What I Read in 2016: 100 Books
In spite of the seemingly endless bad news that pounded us into submission this year, one great personal satisfaction for me is that I enjoyed by far the best and most inspired year of reading of my life, in terms of quality and quantity. This is the third edition of my project to catalogue and publish my annual reading list. You can see the 2014 list here and the 2015 list here. An unforeseen benefit of this project is that my reading has become more focused, more planned, and more thoughtful. I would recommend to everyone to try keeping a reading list with notes and see if it makes a positive difference of any kind. This year’s reading was heavy on post-war and contemporary Anglophone literature, including plenty of Booker Prize candidates and the like; also, I continued deeper into African and African-American literature that I started exploring last year; also, classic French literature (after which, I can say that all in all I prefer the Russians). Not included on the list are a handful of academic works regarding ESL teaching for my ongoing Cambridge Delta diploma. Without further ado, here are the 100 (or so) books I read this year, nearly all of which I greatly enjoyed, and many of which were truly outstanding:
Full-Length Books (Paper or Ebook)
1. Lucky Jim—Kingsley Amis
2. A House for Mr Biswas—V.S. Naipaul
3. In a Free State—V.S. Naipaul
4. A Bend in the River—V.S. Naipaul
5. Age of Iron—J.M. Coetzee
The last of these is just as great as his Waiting for the Barbarians or Disgrace, and should be more acknowledged. Between Naipaul and Coetzee, the latter is more compelling to me.
6. Mountolive—Lawrence Durrell
7. Clea—Lawrence Durrell
I finished these last two novels of the Alexandria Quartet after reading one book each of the last two years. This work is absolutely magnificent writing and a hugely underrated classic.
8. Midnight’s Children—Salman Rushdie
9. The Siege of Krishnapur—J.G. Farrell
These two complement each other nicely; the latter should be more well-known.
10. Memoirs—Giuseppe Garibaldi (with Alexandre Dumas)
11. Autobiography—Giuseppe Garibaldi
12. Garibaldi and the Defense of Rome—George Trevelyan
13. Garibaldi: A Life in Brief—Denis Mack Smith
14. Cavour—Denis Mack Smith
15. Mazzini—Denis Mack Smith
All of these historical and biographical books focus on the Italian Risorgimento as part of ongoing research for my own writing project.
16. The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919—Mark Thompson
I reviewed this book here.
17. Billy Budd—Herman Melville
18. In Patagonia—Bruce Chatwin
19. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind—Yuval Noah Harari
20. Countdown: Our Last Best Hope for a Future on Earth?—Alan Weisman
I reviewed these two books here.
21. The General in his Labyrinth—Gabriel Garcia Márquez
22. Autumn of the Patriarch—Gabriel Garcia Márquez
23. Pedro Páramo—Juan Rulfo
24. Why Does the World Exist—Jim Holt
25. What We Cannot Know: Explorations at the Edge of Knowledge—Marcus du Sautoy
I reviewed these two books here.
26. The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn—Nathaniel Philbrick
27. Why Read Moby-Dick?— Nathaniel Philbrick
28. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee—Dee Brown
29. Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas—Mari Sandoz
I discussed these books in my essay Crazy Horse and the Legacy of the American Indian Genocide
30. The Social Conquest of Earth—E.O. Wilson
31. The Meaning of Human Existence—E.O. Wilson
I reviewed these two books here.
32. Stoning the Devil—Garry Craig Powell
This is a fantastic “novel in stories” set in United Arab Emirates. Very moving and memorable, and a unique piece of work.
33. The Road Ahead—Adrian Bonenberger, Brian Castner (editors)
This is a collection of 24 short stories set around the Afghanistan and Iraq wars by veteran writers. I am the author of one of the stories, “Hadji Khan.”
34. Green on Blue—Elliot Ackerman
Incredible and powerful novel set during the ongoing Afghanistan war (where I also spent two years) by one of the authors in The Road Ahead (above).
35. Society Ludvika: Separatists of Smith, Sorcery, and Sea—Hugo Hennegau
This is a debut poetry collection, self-published by one of my friends (using a nom de plume). I am highly unqualified to comment on poetry, but this has to be one of the most original, sophisticated, and enigmatic works in recent years.
36. How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question—Sarah Bakewell
37. How Proust can Change Your Life—Alain de Botton
Two similarly fascinating books discussing the lives of works of two of the greatest French writers. Related to my essay Philosophy as the Art of Dying.
38. The Remains of the Day—Kazuo Ishiguro
39. An Artist of the Floating World—Kazuo Ishiguro
40. Never Let Me Go—Kazuo Ishiguro
41. The Buried Giant—Kazuo Ishiguro
42. The Unconsoled—Kazuo Ishiguro
43. When We Were Orphans—Kazuo Ishiguro
44. Nocturnes—Kazuo Ishiguro
I read basically everything by this writer in one go. I will say more about these in a future review, but he is well-worth reading.
45. Snow Country—Yasunari Kawabata
46. The Sense of an Ending—Julian Barnes
Incredibly crisp style.
47. Flaubert’s Parrot—Julian Barnes
48. The End of the Affair—Graham Greene
After reading The Heart of the Matter last year, I happened to read this directly after Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending (above) and noticed that the plots were very similar.
49. Money—Martin Amis
I actually did not enjoy this book very much, and will be slow to read more from this writer. It is surely a useful a relevant book to keep in mind during the upcoming Trump administration (readers will probably understand why, as far as it is thematically related to American Psycho).
50. Amsterdam—Ian McEwan
51. Atonement—Ian McEwan
52. Saturday—Ian McEwan
53. On Chesil Beach—Ian McEwan
54. The Child in Time—Ian McEwan
Another very talented contemporary British writer that I leaped into all in one go. Atonement will surely be a classic, and Saturday was also excellent.
55. The Sellout—Paul Beatty
I reviewed this book here.
56. The African Svelte—Daniel Menaker
Funny little book by the former The New Yorker editor discussing how interesting misspelled words can be in subtle (almost Freudian) ways.
57. The Vegetarian—Han Kang
Unique and haunting book that lingers in one’s mind.
58. Love—Toni Morrison
This novel is fantastic, and should be as celebrated as her Song of Solomon.
59. The Thing Around Your Neck—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A collection of short stories all involving women living in Nigeria or America. Not a single average story in the book, and many of them are excellent. I previously reviewed her novels here.
60. Arrow of God—Chinua Achebe
His third novel which I would controversially suggest is as good or even better than Things Fall Apart. The dialogue and abundance of Igbo proverbs are wonderful.
61. Oryx and Crake—Margaret Atwood
Speculative apocalyptic tale of humanity’s downfall from a combination of corporate greed, climate change, and genetic engineering; full of very creative and ironic details. I will finish the last two books of this trilogy next year.
62. Chronicles—Bob Dylan
Fascinating partial, non-chronological autobiography of a singular artist, whom I praised after the Nobel award here.
63. Open City—Teju Cole
Profound and philosophical novel of a psychiatrist walking around Manhattan and Brussels, beautifully written. One of my favorite books of the year.
64. The Fishermen—Chigozie Obioma
Moving story of four brothers in a Nigerian village.
65. The Underground Railroad—Colson Whitehead
This inventive and cathartic novel is absolutely required reading for Americans. Here is a great review of the book in The New Yorker.
Starting last year I changed jobs and house and now I drive much more than ever. These are the books I listened to during my commuting and walking. Librivox.org is the main website I got them from. (If anyone thinks audiobooks are somehow “cheating”, this article explains the science showing that listening to books is just as effective as reading.)
66. Of Human Bondage—W. Somerset Maugham
67. The Moon and Sixpence—W. Somerset Maugham
68. Eugenie Grandet—Honoré de Balzac
69. Père Goriot— Honoré de Balzac
70. The Peasant Story of Napoleon— Honoré de Balzac
71. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—James Joyce
72. A Sportsman’s Sketches—Ivan Turgenev
73. Sevastopol Sketches—Leo Tolstoy
74. The Cossacks—Leo Tolstoy
75. Sons and Lovers—D.H. Lawrence
76. The Rainbow—D.H. Lawrence
77. Women in Love—D.H. Lawrence
78. Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed)—Alessandro Manzoni
79. Don Quixote, Part One—Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
80. Madame Bovary—Gustave Flaubert
81. Salammbô—Gustave Flaubert
82. Three Short Tales—Gustave Flaubert
83. The Education of Henry Adams—Henry Adams
84. Confessions—J.J. Rousseau
85. The Social Contract—J.J. Rousseau
88. The Sincere Huron—Voltaire
89. Lord Jim—Joseph Conrad
90. The Secret Sharer—Joseph Conrad
91. The Secret Agent—Joseph Conrad
92. Kim—Rudyard Kipling
93. The Man who Would Be King—Rudyard Kipling
94. The Good Soldier—Ford Madox Ford
95. Penguin Island—Anatole France
96. The Hunchback of Notre Dame—Victor Hugo
97. Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe—George Eliot
98. Ball of Fat—Guy de Maupassant
99. The Old Chief Mshlanga—Doris Lessing
100. Zaabalawi—Naguib Mahfouz
101. L’Anguille—Jon Trobaugh
102. Yellow Woman—Leslie Marmom Silko
103. The Rooftop Dwellers—Anita Desai
104. Stories—Lucian of Samosata
Some of his assorted stories are the only things this year that were rereadings for me. My favorite writer from the Greco-Roman world.
105. Stories—Anton Chekhov
For the third year in a row, I gradually worked my way through more of his stories, which are endless (in a good way).
Books Partially Read, Unfinished or Abandoned
106. The Old Devils—Kingsley Amis
107. The Satanic Verses—Salman Rushdie
108. The Museum of Innocence—Orhan Pamuk
109. The Matisse Stories—A.S. Byatt
110. The Sense of an Ending—Frank Kermode
Famous work of literary criticism, obviously picked up after Barnes’ novel named for it.
111. The Wings of the Dove—Henry James
This is the only one from this final section that I will not come back to. I am actually finished with James for the foreseeable future, if not a whole lifetime.