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Thibeau's Books 2016

Updated on January 3, 2017

I read 50 books in 2016. Looking back I found many books that pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me, such as: Between the World and Me, Geeklove, A Little Life, Homegoing, Aleph, and Kings of the Earth, to name just a few. I also read more books published in the last 5 years than I normally do, and almost nothing from the classics, another unusual development. The stats are: 34 fiction, 14 nonfiction, 2 poetry (both in top 20), 33 male authors & 17 female authors. I'd like to give a shutout to Gardiner Public Library & The Maine State Library, where I got all but 1 or 2 of these books, and where I I find slips of peace in a busy and sometimes frightening world. As always, I hope to hear from you, in the comments (or however you get a hold of me), about your year in books. Enjoy!

The Top Five

1. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara, (2016)

This book follows a group of friends who graduate together from University and set about establishing themselves as adults in NYC. At more than 700 pages long, this epic novel dives deep into the lives of the four men. One character, Jude, does eventually establish precedence, both in the mystery surrounding him in the first part of the book, and the slow reveal of his disturbing past. It’s a unflinching examination of all the characters deepest fears, suffering, shame, and sorrow, and that‘s a big part of what I really liked about it, kind of a mapping of suffering in some of it‘s more dramatic forms. There is some very explicit and repetitive descriptions of self mutilation, sexual abuse, and trauma; a bold and unusual violence that makes it sometimes very difficult to get through. But it’s hook is the profound way in which love is experienced by all four characters, within the group, and out into their divergent lives. It is incredibly beautiful, especially in it’s portrayal of friendship and it was a life changing and all consuming read for me.
Hanya Yanagihara is an American novelist, she is fourth generation Hawaiian, and a graduate of Smith College. She also wrote The People in the Trees, in 2013, which I am planning to read next year.

2. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro, (1986)

This book is now considered a contemporary classic by many, and it was long overdue on my reading list. It is a very simple narrative about an English butler who is coming to the end of his career. It is very elegantly written, and is one of the saddest books I have ever read. Lost love, lost causes, class, imprisonment of a kind, presented with great care and beauty, it is entirely British, and has the bleak beauty of an Andrew Wyeth painting. It’ll break your heart a hundred times, but it’s worth it.
Kazuo Ishiguro is a British novelist, he was born in Japan. He has received 4 Man Booker Prizes (including the 89 award for The Remains of the Day). He has 7 published novels, and I look forward to checking them all out.

3. My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout, (2016)

Strout’s 5th is another homerun. It is an old fashioned story: a woman remembering the weeks she spent in a hospital, ill and completely removed from her busy family life (kids and a husband), and her estranged mother shows up and spends 5 days and nights at her side. As her Mom shares goings on of their small hometown, Lucy revisits her childhood, like visions in a lightening storm, and digs for clarity. It is a beautiful story of mothers and daughters, and a very affecting picture of imperfect love. Very well written, without any waste or fat, it is sharp and honed.
Elizabeth Strout is an American novelist, and a Mainer! I’ve read all her stuff and am blown away by her powerful characters and clean lines, she is very pure in her work. This is one of her best.

4. Surfacing, Margaret Atwood, (1972)

This novel of a women’s experiences deep in the woods of Quebec with 3 companions as they search (sort of) for her Father, is downright magical. Suffused with danger and evil, the imagery jumps off the page: dark, isolated woods, dark, cold waters, dark bottomless marriages, indecipherable cave art, indecipherable moody humans, sinister backdrops. I feel like she wrote down a terrible, meaning soaked nightmare that I might have had during a fever. I was terrified of everyone in this book, it’s riddled with monsters and poetry. It is violent and transformative, and incredibly original, I can’t say there is much out there like it. Had I read it at 25 I don’t think I would have understood half of it, but at 35 it definitely spoke deeply to my own feelings about women, danger, identity, and how change is often destructive.
Margaret Atwood is a Canadian novelist, and an interesting lady, this was her 3rd novel, but she is a prolific writer of books, poems, and essays, an inventor, an environmentalist, and advocate for women. I like many of her books, dislike a few, and find her to be difficult to put in a box, which is pretty cool.

5. Essential Bukowski: Poetry, Charles Bukowski, editor Abel Debritto, (2016)

The Genius of the Crowd

Beware those who seek constant
Crowds; they are nothing
The average Man
The average Woman
BEWARE their Love
Their Love is average, seeks average
But there is genius in their hatred
There is enough genius in their hatred
To kill you, to kill

Charles Bukowski was an American Poet, who passed away in 1994. Required reading for all. I liked this collection in particular; it’s refined, 92 poems, and well selected.

The Middle

6. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman
I really fell in love with this book.

7. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

8. Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, William Styron

9. Home with God: In a Life That Never Ends, Neale Donald Walsch
On a personal level this would probably be my #1 book for the year, but it’s just too spiritual, non-literary, and specific for me to put it there. I went out and bought a copy, which I never do, so, if you enjoy slow, spiritual, meditative stuff to chew on, this is a real undertaking and very groovy.

10. Beauty is a Wound, Eka Kurniawan
This is fantastic. Eka Kurniawan is a Indonesian author, and this epic novel was compulsively readable, funny, tragic, and interesting. A Magical Historical family saga that reminded me of my first reading of 100 Years of Solitude at moments. Very interested in this author.

11.Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
Incredible debut novel.

12. The 13 Clocks, James Thurber
This is brilliant. It transcends.

13. Strange Dreams: Collected Stories & Drawings, Brian Andreas
A very unusual collection of poems and drawings. I found it enchanting.

14. The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert
The Story of Eustace Conway, mountain man, heartthrob, and insufferable know it all. Just my type. I enjoyed this book immensely, and am now friends with Eustace on Facebook. Winning!

15. Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton
I got this just to paw through and ended up reading it cover to cover and crying most of the way through. Photographs and snippets, brilliantly simple and powerful.

16.The Round House, Louise Erdrich

17. Kings of the Earth, Jon Clinch

18. A Wild Sheep Chase (The Rat, #3), Haruki Murakami

19.The Lady in the Lake, Raymond Chandler

20. Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Stephen King

21. Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, Neil Gaiman

22. End of Watch (Bill Hodges Trilogy #3), Stephen King

23. Geek Love, Katherine Dunn

24. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

25. Finder’s Keepers (Bill Hodges Trilogy #2), Stephen King

26. The Mansion in the Mist, John Bellairs

27. Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood

28. The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson
Love Jeanette, but this was not one of her stronger ones for me, though it was an interesting and worthwhile read. Check out The Passion, Oranges are not the Only Fruit, The World and Other Places, or her memoir, for some mind blowing writing. One of my favorite authors.

29. Harry Potter & the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2, John Tiffany
Harry Potter fans will find a lot to like here, and it’s a fun read.

30. Midsummer Passion & Other Stories, Erskine Caldwell

31. Bossypants, Tina Fey
This had me laughing out loud a lot. Good, light, satisfying.

32. The Little Sister, Raymond Chandler

33. The Haunted Looking Glass: Ghost Stories, selected by Edward Gorey

34. Aleph, Paulo Coelho

35.The Martian, Andy Weir

36.Specimen Days, Michael Cunningham

37. What is Not Yours is Not Yours, Helen Oyeyemi

38. Generosity: An Enhancement, Richard Powers
Very unusual book, it didn’t really work for me, but I admire it and found it entirely original.

39. Forests of the Heart, Charles de Lint
To be fair this is the 7th in a series, and my first de Lint. I sort of liked the idea of it more than the actual read, and it was looooong. Probably should revisit him with another book. His cover art is so ballin tho.

40. Mind of the Raven, Bernd Heinrich

The Bottom Ten

41. Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery, Robert Kolker
Yeah, spoiler alert, it’s unsolved, and nothing in the boring tale gives any sense of a specific killer. I don’t know who was killing those Craigslist hookers, and neither does Robert Kolker.

42. Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise & Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, Eric Klinberg

43. I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Iain Reid

44. Negotiating with the Dead, Margaret Atwood
This is a nonfiction on writing. I did not like it one bit. I think Stephen King’s, On Writing, has spoiled me forever to the genre.

45. Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt

46. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters at the End, Atul Gawande
This was recycled information presented dully.

47. My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, Jill Bolte Taylor
This lovely lady has an amazing TedTalk, also called My Stroke of Insight, that I loved. But this book added nothing to what I learned during her talk, and lacked the emotion and power of her presentation.

48. 52 Small Changes for the Mind, Brett Blumenthal
Bad self-help.

49. Chemistry of Calm, Henry Emmons
Bad self-help

50. One, Richard Bach
Wow, this was awful. A man and his wife (two of the most unbelievable and unlikable pseudo humanoid characters I’ve come across) travel in a plane through alternate dimensions to intercept themselves at different times. If I were not a thinking, self-aware, human, this book might be eye opening. Maybe. It is clunky as F. Made my teeth hurt.


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