One of the benefits of the long holiday break is plenty of time to read between belly-busting meals. The real problem is deciding exactly what to read.
To help in that decision, the HAC faculty have picked our favorite reads of 2016. To clarify, these are not necessarily what we think of as the “best books” of 2016, and all of them may not have even been published this past year. Still, our hope is that they may provide you with a fun pick or two, if not an entire reading list.
Dr. Jeanette Goddard
My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman
An almost 8-year-old young Harry Potter lover is grieving the death of her grandmother. Through the fairy tales that her grandmother told her, Elsa comes to understand the connection between story and life and how the fairy tale world that her grandmother created provides the key to “protecting the castle.”
Dr. Cassandra Bausman
The most fun I had this year in books was with Jennifer Lee Carrell’s Kate Stanley series (Interred with Their Bones and Haunt Me Still). Kate’s an academic, an early modernist who has fled to living Shakespeare as a director of stage performance instead and, as scholars are wont to do, naturally finds herself caught up in various Shakespeare-themed mysteries, quests, and thrills (the first centers around a hunt for a lost play, the second, an investigation into Macbeth and its magic, with hopefully more to come). They’re sort of Dan Brown-esque in their pastiche of history and conspiracy and globe-trotting puzzle-piecing, but here 1) there’s more women 2) there’s better prose and 3) the academics adventuring behave more like academics (ie, more musing and running to libraries and rifling through notes and manuscripts than gunplay, without lessening the stakes or the tension). Thoroughly entertaining, if admittedly not without their problems.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
The best audiobook was Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. The first in the Wayfarers series—a motley crew travelling the universe and tunneling wormholes, having adventures and cultural conversations/understanding as all the chaos bonds them closer together—this space opera is great company for your own travels. If you like the family-is-the-one-you-make-in-the-reaches-of-space vibe of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, you’ll like this feel-good sci-fi winner.
Professor Sarah Zimmer
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Well, I hate to say it, but this year I spent more time with “how to” manuals, “This Old House” magazine, and weird academic papers on the ever-changing context of the photo….which I found very interesting, but I doubt the majority will. While I didn’t delve into a lengthy novel, I did keep several short stories by my side. This was one was my favorites.
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino is divided into journal-like entries on cities visited by Marco Polo. Just imagine traveling through a series of MC Escher drawings. The larger context of the book is that he is sharing the stories with the great Kublai Khan, so imagine some rather “big fish” scenarios occurring. Still, with all of the absurd, surreal landscapes that Calvino throws at the reader, there remains an element of relatability — a city that you have visited or a journey that you have taken that seems all too familiar.
Professor Justin Bock
Flash Boys by Michael Lewis
I read Flash Boys, a book by Michael Lewis about the invasion of high frequency trading on investing. The book explores the effects this new mode of high tech trading had on Wall Street and one group’s efforts to level the playing field.
Professor Deb Blaz
As a big Austen fan, and of the many permutations done to her works (except the Zombies one), Pride and Prejudice was just updated to Cincinnati, Ohio in the book Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. It was fun to see the characters appear and what was done to give a 2016 twist to the characters and events (the best example would be that “Chip” Bingley is a contestant on a Bachelor-style reality show called Eligible, hence the title). Otherwise, still a ditzy, social-climbing mother trying to marry off her daughters, a dad with some really laconic zingers from time to time, etc.
Professor Amy Nicholls
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty was an emotional read for me. The characters in the novel are so engaging (and heartbreakingly real) that once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. The basic premise is that everyone has a secret…everyone. Some are bigger than others, but they all create a “reality” that is far from true.
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell is probably my favorite nonfiction author. His conversational style is smart and approachable. His newest book was my favorite audiobook of the year. The best thing about this audiobook–David and Goliath–is that the author reads it himself. His voice is quirky and coupled with his unique research style, this book about the advantages of being the underdog is inspiring.
I also thoroughly enjoyed rereading the Bible for my Bible as Literature course, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in preparation for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
Dr. Sarah Young
The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami
One of my 2016 favorites was The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami. After a disastrous 1527 expedition to what is now the U.S Southwest, Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca wrote the official narrative – essentially a long series of excuses to the Spanish King. Lalami retells the story from the perspective of Estebanico, a Morrocan slave barely mentioned in the original account. I’ve read Cabeza de Vaca’s narrative because I had to. I read Lalami’s book because I couldn’t put it down. The carefully-researched historical detail makes the unbelievable adventure (and the cruel realities of empire-building) come to life.
Professor Justin Young
I enjoy reading Hollywood behind-the-scenes books because they inform me on the inner workings of the industry, and I enjoy reading biographies of successful people because I feel like I learn key insights. Graham’s book fits both categories, so I was predisposed to like it, but I ended up loving it. Yes, she has undeniable charisma on screen in TV shows such as Gilmore Girls and Parenthood, or films such as Bad Santa and Evan Almighty, but here she shows how much of that charisma is genuinely hers and not simply clever writers. Graham’s voice is warm, inviting, and genuine in a way that so polarizes many Hollywood bios which are carefully constructed. Her crisp writing makes you feel like you’re reminiscing with an old high school friend, or maybe simply Lorelai Gilmore.
Art of Atari by Tim Lapetino
Over the years I’ve collected a number of coffee table books, but this has quickly become one of my favorites. While there is history mixed in here, the real draw is the wonderful artwork used to advertise Atari games. See, there was a time when video game graphics were so poor that the only way you knew that single pixel was supposed to be a knight was from the cover artwork. Here it’s examined often from concept to finished piece with beautiful full-color pieces that echo the influences of the time from Star Wars in sci-fi-fi to Rankin/Bass’ The Hobbit in fantasy. This isn’t just fun for video game fans, but students of culture and art alike.