My Favorite Reads of 2016

Read. The book is still the greatest manmade machine of all – not the car, not the TV, not the Smartphone. ~~ Ken Burns, documentary filmmaker

Reading is a creative act, and if you want to write, you have to read. You need to see what other writers are doing, and how they’re doing it. So I read – widely and abundantly – which is fine because I love reading.

But at the beginning of last year, I was eyeing over a hundred books in my to-read stack. How, I asked myself, will I ever get to all those? Being insanely goal-oriented, I answered in the only way I knew: by challenging myself to read fifty books in 2016. In other words, a book a week. If I managed to do it, my stack would be half as tall by the time the next New Year’s Eve ball dropped in Times Square. Of course, it seemed an impossible goal. Fortunately, I’m not easily deterred by impossible goals (if I were, I’d never have gone into the arts). My husband thought I was crazy. He was probably right.

Surprisingly, I only fell short by one: I read a whopping forty-nine books in twelve months (not counting the two I started but didn’t finish, and the five plays I read). Of those forty-nine books, seven were bona fide stand-outs. What follows is my highly subjective and idiosyncratic list of the best books I read last year, in the order in which I read them. To keep from boring you to death, I’m giving each book its own post. (If you’re a glutton for punishment, go to: http://bit.ly/2im4zGd to see my entire year in books.) I don’t usually include a synopsis; I figure you, smart reader, can find that all on your own.

So – drumroll please – my first favorite read of 2016:

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Atonement (2001; Ian McEwan)

I rang in the New Year with this classic by Ian McEwan, which I picked up at my local library used book sale. I’d seen the movie (Benedict Cumberbatch is in it, after all), but I barely remembered it. What’s outstanding about Atonement is not the writing, though the prose is first-rate. It’s not the story, which is quirky and captivating. It’s the way the ending changes everything that’s come before, like a picture suddenly coming into focus, but a completely different picture than the one you were expecting to see. You suddenly understand what has happened, see it clearly for the first time, and have a new context for everything you’ve just read. It takes a great writer to accomplish that. Once I grasped this shift, I spent days mulling over the changed narrative, and the now poignant ending. In addition to this major plot twist, I admired McEwan’s writing style, which is nearly impossible to capture in a movie. For that reason alone, if you only know the film, the book is definitely worth a read.

See you next time for my second 2016 favorite read, and here’s wishing you a great year of reading in 2017!

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