We have one final list of book recommendations to offer our readers to wrap up 2016. I myself am still attempting to complete a book challenge, a resolution I set in the new year, to read 52 books in various categories. My last book of 2016 was John Knowles’ A Separate Peace. It wasn’t the book I had planned to read last, and I didn’t finish my challenge, but I came close. I can’t say I’m disappointed that Knowles’ work wrapped up my personal book year. It was a treat to read from start to finish. While I’m a sucker for a coming-of-age story, I had assumed the text would be dry and perhaps out of my league in a literary sense. After completing the book, I am happy to say I was wrong on all counts. I found the language beautiful and the characters and story compelling. It kept my interest with both the dissection of humanity and honesty of the reflective narrator, Gene. The book is chock-full of metaphors that I will be unraveling for weeks to come. While the surface story of friendship and the struggle to be not only a teenager, but also a teenager during wartime offer an easy plot to follow, the underlying message of the book touches something much deeper. A Separate Peace was an excellent way to end what was a hard year for many, and for me personally. I highly recommend picking up this book if you have never read it, or even giving it a second read if you have. We can all benefit from a little self-reflection, and this book and its narrator facilitate that.
Poetry Editor Ginny Kaczmarek ended her 2016 reading season with a book she thinks would be a great gift for writer mamas. She shares, “I just finished Ruth Franklin’s marvelous biography Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life. Best known for her short story ‘The Lottery,’ Jackson wrote six novels—one of which was nominated for a National Book Award and another made into a movie— five story collections, four children’s books, and two hugely popular comedic memoirs about her family. She managed all of that while raising four children in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s with little support from her husband—in fact, her writing income supported the family for many years. (Her advice? Do less housework.) Franklin engagingly weaves aspects of Jackson’s personal life with summaries of her work and its critical reception. I particularly enjoyed the head-scratching from critics who didn’t understand how the same writer could publish funny stories about her kids and literary fiction that explores the human capacity for evil. Fascinating and inspiring, Franklin’s book ought to reinvigorate interest in Jackson’s work; her titles are on my wish list!”
Suzanne Kamata, Fiction Editor, shares her end-of-the-year pick. She writes, “I recently discovered Eliza Vitri Handayani, a young Indonesian who writes in both English and Bahasa. Her first novel in English, From Now On Everything Will Be Different, is about two young people making art and falling in love in Indonesia just after the fall of Suharto. Julita is a talented photographer inspired by the likes of Nan Goldin and Diane Arbus, while her friend, Ritzy, is a good son who would rather be an actor than a doctor (which is what his mother wants him to be). Cleverly constructed and elegantly written, this well-wrought novel establishes Handayani as a writer to watch.”
Rae Pagliarulo, Creative Nonfiction Editor, shares, “I’m so deeply engrossed in Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk in a way that few nonfiction books have pulled me in before. After the death of her father, MacDonald turns to an old love to find meaning in her life: falconry. It sounds almost bizarre—trying to tame a wild hunting bird in order to grieve, and perhaps heal. MacDonald is successful with the deft treatment of not only the history and art of falconry, but the tense emotional development that occurs between captor and captive, owner and pet, hunter and prey. It’s these tenuous relationships that evoke her lost patriarch and shed a new light on what it means to navigate loss. The balance of history and research with a truly moving narrative makes me want to fly back to this gorgeous book again and again.”