In this (final) segment: Novels. (See the full list of my 2016 reading here.)
While these novels didn’t make it into the neat little categories of the earlier entries, there were some great reads here. And I’ve kept up with some past categories I love, notably books with that “small town feel” and those by Ann Patchett. :)
*The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro | I read Ishiguro’s Never Let Me go several years ago and really enjoyed it. I was intrigued when I first heard of The Buried Giant because it seemed so different (a mythical tale of post-Arthurian England instead of Future Fiction). And it was, in fantastic ways. One of the more thoughtful and thought-provoking fantasy books I’ve read. A tale for adults – not because it deals with sex or violence but because it deals with memory, age, love, and war in ways that you have to be older to appreciate.
Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline | I don’t remember how I encountered this. But many years ago I was a historical consultant on a textbook project dealing with orphan trains and really like The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction by historian Linda Gordon. So I thought a novel about it would be good. And it was nice. Kind of a quiet story about the challenges of an orphan brought to the small-town Midwest.
I Love I Hate I Miss My Sister by Amelie Sarn | This is a French novel, read in translation, written by a non-Muslim woman about a pair of Muslim sisters. One of the sisters – the narrator – grows more religious (or more outwardly devout) while her sister takes a more secular direction. There’s a lot going on here about French culture and Muslim culture and the intervention of the state. But I had a difficult time getting past the outside perspective of the author and the feeling that I was getting neither a sense of the lived experience of French Muslims nor a full recognition of the structures in place that keep these societies apart.
*The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett | I love Ann Patchett and her writing. This novel, her first and highly regarded, didn’t disappoint. It’s an intimate tale of the title character and her experience in a home for pregnant mothers. I believe I only have one more book by Patchett left to read (having read her newest, Commonwealth, in January). Taft is sitting on my shelf ready to go.
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson | I read Anathem many years ago and loved it as a work of literature and future fiction. Stephenson has a way with words (and I mean that individually, his combined words in Anathem were genius) and is a great writer of scenes. On the whole, I felt Cryptonomicon took too many pages to convey it’s intermingled historical plot lines. But at the same time I could see why he had a difficult time taking out some really brilliant scenes. The one about how one character prepares and eats his cereal will stick with me for a long time to come.
*Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf | Oh, I sure love Haruf. He’s one of my ‘always-read’ authors for small-town fiction. I’d somehow missed this one and Benedition, so set out to correct that. This is a little book about two elderly neighbors and their sweet romance. Touching without being sappy.
Benediction by Kent Haruf | Here I was a bit disappointed. Benediction is the third book in the series with Plainsong and Eventide, sort of. Same town, references to those earlier stories, but without the same characters. And it just didn’t come together for me. Some of the stories were alright, but none grabbed me like those earlier books or some of his others. A disappointing final note from an author I’ve loved.
*The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson | This was a really engrossing novel set in North Korea and recommended to me by a colleague. It felt at once absurdist and just right for one of the most peculiar states on the planet right now. The writing style – first autobiographical and then a mix styles – was perfectly blended and intriguing. I’d highly recommend this if you’re interested in getting lost in a tale of a strange land.
That’s all for last year’s reading. I’m seven books in this year and once again hoping to carve out time for more up-to-date reviews. Best so far has been Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. I’ve love to hear your recommendations, so please share them in the comments.