We bid adieu to 2016 more than 15 days ago, and as I sit down to think about the books I remember from 2016, there are a few that I find lurking in the corners of my mind and taking up residence in my heart.
It’s not surprising since I read a lot. How much? Well, over 200. 284 according to Google’s account keeping. Some of the books are shorter than what I’m used to reading, or mangas, or graphic novels. But still, even if only 50% of the books were “novel length”, 142 is nothing to sneeze at.
Overall, I feel good about my reading year. Having adopted the policy of DNFing books I did not enjoy, I found that I still managed to pick out books that I thoroughly enjoyed. Part of that, I think, is because I’ve become more aware of what types of books I enjoy.
However, the hazard of devouring 200 some odd books is that some of them fade with time. I can pick up books I read in 2016 and feel an emotional echo to what I felt while reading it, but for some of the books, I can’t remember the plot, the characters, or even what I liked about the book.
And that’s okay. But there were a few that I kept taking off from my mental shelves, shaking the dust from the covers, and opening them back up again so I can distill what this book means to me.
And when I think hard about what those books meant to me, I came to realize that they were books exploring relationships. Now, eyes are going to roll because c’mon, most books are about relationships in one form or another. However, this is the year where my favorite reads revolved around the beautiful, messy, and uncomfortable relationships that come with being part of a family.
Many of these books are on others top books of the year, because they are brilliant and important and should be read. And I love them for the same reasons: they are poignant, they explore meaning of life, they are important, they are timely, etc.
But my personal reason for loving them? They are beautiful, heart breaking accounts of family relationships.
Starting with the nonfiction, I will always remember Sue Klebold’s A Mother’s Reckoning, which is her way of addressing the question: how could the parents not realize their son was about to shoot a school? Sue Klebold puts her relationship and family life pre-Columbine under a microscope, combing through the smallest details until she comes to the heartwrenching conclusion that she could not see any warning signs because a) Dylan did not exhibit the obvious markers, and b) nobody ever taught Sue Klebold what to look for. The book is a frank and soul baring look at a mother-son relationship and a look back at how Klebold had to regain her relationship with Dylan after his death. It is about denouncing a child’s actions but still loving the child, about accepting that your child is perpetrator and victim both, and how to navigate the world where you are defined by your child’s actions.
The Art of Waiting by Belle Boggs is a woman’s journey into the world of fertility treatment and an examination at the biological desire for a child. The author explores what it means to have difficulty conceiving, both in a person and a scientific fashion. It is hard for me to put into words exactly what this book meant to me, but I think it’s the way Belle Boggs gives a voice that longing for a child and shows just how far some women are willing to stretch their bodies in order to become a mother.
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCraken is one of those books that I finished in a day. It is not a long book, but it packs a punch. Elizabeth McCraken writes a memorial to her lost first child as well as a love song for her child child. She explores what the loss of her firstborn meant to her, and how it impacted her identity as a mother, and more importantly, her relationship with her second child.
Moving onto the fiction, again I notice that a lot of the books I remember is about how people in a family relate to each other.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers takes the theme of “your family is whom you surround yourself with” and creates an entertaining space ship rom com that is full of laughter but still filled of poignant moments. It highlights the difficulty of people coming together from different cultures, but moreover, it’s a celebration of everyone’s desire to be accepted for whom they are. Behind the adventures, the funny LOL moments, the book celebrates the messy process of people from different cultures becoming a family, supporting each other, and accepting each other for whom they are.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang is all about women’s right to choose what to do with their own bodies and how society reacts to an expression of that right. But to me, it is also about how family members react when someone they’ve grown up with acts out of the “norm”. It is about being confused, being shocked, and then deciding whether you can continue to love and accept that person, no matter how different they are from what you expect them to be.
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang, translated by Chi-Young Kim with illustrations by Nomoco just broke my heart and made me weep. It is about the desire to be a mother, the lengths a parent will go to protect their children, and how to love a child who is different from you.
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire is an ode to the portal fantasy genre. The things that I loved the fact that the there is an asexual female protagonist who still forms relationships with the people around her, and the fact that the book trumpets acceptance for all worldviews. But for me, the moments I remember the most are ones where we see how each child’s family reacted when they came back from that other world.
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf is a slim, quiet book that speaks of the common desire for a connection. It is rare that a book contains not just one, but two, elderly protagonists. They have already loved and lost, already raised children, and are at the tail end of their lives. But instead of being content with the occasional visit from their ever increasing children, the two protagonists take it into their hands to seek the companionship that they way. And of course, the book looks at how society and their children react to them shattering the idea that the elderly have no desires, that they should be quietly content to fade into nothingness.
Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa, translated by Edward Gauvin is another book looking at the loss of a child. In this graphic novel, the parents receive a sign that their young son will die. The mother accepts this while the father does not. Enraged by this fate, he becomes determined to take his son and escape death. And so he takes the child away on an adventure, seeking ways to keep him safe from Death. And ultimately, he realizes that he can’t outrun death and that, in fact, the actions he took to protect his son are causing his son to be unhappy.
As 2017 starts, I can’t wait to see what books stick with me this year. I do know that I’ll be making a conscious effort to read more nonfiction on politics and current events, but that’s a post for another day.