These are the top books I have read since January 1, 2016. The listing includes fiction, non-fiction, critical essays, drama, and poetry. It was a very rich year for reading although the quantity of books I read declined somewhat from my recent experience. While there were other very good books that I read these are the ten that I rated most highly. There is no particular order to the list and I highly recommend all of the following:
A Gay Fantasia on National Themes
by Tony Kushner
In two full-length plays--Millennium Approaches and Perestroika--Kushner tells the story of a handful of people trying to make sense of the world. The plays display the literary erudition of the author through themes that encapsulate the American experience and the transcendence of love, death, and angels. Reading these two plays was a deeply emotional experience.
by T.S. Eliot
The Four Quartets is a series of four poems by T.S. Eliot, published individually from 1936 to 1942, and in book form in 1943. Each of the quartets has five "movements" and each is titled by a place name -- BURNT NORTON (1936), EAST COKER (1940), THE DRY SALVAGES (1941), and LITTLE GIDDING (1942). Eliot's insights into the cyclical nature of life are revealed through themes and images woven throughout the four poems. Spiritual, philosophical, and personal themes emerge through symbolic allusions and literary and religious references from both Eastern and Western thought.
by Hermann Broch
by Marcel Proust
This is the first volume of the seven that comprise In Search of Lost Time. Swann's Way tells two related stories, the first of which revolves around Marcel, a younger version of the narrator, and his experiences in, and memories of, the French town Combray. Inspired by the "gusts of memory" that rise up within him as he dips a Madeleine into hot tea, the narrator discusses his fear of going to bed at night. Rereading this novel reminded why I love the prose of Marcel Proust.
by Hannah Arendt
by Rabih Alameddine
Sometimes the voice of the narrator enchants the reader with her life and that of those around her. That is what happens in Rabih Alameddine's captivating novel. The narrator is a woman named Aaliya. She is a book-lover in her seventies who runs a book store and translates books. I found the author's depiction of the importance of books in the life of this woman to mirror my own experience.
The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain from Vienna 1900 to the Present
by Eric R. Kandel
A brilliant book by Nobel Prize winner Eric R. Kandel, The Age of Insight takes us to Vienna 1900, where leaders in science, medicine, and art began a revolution that changed forever how we think about the human mind—our conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions—and how mind and brain relate to art. To some extent this book seemed to contain almost too many ideas, nevertheless I found the presentation invigorating and endlessly engaging.
by Tadeusz Konwicki
This is a story about the "end of the world" for an aging Polish writer named Konwicki who has built a reputation as a representative of the people in their battle against the oppressive Communist government and its Soviet allies. The world of Poland before the collapse of Communism is presented in a searingly personal way for the characters in this captivating novel.
The Changing World of Books
by Tim Parks
to the Deep North
by Richard Flanagan
There are good books and there are great books. This book is one of the rare great books that "compels you to reread your soul". There are many reasons for this. It is such a well-wrought novel that the thought of attempting to write about it is somewhat daunting. A good place to begin is the author's mesmerizing prose; prose that approaches poetry on almost every page. This is one of the best contemporary novels that I have ever read.