Books are our best friends; here’s who kept us company this year.
by Joanna R. Demkiewicz
It’s been said more times than anyone can count: 2016 was a rough one. Amid escalating political, social, and cultural upheaval (and confusion, and disconnection), books are welcomed medicine. Apocalyptic novels are mirrors of what could be; historical analyses are contextual lessons; and experimental fictions and collections of essays are reasons to celebrate cultural ingenuity.
One of my favorite authors, Rebecca Solnit—I literally carry Men Explain Things To Me around with me like a diary, or a guidebook—recently wrote about optimism for the Guardian: “In the wake of this terrible election, much of my hope has rested not on what could or should happen, and not what the historical record tells us has happened, but what is happening now. There is another America rising and taking action, and it is beautiful.”
Action, I think, comes from stimulation. And oh, were we stimulated by literature this year. Below are six of our favorite 2016 titles, chosen from our bigger canon, which you can read in our forthcoming issue, out next month. Our books editor Ann Mayhew chose more than 20 fiction and nonfiction books for the print canon, from a variety of presses—large and small—and from debut writers to seasoned authors like Margaret Atwood. The assemblage of them all makes me buzz.
But first—more fantastic lit is yet to come in 2017. I’m especially excited for Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women (look out for a review of the title in our upcoming Issue 6); Ariel Levy’s The Rules Do Not Apply; Homesick For Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh; Alana Massey’s All The Lives I Want; and Eat Only When You’re Hungry by Lindsay Hunter (to read our interview with the author about her debut novel Ugly Girls, click here).
Keep a lookout for Issue 6 by checking out our shop. And now, for our favorite books of 2016:
In this stellar posthumous collection from African-American filmmaker and civil rights activist Kathleen Collins, love and its complexities plus race, class and sexuality are on display in rich and sensuous prose. Collins has the extraordinary gift of finding poignancy in the ordinary, making this a book you’ll come to again and again.
In this dazzling debut, Bennet poses the question “what if?” as she explores unintended pregnancy, motherhood and one’s relationship with the past. One of the most highly anticipated books of the fall, The Mothers deserves every bit of praise it has received from authors such as Angela Flournoy (The Turner House) and Yaa Gyasi (Homegoing).
For fans of Aimee Bender, Alice Munro and Shirley Jackson, this debut is a knockout work of smart and unsettling stories by an extraordinary new voice. Like the best writers of the fantastic, Beams channels her imagination to impeccably craft environments highlighting the truths of the human condition, particularly empathy and unrequited love.
We can’t get enough of comic and podcast star Phoebe Robinson’s new memoir, which discusses being a black woman in America. With all of the wit and warmth Robinson brings to 2 Dope Queens, she tackles serious topics with plenty of pop culture references and hilarity, making this book a must-read.
As a young woman in her 30s, Witt found herself in a bit of a sexual rut and wanted to explore before settling down into expected monogamy. Future Sex chronicles Witt’s adventures into non-vanilla sex and her own sexual self-discovery in a memoir as educational as it is introspective and entertaining.
Performance artist Abramović never had it easy growing up in postwar Yugoslavia, but she learned to move past obstacles, strengthen her curious mind and develop the art for which she is known. Her memoir Walk Through Walls is, as expected, just as enthralling and powerful as her career and work.