There are, no doubt, a few people who love Donald Trump, hate music, don’t like zoo animals and despise beloved actors and actresses. For the rest of us, 2016 was terrible.
This calls for distractions. We asked Fiction Advocate contributors to tell us which books they read this year that helped them forget, even for fleeting moments, that David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Gwen Ifill, Prince, and America — UPDATE: and George Michael and Carrie Fisher and her mom, Debbie Reynolds — died over the last 12 months.
In what may be the only happy coincidence of the year, the vast majority of the recommendations below come from a few people who have some of the most important things to say about 2016: strong, smart women. And their suggestions include a large number of strong, smart women to help you deal with the year that’s passed, and what’s ahead.
Now come with me, and you’ll be, in a land of pure imagination. One where you can forget that we also lost Gene Wilder in 2016…
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. I was transported to the mid-1950s, to the Connecticut suburbs with Frank and April Wheeler, who are full of hope and optimism and lies and spiritual emptiness. The story swept me up, along with the beautifully crafted sentences on every single page.
The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner. Again, I willingly escaped to 1975 and the New York art scene, and Reno, a gal from Nevada, who knows how to ride a motorcycle really fast. Reno is captivating and complicated, with her nearly blank slate youth pressed up against her gutsy cycle racing that turns into an art form.
Outline by Rachel Cusk. Ten conversations form this novel, and slowly, patiently, the narrator, who is teaching a creative writing class in Athens, reveals herself. It reminded me how much is to be gained by listening.
Four Reincarnations: Poems by Max Ritvo. A lot of wonderful people died in 2016, including the great poet Max Ritvo. Max died in August, and his book didn’t come out until the fall, but reading Max’s incredible poems didn’t leave me aching with loss but only made me feel closer to him and to all those I’d lost this year, as if all it takes is the right words to connect across the transom. Max’s poems shook and reminded me to enjoy this incredible and beautiful life on this side of the universe.
Shrill by Lindy West. God bless Lindy West. Shrill is the manual on how to survive as a woman in the 21st century. Lindy uses a beautiful mix of honesty and humor to tackle issues from body image to abortion to misogynistic internet trolls. While many of the issues Lindy writes about left me depressed — we are really still dealing with this shit in 2016? — her essays serve as a reminder that you’re not alone. We’re all dealing with this shit together.
All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister. The future is female, and Rebecca Traister knows it. I read this book in the spring, before Hillary Clinton had even received the Democratic nomination, and it energized me to feel that women were on their way to ruling the world. Now, months later, we know the results of the 2016 election, but All the Single Ladies still fills me with hope. Rebecca writes about the advances we’ve made, but also the set backs, and the power of female friendship as the motor that keeps progress going. We will keep fighting. The future is still female.
Undone by John Colapinto. This novel is a taboo plunge into the seedy shadows of male sexual desire, a tawdry pulp novel told in an addicting literary voice.
Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear. If you grew up on Potter’s books, or if you have even a passing interest in art, botany, children’s literature, or England’s Lake District, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more soothing book than this one.
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. Regency romance with magic and dragons. I have worn out the word “delightful” when describing this to my friends. If you’re into audiobooks, this one is outstanding.
Hungry Like the Wolf by Paige Tyler. The seemingly endless permutations of urban fantasy and paranormal romance are a constant source of joy to me; even if I don’t read them all, I like knowing about them. Tyler’s werewolf SWAT team series is actually worth reading; its humor, likable characters, and lucid action sequences make it a perfect escapist treat.
Author of MORT(E) and Culdesac, books about animals rising up to destroy the humans.
The Nonreligious: Understanding Secular People and Societies by Phil Zuckerman, Luke W. Galen, and Frank L. Pasquale (Author). One of the most infuriating aspects of 2016 was the overwhelming support that traditional Christian churches offered to a lying, womanizing, greedy, hateful Presidential candidate. But there is a revolution taking place: more Americans are simply walking away from Christianity, while many others have stopped believing but remain nominal churchgoers, eager to challenge the backward tendencies that laid the groundwork for a Trump victory. Zuckerman and company break down this demographic shift, revealing a growing movement that a Trump administration cannot stop, and will probably only accelerate.
Answered all the questions you were too afraid to ask about Wittgenstein’s Mistress. Her work has also appeared in The New Republic, The New Yorker, Salon and Vice. Her first book, How to Disappear Completely: On Modern Anorexia, is out in paperback.
The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy. The heroine is often insufferably whimsical but it is really funny.
The Magus by John Fowles. I kind of hate-read this. Despite the fact that I’m not a seventeen-year-old boy, I ended up being pretty engaged, even when the story made my eyes roll so hard they nearly fell out of my head.
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue. About a nurse sent to tend to a young girl with anorexia mirabilis (or so they think) in 19th century Ireland. Not at all like my real life, which is exactly what I’ve been aiming for this whole blighted year.
Fiction Advocate’s music critic, despite his last name.
To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar and Apocalypse by Thundercat. I’m counting these two as one entry because they are inextricably linked in my mind. Kendrick Lamar’s incredible album likely needs no introduction or explanation at this point (although if you haven’t spent some time with it, stop what you are doing and get on it), and the album cover makes me so happy.
Thundercat might need an intro. He plays extensively on To Pimp a Butterfly and has a producer credit, and he’s an incredibly important part of that groundbreaking sound. I actually heard his album Apocalypse first, and couldn’t get enough – you may remember Tron Song, a beautiful and haunting track with an…unforgettable music video. Also, check out “Oh Sheit It’s X.” When I listened to this music, I would briefly become unaware that it was 2016.
Son Little. Son Little crept up on me and wouldn’t get out of my head. His self-titled debut album is full of creative and soulful tracks, check the whole thing out here. Special highlights for me include the unforgettable “Lay Down,” and the harder driving track “The River.” When I listened to this music I would, for a few minutes, forget that the year was 2016, and stop stocking my bunker with canned goods long enough to enjoy the music.
Midnight Marauders by A Tribe Called Quest. I’m not sure what it is about this album, but I almost always had it on stand-by this year. It’s a classic, it’s solid through and through, it’s a chill 95 bpm, it harkens back to a more innocent time, and I love it. Phife Dawg was one of the many significant artists that left us this year (#fuckyou2016), and Tribe released a new and final album at the year’s end.
Go listen to the whole thing here, or if you just want a taste, I’d reccommend Electric Relaxation. When I listened to this music, I would remain convinced that it was 1993 for a good hour or two, before someone would turn on the news and my ears and eyes would start to bleed again.
Fiction Advocate founder, editor and all-around nice guy. Like, California-level nice. The recommendations below are just a few of the books Brian thought were the best of 2016.
Sudden Death by Alvaro Enrigue. If you think Trump is bad, you should meet a few 16th-century popes. Sudden Death reminded me that history is enormous, Europe plundered the bejesus* out of Mexico, purity is a lie and miscegenation is a virtue, and the opposite of a villain is a troublemaker.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith. This novel pretends to be about a lot of things — race, dancing, government housing, international philanthropy, the evils of stardom — but it’s really about three wildly different women who define strength in their own ways. I’m with her and her and her.
Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett. These days, when I retreat deep into my thoughts, I’m mostly just imitating Claire-Louise Bennett. Her narrator experiences more of life while talking to herself during a bath in a rainstorm than most people experience all year. This book showed me that I still have plenty of paths to walk inside myself.
*Editor’s note (from a different editor): One might argue that Europe plundered the bejesus into Mexico. -MM
A final note:
Many bad things happened in 2016, and most of them were far too tragic to be ignored or laughed at in any way. Here are some groups you should consider supporting — some that help people directly, some that study things to make the world better and more fair; some you may feel passionately about, some you may disagree with — to help make 2017 much better. In no particular order:
Please leave other suggestions in the comments.