I choose my list based on how likely I am to read the book again. There are many books I’ve enjoyed and admired, but found I got basically all there was to get from them by reading them once. This is true for some of my favorite authors like Georges Simenon. Once you’ve read one Maigret novel, there’s really no reason to read it again. He wrote 75 of them and they’re all basically the same. That’s why we like them, those of us who like them, they always deliver the goods.
So here is my 201 long list in reverse chronological order with some commentary. The links will take you to my review.
- The Lonely City by Olivia Lang A wonderful non-fiction meditation on living alone in the big city, Chicago and New York. Ms. Lang provides fascinating biographical information on the artists she writes about, men who lived and work largely alone, but it’s the lyrical writing that won me over. The Lonely City contains some of the best writing I read all year.
- News of the World by Paulette Jiles A shoo-in for my top ten list. I loved this account of an old man trying to take a seven-year-old girl, raised by Indians, home to her white family across several hundred miles of post Civil War Texas.
- Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey An entertaining space opera and the basis for the SyFy channel’s new series The Expanse. Both are very good and different enough to warrant both watching and reading.
- On Being Blue by William H. Gass Another non-fiction piece with wonderful writing. Much of the best writing I read this year was in non-fiction form.
- Season of the Witch by David Talbot San Francisco in the 1960’s and 1970’s when mayhem and murder ruled.
- Please Look After Mom by Kyun-sook Shin This one is sure to make my top ten list. I have been somewhat haunted by this story of a South Korean family looking for their vanished mother since I read it last summer.
- The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks
- The Lost Weekend by Charles Jackson
- Mother Tongues by Theodora Ziolkowski
- Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast
- Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
- The Sea Wolf by Jack London
- The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith This has been my year of Korean reading. Another one sure to make my top ten list. I’ve already ordered Han Kang’s new novel, set to come out early in 2017. Can’t wait for it.
- Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Seven Places of the Mind by Joan Didion Classic non-fiction, mostly about California in the 1960’s. If you’ve never read Joan Didion before, this is the one to read. I loved it. More please.
- Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson I just finish Ms. Woodson’s new novel Another Brooklyn which is very good, but not as good as Brown Girl Dreaming.
- The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher M.F.K. Fisher invented writing about food. Maybe not, maybe someone did it before she did, but no one every loved food as much as she did. The opening section on her first oyster is not to be missed. More excellent non-fiction writing.
- El Deafo by Cece Bell
- The Promised Land by Grace Ogot
- A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert
- The Man Who Watched Trains Go By by Simenon
- Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Some of these, I know will not make the short list, in spite of how much I liked them. I’ll stick to my re-read rule so books the more plot driven stuff is not likely to make the cut. Still, there may be some very difficult choices if I do a top ten this year. I’ve a feeling it will all be Korean literature and non-fiction.