I had a very merry Christmas. I hope yours was too. In this last week of 2016, I’ve been reflecting on the past year. With the contentious election, it’s been a tumultuous year. But, throughout, I’ve kept reading and listening as I am sure you have. In my life, books are a comfort, a friend, a teacher, and a motivator.
So, what were the best books I read this year? It’s hard to pick, but here’s my short list: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, Garden for the Blind by Kelly Fordon, Once in a Great City by David Maraniss, Sharyn McCrumb’s Prayers the Devil Answers, Life after Life by Kate Atkinson, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I am sure you are familiar with most of these because they were very popular, but I also read some lesser-known titles that are well worth reading.
I encourage you to pick up any title by Sharyn McCrumb. I think she is one of the most under-appreciated authors of our time. McCrumb interweaves historical events, folklore, and folk ballads into her contemporary novels about mountain life. Her She Walks this Hills explores the real events surrounding Mary Draper Ingles’ abduction by Indians that were documented in the classic novel Follow the River and juxtaposes them against a modern-day story of an escaped convict hiding in the same mountains. You can read her books in any order.
If you’ve read any of the many books published recently on Detroit, most of them are pretty depressing. But, the nonfiction title Once in a Great City documents Detroit in 1963 when the city was doing well and the future looked bright. It is a hopeful book and if you grew up in the 60s as I did, it’s really fun to read. Lastly, in fiction, I also recommend two other Michigan novels, Garden for the Blind : Stories and Station Eleven. Garden for the Blind is set in Detroit and an affluent suburb (Grosse Pointe, perhaps?) and it deals with the problems of teens who have too much, too soon, without enough guidance. This book is worth reading just for the last chapter. Station Eleven is a quirky little book and is the One Book, One Community read for Monroe County which will be held in the spring of 2017. It is a post-apocalyptic tale set in the near future after a flu pandemic where most people died. People in Michigan live in small bands, mainly along the coasts, and just try to survive. The interior is pretty scary and people try not to go there as civilization has regressed to medieval times. There is a small band of Shakespearean actors and symphony musicians who travel around doing shows. Their motto is “Survival is Insufficient.” This novel is about the resiliency of the human race and the need for the humanities. It’s very thought-provoking and spurred a really good discussion at my book club.
Happy New Year!