Y2016 was a busy year. We had our third child, but somehow I still found time to read a slightly larger than normal volume of books. Here is my list:
- The Death of Grass by John Christoper (currently reading)
- South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami (this is a re-read)
- Soul Circus by George Pelecanos
- So Long, See you Tomorrow by William Maxwell
- A Short History of Reconstruction by Eric Foner
- A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
- Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution by Laurent Dubois
- News of the World by Paulette Jiles
- The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between by Hisham Matar
- Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
- Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas by Sylviane A. Diouf
- Hell to Pay by George Pelecanos
- Goat Days by Benyamin
- Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City by Jonathan Mahler
- The Sympathizer by Viet Thahn Nguyen
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
- Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown
- A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
- The Land at the End of the World by António Lobo Antunes
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- Youngblood by Matt Gallagher
- The Snakeshead: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream by Patrick Radden Keefe
- In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
- Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones
- Sahara Unveiled: A Journey Across the Desert by William Langewiesche
- Right as Rain by George Pelecanos
- The Martian by Andy Weir
While I did read some very good books, I wouldn’t say that there were any must reads this year. I probably got the most from non-fiction, with highlights being: The Snakeshead, an amazing story of a Chinese woman who became a billionaire illegally bringing Fujianese Chinese to the U.S.; Sahara Unveiled about a trip across the desert; Servants of Allah about the many African slaves in the Americas who were Muslims and carried their religion with them; Sapiens about the history of humankind and our evolution put into a behavioral/political/historical context; and A Short History of Reconstruction about, you guessed it, the period after the Civil War when the U.S. tried to rebuild the divided nation and economy based on free labor and find a place for recently freed slaves, marked by white supremacist violence and terrorism.
There were a handful of good novels including Youngblood, A Homegoing, Goat Days, and a General Theory of Oblivion. There was also an underlying – though not intentional – theme of African American lives which included the aforementioned non-fiction about Muslims in America and Reconstruction and the novel A Homegoing. Even Goat Days is a story about slavery. I also read Edward P. Jones’ excellent short stories about D.C,. Lost in the City. But probably my best read of the year was Claude Brown’s semi-autobiographical Manchild in the Promised Land.
And, whenever I needed a break from my ambitious list, I could always turn to the D.C. crime writer George Pelecanos. Though most of his books are similar in theme, characters and stories they are so easy and enjoyable to read, especially as a Washingtonian.
Finally, I finished the year off by re-reading Haruki Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun. It was never my favorite of his novels, but there were three pieces of narrative in the novel that always stuck with me and that I wanted to revisit:
But I didn’t understand then that I could hurt somebody so badly she would never recover. That a person can, just by living, damage another human being beyond repair.
Izumi wasn’t the only one who got hurt. I hurt myself deeply, though at the time I had no idea how deeply. I should have learned many things from that experience, when I look back on it, all I gained was one single, undeniable fact. That ultimately I am a person who can do evil. I never consciously tried to hurt anyone, yet good intentions notwithstanding, when necessity demanded, I could become completely self-centered, even cruel. I was the kind of person who could, using some plausible excuse, inflict on a person I cared for a wound that would never heal.
Every time we met, I took a good long look at her. And I loved what I saw.
“Why are you staring at me?” she’d ask.
“Cause you’re pretty,” I’d reply.
“You’re the first one who’s ever said that.”
“I’m the only one who know,” I’d tell her. “And believe me, I know.”
. . . for no particular reason.