You’re welcome. It’s time again for former jmww fiction reviewer Michael B. Tager’s Best Books of 2016. Remember: this is compiled from Michael Tager’s own reading list and is not meant to be totally comprehensive. Instead, it’s 100% subjective and probably biased toward people he knows and his own mostly nerdy interests. It also includes books that were published before 2016 (in some cases, 100 years before.) That said, he does like books more than the average person and his taste is good. Think he missed one? Let us know in the comments so we can add it to our reading list!
Infomocracy by Malka Older (Tor.com, 2016)
If there’s one book that speaks to the ascent of Trump to the presidency of the United States and the media cycle that helped birth it, Infomocracy is it. In no way did I expect the parallels to run so true, even when I was reading it during the campaign. But here we are. And here’s Infomocracy to shine light on the media crud.
My favorite science fiction is science fiction like Infomocracy. Yeah, it may be genre, but it’s well-written, incisive and with an eye to humanity. Reading Malka Older’s novel is a revelation of our present and our not-so-distant future.
March Books 1 and 2 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions, 2013 & 2015)
What a fantastic way to represent a period of our history that can’t be covered too much or too often. Beautifully illustrated and wonderfully written. I am not as familiar with Representative Lewis as I should be, but I’m more versed now with the Freedom Rides and his place in the Civil Rights Movement. I can’t wait for this comic to be required reading in our high schools (and hopefully everywhere else, too).
In these uncertain times, with a new wave of white nationalism on the rise, remembering our history is of the utmost importance.
Why is it so hard to kill you? by Barrett Warner (Somondoco Press, 2016)
Melancholy and funny. Lovely and ugly. A study in poetic contradictions. But not stated so baldly like that, stated poetically by an actual poet, with humility and wit. These poems came askance and smacked me in the face. I rarely love poetry as much as I loved Barrett’s. (Reviewed on jmww)
Dubliners by James Joyce (Grant Richards, Ltd., 1914)
In 1999, I was assigned Dubliners in one of my literature classes. That was the entire textbook: Dubliners. I read part of one short story, the famous “The Dead.” Somehow that was enough to get me a B. I promptly put Dubliners out of my mind.
But now I’m serious about writing and about reading, so I plucked Dubliners out of mothballs and gave it another whirl. And now I understand why it’s so acclaimed and important. Somehow, even though it was written over one hundred years ago, it feels as vibrant and as relevant today. It’s just perfectly, eminently human.
This is Not a Confession by David Olimpio (Awst Press, 2016)
This Is Not A Confession is such an honest look at pivotal moments in a man’s life that the reader has to take a look at on their own. What deep trauma did we undergo as children? Most of us did, in one way or the other. Does that experience define who we are now? We’ve all lost loved ones, many of us have lost our parents and, eventually, we all will. Does that loss damage us irreparably?
Olimpio would, I assume, say no. He’d likely say that while of course we are changed, we are ever-evolving creatures, informed and molded by the past but allowed at any point to make our own decisions and to adapt ourselves however we want. This Is Not A Confession is a powerful book, filled with self-reflection, but it is not a masturbatory work of navel-gazing. Instead, it can function as a mirror that we can hold up and gaze into, to try to ferret out our own demons and reconcile them. (Reviewed in jmww)
Stephen King’s The Body by Aaron Burch (IG Publishing, 2016)
When reading Stephen King’s The Body, a deconstruction of King’s novella and a personal memoir of Burch, I found myself drifting. Not because I was bored—Burch’s prose is engaging, and his asides diverting. No, I drifted because his remembrances triggered my own. I thought of my past and everything I loved, loved enough that it set me on paths that I’m still travelling down: books and video games, movies and food. I thought of men and women who became friends and lovers or even enemies. Nostalgia is always tinged with melancholy, but also with joy. I wouldn’t have expected such emotions from a delving into pop fiction, but Aaron Burch brought me along.
for all the other ghosts by Justin Sanders (DeadNigga Press, 2016)
for all the other ghosts is not a fun book. It’s sad and mean and brutal, as are the themes that it’s exploring: those of women and race and the unpleasant nature of man. It’s also poetic and timely and important. Sanders meditates on violence perpetrated on women and the consequences therein.
Index These Thoughts by Tracy Hauser (Tracy, 2016)
There’s so much going on within these pages that at times it’s teeters on the edge of overwhelming. But it never goes over. The poetry is odd, the format of art-poetry-prose disorients, the visuals are always working askance…but it coalesces into a cumulative something. So many books have no ambition or lean on cliché, on what has already been done a million times. This approaches what literature is in a way that I don’t understand and yet still enjoy.
Birds of America: Stories by Lorrie Moore (Knopf, 1998)
I’ve never been good at assigned reading. I was assigned Birds of America: Stories for a class as well and, sure, I read one of the essays. But I certainly didn’t do more. I don’t know why, because I liked it. Maybe I just don’t like being told how to spend my leisure time, which is what reading traditionally has been for me. Regardless, I finally dipped back into this book and I’m glad I did. It’s white suburban ennui; but man, it’s really, really good white suburban ennui. It might even be the quintessential book about white suburban ennui. Lorrie Moore is hilarious and thoughtful, willing to jump straight into pain with a tight-lipped grin. She just might be a genius.
“People Like That Are the Only People Here” is the famous story that always shows up on assigned reading lists for writing workshops—maybe because it’s damn near perfect.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (John Day Company, 1931)
I can’t say how realistic it really is, or comment on the cultural appropriation aspect of a white American telling the story of a pre-Mao Chinese peasant, but it at least felt like a peasant’s story in the times leading up to revolution. At times unpleasant and at times thrilling, the rise and fall of Wang Lung’s house felt as inevitable as it was thoughtful to read.