Favorites of 2016 (so far): literature

Literature in 2016 has been so high caliber that it was hard to narrow this list down to just five. However, there have been some that I have have been constantly suggesting to friends more than others, and once I realized that creating this list was easier said than done. The novels range from transcendent debuts to gut wrenching looks into the human psyche. They all have one thing in common: poignant prose, intriguing structure, and supreme characters that you won’t soon forget.

Check out the list below:


5. Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

It’s about a three people – an artist, a critic, and a young woman new to New York City – in 1980. Each of the chapters takes place on a Tuesday night, but it doesn’t feel gimmicky at all. Her prose elevates Tuesday Nights incredibly so. That coupled with how interesting she presents the novel is why you need to read this book now. Here’s what Prentiss has to say about that structure she gave her debut novel from an interview I did for Vol. 1 Brooklyn

“With the structure, you can’t really tell unless you’re paying a ton of attention. But each of the sections takes place on a Tuesday in 1980. In terms of structuring the book, it was sort of helpful to have those landmark time moments for each of the sections to land on. They go forward and back in time within the section, but the present tense always takes place on a Tuesday in 1980. That was almost a fun way to give it some bones.”

4. Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma

The author’s sister was diagnosed with cancer in the prime of her life and was taken rapidly and cruelly from the world. Jansma wrote a beautiful book loosely based on his experiences with that. He explores friendship, growing up, and dealing with death all too soon in this sophomore effort. He really wanted to explore how cancer really affects this world. He really wanted it to feel real to honor those who have been touched by this tragic malady:

“The importance of getting all of the details right was that when I was going through everything it just was so foreign to anything I ever dealt with before. I thought about movies I seen where people had cancer, I thought about books where characters had cancer, and nothing came close to getting into the details of the types of things we had to deal with. Having to feed people for instance. There’s a scene in the book where Sara had to buy nutrient-rich milkshakes at a store that they typically sell to senior citizens who have trouble getting nutrition. She had to force-feed them to Irene. That’s one thing that happened in real life. It was important to me to write a book that might have helped me while I was going though all of that.”

3. The Association of Small Bombs by Kara Mahajan

Mahajan grew up near Dehli and he gives this story the realism it needs and deserves. It’s about the small scale bombing of a Dehli marketplace and the aftermath of of it. The author follows a survivor as well as the family of a victim, but interestedly follows the terrorist who committed the act. Here’s what Mahajan had to say about writing from that interesting perspective when I interviewed him in March:

“It was very, very hard. I hadn’t seen it done very well anywhere. I read a lot of non-fiction as well as fiction. Everywhere the terrorist had been turned into this kind of superhuman character. But the terrorist can be as incompetent or as lazy or as bored as any other human being. Once I got that point of view, it became easier to write about the terrorist as a criminal who is committing a crime for an idea, which is also what makes him different from a common criminal. At the same time, he has to perform the mundane tasks any other criminal might.”

2. What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

The first (of three) parts of this novel was a novella that Greenwell wanted to expand on. It’s about sex, passion, and what it means to be queer today. The book is a beautifully and erotic story about an American teacher in Bulgaria who meets and have a sex with a younger man in a bathroom. The most important thing about this book is how Greenwell writes about such a “taboo” topic. Even though it really shouldn’t be taboo anymore. Here are two different quotes from a Literary Hub interview I did with him back in January:

“Our culture despises the queer body. I want to write the queer body, the queer sexual body, in a way that cherishes it and is responsive to its real value, which is inexhaustible, like all human value… I do think there is a tradition of queer writing, by which I mean a line of writers in conversation with other writers, which is all tradition is. I think there are aesthetic modes that have been coded as queer and claimed by queers. That conversation and those modes are necessary and rich. All artists have allegiances. These are mine.”

1. Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt

This book shouldn’t be my favorite so far, but it is. It’s two different timelines that deal with ghosts, secrets, and hidden treasure. Years ago, Ruth survives a horrendous foster home where she meets Nat. They become best friends, and eventually they hustle people by claiming to be mediums who can talk to dead loved ones. Eventually, Ruth shows back up and locates her long-lost niece Cora. She’s mute now, but convinces her adult niece to walk across upstate New York on a life-altering course where fact and fiction blends and the ghosts of haunted past come crashing back to reality. Here’s Samantha Hunt in The Millions about how every story is a ghost story:

“I think that I definitely believe that. I don’t think I would have said that when I was younger. Now, you know the longer you live means the more people that die, and it’s like every story is a ghost story. Everybody’s dead. It’s not in such a bleak way. It’s just that everybody, every character, will die eventually. Everybody’s life is a ghost story. Wow, that’s totally bleak. I’m trying to convince you that it’s not, but it totally is. Maybe I just like to think about ways to use the hauntedness of life in a different way. To think about “haunted” is not necessarily a bad thing; to think about our dead in a different way. To use them in some way. Even though the people using the dead in this book are total con artists, it does give some shake and hope to [the people they talk to].”

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