From the Booking Desk:
Last week, I posted the BOLO Books Top Reads of 2016 list. Each of those books would make wonderful holiday gifts for the readers in your life.
But that got me to thinking about what books from 2016 these authors might suggest as highlights of the year. And so, rather than speculate, I asked.
Below you will find responses from most of the authors on my list. Like their own novels, these books too would make wonderful gifts for others or for yourself this holiday season.
Lisa Lutz’s The Passenger. This is the crime novel you give to crime fiction devotees without question, but also to those who’ve never read a crime novel in their lives because it will convert them utterly. Relentless, ingenious, emotionally complicated, and studded with humor and pathos. It’s a chase story at heart, a woman-on-the run story, but maybe also – in this year above any other – it says a great deal more about gender and survival.
This year has been tumultuous in many ways. Our nation is divided. Xenophobia and bigotry are on the rise. Hateful, dehumanizing rhetoric once confined to the darkest corners of the internet has entered the mainstream. That’s why if I could recommend just one book this year, it would be Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. It’s a harrowing, stunningly realized work of fiction that literalizes the titular railroad and uses a young slave’s journey toward freedom to explore every facet of the most shameful period in American history. I only wish the novel didn’t seem so timely.
Joe Ide’s IQ: With its street poetics and truer-than-life characters, this beautifully spun first novel is gonna blow through the crime fiction world like a firehose-blast of fresh air. Joe Ide has that rarest of writerly skills—a wholly unique voice, one that is at once irreverent and compelling, moving and incisive.
Ann Hood’s The Book The Matters Most. Full disclosure: Ann is a close friend. But I love this novel because it believes that books can save our lives — as do I. And on top of everything else, Ann solves a mystery that the reader might not even realize is a mystery. She is that rare literary writer who loves crime novels and feels no need to condescend to them.
It’s been an astonishing year for crime novels, but the one that repeatedly made my hair stand on end was Sabine Durrant’s brilliant Lie With Me. It takes the unreliable narrator trope to a whole new level. I think I shouted “Noooo! Don’t!” out loud at least half a dozen times. I’ve always been a huge fan of Durrant’s, but this book is pretty much word-and-pitch perfect.
Evicted by Matthew Desmond (nonfiction): Desmond, a sociologist, spent years living in a Milwaukee trailer park so he could study what really happens when low-income Americans lose their housing. The book shatters several myths about the underclass and reveals how much more challenging life has become for renters over the last few decades, as people are forced so spend so much for a roof over their heads that they can’t cover much else. For myself, a novelist interested in crime and social problems, Desmond’s book reveals how important it is for us to fully understand the lives of others, and not fall back on outdated ideas of how and why people make the decisions they make.
Hank Phillippi Ryan
Here’s my choice: Reacher Said Nothing by Andy Martin. I didn’t know what to expect, and bought it with a kind of apprehensive curiosity, wondering if this idea could possibly work–Martin shadows Lee Child through the writing of Make Me. This brilliant Boswellian chronicle turns out to be one of the most instructive and educational (and affectionate) books about writing I’ve read in a long time. (It’s also got a lot of fun insider stuff.)
I have read so many wonderful books this year. It would be tough to pick out one of the best, but I can certainly give a big shout-out to a book that stood out. Sam Wiebe’s Invisible Dead was so refreshing, and original, and beautifully dark that I found myself re-reading several scenes over and over. I could not put it down. It’s a Vancouver crime novel, but can just as easily be any city, because the story is big, and Wiebe’s exciting new protagonist, Dave Wakeland has a way of staying with you long after you have read. I recently heard from a reliable source that it was picked up by a major US publisher for distribution, so to all my friends in America, that means it’ll be easier to get!