The year 2016 is more than half over. And since I spend at least half of my free time reading, I though I’d share my thoughts about the best books I’ve read (so far) this year.
Before I start, I have to say something about my feelings about fiction this year. I’m (mostly) a fiction writer, but I haven’t read any novels good enough to put on this list. Even a book by my favorite writer of all time didn’t make the cut. What’s up with novels nowadays? Are we novelists too busy trying to write clever Twitter and Facebook posts. Just my opinion…please do not hunt me down.
In no particular order…
- Kill Em’ and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride. Okay, yeah, its kind of biased that I love this book. McBride is one of my favorite writers. With this book he managed to transcend the art of biography to come up with something of a hybrid concoction of American History/Literature/Music/Biography/Soul Food. This isn’t a biography. It’s the history of America from 1933 – 2006 on a fried chicken fueled bus ride through the deep south. It also tells you everything you ever wanted to know about James Brown. Which is the truth. Period.
- The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs. Published in 2014, I found this book through my OverDrive library app, read one page of it, then holed up in my bedroom for three successive nights and devoured the rest of it. It was THAT good. Hobbs wrote this book about his friend, a young black man named Robert Peace from Newark, NJ, who had a genius level intellect, graduated from Yale, and was tragically gunned down in a murky situation born of violence, poverty, and the drug trade. By the time this book was over, I’d adopted Rob as a beloved cousin in my heart and I cried at his death. If you read this book, you will too.
- Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. I plucked this book off the shelf of my borough library to scan through as my little daughter played with her friend Autumn in the children’s room. I took it home with me and for one week learned everything totally sucky about the way America treats low-income people and their options for living with a roof over their heads. Let me boil it down for you in a few sentences. If you make less than $25,000 per year, you have a high risk of being evicted. If you also have small children, you are more likely to get evicted. If you or anyone in your home has an addiction, is on SSI, is mentally ill, or a single parent AND is low-income, you will definitely get evicted at least once. And now that we know this…we need to put pressure on our local governments and do something about it.
- How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt. I confess. After I ready this book, I got down on my knees and repented to the Lord about my long-term addiction to downloading any free version of a song I could get my hands on. So, this book is all about how the planets and stars collided to create the scientists who formulated CDs, then MP3s, then the Internet and the free for all that became Napster, Grokster, Morpheus, and Kazaa. You might only be interested in this book if you are both a techno-nerd and a music-geek. I am both.
- North of Normal by Cea Sunrise Person. Published in 2015, and written by a white former runway model who grew up the granddaughter of hippies and naturalists, this book is eye-opening to say the least. This book further proved to me that horrific parenting is a universal issue. (The first book and my favorite biography on this subject was Jeanette Walls’ “The Glass Castle”). Reading this book was a lot like standing by the train tracks watching two trains race toward each other and being unable to turn away. Cea was literally raised in the wilderness, but not in a comfy-cozy “Little House on the Prairie” Ma and Pa Ingalls type way. Her family kept her in teepees and tents, with strangers coming through the camp with drugs and sex, no early schooling, no vaccines, no television, doctors, or anything we are told we need and she survived. Not only did she survive, she also managed to become an international runway model. Amazing story.
Those are my favorites so far this year, everyone. Writers, remember you have to read in order to write well. Readers, stop what you are doing right now, download the OverDrive app on your phone – support your local libraries!