My ten favorite books that I read this year, in chronological order of finishing them:
Matthew Zoller Seitz, Mad Men Carousel
One of the most meticulously crafted and complex TV series of all time warrants a similarly comprehensive episode guide; Seitz, who recapped the series for Vulture.com in its later seasons, provides exactly that. As befitting the show itself, it nearly reads like the proverbial Great American Novel. I am so looking forward to re-watching the show while concurrently reading this again (perhaps in 2018? 2019?).
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life
The problem with 500+ page novels is that almost always, they would greatly benefit from not exceeding that page count (see Hallberg’s City On Fire, which might’ve made my top ten had it been 300 pages shorter). At just over 800 pages, Yanagihara’s widely acclaimed second novel is the rare long book I could read forever; it’s also one of the more brutal narratives I’ve ever read, with a protagonist whom repeatedly suffers abuse from others and, most disconcertingly, at his own hand. But Yanagihara’s prose is so assured in its openness, honesty and lyricism that this is easily my favorite book of the year.
Dana Spiotta, Innocents and Others
While not as sharp as her great last book Stone Arabia, Spiotta’s fourth novel wraps an ambitious, ingenuous, multi-decade spanning narrative in an almost impossibly succinct frame. It will appeal to art-film aesthetes (particularly Orson Welles buffs) as much as those fascinated by voyeurism, or the idea of trying on a false identity and seeing how far one can keep it up.
Brian Jay Jones, Jim Henson: The Biography
I’ve been waiting two years for this biography to come out in paperback so I could easily carry it with me on my commute everyday and lose myself in Henson’s extraordinary story. No one else apart from Charles Schulz was so influential in shaping my early childhood, particularly in the way pop culture informs how a child learns and comes to see the world. That Jones never obscures Henson’s all-too-human qualities provides essential depth to the book’s celebration of all his accomplishments.
Dave Holmes, Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs
Of the memoirs read this year, I’m not surprised that this one ended up one of my favorites. Former MTV-VJ Holmes has carved out a neat second act as an essayist/columnist in the past few years; in this book, his affable voice immediately draws you into his world, and you relate, even if you’re not a male, gay Gen-X-er who grew up closeted in the Midwest.
John Cleese, So, Anyway…
The other great memoir I read in 2016. Monty Python stalwart Cleese, as hilarious and self-deprecating as one would expect, tells his life story up until that troupe formed and changed television sketch comedy forever; fortunately, he has enough anecdotes and insights to sustain this sizable tome (hope he tackles the Python years in a sequel).
Jessi Klein, You’ll Grow Out of It
I suppose I’ll eventually read Amy Schumer’s essay collection, but I’m betting it won’t be as good as this one from the head writer on her Comedy Central show. Klein, like David Sedaris, is unflashy and fairly deadpan in her wit. Her conversational essays just seem to naturally unfold and are often riotously funny without straining for easy laffs, whether she’s describing something so lofty as attending the Academy Awards or commonplace as epidurals or internet porn.
Simon Reynolds, Shock and Awe
Years in the making, Reynolds’ epic study of 1970s glam rock could not have come out in a more timely manner, eight months after David Bowie’s death. However, for someone who has written great books about rave culture and post-punk/new wave, this could be his magnum opus, exploring every facet of this very particular music subgenre and somehow making it all sound equally interesting.
Emma Cline, The Girls
On the surface, this debut novel would seem to have a gimmick—it follows a 14-year-old girl who in 1969 joins a Charles Manson-like cult—but for all the obvious parallels it draws to real-life events, it feels like a compelling, original work. Cline focuses less on the lewd, sensational aspects lurking around the edges of this tale and more on her protagonist’s mindset with perceptiveness most impressive for a first novel. After finishing it, my first thought was that I would read anything this author will write.
Carolyn Parkhurst, Harmony
I’ve loved Parkhurst’s writing since The Dogs of Babel; after the slightly disappointing The Nobodies Album, she’s back in fine form on her fourth novel. From multiple points of view and shifts back and forth in time, she constructs an intriguing narrative about family, cult of personality, autism and what it means to really change a life—and what you both give up and gain in the process.
My complete 2016 Booklist, with titles in chronological order of when I finished reading them (starred entries are books I’ve re-read):
- Ben Watt, Patient
- Laline Paull, The Bees
- Matthew Zoller Seitz, Mad Men Carousel
- Jonathan Ames, I Pass Like Night
- Bill Bryson, The Road to Little Dribbling
- Michaelangelo Matos, The Underground is Massive
- Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life
- Karen Russell, Swamplandia!
- Dana Spiotta, Innocents and Others
- Andy Partridge, Complicated Game: Inside the Songs of XTC
- Owen Gleiberman, Movie Freak
- Kathryn Reed Altman and Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan, Altman
- Daniel Clowes, Patience
- Karl Ove Knausgard, My Struggle, Book Three: Boyhood
- Carrie Brownstein, Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl
- Augusten Burroughs, Lust and Wonder
- Robert K. Elder (ed.), The Best Film You’ve Never Seen
- Marilynne Robinson, Gilead*
- Brian Jay Jones, Jim Henson: The Biography
- Daniel Clowes, Wilson
- Alan Sepinwall, The Revolution Was Televised
- Jonathan Ames, Wake Up, Sir!
- David Rakoff, The Uncollected David Rakoff
- Steven Hyden, Your Favorite Band is Killing Me
- Dave Holmes, Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs
- Rachel Kushner, The Flame Throwers
- Robert Forster, The 10 Rules of Rock and Roll
- Chuck Klosterman, What If We’re Wrong?: Thinking About The Future As If It Were The Past
- Courtney J. Sullivan, Commencement
- David Mitchell, Slade House
- Caitlin Moran, Moranthology
- John Cleese, So, Anyway…
- Jessi Klein, You’ll Grow Out of It
- Frank Conniff, Twenty Five MST3K Films That Changed My Life In No Way Whatsoever
- Joel Kriofske, And Good Night To All The Beautiful Young Women
- Alan Sepinwall and Matthew Zoller Seitz, TV: The Book
- Patti Smith, M Train
- Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, Seinfeldia
- Garth Risk Hallberg, City On Fire
- Jennifer Saunders: Bonkers: My Life in Laughs
- Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five*
- Richard Brautigan, Revenge of the Lawn
- Simon Reynolds, Shock and Awe
- Jen Trynin, Everything I’m Cracked Up to Be*
- Emma Cline, The Girls
- Jonathan Lethem, A Gambler’s Anatomy
- Maria Semple, Today Will Be Different
- Lisa Hanawalt, Hot Dog Taste Test
- Carolyn Parkhurst, Harmony
- Alan Bennett, The Uncommon Reader
- David Sedaris, Holidays On Ice*
- John Gregory Dunne, The Studio
I also really enjoyed the compilation of Partridge interviews, Clowes’ latest graphic novel (nearly as good as Ghost World), Burroughs’ new memoir (easily his best since Dry), various-but-still-vital essays from the late, great Rakoff, Kushner’s enigmatic story about artists in 1970s New York, Smith’s peripatetic essays, Semple’s nearly-as-terrific follow-up to Where’d You Go, Bernadette? and finally, a memoir written by my cousin Joel about my great uncle Joe, a former FBI agent stricken with Alzheimer’s in his old age. I’m proud to see a Kriofske has published a book, for it gives me a little more hope that I can do the same one day.