What to Read this Month: December 2016

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It’s one of my favorite times of the year!  Yes, that’s right it’s “year’s best books” season.  Many places, including the NYT, Washington Post, NPR, Vulture, and many more.

I’m happy to say that we have many of these books in our New and Noteworthy and Current Literature collections, though I’ll warn you now that you may have to get on the waiting list for some titles!  Here are a selection.

undergroundThe Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson Whitehead (appears on almost every list).  A magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave’s adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey–hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day.


privatecitizensPrivate Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte.  This book is number three on Vulture’s list: “It’s a rare and bracing thing to see a debut novelist confident enough to pour acid on an entire system (in this case, the one we call meritocracy). The millennials have teeth.” The novel’s four whip-smart narrators–idealistic Cory, Internet-lurking Will, awkward Henrik, and vicious Linda–are torn between fixing the world and cannibalizing it. In boisterous prose that ricochets between humor and pain, the four estranged friends stagger through the Bay Area’s maze of tech startups, protestors, gentrifiers, karaoke bars, house parties, and cultish self-help seminars, washing up in each other’s lives once again.

thewonderAs described on the NPR list, “The Wonder: A Novel by Emma Donoghue is just that: ‘a wonder’ of a story about religious delusion and self-denial set in 19th-century Ireland.” Written with all the propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, THE WONDER works beautifully on many levels–a tale of two strangers who transform each other’s lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil.


darkroomIn the Darkroom by Susan Faludi is featured on NYT’s list: “When Faludi learned that her estranged and elderly father had undergone gender reassignment surgery, in 2004, it marked the resumption of a difficult relationship. Her father was violent and full of contradictions: a Hungarian Holocaust survivor and Leni Riefenstahl fanatic, he stabbed a man her mother was seeing and used the incident to avoid paying alimony. In this rich, arresting and ultimately generous memoir, Faludi — long known for her feminist journalism — tries to reconcile Steven, the overbearing patriarch her father once was, with Stefánie, the old woman she became.”

secondhandThe Washington Post includes Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets: by  Svetlana Alexievich: “Alexievich turns on a tape recorder and listens to average Russians describing their lives amid the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Alexievich, who was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature, has produced one of the most vivid and incandescent accounts yet attempted of this society caught in the throes of change.  It is the story of what one character aptly describes as ‘our lost generation — a communist upbringing and capitalist life.'”


smallbombsThe Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan appears on both the lists of Vulture and NYT.   It is an expansive and deeply humane novel that is at once groundbreaking in its empathy, dazzling in its acuity, and ambitious in scope.  When brothers Tushar and Nakul Khurana, two Delhi schoolboys, pick up their family’s television set at a repair shop with their friend Mansoor Ahmed one day in 1996, disaster strikes without warning. A bomb–one of the many “small” bombs that go off seemingly unheralded across the world–detonates in the Delhi marketplace, instantly claiming the lives of the Khurana boys, to the devastation of their parents. Mansoor survives, bearing the physical and psychological effects of the bomb.

Since it’s the season of giving, here are two other things you might find useful when selecting a good read.  The Guardian does a slightly different kind of end of year roundup.  They have various writers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Julian Barnes select their favorite reads of the year.  Also, NPR has a really fun Book Concierge that lets you use filters to explore titles recommended by their staff and critics.