After weeks of deliberation and internal strife, each of us has selected our favorite hardcover from 2016.
Here are the winners… (and they are also on display in-store)…
Hilary picked Miss Jane, by Brad Watson.
Late fall backbirds swept in waves to the oaks at the yard’s edge, and their deafening, squawking, creaking call, the cacophonous tuning of a mad avian symphony, drew the grief-borne anger from her heart into the air, and swept it away in long, almost soothing moments of something like peace.” -Page 51.
I read this book many months ago, but it is one I keep revisiting. The language is so beautiful you could pick any one sentence, like the one above, and admire its luminous beauty. But more than just sentence level artistry, this book is quietly proud in its observations of human life. For fans of Marilynne Robinson or Elizabeth Strout, this gorgeous novel will stay with you long after the last page.
Mike picked Desert Boys, by Chris McCormick
The desert, like the past, can be a thorny and sometimes serpentine place for people to live; in the interweaving stories throughout Desert Boys, debut author Chris McCormick offers a stirring examination of those who live, leave, and—in the case of protagonist Daily Kushner—return. With McCormick’s smart, witty prose and equally gratifying storytelling, we are offered a refreshing, nuanced, and much more complicated take on the stereotypical male coming-of-age tale. It is an unforgettable kaleidoscope of not just childhood friendship and the small-town American West, but, seemingly, anyone’s nostalgic, binary star quandary of simultaneously loathing and longing for the past. Desert Boys is an unforgettable, startling debut by the talented and skilled McCormick — one that will surely gain him a loyal and career-long mainstream following. It will resonate with those who have sought identity in far-away places, only to find it lurking in one’s own rattlesnake-filled childhood backyard.
Jeanne picked Mothering Sunday, by Graham Swift
The best compliment I can pay a book is to know that I will never part with it; that I will treasure it and revisit it. This is such a novel. It is a complex, wonderfully original and unforgettable “romance” with twists and turns I never saw coming. Swift writes with humor and wisdom, creating vivid characters and subtle truths with an economy of prose. The alluring romance that begins the novel “once upon a time” on a Sunday in 1924 in the English countryside is between an orphaned maid and the heir of a neighboring estate. After the events of that day, the story takes an unforseen path that led me to believe that the real romance here is between writer and writing, both for Swift and for his protagonist. This is Swift’s love-song to the process of reworking, reimagining memories to get to “the quick, the heart, the nut, the pith: the trade of truth-telling” …all the while knowing that “many things in life..can never be explained at all.” But still writers write and readers read in a search for truth and answers. I admit it, I’m in love, and my romance is with reading masterful novelists such as Graham Swift.
Kelsey picked Ghostland, by Colin Dickey
This is a fascinating look at how American history can be read through our ghostlore! I came for the spookiness — and there are some great ghosts in here — but Dickey’s focus is more on how ghost stories function in our culture. I love how this book is organized — by theme and region — so that a particular story is brought back into context. From this perspective, it seems that the stories we tell ourselves about the dead may say a lot more about us than about historical facts. Bonus points for featuring my favorite spooky place, the Ridges, in Chapter Ten: The Stain.
John picked The Mortifications, by Derek Palacio
Late in Derek Palacio’s novel The Mortifications, a man and his guide are traveling southeast through Cuba from Havana. They hitch a ride with some soldiers for part of the trip and witness them get into a brawl at a bar, “Poets & Warriors,” the guide remarks afterward, “Are equally annoying. They go looking for trouble. And then they whine about it.” “I’m old fashioned,” he continues, “but people belong in the fields, the plants are supposed to die so they can come back. Bananas are perennials. They die every year, and you get used to it. You don’t worry about things going away.” The guide then quotes Ecclesiastes– “A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the Earth remains forever.”
“I don’t think you went to church,” the traveler says.
“Sometimes the Bible comes back like this,” says the guide.
One thing about that Bible passage: It is merely descriptive, not prescriptive. To find certain things, things like home and family, within the span of our generation, is necessarily to go looking for trouble. The Mortifications is a novel that, almost excruciatingly, examines the beauties of that lived existence–not as a means to solve it but to bring our thought, as literature can do, ever closer to its wretchedness and glory. In doing so, Derek Palacio has crafted a masterpiece.
Mairead picked The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between
It’s a remarkable book that can have me dogearing, underlining, looking up political history, and holding back tears within the span of a page, but Matar’s memoir is beyond remarkable. Thoughtful, nuanced, wildly intelligent, and heartbreaking at every turn, Matar’s reckoning with his father’s arrest, imprisonment, torture, and probable but unknown death is nothing short of genius.
Jill picked Unbecoming, by Jenny Downham
Seventeen-year-old Katie always does what she is supposed to do. She does well in school, helps care for her mentally handicapped brother, and obeys her strict mother, Caroline, without question. Then a grandmother, Mary, she never knew appears, suffering from dementia and in need of a home. Through flashbacks into Mary’s early life, we learn the reasons for her estrangement from Caroline, and why Caroline is so overprotective of Katie now. This is a YA novel that adults will appreciate, too, a multi-generational story of three women and how the times they live in can dictate the voices they make, and the lives they lead. A great read for teens and adults alike.
Claire picked In The Company of Women, by Grace Bonney
I adore this book. Every page is a little treat, lovingly constructed and exceedingly beautiful. Especially in these dreary post-election times, it is so refreshing and heartening to hear these stories of strength and creativity from such awe-inspiring women. If there was ever a time to promote and celebrate inclusivity and diversity it’s now. And in such a beautiful way, too. Here Grace Bonney has built a platform for every woman to speak, and to do it loudly and with purpose. I’d like to live in this book, if at all possible.
Tara picked Swing Time, by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith’s prose is nothing short of masterful. She tells us a story of girlhood and race, of movement and struggle, of family and fate, with such a delicate, lyrical beauty. This story is one that captures you before you have time to protest. I found myself fighting off sleep to keep reading, while chastising myself to slow down because I wasn’t ready for the ride to end. I found myself reflecting on my own faded childhood friendships and feeling that dull, familiar ache of things lost–that is the power of Smith’s prose. This book is not one to be missed.
Moving to a tiny house? This articulately voiced cookbook would satisfy as the only one you need for a decade. It’s hard to break into the cookbook market without a television show or a hot restaurant, but this is the book that is worthy. Turshen has helped develop recipes for both Ina Garten and the PBS Korean cuisine show “The Kimchi Chronicles.” Still have most of your bottle of fish sauce, or an old can of chickpeas, or have you noticed that mussels at the supermaket are a lot cheaper than kingcrab legs? With all of her recipes, Turshen includes treasured tips (“small victories“) and improvs (“spin-offs”), that will make you feel you got your time, money, and tastebud’s worth with each recipe.”
Sam picked The Bed Moved, by Rebecca Schiff
The final narrator in Rebecca Schiff’s The Bed Moved claims to “only know about parent death and sluttiness.” Yes, these stories (23 in just 139 pages!) cover plenty of death and sex, but Schiff’s women know about for more. Whether they’re obsessing over cancer blogs or visiting nude hot springs with their broke pot-dealer boyfriends, her characters wind up confronting the awkwardness of adolescence, the limits of empathy, the heartbreak of wanting too much or wanting too little. Lest this sound super heavy, please know that Schiff, nearly line by line, manages to be screamingly, jaw-droppingly, enviously HILARIOUS, a dream blend of Lorrie Moore and Amy Hempel that I’ll be gratefully reading for years to come.
Sharon picked News of the World, by Paulette Jiles
Jiles is a gifted wordsmith whose prose creates vivid physical and emotional landscapes that you slip into effortlessly. Set in Texas of the 1870s, it is filled with interesting and lesser known historical facts of the time and culture, but it is the portrayal of the evolving relationship between two unique characters that is so moving and beautiful. At times I found the story so engaging I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, at other times I lingered. Captain Kidd travels to small towns to read newspapers to locals who are starved for news of the world. His routine is disrupted when he reluctantly agrees to transport a rescued 10-year-old girl back to relatives. She is shrewd and determined to escape. The journey across Texas is treacherous but it is during this trek that resistance and distrust is transformed. A powerful story about compassion and transformation!
Deb picked The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
This book grabs you, settles in your heart and mind, and won’t let you go. The story follows young Cora as she escapes from slavery with help from a physical underground railroad. She is relentlessly pursued by a Patroller who is obsessed with recapturing her. Whitehead drew me so deeply into Cora’s life that I found myself reacting visceral to her experiences. I finished this book weeks ago, but I am still haunted by it.
Shannon picked A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
Once you meet Alexander Ilyich Rostov you won’t forget him; he has “been known to fence with a quill” believing that “all poetry is a call to action” and claims to have returned to Russia because he missed the climate. The Count’s story of confinement is beautifully woven and will transport you to a different time and place and draw you in. Intelligent and rich in detail, this is a story you will want to linger over and revisit.
Atti picked Today Will Be different, by Maria Semple
Eleanor is a talented artist with a razor sharp wit and a bad attitude. She knows that is her main problem with life, the thing holding her back from fully enjoying time with her husband and precious son. So today, she promises, will be different. She will fully greet the day and be thankful for its bounty…but Eleanor needs to learn that ignoring the reasons for your hold-ups will keep you from change. Enjoyable!
This book is perfect for anyone with an interest in bookstores, literature, history, Paris, or the authors of the “Lost Generation”! The mismatched collection of photos, drawings, essays, letters, and more transported me back to my time in Paris visiting the bookstore, and it truly pays magnificent homage to the fascinating whimsy of Shakespeare and Company. There is a tremendous amount of information to be gleaned from this book!
You’ll love this book because of the warmth that radiates from the pages of the forward, you’ll cherish it because of the treasure trove of images to be discovered inside, and you’ll recommend it to anyone who’ll listen because of its comprehensive study of so many literary figures and influencers.
Lillian picked You’ll Grow Out Of It, by Jessi Klein
This book made all kinds of sounds come out of my mouth, none quite appropriate for the public spaces I happened to be in. Certain passages made me bark with laughter, others produced a wry chuckle, still others made a deep cackle rise out of my diaphragm in a way that delighted me and terrified bystanders. But the noise that I made the most, and loved making the most, was an, “Ohhhhahaha.” Ohhhhahaha to Klein discovering the mundanely sexy secrets of womanhood, ohhhhahaha to her slow dance from hell with Dale the Chipmunk, and ohhhhahaha to the tyranny of baths! Part recognition, part cringe, and part relief at finally being able to laugh at what used to make me cringe, Ohhhhahaha and I became good friends as I ripped my way through Klein’s essays. I’d rather be friends with Klein, but I’ll settle for knowing, if her essays are any indicator, that in another, better universe I would be.
Bennet picked The Last Shift: Poems, by Philip Levine
Often described as a canonical “American Poet,” Levine’s acute perspective regarding both the familiar and the peculiar produces a collection whose vernacular sings of both the heart and the mind. How does one comprehend nostalgia in the face of a past filled with turmoil? Does persistence always ensure growth? For Levine’s speakers, joy is found in the capacity with which one may transcend the subjective voice for that of the communal. These poems sound like conversations overheard on street corners: Their power resides in their sense of personality. Though Levine passed away last year, his insight continues to inform us all — a timeless poet whose words will forever remain relevant.
Charlotte picked Moshi-Moshi, by Banana Yoshimoto
Every time I come across a Banana yoshimoto book, I scoop it up and read eagerly. I’m left feeling like my mind is cleaner and tidier after reading her. Moshi Moshi IS another yoshimoto gem–her writing is quietly significant and filled with serene beauty. The story focuses on Yoshie, a woman who recently lost her father to a violent murder-suicide. Yoshie and her mother, in the wake of this great loss, move to a new neighborhood in Tokyo and are revived bit by bit, by the dynamic community around them. After reading this book, as with all good reads, it has become a part of me — and I’m better for that.