Well this has been a remarkably unproductive year of blogging. Although, if I can defend myself a bit, the fewer books left on the list, the more likely they are to have been lost to obscurity. We’re done with the Hemingways and Edgar Rice Burroughs; it’s all cesoriacs and Marion Stobels from here on out.
BUT only eight books left! 2017 will be the year in which I finally get to move on with my life.
So without further ado, and hopefully for the second to last time, here are the best books I read this year when not slogging through mid-century Esquires:
5. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (2008) I wouldn’t have believed a light book about World War II existed, but Guernsey is the most heart-warming tale of occupation you’ll ever find (To be fair, it does take place a bit after the war has ended.) It’s a standard, even formulaic, cozy British story: A small, beautiful little island populated with quirky but big-hearted inhabitants is the backdrop of a quiet love and (late) coming-of-age-story. But the suffering the little town endured just a few short years ago gives the characters weight and stops them becoming fluffy clichés.
The history itself was interesting too since, as a dumb American, I was totally unaware any part of Britain had been occupied. Smash-hit All the Light We Cannot See exposed me to a very similar island story in France. I think sometimes we are so overexposed to the big stories about this war that we forget the many, many smaller ones, and just how massive and far-reaching it really was.
4. My Friend Dahmer (2012) Apparently I have a thing for graphic novels about serial killers. This memoir delivers exactly what you want from such a book, addressing the morbid questions we all have about the kind of person who stores a human head in his fridge: Was he always like this, even as a child? Did something make him this way? And how did no one ever notice that something was off?
As with any memoir, My Friend Dahmer is a highly subjective and personal retelling of the events, but author/artist John “Derf” Backderf does a good job weaving in solid research on Dahmer with his own memories of their acquaintanceship. It is a quick and compelling read.
3. A Man Called Ove (2014) A Man Called of Ove is basically a Swedish, slightly more adult version of the Pixar movie Up. It is a feel-good, almost fairy-tale-like story of a curmudgeonly but secretly kind and generous old man who must learn to open his heart again after a lifetime of sorrow. The novel is elevated from being predictable and saccharine by great use of flashbacks, a wry sense of humor, and wonderful prose. There was a chapter about the symbolic nature of car brands that just blew me a way.
Happily, A Man Called Ove was also made into a movie and this year released in the United States, to great success if my packed theater was any indication. It was about as perfect as an adaptation can get, and I recommend both versions whole-heartedly.
2. The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac (2015) This book, which includes not just the eponymous Sasquatch, but also the Fates as anthropomorphic animal creatures, smelly magical hats, and human/dog interbreeding, was one of the weirdest things I’ve read in a while. And the ensemble cast of human characters it follows were all either crazy or huge assholes.
Goddamn I loved it.
The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac was at times genuinely funny, at times genuinely creepy, and so bizarre that I never had any idea where the story was going. And if you read as much as I do, you know that unpredictability is to be treasured like a bigfoot’s foot bone.
1. A Tale for the Time Being (2013) My favorite book is always the hardest one to write about. Would it be enough to say that this book features a centenarian feminist anarchist nun? I think that fact pretty concisely encompasses this book’s wonderful mixture of philosophy, history, and memorable characters. Like last year’s book, it never feels quite as soul-crushing as its dark themes (bullying, deportation, natural disaster, suicide, teenage sex work) would suggest, but rather is engrossing from beginning to end. I’m sucker for the story-through-diary plot device, and this novel does a fantastic job of melding past and present into one beautiful tale.