A continuation of the list of books I read in 2016 and remember, there will be spoilers!
11. If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler (Italo Calvino)-This is a book within a book within a book written in a postmodern style. I enjoyed reading it because it was such a unique and entertaining reading experience. It offered some good insights in to the meaning of the experience of reading and writing as well but of course I’ve forgotten what they were.
12. Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)-This is about a young woman named Ifemelu who immigrates to America from Nigeria. She settles in the Trenton/Princeton area, which is the area I’m from. I don’t see New Jersey represented much in fiction so that made the book appealing to me but it was not its main selling point. I found the story line mediocre but I really enjoyed the excerpts from Ifemelu’s blog. She had some very wise insights in to race and racism in American society. In one of the blogs I wrote about Donald Trump, I meant to quote a blog by a Trump supporter who said “I’m a white woman and I believe racism died out years ago” but I forgot to mention it (or maybe I blocked it out of my memory because it was so jaw droppingly stupid and offensive.) I remembered it again when I thought of Americanah. I’d love to see what Ifemelu would have had to say to that blogger. One of Ifemelu’s blogs dealt with how some people seem to think racists are just people who walk around in KKK robes lynching black people but in reality racism also manifests itself in other ways that are more subtle but still harmful. Some great quotes of hers were “Racism never should have happened in the first place so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it” and “Expecting African Americans to be fine now that slavery has been abolished is like setting a prisoner free with no money for the bus fare to get anywhere.” I was a bit disappointed when towards the end of the novel Ifemelu has an affair with a married man but no one’s perfect.
13. Betrayal- This book is a gathering of the investigative journalism that uncovered the child molestation scandal in the Catholic church and it is fucking horrifying. For years the Catholic church knew that their priests were molesting little boys and they just let it happen. They tried to cover it up and if someone found out about it, their biggest concern was covering their own asses, with very little concern shown for the victims or potential victims. They preached all about being a good person and condemned people for their sins while they were perpetuating one of the most heinous sins anyone could possibly commit. This book was narrated in a detached reporter kind of way so it didn’t go in to much detail about the emotional impact on the victims. I can only imagine how traumatic it must have been for them. The findings in this book formed the basis for the movie Spotlight. I tried to watch Spotlight but I fell asleep halfway through.
14. When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanthi) – This is the memoir of a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 36. Luckily this is not an instance where I have to choose between lying and saying that a book written by someone who suffered and died was good or feeling like a jerk for saying that a book by someone who suffered and died was bad. I can truthfully say that that this was a good, well written book. Paul Kalanthi was a brilliant, talented, compassionate man and his untimely death was a great loss for the world. It really was cruel of fate to give him lung cancer at such a young age when he’d never even smoked. One part of the book that’s stuck with me is the part where he and his wife are talking about having a baby. His wife says “Don’t you think having a baby would make your death more difficult and painful?” Paul replies “Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” He then went on to say that he didn’t think life should be about avoiding suffering. This book was short and I wanted more from it but Paul Kalanthi died while he was in the middle of writing it. May he rest in peace and may his legacy live on.
15. A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini)- This book is a good test of whether or not you have a soul. If you read this book and you don’t cry or you aren’t at least moved by it then you have no soul and you have no heart either. Today a Facebook friend posted a status asking what the best book you read this year was and I chose this one because it had such a strong emotional impact on me. The book spans a few decades and tells the story of Laila and Mariam, two women living in Afghanistan. They live through some very tough times filled with war, violence, poverty, misogyny, abuse and the rise of the Taliban. Their paths cross when they both become the wives of one man, a very horrible man who thinks women are his property, existing only to please him and bear him sons. Speaking of bearing sons, a scene that made me cringe in horror is when Laila has to undergo a C-section with no anesthesia because the hospital doesn’t have any. That was probably less painful for her than having to put her daughter in an orphanage though. Through it all Mariam (who is unable to bear children of her own) is there for her. Although their relationship gets off to a rocky start, they develop a strong bond with one another. Their bond is put to the ultimate test when in a fit of rage, their husband beats and chokes Laila very hard. Realizing that if she doesn’t intervene, their husband will kill Laila, Mariam kills him in order to save her. The scene that follows between Laila and Mariam nearly killed me emotionally. It reminds me of the “Tell me about the rabbits, George” scene from Of Mice and Men, which is one of my favorite books of all time. Mariam takes all the blame for killing the husband and I wanted to kill the judge who said to her “I want to be merciful to you but I’m going to have to sentence you to death.” When the book ends Laila is with a man who treats her well and is pregnant with her third child. She’s debating what to name it if it’s a boy but if it’s a girl she’s already decided what the name will be. *Cue the tears.*
16. Blindness (Jose Saramongo)- This book was amazingly creepy and haunting. Its about an epidemic of blindness that suddenly and inexplicably sweeps across a city. The first victims of it are quarantined in an abandoned mental hospital. Soon enough all hell breaks loose as the fabric that binds society together falls apart and humans reveal themselves as the savage beasts that they are. It reminds me of Lord of the Flies but better and less boring. I’ve seen people complain about Saramongo’s writing style, which uses very little punctuation. It does take some getting used to and sometimes it can be hard to tell who’s speaking but I didn’t mind it too much. In general I have little tolerance for missing/incorrect punctuation but in this case it comes across as an art form, not just being sloppy.
17. Seeing (Jose Saramongo)- This is the sequel to Blindness. It takes place a few years after Blindness ends. At the end of Blindness everyone regains their vision as quickly and inexplicably as they lost it, except for the main character’s wife, who for some reason never lost her vision in the first place. This book centers around an election in which 80% of the votes cast are blank ballots. This greatly disturbs government officials. They suspect that since the doctor’s wife didn’t lose her vision, she might be behind the casting of the blank ballots. Why they thought there was any connection between the two was never made clear to me but maybe that’s the point. I’m sure that with corrupt government officials, apathetic voters and disappointing election in this story we could draw some parallels to the clusterfuck that was the 2016 U.S election. I mentioned in my previous blog entry that I’m a morbid person who tends to prefer sad endings over happy endings but the ending of this book was a little too bleak, even for me. I kept thinking “Please don’t kill the dog, please don’t kill the dog.” Yeah, it doesn’t end well for the dog. It doesn’t end well for the humans either but I know I’m not alone in being more disturbed by dog deaths than human ones.
18. A God in Ruins (Kate Atkinson)-This is the sequel to Life After Life. Actually it’s more of a companion book than a sequel. Life After Life follows the lives of a woman named Ursula. Her life begins and ends over and over again in various different ways. This book follows the life of Ursula’s brother as he serves in the war, gets married, has a kid, gets old and does various other things. I liked the character of Teddy. I couldn’t stand his daughter Viola though. She was just insufferable. Some people see unlikable characters as a flaw in a book but I don’t. Some characters aren’t meant to be likable and god knows there are plenty of unlikable characters in real life. When Teddy’s wife was gone for long periods of time and lying about her whereabouts, I thought along with Teddy that she was having an affair so I was shocked and saddened when she revealed that she had brain cancer. I heard there were a lot of ‘Easter eggs’ in this book that referenced the first book but I think I missed most of them.
19.Love Anthony (Lisa Genova)-I read Lisa Genova’s book Still Alice, which was about Alzheimers’s and I loved it so a book about autism by this author seemed like something that would be right up my alley. What a disappointment it was. I gave it the title of worst book I read this year. Objectively it may have been better than those 5th wave books but this book was bad in a rather offensive way and I was expecting so much more from it. It was as much of a trainwreck as Mariah Carey’s New Years Eve performance was and just like that performance, this book made me cringe in second hand embarrassment for its author. The premise is that a woman has an autistic son named Anthony who dies suddenly and the woman is left wondering what the meaning of his life is. Then some other woman channels Anthony’s spirit or something like that and writes a book from his perspective. This woman ends up crossing paths with Anthony’s mother and sharing the book with her. Through reading the book, Anthony’s mother learns that the purpose of her son’s life was to teach her the true meaning of love. Most kids are easy to love but since Anthony was autistic she had to work harder to love him. Through writing this book the second woman woman learns that she must take back her cheating husband because Anthony has taught her that you have to love people even when they’re not perfect. Ew, ew, ew. The idea that autistic people exist in order to teach neurotypical people the true meaning of love by being difficult to love is incredibly gross and patronizing. Lisa Genova did some research on autism for this book. It’s too bad she didn’t do enough research to realize how offensive the ideas she expresses in this book are to autistic people and those who love them.
20.The World According to Garp (John Irving)-I loved this book, just I loved the other two books I read by John Irving. This book is such a blend of tragedy and comedy. It has some of the most quirky, interesting, unforgettable characters and situations in modern literature. For starters there’s a nurse who rapes a comatose patient in order to conceive her son, a guy who loses a quarter of his penis in an unfortunate blow job/car accident, a transgender football player and a group of women who deliberately cut off their own tongues as part of a social protest movement. Then of course there’s T.S. Garp, a flawed but lovable character. It really hurt me to see Garp die in the end. It was doubly painful in the movie because Garp was played by Robin Williams. I wasn’t too affected by any of 2016’s celebrity deaths but when I read that Robin Williams died I gasped.