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Shelby Foote, The Civil War

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, or the Whale

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2016: My Year in Books

Despite all the unfortunate things 2016 brought us (and there have been many), I declare my relationship with the printed word a success. By my count, in 2016 I read 28 books, not counting a few technical medical books, multiple reference books that I haven’t read every word of but have perused heavily, and a large quantity of short stories and essays. I love essays of every form, and would guess that if I could add them all together, the books I have read would make up less than half my total reading for the year.

So, as I said, a good year. Books are a friend to me; I know I have read more books this past year than seen complete movies. The only long form of entertainment that gave books serious competition was football. Probably in 2016 I have seen more complete football games than read books. Maybe.

At any rate, here is the complete list, in the order that I read them:

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
Hamlet, William Shakespeare
The Now Habit, Neil Fiore, PhD
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
Idiot America, Charles P. Pierce
Seven Last Words, James Martin, SJ
Thank You for Smoking, Christopher Buckley
How to Publish Your Book, Jane Friedman
Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn
10% Happier, Dan Harris
Deep South, Paul Theroux
The Finkler Question, Howard Jacobson
The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach
Half of a Yellow Sun, Chinamdanda Ngozi Adichie
The Stranger, Albert Camus
Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer
Talking to Crazy, Mark Goulson, MD
How to Retire with Enough Money, Teresa Ghildarucci
You Are Not So Smart, David McRaney
Lifelong Writing Habit, Chris Fox
Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson
Moby-Dick, Herman Melville
The Addictive Brain, Thad A. Polk, Ph.D.
The Revenant, Michael Punke
Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies, Roy Peter Clark
Dispatches from Pluto, Richard Grant
The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien

For me, the best of this bunch, in no particular order (because I am not the type that ranks everything -- I think equally highly of many books), are Moby-Dick, All the Light We Cannot See, Revolutionary Road, and of course Hamlet.

Moby-Dick was a re-read -- I first read it one summer during high school. It was much better than I remember. Moby Dick, though very long, has to be read patiently. Melville’s prose is not easy to get through, but despite his long-windedness he never wastes a word. It is possible to misunderstand an entire chapter for want of a single sentence, or even a single word. That was the surprise of my Moby-Dick experience, that Melville is so precise. Like the true master he is, he means what he says and says nothing more than he means. My advice: Take it slowly! Rushing through Moby-Dick makes about as much sense as taking Christmas dinner standing up with a 5 minute egg timer and a shovel. You take it at the pace it wants to come, and it rewards that patience with vast treasures.

 All the Light We Cannot See was a luminous joy. Because it was unexpected: I had never heard of Anthony Doerr before, and yet I found that his tale of a blind girl eluding the Nazis in World War II France, despite the dark setting, lightened my heart. Perfect winter reading.

I would also like to acknowledge Dispatches from Pluto, a memoir of a British writer’s experience of moving to the Mississippi Delta. It was funny, and, as a Mississippi resident, I can vouch for its truth.

Finally, as a writer let me salute Bird by Bird, a book that most non-writers will never read, because it is about the craft of writing. Lamott’s memoir/advice book on the art of writing is funny, joyful, harrowing, and most of all hopeful. It put a spark in my pen (or keyboard) this year, and for this I am grateful to Ms. Lamott, a rare writer who knows how to be both harrowing and hilarious at the same time.

I look forward to 2017, and another 30 or so books. I have to finish the last two books of Lord of the Rings (another re-reading from childhood), and beyond that, my nightstand runneth over. Waiting to be read are, among others, My Brilliant Friend, When Breath Becomes Air, The Long Loneliness, The Prize, many splendid things by Michael Chabon, Marilynn Robinson's Housekeeping, Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, and who knows what surprises life will bring me.

My eyes are ready to behold the world.

Have a happy New Year, and read well and often.

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