I read a lot – I average a book a week, sometimes more. I read a lot of good books in 2016, and when I do I try to share. Especially if those books are off the beaten path. New York Times Bestsellers have their own words of mouth and advertising budgets. But there are some real gems out there that, for whatever reason, don’t seem to get the traction as other books. So here, in my randomly-assorted list of the top ten books you should read this year, I’ve tried to emphasize books you might not otherwise have heard of. But I promise, your life will be better for letting these words into your life. I’ve even included handy-dandy Amazon links to make things easier for you – just click on the pictures!
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Saenz (do not ask me how to pronounce his last name – sah-ENZ maybe? SAH-enz? Senz?) is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and I’ve read a lot of good books lately. There are four medals printed on the cover from four prestigious literary award giving out institutions, and they are all deserved. This is a coming of age story told from the perspective of Aristotle Mendoza, a Mexican-American boy living in El Paso in the late 80s. (Ari is the class of 1988, just like me.) There’s so much in this deceptively simple book. The plot line is easy to follow. The sentences are short and to the point, almost Hemingway-esque. The vocabulary doesn’t push you. But don’t let the simple face of the prose fool you. This book made me cry, and not because it was sad.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs isn’t technically off the beaten path, since it was made into a movie by Tim Burton, but I’m guessing you haven’t read the book. The story is different, clever, and creative (and different from the movie.) What I find most fascinating about it, however, is how it came to be. Ransom Riggs, the author of the book, was an amateur photograph collector. He’d comb flea markets and garage sales and piles of what most of us would consider trash to find photographs he found striking for one reason or another. He used these real photographs (as well as ones from his collector friends) to weave together and illustrate the story.
Queen of Your Own Life by Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff is not the kind of book I usually read, in that it is a sort of self-help book, full of self-affirming mantras and feel-good platitudes. However, Chicken Soup for the Middle Aged Woman’s Soul this is not. Kathy Kinney (best known as Mimi on the Drew Carey Show) and Cindy Ratzlaff (the marketing genius behind the South Beach Diet) are two intelligent, funny women who have been there and done that and want to pay it forward by telling you about it. (I had the vast pleasure of meeting both of them and taking classes from them at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, and I can tell you they are as amazing in person as they are in the book.
It’s sort of a women’s mid-life crisis book, and it is the perfect gift book for a friend reaching a milestone birthday like 40 or 50. The premise is, in a vastly simplified nutshell, that you have paid your dues by the time you’ve gotten to this age, and your knowledge and experience make you beautiful and (this is more important) powerful. You may not be Queen of anything else, but you are Queen of Your Own Life, and you have the duty as a monarch to protect your borders from invading Huns and others (including your own thoughts) that insist on challenging your absolute Queenliness. We are not Princesses any more, we are Queens — in charge and powerful.
4. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
Furiously Happy made me furiously happy to read it, and just plain furious when it was over, because Jenny Lawson is so ridiculously funny and profound you can’t believe she’s a real person. It was a New York Times Bestseller, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include it here.
She starts the book arguing with her mother about whether or not she is crazy or just a little ‘different.’ Exhibit A is her multiple, very serious diagnoses. Exhibit B is a collection of her fabulous coping mechanisms and raging success. I’m so glad that her best coping mechanism is her willingness to strip herself bare and let us see her un-retouched. Her emotional cellulite, so to speak, is on display. Like Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, I had the pleasure of meeting Jenny Lawson at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, and I have to say – what you see in the book is EXACTLY what you get in person.
Thanks for the Trouble, by Tommy Wallach, is more proof of my theory that if you really want something interesting, compelling, thought provoking, and different you should look in the Young Adult section.
In this book, the narrator, Parker, is a troubled kid who hasn’t spoken a word in five years. Not since he witnessed the death of his father. He cuts school one day, and happens upon Zelda, who seems to be Parker’s age, but claims to be much older. Parker can’t speak, but he can write, and through Parker’s journal he and Zelda get to know one another and discover each other’s secrets.
I had the great pleasure of hearing Dr. Gina Barreca read excerpts from the book “If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse?” at the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop. She’s got a thick Brooklyn accent and a gravelly, tobacco stained voice that makes her extra funny.
Dr. Barreca, aside from being hilarious, is a professor of English Literature and a feminist scholar at the University of Connecticut. This book is a feminist book – it is about the empowerment of women, and what stands in our way, and also how we stand in our own way. It is NOT a male-bashing book. Not in the least. Neither is it a substance-less book. But that doesn’t take away from its readability. It is still laugh out loud funny.
“Someone Could Get Hurt” by Drew Magary is a hilarious parenting memoir that is relatable and heartbreaking at the same time. I bought this book because I read Magary’s Hater’s Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog, an annual snark-fest making fun of the Christmas catalog that, while crude, makes me laugh embarrassingly loud in public places. So I looked up to see if he’d written a book, and, what do you know? He did. And it’s about being a Dad. Dad’s perspective is a little different than Mom’s. So, aside from Magary’s twisted view on the universe which makes his writing laugh out loud funny, you also get a little insight into fathers.
“Stay Where You Are And Then Leave” by John Boyne is such a simple, lovely heartbreaking book. Written by the author of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” it tells the story of Alfie, whose fifth birthday party is interrupted by the outbreak of World War One. His father, Georgie, enlists, and promises to be “home by Christmas.” Several Christmases go by, and Georgie still isn’t home, leaving Alfie and his mother in dire straits.
9. Every Day
Every Day by David Levithan is further proof of my theory that if you want to read a really good, beautifully written, engaging, creative, through provoking book that you ought to spend most of your time in the young adult section.
Every Day has an unusual premise. The narrator, known as “A,” wakes up every morning in a new body, having ‘stolen’ (for want of a better term) the life of the person A is in for 24 hours. A can access some of the person’s memories, enough to get by, but mostly thinks A’s own thoughts. A is neither male nor female, since A doesn’t have a body of A’s own. This bizarre premise could easily fail in less capable hands. But Levithan, perhaps best known for co-authoring “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” with Rachel Cohn and/or “Will Grayson, Will Grayson” with John Green, is a treasure of a writer.
Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips gets points mainly for creativity. I’m always happy when I find a book that isn’t like all the others; that doesn’t fit a formula or even a particular genre. The premise of this book is that the Greek gods didn’t disappear with the fall of ancient Greece, but rather hung on in a somewhat weakened, albeit still god-like state. They also moved Olympus to a house in London. A rather badly maintained house, since none of the gods would lower themselves to do housework. There is a parallel story, the love story of mousy Alice and non-descript Neil, who find themselves the unwitting pawns in the gods’ petty rivalries.
It was hard for me to narrow down these choices to ten. For more of my book reviews, please visit my What Lori Likes page at http://www.loriduffwrites.com/recommendations/