Lakenheath Old Boys

We are all former students at Lakenheath High School and other public schools in East Anglia. We were in school in the 70s and 80s and drank deeply from the well of British culture of those decades - the pints, the telly, and of course the footie!

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Books of 2016

It’s that time of year again, time to take stock of the books that I’ve most enjoyed this year. The main change in my reading habits this year was the increase of audiobooks in my “reading” diet - I’ve found that dense, non-fiction books are fairly easily consumed while working, in a similar manner to NPR podcasts. In that way, I’ve gotten through a dozen books, most ordered through Interlibrary Loan, that I might not have otherwise enjoyed. Here are the books that kept me listening or turning the pages in 2016:
1. Nathan Hill - The Nix: Nathan Hill’s astonishing debut novel is my favorite book of the year. From its opening incident of political theater, which might be ripped from today’s headlines, it grips the reader tight. I had many late nights when I could scarcely bare to put it down.
2. Thomas Frank - Listen, Liberal: Thomas Frank’s disquisition on the problems of the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party predicted their historic loss in November. It contains valuable insights as the party begins to rebuild along, hopefully, more progressive lines.
3. Anthony Doerr - All the Light That We Cannot See: There are too many historical novels written about the World War II era, in my view. However, Doerr’s story of a young, blind French girl and a bright German boy soldier growing up around the horrors of the growth of fascism and the beginning of the war, is a welcome addition. What elevates it is the focus on the human costs of war.
4. Bill Bryson - The Road to Little Dribbling: Bryson returns to the travel humor style with which he built his career after several heavier historical books. His sequel to Notes on a Small Island after twenty years is a delight from the first page to the last, with Bryson squeezing the humor and the odd facts out of a trip across Blighty.
5. Ian McEwan - Nutshell: McEwan’s novella about a pregnant woman Trudy who is engaging in an open affair with her brother-in-law has an atom bomb of a conceit - the whole murderous tryst is narrated by her fetus from inside Trudy’s womb. In beautifully baroque prose, McEwan imagines the fetus struggling in vain to intervene in the sordid details of his parents’ failed marriage and lives.
6. Elvis Costello - Unfaithful Music: One of the things that’s always drawn me to Elvis Costello is that he is a student of the music as well as a brilliant performer. Unlike so many musicians, Elvis can communicate his intentions in an intellectual fashion. This brilliant memoir shows that ability off to good effect, with vignette after compelling vignette from a creative life.
7. Tracy Chevalier - At the Edge of the Orchard: Tracy Chevalier has long been one of my favorite historical novelists. In her latest novel, Tracy strays from the document-based books that she’s been known for since Girl with a Pearl Earring. She introduces us to the Goodenoughs, a dysfunctional family stuck in an Ohio swamp during the mid-19th century.
8. Sarah Vowell - Lafayette in the Somewhat United States: Vowell’s latest book of popular history is a useful corrective to the right-wing myth about France being an unreliable ally for the United States. As she shows in her breezy gallop through the experiences of the 19 year old French aristocrat’s romp through the revolutionary period, the French have been on our side from Day 1 of our country’s existence.
9. Aziz Ansari - Modern Romance: Aziz Ansari has emerged as one of the brightest, sharpest voices on the comedy scene these days. In this hilarious book, Ansari makes some really insightful points about the ways in which texting culture has changed relationships between men and women.
10. Kevin M. Kruse - One Nation Under God: One of the standard arguments on the right is that the U.S. is a “Christian nation.” Kevin Kruse has written an exhaustively researched history of Christian organizing, showing both the contemporary roots in the 1950s Cold War era and the heavy influence of business leaders on the agenda.
Notable Others:
Eric Foner - Gateway to Freedom
Henry Giroux - Education and the Crisis of Public Values
Jon Krakauer - Missoula
David Lagercrantz - Millennium: The Girl in the Spider’s Web
Erik Larson - Dead Wake
Amy Schumer - The Girl with a Lower Back Tattoo
Marc Spitz - Poseur
Disappointment:
Mindy Kaling - Why Not Me? After having enjoyed Aziz Ansari and Amy Schumer’s books in audiobook form, I thought I’d try Mindy Kaling’s book. Big mistake. I enjoyed Mindy’s work on The Office, but I found her isolated voice like fingernails on a chalkboard.

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