- Non Fiction
2016 - the 10 (actually 11) best books I read in the year
Date Published: Jan 2nd 2017, 7:18pm
I read a lot of entertaining books in 2016 and I read a lot of good books but I have now set myself the challenge of identifying the best books I read. These are the five star books, the ones that live with me. They are not always the easiest to read but they are nearly always emotional and moving and sometimes harrowing. The writing will engage me with the book and often after I have finished reading. These are books I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend strongly to anyone – and often do !
During 2016 these are the ten best books I read, although only two of them were newly published in the year. Any outstanding reviews will be published on the site in the near(ish) future :
THE 19TH WIFE by David Ebershoff. This is a book set partly in the present and partly in the nineteenth century dealing with Mormons, cults and polygamy. It starts with a young man who has been expelled from a polygamous cult investigating the murder of his father by his nineteenth wife, Jordan’s mother. Alongside this the author creates an imaginary diary of Ann Eliza Young who was the nineteenth wife of one of the early prophets of Mormonism and who spoke up against the practice. It’s a detective novel and a bit of social and religious history and I found it compelling reading.
THE REMAINS OF THE DAY by Kazuo Ishiguro. An elegant, tender and deeply sad book about a man who has given all in service to others who turn out to have no worth. It is a slow read but incredibly moving and one that definitely lingers.
DOOMSDAY BOOK by Connie Willis is a speculative fiction novel about the possibility of sending people back to particular times in history. In this case the traveller in sent to medieval England but it becomes apparent that something has gone very wrong and because of events in the present day it may be impossible to retrieve her. This is beautifully written and totally engaging and again it is very moving.
THE TRESPASSER by Tana French is a bleak look at life in the Dublin’s murder squad by a woman who is very much an outsider. As the story progresses it becomes obvious that a corrupt police officer is probably part of the case she is investigating but it is almost certain that her opinion is not going to be accepted. This book shows the pain of being an outsider and how invidious and destructive discrimination dn corruption can be. Not an easy read but a worthwhile one.
THE BRIEF HISTORY OF THE DEAD is a short but touching book. Laura is on an arctic expedition but when her colleagues leave to find help when they are cut off she realises that they are not coming back and she will have to save herself. Meanwhile in a city somewhere else people arrive having made a great journey but they too are starting to disappear. It’s a clever book with a sense of tragedy and inevitability.
LILA by Marilynne Robinson. The third in her series about Gilead, a small town in rural America in the 1950s this is the story of Lila who has had an life filled with abuse and poverty and who has made her way to the town and married the aged minister. It is a heartbreaking tale of what real poverty was like and the ways in which people had to live and how vulnerable they were but it is also written in elegant prose.
A THOUSAND ACRES by Jane Smiley. A retelling of the King Lear story set in a farming community in America and told from the point of view of one of the less loved sisters. It is very cleverly done and a beautiful piece of powerful writing about what happens when possessions, power and status matter more than people.
ANY HUMAN HEART by William Boyd. A look at the twentieth century through the life of one man. This is told in the form of a diary which is always something I enjoy and the author takes his hero through some eventful times showing us how circumstances change so easily. An excellent novel.
CHILDREN OF EARTH AND SKY by Guy Gavriel Kay. I’ve never read one of this author’s fantasy novels that I wouldn’t give five stars to and this one is no exception. It’s about the little people trying to do their best in momentous times and against the vagaries of fate. It is about bravery and pragmatism and being the best person you can be in the days you live.
CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein. This is a Young Adult book but don’t let it out you off. It is set in occupied France during the Second World War and is about two British women one of whom is a secret agent and the other is a spy. The author deals well and realistically with the horrors of the time and the book is also very cleverly plotted.
Having compiled this list a week or so ago in time to publish it at the New Year I then read another book which belonged on the list so here is the eleventh of my ten best books I read in 2016:
DOC by Mary Doria Russell. This is a Western and the fictionalised story of Doc Holliday and his relationship with Wyatt Earp. It is beautifully written and brings to life the society in a place and time where there was little in the way of culture or comfort. I thought that the characterisations were particularly well done and an delighted to discover that there is a sequel.
I highly recommend any of these ten books or any of those on the other lists I have published in the past week. If the next year contains books as good as these it will be brilliant. Keep reading !