2016 was an amazing year for reading (I read more than 50 titles—a few of those were novellas and stand alone short stories). I enjoyed so many worthy and thoughtful books—my 2016 books came to me as selected reads from my book club, through my friends on Goodreads, as gifts from people who know me well, and a few titles practically called out to me from the shelves of my favorite book store.
Below is a synopsis of 2016’s keepers that will join the list of my all-time favorites (in no particular order).
As It Is In Heaven by Niall Williams
As It Is In Heaven is a beautiful mystical novel brimming with ravishing prose about a widowed and dying father’s love and hopes for his son. Stephen, his quiet unassuming school teacher son’s world is transformed by a chance encounter and his subsequent pursuit of a lovely Italian violinist. (Or, perhaps there is no such thing as chance, only kismet.) The book is a tour de force that captures the landscapes of Ireland and Venice—and the human heart. I fell in love with William’s characters and his seamless use of magical realism. This book goes right to the top of my list of favorite novels—sometimes I cried just because the prose is so exquisite.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
A perceptive and humane book about the challenges faced by the aging and terminally ill as they suffer the ravages and indignities that come with physical and mental decline. Gawande, a physician, lays out compelling research about what matters most at the end of life and examines some of the ways our modern medical culture complicates, degrades, and often preempts the meaning and joy possible in the last years, months and days of a patient’s life.
I found myself highlighting passage after passage, but the section that I’ll especially want to remember and call upon for myself and the important people in my life when needed, deals with the “breakpoint discussion – a series of (thoughtful – my word) conversations to sort out when a patient is ready to switch from fighting for time to fighting for the other things that people value,”—things like spending the time that remains with loved ones, savoring experiences—often celebrating the small things in life that have gone un-rejoiced, the things that are frequently taken for granted until our life’s time horizon begins collapsing inward.
Dr.Gawande presents a masterful thesis, filled with research, history and personal observation, but it was the stories of real people that made it meaningful for me. Often sad, frequently eloquent, and always insightful, Being Mortal uncovers the medical/human disconnect and goes right to the heart of what it means to be fully human.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
The Road is a spare, poetic and perfect novel about the love of a father for his child in a destroyed world. Another elegant signature McCarthy masterpiece, this one haunted me for days after I read the last page. To my mind, The Road is his best yet.
Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo
Nobody’s Fool is a quiet, funny, sly book that both entertains and touches the reader’s heart, at least it touched mine. I read this book to my husband a chapter or two at a time in the evenings, and oh, didn’t we look forward to spending our hour with the citizens of small town, economically crumbling, and ever hopeful Bath, New York. Richard Russo’s characters are drawn with such skill and grace, I couldn’t help but love and root for every single one of them. I don’t believe there’s a writer out there who can top Russo’s dialogue. I laughed, I worried, I cheered, and was oh so sorry when I finished the last page. And then I promised myself I’d read every book Russo has ever written. He’s that good!
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
A sweet quirky Boy Scout with a compulsion to count and an obsession for world records takes on odd jobs for Miss Ona Vitkus, an elderly—104 years old Lithuanian immigrant, as a way to earn a merit badge. And then he becomes her friend. Suffice it to say that the reader is in for a tender original tale that is one of the finest books I’ve read this year (or maybe ever). The One-in-a-Million Boy is an entertaining and touching read, and to my mind, Monica Wood doesn’t hit a wrong note. I love this book, and I’ll be sharing it with my book club and my friends and family, in fact, anyone who will listen to me.
Now, on to 2017 – I’m stacking my “to read” books under the table next to my desk and collecting selected e-books on my Kindle. These much anticipated reads will be the subject of my next blog.