soul Stirrers -- the band he’d emulated since childhood. But Sam was also uncontrollably sexy…he couldn’t turn it off if he wanted to (and he didn’t want to). So Sam starting packing these sleepy midwestern Sunday services with young women.  The pastors were in kind of a pickle: Sam was great for business, but was this their business? He wasn't doing anything wrong…but it felt a little iffy.  After a few years, Sam was at a crossroads: stick with the authentic Gospel music that had made him something of a star, or dive into pop music -- offending many of his, and his family’s, religious sensibilities.  Sam chose pop. This is a good read for anyone who likes Sam.  I also recommend Guralnick’s Last Train to Memphis for any Elvis Presley heads out there. 10% Happier by Dan Harris I recently became (slightly) interested in meditation.  I discovered this guy’s podcast and found an interesting interview with Rivers Cuomo, who has been meditating his entire life.  I actually started listening to Weezer for the first time after hearing this interview.  Dan Harris came to meditation as a full-on skeptic, but found his own way of appreciating it. I can relate. The Complete Poems: 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop Elizabeth Bishop is inspired. I read her when I feel uninspired. Check it out. City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg Full disclosure...the author is a friend/drinking companion.  Unfortunately, since I have kids, I had to read this book in stops and starts.  It seems like it should be done in marathon stretches, as there is a wide-ranging cast of characters, times, and places. Ultimately I pulled it together and came out with a pretty good understanding of what happened, and ultimately I found it a satisfying, cohesive novel…which is impressive, since it had like 1,000 pages to fall off the rails…it didn’t. More from A Year in Reading 2016 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

A Year in Reading: Manuel Gonzales

It has been a difficult year in reading for me, mainly because the late winter and spring required too much reading from me -- for contests, applications, submissions -- and left little time for me to read what I wanted when I wanted. And because I have found myself increasingly drawn to reading snippets of news from my phone instead of books and when that becomes too much for me to handle mentally or emotionally, escaping into cheesy super-hero television shows on the CW. So here is what might seem like an abbreviated list, but which is in fact mostly the list of books I've read since the beginning of 2016. I don't collect comic books anymore, mainly because there are so many titles I would love to keep up with that I would put my family into hock if I were to try, but I did pick up Bitch Planet, Volume 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick, after listening to the author talk about the series on some public radio manifestation. If you haven't heard about it yet -- I don't know anyone who hasn't, but in case -- the story takes place in a (too) near future, where independent and free-thinking women, whenever they are perceived to rage against the patriarchy, are shipped off to a penal planet known commonly as Bitch Planet, and there trained gladiator style to play a vicious version of rugby, subjected at every turn to misogyny, humiliation, and fear of physical and emotional suffering. Not once does Kelly Sue DeConnick pull any punches. But she injects the work with action and humor and compelling characters, too, and right now, I'm waiting for Volume 2, waiting to see how the women of Bitch Planet will (fingers crossed) undermine their patriarchal overlords through noncompliance -- though now I'm maybe reading it as a manual, not a fiction. It's been, overall, a tense and unsettling year -- the Year of the Monkey, y'all -- full of uncertainty and instability, at home, abroad, politically, socially -- and weirdly I found the tension of Hannah Pittard's road trip novel, Listen to Me, not so much a soothing balm to the fears and tension plaguing me, but maybe the kind of bolstering affirmation of my own worries I wanted -- a novel version of your friend who says to you, "Oh yeah, everything's going to hell and we're all going to die sooner than anyone thought." It's comforting when you find that friend, just as it was comforting charging through this slim but evocative novel. Pittard's writing is funny and dark and she captures a marriage at crossroads with unsettling precision, and at the end, I had a good cry. Speaking of good cries, this year I taught creative writing to a lecture class of almost 100 students -- most of them freshman -- and when approaching poetry, immediately turned to the new-ish collection Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón, many of which I read aloud to my class with the hope of making them cry (not just her poems, but also the poems from Natalie Diaz's stellar collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec). The poems in this collection are -- again -- dark and wicked and at times frightening and personal, and it's the close, personal, exposed glimpse of her own life that Limón offers the reader that makes this collection as moving as it is. Limón collects the pieces of herself and stitches them together in these poems and draws us into the fabric of her pain and pride and sadness and badassery and success and failure and by the end of it, we are ourselves exposed and undone, and this year, nothing feels more satisfying than that raw feeling. Seeking more of that raw feeling -- and hoping to impart it to more students -- I recently revisited with my graduate students Ramona Ausubel's luminous collection, A Guide to Being Born, published three years ago, and found the stories contained here as relevant as before, if not, in fact, more so. Time and again, Ausubel navigates her readers through a version of our world full of fantastical conceits that are frightening (there seems to be a theme here) and outlandish -- a society that grows extra appendages, love-arms, any time they experience true, deep love, and a group of grandmothers on an ocean liner that carries them into the after-life (maybe?), and the one grandmother who jumps overboard -- but told with such aplomb and with gorgeous prose that by the end of the collection, it was our world -- our current frightening saddened disturbing uncertain world -- that felt outlandish when compared to the landscapes of Ausubel's stories. I read other beautiful novels and stories and poems this year, I know, but these are the ones that have kept with me, the ones I keep picking back up, then, after reading the first few pages, realizing, "Oh, I just finished this, I should find something else," but without fail, I bring them with me back to bed, or to the couch, and I find myself caught up all over again. More from A Year in Reading 2016 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

A Year in Reading: Jade Chang

There were so many books that I meant to read this year. I bought them, full of good intentions, and I still feel halfway accomplished as I look at them right now, lined up on my shelf, spines unbroken. This was also the year of books half-read, which is unusual for me. I’m usually such a completist that I will not only read every book I start from cover to cover, I will also read every book in a series immediately. Somehow, though, I managed to stop at the first Elena Ferrante book and the first book of The Magicians trilogy, though I really enjoyed both. Maybe it’s part of getting older and realizing that your time on Earth is finite. Or maybe it’s just because this was a strange year -- my novel, The Wangs vs. the World, came out this fall and it feels like I’ve been (happily!) promoting it all year. A lot of the books that I didn’t finish were by people that I was on panels with at various book festivals -- you start off with the best of intentions, thinking that you’ll read every book, and then you realize that some of your co-panelists aren’t even entirely clear on the title of your book. Rather than being insulted, I was relieved -- less reading guilt for me! Here are a few of my favorites (or favorites-to-be!) from 2016: Most Entertaining Co-Panelist Whose Book I Can’t Wait to Read: Tara Clancy is an inimitable force of nature. I have to admit, when she first came up and said hi at Book Riot Live where we were on a panel together, I thought she was doing a bit, like maybe she was pretending to be Joe Pesci or something. But that old New York accent is all hers, and she is incredibly honest and funny and has the ability to connect in a heart-to-heart way that doesn’t feel at all forced. The Clancys of Queens is top of my list. Best (and Only) Book of Poetry That I Read in 2016 (But Now I Want to Read More!): Last year, I read Saeed Jones’s sharp, vulnerable essay, "Self-Portrait of the Artist as an Ungrateful Black Writer," and admired it along with everyone else. I bought his book of poetry back then, but never read it. When Barnes & Noble asked him to be in conversation with me for the NYC launch of The Wangs vs. the World, I was thrilled -- and he was sunny and generous and as brilliant as I expected. And then, finally, I started reading Saeed’s poems and even though I hate similes, I can’t stop myself from saying that reading his words feels like having a mouthful of blackberry hard candies, rich and uncomfortable and complex in all the best of ways. Read it! Best Recommendation From A Co-Worker: Until this spring, I worked at Goodreads, where I helped run the newsletters and got to do fun things like the April Fools jokes. (I still think this and this should exist!) Every time I went up to San Francisco, Patrick Brown (best known, of course, for being married to Millions editor Edan Lepucki) had the same book on his desk: The Girls from Corona del Mar. Its cover might lead you to expect a lighthearted beach read, but it’s actually a beautiful, disturbing book that I have a hard time describing. I think its central question might be: What is cruelty? Mary Gaitskill meets…Paint It Black? Book I Thought I Knew but Totally Didn’t: I spent much of the past five years watching this book be written -- its author, Margaret Wappler, and I got together two or three times a week to work on our novels. I read Neon Green in an earlier state a couple of years ago and loved it then, but I just reread when it came out in July on Unnamed Press and was completely floored. It’s taken on a kind of curiosity and exploration of belief that I find really exciting while still retaining the beautiful strangeness that it’s had from the beginning. Favorite Book by Someone Who Blurbed My Book: Anyone who was kind enough to blurb my book has obviously written one of my favorite books, but technically the only one I read in 2016 was Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth and I loved it. Caitlin Moran called it “Withnail with girls,” which is somewhat true, but it’s more visceral, more like a filthy poke in the heart while also being a sort of poetry. It also made me think of one of my favorite TV shows of 2016, Fleabag. Book on a Topic That I Wanted to Write About (But Now Don't Have To!): While I was working on The Wangs, which goes deep into the art world, news broke of an art forgery scandal involving an elderly Chinese painter in Queens who was expertly recreating paintings by Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Richard Diebenkorn, and other Modernist masters that were eventually sold for about $80 million. I was riveted. Wendy Lee's The Art of Confidence was inspired by the case and I really admire her layered and unexpected take on the story. Books I Read and Loved but Have Already Gotten So Much Love From Others: The Nest, Sweetbitter, The Mothers, Behold the Dreamers, How to Be a Person in the World, Shrill. All very enjoyable reads! Best Cover (And Best Title) of 2016: Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist. The cover makes me want to take to the streets and protest under its banner, and the title feels like a distillation of something I didn’t realize that I’ve been trying to say. The insides of this book totally live up to the package. It’s no surprise that Colum McCann was Sunil Yapa’s teacher -- I love the way that Heart tells the stories of so many different people and calls on sympathies we should all develop. More from A Year in Reading 2016 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

A Year in Reading: Mensah Demary

I became an editor, a notable fact, and for the next year, I floundered. All I wanted was a literary life -- a professional and artistic life defined by the act of creating literature, whether as a writer, a publisher of other writers, and even a curator of writers for live audiences -- but achieving a dream simultaneously reveals a void. At work, I apprenticed in New York to become a better editor; at home, with newly trained eyes, I reread my own writing, saw finally my own flaws. I handed Between the World and Me to my 59-year-old father for his birthday. Later that same weekend, I wrote an essay about the experience and the gift. After rereading the unpublishable and rejected essay, I woke up every morning at 5:00 am, brewed coffee, and sat down to write and read for three hours. I retreated from social media, and canceled plans, passed on after-work parties, readings, invitations for drinks, dinners, said no to offers to pick my brain, to brainstorm over beers. The resulting somnolence deteriorated my daily mood, and the isolation led to my accepting time’s endless assault against my writing should I refuse to work, age the partial total of wasted days. This began my year of reading, parallel with my year of rereading, contained within my year of life. I loved Haruki Murakami -- Kafka on the Shore, After Dark, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle -- and applauded 2666. I read My Struggle: Book 1, its marvelous second half haunted me for weeks, and I discovered why peers laugh at Knausgaard. I reread Why Black People Tend to Shout by Ralph Wiley, and dragged a slab of wood into our bedroom, near the window closest to the door, and placed it atop two steel trestles. I purchased a black notebook and entered with it a conspiratorial relationship without illusion in regard to my writing, that is, I no longer believed Moleskine, the brand, could make me a better writer, nor do diaries produce literature I care to read. The work proved increasingly difficult with each book I opened, with every essay I began and abandoned to a boneyard on my hard drive labeled files. From my desk, I watched as my neighbors lived their lives inside unveiled apartments, and pitied those who, after two feet of snow, went about the business of exhuming their cars. I read Distant Star, The Book of Disquiet, Sergio Y., The Story of My Teeth, Sudden Death, The Ballad of Black Tom, salt. by Nayyirah Waheed, In Gratitude, rest in peace, Labyrinths, Loitering again, Between Parentheses again, The Cross of Redemption again, and others. My colleagues were curious about my regimen; they asked me if it yielded results. I unlearned toxic assumptions with respect to the essay, as a form, initially ingested by happenstance and in proximity to the Internet, where essays proliferate. I thought about the essay collection, it too as a form, and how to warp it. By spring, I lapsed -- skipped a morning one week, two mornings the next -- until I stopped my morning exercises altogether. I needed the sleep, and the post-winter sun ruined my writing space with its light increasing in duration and strength. The four of us -- my partner and her twins -- coalesced around one other, traveling to Myrtle Beach and Big Indian, chaperoning my father and his wife over the Brooklyn Bridge. I glared at the black device on my desk as my father on speaker spoke in small talk about my grandmother, his mother, convalescing since July. She is 89. The doctors seem to be doing that shoulder-shrug thing they do when their science fails them and they, in turn, signal to us, the patient’s family, not to give up hope, but to accept that the hope we have is all the hope we can expect to receive. My 60-year-old father has still not read Between the World and Me, and there will be for him a small birthday party in New Jersey, after Thanksgiving, with home-cooked food and store-bought wine, with holiday music piped through Bluetooth speakers -- Boyz II Men’s Christmas album is as old now as The Temptations’ rendition of “Silent Night” was to me when I first heard it as a child, when my aunt in black swayed near the woodgrain floor speaker, holding a half-filled glass, her grimace illuminated by the garishly decorated tree lit with reds and blues, as the party turned down, as Christmas refused to relieve her of the turmoil her liquor unlocked -- and there will be some laughs, though muted by grief. I myself will not be there; I leave for Chicago and just last week, I rented a gray Dodge Dart from a sketchy Enterprise in Bay Ridge and drove to Vineland so I could attend the private viewing of my paternal uncle’s cooling body. Speaking of birthdays, he died one day before his own, at the age of 64, to cancer. In the wake, I stand before his body in the casket, in my black suit, holding a copy of Speak, Memory, which I first read back in 2008 or '09 but now have chosen to reread only after appearing here, inches from the coffin, the first time. The anachronistic book grounds me here, the second time, after I first witnessed my uncle’s evaporated body, scheduled for cremation tomorrow night, when I wondered how and why his final moments left a peaceful look on his graying, gaunt, sheared face. (I remember him for his gargantuan beard, gone now from real time.) On a round wood table beside the casket are his black leather cowboy boots doubling as vases for two bouquets of deciduous red and yellow roses. My grandmother is not in attendance, her frail body yoked to life-saving machines, to bags of fluid to keep her hydrated and sustained, since she refuses to eat, and I question her memory. When I visited her in the hospital hours before the wake, I did not mention my uncle’s death. Instead, we watched the news together, a local affiliate broadcasted from Philadelphia; the same black anchor from my childhood, he hasn’t aged a single day, I said to her. I knew she was told of her son’s death, but I was unsure if she remembered -- doctors and family members reported with greater frequency lapses in her short-term memory -- and I did not have the heart to break her heart all over again had she forgotten, so I said nothing, and softly held her hand. Lies and memoirs, said Roberto Bolaño, get along swimmingly. I feel accused of a crime, even though, strictly speaking, I do not consider myself a memoirist. Once fascinated by memoirs, I now avoid but not because of banality, that is, the requirement from critics that a memoirist’s life be thrilling, or extraordinary. I am as physically close to my uncle’s body as I’m willing to get, and no closer. I don’t recognize him, my living brain having to downshift to death, because he should be breathing, the movement registers as a detail about him, a major one easily overlooked until final exhalation. “Symbols and Signs,” a short story, first introduced me to Vladimir Nabokov; the insubordinate sentence first and finally revealed itself to me, through Nabokov; Literature marks the spot where generations of writers faithfully leap off, expecting to fly, only to slam face first into a pile of human bodies, but Vladimir the asshole soared, and writers will forever read and hate him, never understanding how he defied the laws, and why not them. The last time the boy had tried to do it, his method had been, in the doctor’s words, a masterpiece of inventiveness; he would have succeeded had not an envious fellow-patient thought he was learning to fly and stopped him just in time. What he had really wanted to do was to tear a hole in his world and escape. A story circulates the wake: When asked whether or not he had money for his own funeral, my uncle laughed and replied "I’ll be dead and it’ll be someone else’s problem," and laughed again. That he laughed twice pleases me. Knowing my uncle, he was terrified of death but never beguiled by it; his callous stance toward the living in the face of his own demise seems to me a pragmatic, if heartless one. Speak, Memory describes the nothingness that bookends the life cycle of every organism as two black voids, fore and aft. A local preacher and friend to my cousin, the son of the deceased, says now in the wake, at the lectern, that in his final hours my uncle accepted the Lord into his life -- I am skeptical, but if he was pragmatic enough to leave behind a funereal bill for the family to settle, then indeed he would wait until the last minute to resolve a situation that, prior to, existed but didn’t press itself upon his life. When I face the second black void, aft, I might rethink my position on the case of Me v. God, so to hear about my uncle’s late-hour, deathbed capitulation to Christ only makes the need for me to find him all the more urgent. Where is my uncle now? The prison of time, said Nabokov, is spherical and without exits. Speak, Memory maps a human life during societal deterioration, a process relevant to the new climate. Nabokov’s home was an idyllic, plentiful wonderland centered inside a disturbed Russia approaching back-to-back revolutions. Nabokov’s childhood home was torched, leaving behind the iron staircase fashioned by his paternal grandfather; Vladimir, his mother, and his siblings fled for their lives to southern Crimea, while his father, Vladimir Dmitrievich Nabokov, remained behind, and was later assassinated in Berlin. The life of my family, said Nabokov, had completely changed; "we were absolutely ruined...the complete curbing of the public’s minds was achieved...in no time after the main contingent of the intellectuals had escaped abroad, or had been destroyed...the loss of my country was equated for me with the loss of my love." Men who write about their homes should have their own wing inside a burning library, but I also believe in literature’s expanding universe, how, despite one million stories, we’ll read another story, and one more, year after year. The wake is sparsely populated with family, some skeletal remains of fringe friends, a dozen former coworkers, a few lovers. It’s unclear how long ago he was diagnosed, though we suspected for years: My uncle was a nurse, and so is my father, and three or four of my aunts, and twice as many cousins, not to mention my grandmother, retired; his family knew his prognosis just by observing him. I sit with my right leg crossed over the left, Speak, Memory and my black device in my lap, as I stare at the casket, thinking about my year of reading and the black bolt above my childhood home in Newfield, adjacent to Vineland, captured with my device’s camera. I pull over to the side of the road, in front of the house my family no longer owns, and snap a few photos from the rental car. The November sky reminds me of the dulling bright eyes of a black dog thrashed by a heartless owner retarded by mediocrity. My father and his brother play each other in a game of tennis; with afros, they ride on motorcycles, side by side, down route 55. My brothers and I slip out the wake for a quick cigarette in the parking lot as the nearby cathedral bell tolls nine. The seats in front of me are empty, so I have a direct line of sight to my uncle’s face. My grandmother touches the screen fastened to my wrist; the nurses have removed her rings; on a rolling tray next to her hospital bed is a framed photo of her husband, my uniformed grandfather, who died 363 days before my birth. From the corner of my left eye, past my black eyeglasses frames, I see my father and his wife, frozen, clutching each other as they gaze at his brother, thinking god knows whatever those new to senior citizenship consider during a wake pre-cremation. My uncle drives an oxblood stick-shift Corvette convertible and parks it outside the strip club from where he plucks a date to escort him to the family barbecue. There she stands, the white dancer in black tights, and there we stand, the black judges holding red cups, bound by blood. Our scientific laws dictate that upon death, for maximum efficacy within, and least disquieting entry into, the loop, our bodies are to be burned and transformed into the ash we, for centuries before Reform, tried to hide with shame during harsh, white winters. More from A Year in Reading 2016 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

A Year in Reading: Sylvia Whitman

Working in a bookshop every day, seeing much-anticipated new releases being freshly unpacked and incredible vintage paperbacks that have wound their ways onto our shelves, it’s almost impossible not to slip a book into my pocket on the way out each evening. Once home, the competition begins. Do I continue with last night’s novel, Feeding Time by fellow Parisian Adam Biles, a dazzling work on the dismal decay, and humour, of old age? “Everyone lied, and everyone knew they were being lied to, and yet lying and being lied to was preferable to the truth.” Or shall it be Henry Marsh’s Do No Harm, an engrossing exploration of neuroscience? “That memories, dreams, and reflections should consist of jelly is simply too strange to understand.” Marsh’s book was recommended to me by the featured writer at last night’s shop event, the charming Philippe Sands, author of East West Street, a compelling journey into the origins of the terms “crimes against humanity” and “genocide,” all told alongside his own fascinating family history. There’s a pile next to my bed of the books I’ve recently finished and been recommending to friends. Animal by Sara Pascoe is a hilarious, enlightening account on what it is to be a woman today. Jo Marchant’s Cure explores the use of hypnosis to avoid pain -- I was especially intrigued to learn we’re now relying more than ever on medical pain relievers that are, reportedly, starting to work less effectively on us. I gave a copy to my doctor who often seems amused by my recommendations. Tribe by Sebastian Junger, a timely exploration, convincingly argues for unison rather than division in society, underscoring our shared humanity: “Our fundamental desire, as human beings, is to be close to others, and our society does not allow for that” and yet “Intact communities are far more likely to survive than fragmented ones.” Janine Di Giovanni’s The Morning They Came for Us is also essential reading for this tumultuous time, offering important insight into Syria: “What you yearn for more than anything is for the ordinary to return. The simple pleasure of going to a shop to buy apples.” A day without poetry is a sad one so, in the morning, I pick a page at random from the rather erotic Dirty Pretty Things by Michael Faudet, which a friend told me had marked her significantly: “two drowning lovers lost at sea, my lips adrift in yours.” One of the booksellers I work with is a huge Elena Ferrante fan (who isn’t, really?) and lent me the slim and shocking The Lost Daughter. Just seeing its spine here on the shelf reminds me of the story’s cold ending, a slap in the face. It sits next to Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, in a lovely vintage edition, which I thought wouldn’t keep me up all night, but did. It haunts me still. I finish the last pages of Flâneuse before leaving to flâne around Paris with its author, Lauren Elkin, hats slid down over our foreheads Jean Rhys-style: “Traces of the past city are, somehow, traces of the selves we might once have been.” I’m looking forward also to finishing Zadie Smith’s addictive Swing Time and Ali Smith's Autumn, which sits on my dresser, a leaf stuck between its pages: “How many worlds can you hold in a hand. In a handful of sand.” After, I plan to reread a chapter from Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City, an engrossing book on artists and loneliness: ”What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast.” My continual search for intelligent writing on motherhood was most recently satisfied by Rivka Galchen’s Little Labors: I had imagined that I was going to meet, at birth, a very sophisticated form of plant life, a form that I would daily deliver to an offsite greenhouse; I would look forward to getting to know the life-form properly later, when she had moved into a sentient kingdom, maybe around age three. But instead, within hours of being born, the being—perhaps through chemicals the emotional-vision equivalent of smoke machines -- appeared to me not like a plant at all, but instead like something much more powerfully moving than just another human being, she had appeared as an animal, a previously undiscovered old-world monkey, but one with whom I could communicate deeply: it was an unsettling, intoxicating, against-nature feeling. A feeling that felt like black magic. In the evening, the chill from the walk home still on my fingertips, I smell the mulled wine brewing in the kitchen as I prepare to nestle in with Jeanette Winterson’s Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days. “Stories round the fire at Christmas, or told with frosty breath on a wintry walk, have a magic and a mystery that is part of the season.” Tomorrow there will be more titles in which to indulge my curiosity, to expand into other worlds, to seek for answers, to delve into the imagination. More from A Year in Reading 2016 Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005