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5 great books from 2016

Looking for inspiration? One of our English faculty members, Cindy Carlson, picks her favorite reads from the past 12 months.

December 21, 2016

Cory Phare

1. “Moonglow” by Michael Chabon

Is this a memoir or novel? The book stems from a series of conversations Chabon had with his dying grandfather years ago, who finally broke a lifetime’s stoic silence at the end. Chabon turns his grandparents’ painful experiences (his grandmother had Nazi death camp numbers tattooed on her arm) into an exhilarating novel, filled with his usual propulsive narration and wonderful language.

2. “Commonwealth” by Ann Patchett

This feels like a big family novel, but actually isn’t very long; Patchett squeezes an amazing amount of material into quite a small space. It’s really engaging, and the reader will be intrigued as much by what is left out as by what is included.

3. “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty

A brilliant satirical novel about an African-American man’s attempts to reinstate slavery and segregation in his small Californian town. It’s very funny and extremely shocking – black humor in every sense of the word. Beatty has written a brave book, that was the deserved winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize.

4. “Albert Murray: Collected Essays & Memoirs” by Albert Murray

These old pieces were first published as a collection this year, so it sneaks in. Murray died in 2013, and was writing right till the end about everything to do with African-American culture and the huge role it plays in the larger cultural world. Murray is angry when he needs to be, and funny too, and writes superbly about politics, experience, jazz and style.

5. “At The Existential Café” by Sarah Bakewell

For those of us who are not professional philosophers, this is a fascinating introduction to Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus and their circle of friends in mid-20th century Paris. There are elements of biography, but it’s mostly about the group’s intellectual lives and (sometimes fraught) relationships.

- Cindy Carlson is a professor in the English Department at MSU Denver.