The Ten Best Books I Read in 2016

Easter ParadeThe HuntersRosshaldeAt Mrs Lippincote'sBrooklynIn a Lonely Placethe-bright-foreveram-beispiel-meines-brudersLand of SpiceNightbird

This was an odd reading year. It started great but then it went downhill. Going over my notes, I realized, that this wasn’t because of the books I read but because my reading was all over the place. I usually read one novel and two or three nonfiction books at the same time but this year I started a lot of short story collections and nonfiction books, so many in fact, that I’ve not managed to finish most of them. Clearly, dipping in and out of books isn’t a wise thing to do for me. Hopefully, I won’t do that next year.

This was also the year in which I’ve read far more books than I reviewed on this blog. Not because I didn’t like the books, some, especially the nonfiction titles were outstanding. I just didn’t feel like writing so many reviews. Another reason was that I read a lot of books that haven’t been translated. And I reviewed some books elsewhere.

Still, I managed to read books I really loved. Here’s the list, including quotes from my blog posts. I tried to stick to ten.

Easter Parade

The Easter Parade by Richard Yates

And then, like in Revolutionary Road – there’s the writing which is simply amazing. He’s got a knack for describing people like not many other authors. Actually, this aspect of his writing, reminded me a lot of Jane Austen. I already felt that when reading Revolutionary Road but after these two books, even more. Like Jane Austen, he can see right through people and phrase this in a witty way. The biggest difference is the fate he’s got in store for them. Not one of them is allowed a Happy Ending à la Austen. That said, his observations and descriptions are so masterful that they always cheer me up.

 

Rosshalde

Rosshalde by Hermann Hesse

I had very mixed feelings while reading this. I didn’t like the beginning all that much but from the middle on, I really started to love this book. I finished it a week ago and it’s still constantly on my mind. There’s so much to like here. But there’s also a lot that I didn’t like. I really loved the descriptions and being in Veraguth’s head when he contemplated nature, his garden, his art. Those passages reminded me of Mercè Rodoreda’s novel Jardí vora el mar. In both books, a solitary man lives in a small house, surrounded by a huge garden and follows the life that is led in the estate nearby. But these passages also reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out. The end of the novel has affected me quite a bit. I can’t really say anything without spoiling it – just this much – it’s very similar to The Voyage Out as well. I also liked how Hesse depicted Veraguth. The man’s so absorbed by his work, so self-centered, that he doesn’t even notice when his kid needs him, although the boy is the only really good thing in his life. Some of these scenes were written from the small boy’s point of view and were very sad.

The Hunters

The Hunters by James Salter

The Hunters is an excellent novel and the reader senses that from the beginning. The writing is tight and precise. Salter uses metaphor and foreshadowing with great results. He’s also very good at capturing emotions and moods like in this quote:

“He was tired. Somehow, he had the feeling of Christmas away from home, stranded in a cheap hotel, while the snow fell silently through the night, making the streets wet and the railroad tracks gleam.”

At Mrs Lippincote's

At Mrs Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor is always astute and unmasks her character’s with her sharp mind. In this novel she unmasks a whole society and era – wartime England and all the small and big lies people tell themselves and each other. I think her subtle description of the mentality of the time – this clinging to the old conventions – the fear of the new – the stress of the war – is stunning. It’s what makes this a truly remarkable book.

In a Lonely Place

In a Lonely Place by Doroth B. Hughes

I love nothing as much as atmospherical crime novels and this one might be one of the greatest in this regard. Set in L.A., it really brings the city to life and makes great use of the landscape and weather conditions. I thought that fog and mist were particular to San Francisco but reading this, I have to assume that the L.A. area (at the time?) was constantly foggy. Reading how this lonely, deranged and driven killer hunts for his prey in the fog made for great reading.

Brooklyn

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

I can’t understand why I haven’t read Colm Tóibín before. He’s outstanding. I admire his writing, his luminous prose. It’s not easy to say why it is so great but it is. His descriptions, the details he chooses, the settings, are so precise and conjure up a whole world.

the-bright-forever

The Bright Forever by Lee Martin

While I liked the story and the characters, the thing I loved the most was how Lee Martin captured those lazy summer days that seem to never end when you’re a kid or a teenager. It’s also admirable how he shows that even small town people’s lives are complex and full of pain, mystery and beauty.

The Bright Forever is a stunningly beautiful, mellow novel. It is told in lyrical, evocative prose, which suits this bitter-sweet, nostalgic tale so well. I’m not a rereader but I think this is one of a very few books, I’ll pick up again some day.

in-my-brothers-shadow

In My Brother’s Shadow by Uwe Timm

In My Brothers’ Shadow is also amazing as a book about writing a memoir. What it means to dig deeper and find family secrets. It’s not surprising, he was only able to write about everything so honestly, after his parents and sister were dead.

Uwe Timm is a wonderful, stylish writer that’s why this memoir has many poetic elements. It is a fascinating and touching story of a German family.

One thing that Timm’s elegant and poignant memoir illustrates admirably well – silence is political. Looking the other way is not innocence it’s complicity. This should be self-evident, unfortunately, it wasn’t then and it’s still not now. I’m glad I finally read this memoir. Especially just after Kempowski’s novel. They are great companion pieces.

Land of Spice

The Land of Spices by Kate O’Brien

I didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did. It’s so subtle and rich and the depiction of convent life is detailed and intriguing. Kate O’Brien captures both, the sister’s religious life and their “human” lives. Many of these sisters are less than holy but selfish, jealous and unjust. There is even a scene reminiscent of Jane Eyre. Only mother Marie-Hélène who people call “cold” is never unfair or unjust. Marie-Hélène is a fascinating character. Intelligent, introspective, fond of poetry. Through her eyes we discover the more contemplative side of her life at the convent. It’s important to say, that this isn’t a contemplative order. The sisters here are similar to those in Call the Midwife. Only they aren’t midwives but many teach in the convent school.

And from my second book blog, Whispers From the Story Forest

Nightbird

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

The lovely description and story would have been enough for me to love this book but the many wonderful messages made me love it even more. It explores the fate of outsiders, the “making” of monsters and the importance of preserving our flora and fauna.

 

Have you read any of these? Did you love them as well?

63 thoughts on “The Ten Best Books I Read in 2016

    • My pleasure, Sudha.
      I’m so glad you liked The Bright Forever too.
      If I had to narrow it down to three – Lee Martin’s book would be among them. Together with In A Lonely Place and Easter Parade.

  1. Quite an assortment there, Caroline. I read Brooklyn and wasn’t crazy about it. It was too limp for me. That was the first time I’ve read this author, so perhaps I didn’t make a good choice.

  2. What a great selection, Caroline! I’m so pleased to see In a Lonely Place on your list. It was probably my favourite of all the novels I read this year – as you say, so atmospheric. The Easter Parade, The Hunters and Mrs Lippincote’s are excellent choices too. I’m just nearing the end of another Elizabeth Taylor right now, The Soul of Kindness – one to hold over till next year, I think. Who knows, it might even make my 2017 highlights.

    Of the books I haven’t read, the Kate O’Brien is the one that interests me the most. It’s on my wishlist, so maybe I’ll get a chance to try it next year.

    Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year. Thank you for all your posts this year – I always look forward to reading your reviews.

    • Thank you, Jacqui.
      In A Lonely and The Bright Forever might be my favourites this year.
      I would definitely keep that Taylor review for next year. I hope it will make the list – that would be a great start to revieweing in 2017.
      I wish you a wonderful Christmas and New Year as well and look forward to see what you’ll be reading next year.

  3. Great to see Elizabeth Taylor getting a mention, that is such a good book . I also read In a Lonely Place this year – brilliant book. I have The Land of Spices waiting to read so I’m delighted to see that on your list. I read Easter Parade a couple of years ago and loved it have meant to read more Yates ever since.
    Fabulous list. (I’m still compiling mine – I will probably post on NYE).

    • Thanks, Ali.I loved all if Elizabeth Taylor’s books and Angel which I read a bit later was so good too but I wanted to stick to ten books for a change.
      In a Lonely Place was amazing. I want to read more Yates as well. I read three thus year and loved them all.
      I’m looking forward to your list. I know we like many if the same books.

  4. Compared to his brilliantly witty essays (I remember one about the Mann family entitled ” I could sleep with all of them”) Toibin’s novels are, to me, pale shadows. On your list, I especially enjoyed seeing the Uwe Timm. You’re brave to stick with Richard Yates! I tried this year again with Easter Parade and again he sent me into a depression. As always, I look forward to your upcoming reviews.

    • Thanks so much.
      I haven’t tried his essays yet but I have one collection here. I don’t think the Mann’s in it. I would love to read that. Timm’s book was a discovery. Really interesting on so many levels. Maybe I’m odd but Yates doesn’t depress me. I’m still reading his collection Ekeven Kinds of Loneliness. His characters embody disillusionment.

  5. The Mann essay is on the London Review of Books and is available at no charge via a Google of the title. Hope you enjoy it . . .it so tickled me. If you’re looking for Timm, and I know you read German, I remember especially his Morenga. Headhunter is available in English, I think.

  6. I cannot believe I’ve only read one of the books on your list — Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin. I know how much we both enjoyed that novel.

    I look forward to reading the other titles. They all look so intriguing! I’m especially interested in The Bright Forever. I’ll add it to my list.

  7. Wonderful favourites list, Caroline! I want to read Brooklyn! I remember your review of it! I missed your review of Uwe Timm’s book. I want to read it now. That Alice Hoffman book sounds wonderful too!

  8. Oddly enough, I also read In a Lonely Place this year. I was surprised by how different the novel was from the movie (though I like them both). Note: L.A. can be quite foggy if you are along the ocean (Venice, Santa Monica, etc.).

    • I was so disappointed. While reading the novel I discovered the movie on YouTube. By the time I’d finished it was gone. I would love to watch it.
      Thanks for letting me know about the fog.

  9. My reading was all over the place too, not to mention my blogging which seemed to diss opera almost altogether. It was indeed a strange year, a year that went downhill for me as well. I couldn’t even summon energy for your German Lit Month, which normally I have enjoyed so much. Well, 2017 beckons, and with it new reading opportunities. Merry Christmas!

  10. Though you may have felt that your reading was all over the place, you read some great books this year.

    By the way, I like the format that you used for this post . Including the quotes from your blog entries is a great idea.

    • Thank you, Brian. I think I used this formats years ago and remembered it this year. I’m glad it works.
      I think one reason why I thought this year’s readig wasn’t so good is that most of the books on the list were read during two or three months while the rest was a bit meh.

  11. Pingback: Online "Best Books of 2016" Lists Update - December 23rd - Festival Gear

  12. Great ideas here! I really loved Taylor’s Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, so I need to add At Mrs Lippincote’s to my “need to read” list. Also, In a Lonely Place. Need to get that one.

    • Thanks, Grad. I haven’t come across a bad Taylor novel yet. At Mrs Lippincote’s is wonderful. In a Lonely Place was possibly the discovery of the year. I hadn’t expected it to be this good.
      I hope you’ll enjoy them both.

  13. hi I am very very new to this blog thing and I found this blog post and I loved it. I hope someday I can make great blog posts like yours (: (and I can’t wait to look for all of the books you recommend in this blog post)

  14. Great list, I’ll be sure to reference back to it. When I read The Easter Parade by Richard Yates it was like a breath of fresh air, utterly mesmerising and immersive.

  15. I have Brooklyn on my kindle, but haven’t read it yet. I’ll nudge it up my list.

    By the way, happy new year. Wishing you and your loved ones a happy 2017.

  16. A very nice list, and I’m really glad you liked The Hunters which I read pre-blog and loved. The Easter Parade was on my list this year, and Brooklyn in a previous year (and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that Taylor is on a future year).

    As Brian says, your reading may have been all over the place, but you definitely included some very good choices in the year.

    • Thanks, Max. The reading felt inconsistent. I started too many books. Never a good thing for me.
      The Hunters was so good and so were the other two you mention. I’m sure you will like the Taylor. I’ve still got to read your review of The Loney. Ipm so interested to see what you thought of it. And looking forward to your best of list.

  17. At Mrs Lippincote’s made it onto my “best of” list as well. I also read Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont last year but Mrs Lippincote beat it by a tiny margin.

Thanks for commenting, I love to hear your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s