Thursday, December 29, 2016

Ten Best Books I Read in 2016

So, yes, 2016 has not been an active year for me when it came to blogging, but it is definitely something I am strongly planning to reconsider. My networking roots come from writing and blogging, which began as an offspring from my high school column and Caponomics has been active on Blogger since 2011. Unfortunately, this year, I have only written and released four posts. Much of my time and energy has been shifted toward Literary Gladiators on my YouTube (more specifically Booktube) channel, which has garnered 630 subscribers and is closing in on 30,000 views. Most importantly, though, I have met some outstanding people and made some great friends through Literary Gladiators. I would think that not releasing any new posts would see a decline in viewership on this blog, but to my surprise, I am still picking up at least 1,000 views per month and my discussions about literature and other topics still seem to be attracting readers. I may use this blog to critically discuss different things I read, like I did with my post of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on this blog. These posts would be subject to spoilers and serve as discussions, but with my four posts from this year picking up at least 100 views each, something of that nature may be worth it.

As for the books themselves, I completed 32 complete books and a few smaller selections. Out of the 32 complete books, I put together a list of my ten favorites. I am doing this on my Booktube channel as well, but it seems like writing down my thoughts has always been a great way to allow my thoughts to flow before I went forward with talking about them. This year, my top four books obtained five stars, while the others were in the four and a half to four star range based on my Goodreads reviews. Without further due, let's get right to the list.

#10- Great French Short Stories by Paul Negri- During the month of February, I spent the entire month reading works of French literature, for it was something I was looking to familiarize myself with and what better away to acquaint myself than with short works of theirs. While there were so many fine authors, the ones that stuck out to me the most included "The Attack on the Mill" by Emile Zola, "Micromegas" by Voltaire, and "Mateo Falcone" by Prosper Merimee. Not only does this collection give French literature a solid ground, but it also allows readers to learn more about Emile Zola, Voltaire, Guy de Maupassant, Gustave Flaubert, and others without reading their larger testaments. I became familiar with Zola's straightforward use of realism and naturalism by reading his story and admired his brutal honesty about the human species so much that I went forward and read The Fortune of the Rougons later in the year as a buddy read with Ely from Ely Jayne. I think that reading shorter collections is a great way to diversify in reading and this less expensive one is quite a gem.

#9- I Am Legend by Richard Matheson- Richard Matheson is brilliant! Along with Ray Bradbury, I feel that Matheson is the most important speculative fiction writer on the note that both of them write stories and novels, but yet they do not conform to any specific genre. One could assume that Bradbury's works have a science fiction leaning, while Matheson leans toward the horror genre. Nevertheless, I Am Legend is an accomplishment in how it shapes vampire fiction. In this novel, Robert Neville is a war veteran and also the only remaining human not affected by a bacilli that wiped out the population and/or turned them into zombie-like vampires, which leads to Matheson's being accredited as a pioneer of zombie fiction. Most people are familiar with the film adaptation where Will Smith stars as Neville, but there are key differences between the two. To sum it up briefly, Robert Neville in the original Matheson novel is a common man that is practicing survival skills because he needs to, while most of the characters around him play a minimal role, which includes the dog. While Neville in the movie has a background as a doctor, Neville in the book researches as a basic method of survival. I really like this original novel, for I feel that any person can stand in the shoes of Neville and imagine themselves in his situation. Richard Matheson IS legend.

#8- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee- Harper Lee passed away this February, a little less than a year after her only other novel, Go Set a Watchman, was released. I never read To Kill a Mockingbird back in high school, but read it this year in order to prepare for a discussion on Literary Gladiators. I am really glad that I read this, for this novel gave me a great idea of the American South and how very few details have actually changed from its formation to the present day. The story of Jean Louise "Scout" Finch, her brother Jem, and their dad, Atticus, and his efforts to save a black man on trial named Tom Robinson who was accused of raping Mayella Ewell is one that is bound to spark a reaction no matter who you are. I can also say that the biggest piece of excrement I have come across in any work of literature happens to be Mayella's dad, Bob. Bob Ewell is lazy, racist, threatening, and abusive toward children. These are ALL qualities I despise, but in a way this form of hatred is what leads me to care for Scout and the stories of her brother and dad even more. I am definitely one that would argue in favor of keeping this novel on the curriculum, for it does the greatest job in getting under one's skin in talking about history and racism and how it is really not too different in many areas.

#7- The Crucible by Arthur Miller- I originally read The Crucible during my junior year of high school and the project we were assigned for this play was to create a comic about it. I had a fun time using Google images to find the closest things that came to certain details, like Abigail drinking the chicken's blood being a picture of a blond party girl drinking a red alcoholic beverage. While I studied the play, I felt like I wanted to return to read it a bit more closely and as a reader as oppose to a junior in high school that was only looking at it for a grade. While this novel certainly has its quirks, such as inaccurate information that is meant to be historical, I felt that the message can be deemed as relevant to the Salem Witch Trials in the 1690s as it is to when it was written during the Joseph McCarthy era and on top of that be as relevant today. John Proctor, the play's central character, seems like such a decent, live and let live kind of guy that has his flaws, but THAT is why readers can relate to him. Between the church and its religious authority, the court and its lawful authority, and the teenaged girls and their desire to "do God's duty," the antagonizing forces accusing people of witchcraft go after the common sense in society. The eternal idea that everyone feels it is within their ability to play God contradicts the true meaning of God and his will and THIS is what makes this play brilliant.

#6- A Time to Kill by John Grisham- John Grisham is rightfully a successful author for his ability to use his knowledge in law and politics to create top quality works, while engaging in deep research to flesh out the areas where he is not as knowledgeable. A Time to Kill was his very first novel, which follows a black man named Carl Lee Hailey who is on trial for shooting two men while they were on trial for raping his daughter, Tonya. His lawyer, Jake Brigance, is willing to serve as his lawyer against all of the odds. The case takes place in Mississippi, where there is still racial tension and a looming presence of the KKK. Like To Kill a Mockingbird, A Time to Kill explores how things have not gone away for good in 1989. Also like the Harper Lee novel, A Time to Kill makes one think heavily about race and I held a great amount of sympathy for Carl Lee Hailey. Despite the fact that there is no way around the fact Carl Lee killed the men, wouldn't the idea of one's children or loved ones being unjustifiably hurt impair anyone's judgment? After reading this, I learned so much about the court system from someone that clearly knows what they are talking about.

#5- Night by Elie Wiesel- Elie Wiesel's Night is an accomplishment in how it tells a direct story about the Holocaust from someone who survived it. Wiesel does not just tell his story, though, but also those that did not survive. I have read a few accounts about the Holocaust or of stories that took place in Nazi Germany or during World War II, but there was something about this memoir that really proved to be straightforward and simply told things as they are. Wiesel cleared up certain details I was not too aware of, such as the fact that fellow Jews and other "undesirables" in the eyes of Hitler ran the camps. While I was aware of the fact that those found least useful to the Nazis were killed first and those found to be a threat were killed on the spot, the details at hand were still quite powerful and saddening. Wiesel told his story the way he felt it was meant to be told in the way he felt it should be told. The nature of the book felt like being locked in a cold, concrete room, but that is exactly how it is meant to be. Wiesel would go on to carry the burden of those that did not survive and made it his lifelong mission to tell their story. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 and just passed away in July. Wiesel's Night will remain an important work that chronicles a moment in history that everyone needs to be aware.

#4- Sleepwalkers by Nicole Lanier Montez- I met Nicole Lanier Montez at the Collingswood Book Festival in 2014 while I was with the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers, promoting our anthology, Speculations from New Jersey. This was a purchase that I made while I was there and I am certainly glad that I made such a selection. Montez's area of interest when it comes to her poetry is societal injustice, where she writes about race, violence, poverty, prostitution, dysfunctional upbringings, and so much more. A poem of hers that clearly stuck out to me was "Xtra Naked," which explores race and how one could really distinguish the difference between skin color. This poetry collection is one that should be sparking discussion the way that poetry in its resurgence is sparking. Just about every poem in here is bound to spark a reaction and I really thought a lot about societal injustice upon reading this. I feel that more people need to become familiar with Montez and how brilliant she truly is when it comes to her artistry with words and her ability to give them powerful meaning.

#3- The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi- I read the first Persepolis as a buddy read with Michelle from MichEllisLife on Booktube, while I read the second on a own these past few days. In this graphic novel formed from multiple comic strips, we follow Satrapi's life of how she grows up in Iran and attempts to make something of herself in a country where women are seen as inferior and as potential distractions to men if not covered properly. Right from the beginning, Satrapi demonstrates the attitude that as a human being, she has the opportunity to be what ever it is she wishes to be. The fact she set high expectations for herself and did not let gender get into the way is a great accomplishment within itself. The first book chronicles her childhood up until her moving to Austria, while the second book cover her failed stay in Austria, return to Iran, and right into her adulthood. Eventually, we get a foundation as to what direction she wants to take in accomplishing her goals and we just about get the idea as to what is bound to follow. Satrapi's story is so powerful that it has the ability to make you laugh just as it has the opportunity to make you choke up or feel anger. The illustration is very much witty the way that Maus and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian were. The fact that I learned much more about the Middle East from an Iranian's perspective was also a great accomplishment. Persepolis is another graphic novel that succeeds at catching my interest and provides a sense of eager feelings when it comes to exploring more graphic texts.

#2- A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk- I read A Strangeness in My Mind as another buddy read with Michelle from MichEllisLife on Booktube and she suggested it as it was a nominee for the International Man Booker Prize and I am certainly glad she made such a selection! This work of Turkish literature follows the life and times of Mevlut, who moves with his father to work on the streets as a yogurt and boza seller. As time goes by, so does society, and selling things on the street presents its challenges. At the same time, he falls for a girl at a wedding, but is tricked into marrying her sister. This really sets up the stage for the events to come in Mevlut's life. At the beginning of the book, one can find a family tree, which reveals details as to when certain characters are born, who they marry, their children, and inevitably when they die in the event that they die. While these may be viewed as spoilers, the "what" and "when" are overshadowed in interest by the "why" and "how" and while Orhan Pamuk may be the kind of driver that takes back roads and paths you would have not figured out, I can guarantee that the routes Pamuk took made for an outstanding experience. Most of the events do take place in chronological order, though. What Pamuk really succeeds at is giving us a greater, more clearer understanding of Turkish culture while also making it accessible to a global audience. I found the point of view that was possessed on the topic of 9/11 to be quite thought-provoking, which is exactly what a good novel is supposed to do. Pamuk is a Nobel Prize winning author for a reason and I am definitely inclined to pick up more of what he has to offer.

#1- Demian by Hermann Hesse- Prior to reading Demian this year, I read Siddhartha in 2012 and Narcissus & Goldmund in 2014. Both of these novels were good, but I felt that Demian was outstanding, for it explored the idea of individual thought and the divinity of one's intuition and made for such an enlightening experience. In this novel, Emil Sinclair (who was originally written as the author of this text) is living an intense life as a teenager, with a somewhat compassionate family, a bit of an inferior relationship with his father, but overall something he feels dissatisfied with. At the same time, he is dealing with a psychological bully in Franz Kromer, who manipulates him into taking advantage of a misdeed of his. Then, Sinclair meets Max Demian, who has the ability to stand up to Kromer and takes a liking to Sinclair, serving like a mentor to him in the subject of individual thought and the Transcendental idea of seeking satisfaction with one's intuition. Demian is a short novel of just 145 pages, but I saw myself taking my time with this text and am so happy that I did so, for there is so much that I got out of it as I made my way through it. It is definitely a novel that is philosophy first, plot second kind of work, but I think that this was the great intent of what Hesse was attempting to get at. I feel that instead of The Catcher in the Rye, students should be assigned to read Demian, for both texts revolve about estranged teenagers, but unlike Holden Caulfield and his sense of cynicism, Sinclair is given the opportunity to move in the right direction and approaches the opportunities that come to him with a greater sense of optimism. I feel that readers will benefit from reading Demian and that this novel will provide them with a greater sense of confidence in themselves and at everything life has to offer.

2016 was such a great reading year for me in both the amount that I read and the quality of the text at hand. While the top four on this list received five stars out of five on my Goodreads and numbers five to ten received four and a half stars, it was still a solid reading year that I hope to top off in 2017. I will leave a link down below to my Goodreads page, where you can find complete reviews of everything on my top ten and also everything else that I read from this year.

I hope everyone has a happy, healthy, and safe new year! For now, keep reading!

My Goodreads