The ultimate authoritative best books of 2016

22 Dec

screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-3-28-45-pmSlavery. Racism. Urbanism. Disease. While 2016 may not have been a banner year for liberal democracy in the world at large, it should definitely go down as a woke time in book publishing.

For dedicated bibliophiles, the low thrum of literary FOMO that bubbles up around May has by mid-December evolved into a full-fledged panic. Every week brings a new “best books of the year” list, each one littered with titles you haven’t even heard of, let alone read. Any nascent new-year confidence is supplanted by fears of intellectual inadequacy or—unthinkable in this age of success micro-steps and wellness lifehacks—unproductiveness.

Take a breath; I’ve got you covered. By combining 36 different qualitative “best books” lists by everyone from the New York Times to The Telegraph to a smattering of celebrities (full list of lists here), I’ve created the Ultimate Authoritative Unimpeachable Top 20 Books of 2016. Here they are: Continue reading

If you only read one novel about a 19th century Scottish triple-homicide…

14 Dec

graeme-macrae-burnet-his-bloody-projectThe fact that His Bloody Project is (mostly) fictional is either the most or least important thing you could know about it, depending on how much you care.

Framed as a memoir written by an accused murderer, coupled with court transcripts and another associated documents related to the crime, HBP—down to its faux-bloody-fingerprinted cover—wants very badly to sell itself as a true-crime adventure, an In Cold Blood for fans of 1800s homicides committed in remote and sparsely populated Scottish enclaves. That the book is in fact a epistolary novel marauding as truth makes it all the more ambitious and, like its main character, all the more tricky to pin down.

Said main character is Roddy Macrae, who opens his lawyer-prescribed written statement, i.e. the book, with a fairly direct confession:

“My life has been short and of little consequences, and I have no wish to absolve myself of responsibility for the deeds which I have lately committed. [My advocate] has instructed me to set out, with as much clarity as possible, the circumstances surrounding the murder of Lachlan Mackenzie and the others, and this I will do to the best of my ability….I shall begin by saying that I carried out these acts with the sole purpose of delivering my father from the tribulations he has lately suffered.”

Continue reading

3 thrillers to distract you from all of the things

17 Nov

It’s a good time to read a gripping book: The weather is getting colder, the days are getting shorter, and it’ll be hard to maintain a decent library when climate change puts us all underwater. So here are a few page-turners that got me through the past week. Continue reading

I’m going to read a biography of each president to feel better, or much much worse

15 Nov

washington_a_life_book_coverSometime after seeing Hamilton last summer—cough, humblebrag, cough—I came up with an ambitious reading idea, so ambitious that I shelved it for some future month/year, in which I might theoretically have a surplus of time and a deficit of new reality shows to watch. (Other such ideas postponed indefinitely: reading all of the books from a “Best 100 Books of All Time” list; reading every No. 1 New York Times bestseller for a year; actually finishing Infinite Jest.)

Hamilton is fantastic, and I’ll spare you the unnecessary piling on of compliments here. But outside of its amazingness, the show also prompted me (and many others) to pick up the biography on which it’s based, a tome by Ron Chernow that inspired Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda when he read it on vacation. Now, in the interest of full transparency: I haven’t actually started that biography yet, but it does occupy a prime spot in my apartment’s hierarchy of book piles—it could very well get read this decade. More important though, Chernow got me thinking: What if I tried to read one biography of each president, in order, starting with George Washington?  Continue reading

A reader’s guide to president-elect Donald Trump

11 Nov

I didn’t read anything this week. I couldn’t. I pulled together a stack of hefty thrillers to get me through the next month or so, the kinds of books into which a frustrated American might escape in moments of desperation. But this week I stumbled through in a kind of daze—surface-calm while emotionally experiencing something akin to the final scene in Se7en. Kevin Spacey is Donald Trump, Brad Pitt is America, and Morgan Freeman is the rest of the world. We’re all just waiting to see what’s in that fucking box.

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But books aren’t far from my mind. Over the past few days, I’ve found myself thinking back to things I’ve read that resonate just as strongly, or more strongly, now as before. Books that seem prescient in light of Tuesday’s results, even if (and I sincerely hope this is true) the specter of a Trump presidency proves scarier than the actuality.

I know, aggregating yourself is a bit douchey. But I hope you’ll cut me some slack in these trying, exhausting times. Continue reading

Hillbilly Elegy is a humblebrag of a memoir

2 Nov

51idsm4kvzl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Memories of an Appalachian adolescence meshed with analysis of the disaffected white working class, J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy has been making the rounds as a primer on the sentiments that have given rise to Donald Trump. It certainly has all the right ingredients: Vance is a white man who grew up poor in Ohio with family roots in Kentucky. His mother struggled with addiction and had a string of bad boyfriends and husbands. Vance was mostly raised by his grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw; his sister; and a cast of eccentric aunts and uncles.

Vance’s childhood was chaotic at best, and he might have been headed down the same path as so many of his peers (unemployment, drugs) were it not for Mamaw’s tough love and his spontaneous decision to join the Marines after high school. After the Marines came college, then Yale Law. Then a year clerking, a year lawyer-ing, a year in operations, and then—oh the end. Then this book. Because Vance, now a Silicon Valley investor and contributor to The National Review, is only 31. Continue reading

5 books, reviewed real quick

25 Oct

Summer 2016 went by far too fast, distracted as we were by Donald Trump and the return of the bare midriff. But even though my ST updates this year have been lackluster at best—it’s my 2017 resolution, I swear—I did actually manage to finish some books this summer. So before the frost fully sets in, here are a few things I done read recently. Continue reading