A list of books I loved reading over the past TWELVE months. Please note, they were not all published this year. -JRS
Swing Time – Zadie Smith
Smith’s first novel, “White Teeth”, received widespread acclaim and numerous awards. I found it bloated, scattered—a first book.
A few novels later, Smith’s true talent and potential shines – this is a strong book, a beautiful read. The closing paragraphs are particularly stunning—the kind of prose that makes you consider stopping writing altogether.
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage – Alice Munro
Munro is, to my mind, one of the greatest living writers. I mean, she won the Nobel Prize for Literature—the most significant international award for a novelist—writing about small-town Ontario. No small feat.
The master of the short story, bar none, and this collection only adds to the case.
Ayiti – Roxane Gay
Speaking of masterful short-story writing, Gay’s collection shows her strength not only as a writer, but an artist. A powerful compilation of tales short and long.
Bad Blood – John Carreyrou
If you can relate to the feeling of enthralled fascination and excitement that came along with watching the first season of Making a Murder, you’ll enjoy this book immensely. A compelling and incredible true story of a Silicon Valley start-up—and to some degree and indictment of angel investor culture, religious-like dogma of success, and so on.
Blood River – Tim Butcher
British journalist Tim Butcher recalls his trip through the Congo, which was at the time a dangerous, foolhardy endeavor—but that trip the writer uses as a foil to paint an comprehensive picture of the modern history of the Congo, a story of colonial exploitation and oppression as well as post-colonial consequences.
Hunger – Roxane Gay
Gay’s memoir is as openly, painfully raw as autobiographical writing can be. I don’t feel qualified to say anything more than that.
The Sixth Extinction – Elizabeth Kolbert
A non-fiction, scientific account of how we are living in the midst of a man-made, sixth period of extinction. Despite that dark description, it makes for a fascinating and interesting read. Impressively documented and detailed, Kolbert won the Pulitzer for this book in 2015.
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
A fitting fictional counterpart to the above book and an all-time favourite of mine. Devastating in its subject matter, yes, but beautifully, even hauntingly, rendered. I don’t know if anyone crafts prose better than McCarthy.
Women Talking – Miriam Toews
The subject matter of this book is both true and disturbing: mass sexual assaults in a tiny Mennonite town in Bolivia. Toews, whose previous works have grappled with the consequences of growing up (as she did) in an insular, conservative and patriarchal religious community, creates a fascinating treatise on the subject. Very strong writing, and bound for awards lists.
Not That Bad – Roxane Gay (Ed.)
A collection of non-fiction by straight women, gay women, trans women, queer women and, yes, some men, about rape culture.
Just Kids – Patti Smith
A warm-hearted, beautiful recollection of a bygone artistic era, specifically New York City back in the days of the Chelsea Hotel.