2016 Year in Review #2: Best books, worst books, and my book of the year

Despite restricting myself to only 35 new-to-me books in 2016, I had trouble narrowing down a top and bottom five. I also set out to document my 35 books on Instagram but kind of failed… I managed to get a few decent pictures though!

Best books of 2016, in order of when they were read:

  • Birdie by Tracey Lindberg: Like nothing I’ve read before. A travesty that it didn’t win Canada Reads, Alberta Reader’s Choice Awards, and wasn’t nominated for many others. If there ever was a book that Canadians need now, and that has literary merit and does something new with the novel. this is it!
  • Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood: Yes, we’re all mad at her right now. And this book, about how horrible women and girls are to each other, is perhaps fitting. I went through the strangest emotions while reading this: a mixture of sadness and relief that I’ll never have a daughter.
  • After Claude by Iris Owens: So good I read it twice this year. So funny for the first two thirds that I forgot how devastating the last third is.
  • The Diviners by Margaret Laurence: There are a lot of reasons to love this book. I’ll choose the fact that we witness the heroine lose her virginity in a scene where she is in total control, and she doesn’t 1) instantly orgasm 2) marry the guy 3) pay for it for the rest of the book. Sex positive CanLit circa 1973.
  • Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys: Speaking of books that are ahead of their time! All these books are about strong women (but not “strong women”) and Sasha is the strongest and brittlest of them all.

Book #7 and future winner of Canada Reads. This book blew me away. #bookstagram #canadareads2016 #CanLit

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Spring. Also book 11 of 2016, THE DIVINERS by Margaret Laurence. #bookstagram #amreading #readingoutside

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#FridayReads and #FridayWaits to get my dang phone fixed (they're on 39, time for a few pages)

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Disappointing books of 2016, in order of when they were read. I don’t have pictures of all these, because, ugh.

  • The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson: Read more like an educational pamphlet than a graphic novel.
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls: I love an unreliable narrator. In fiction. In memoir, not so much…
  • Bluets by Maggie Nelson: I just didn’t get it. Nelson is a writer I think I *should* like but just… don’t. And the fawning over her is just too much. I listened to her on a few podcasts this year and the hosts just grovel, Wayne’s World “we’re not worthy” style.
  • In-Between Days by Teva Harrison: I didn’t connect with the drawing style. When you look forward to the text-only pages in a graphic novel, that’s not good.
  • The Dead Ladies Project by Jessa Crispin: If Eat Pray Love was re-imagined as Eat Read Fuck. Which is funny since Crispin wrote a takedown of EPL (and even stranger, a defense of it six years ago.) This was my biggest disappointment. Crispin is an OG book blogger who’s gone on to be a respected literary critic. She is contrarian and sarcastic and smart. But this book swung between too show-offy and obscure and too juvenile (pretending not to know what the solution is to an affair with a married man that won’t leave his wife…) Won’t stop me from pre-ordering Why I Am Not A Feminist, though!

 

And now, the 2016 Reading in Bed Book of the Year:

Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys

And it’s all thanks to the fine folks at Backlisted podcast. I listened to their discussion of Good Morning, Midnight back in spring, not knowing it would change the course of my reading year. Linda Grant was the guest, and it was her account of reading GMM as a university student in the 70s, during the height of second wave feminism, and having her illusions about feminist progress and possibility exploded by this portrait of a woman fifteen years her senior and forty years in the past, that made me sit up and take notice. She says it made her realize she “was not immortal” – in other words, it made her grow up.

My first thought was “oh crap, have I missed the boat?” Was this one of those Buzzfeed “Books to read before you turn 30” things? But then I read it, and had my own moment of illusions and possibilities falling away, faced with this portrait of a woman my own age, eighty years in the past.

And that’s just it. It doesn’t matter what gender you are or if you read this tomorrow or in 2080- this book will at once make you feel claustrophobic and unbound, hopeless and excited. Much as I regret not reading this in my twenties, while living a more dissolute life (still nowhere near Sasha’s level), I’m glad I read it now, as I felt more keenly the thin barrier separating Sasha and me. Not in a “there but for the grace of God” way but in a “I recognize something of myself here and it’s fucking terrifying” way.

Now that I’ve read Good Morning, Midnight, I see Rhys everywhere: in epigraphs, allusions, and even modern chick lit, which I wrote about for the wonderful Jean Rhys Reading Week hosted by JacquiWine and Eric at Lonesome Reader.  And I have plans. Now that I’ve finally read Jane Eyre, I must read Wide Sargasso Sea. And now that I’m planning a new reading project in which I’ll read the complete works of authors in order (more on that soon,) Rhys is a shoe-in. I’ve got my eye out in all the used book stores. Check out this antique mall find:

 

Check out the other #ReadingRhys-ers for more about Jean Rhys and stay tuned for much, much more. And do give Backlisted a listen – I can’t wait to see how they throw off my reading year in 2017!

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20 comments

  1. Kristilyn

    Well, now I’ve requested a few more books from the library thanks to you! I love your reviews … just reading a few sentences of your reviews makes me want to read that book!

  2. Bellezza

    I like the photographs of your books a lot! And Cat’s Eye is my favorite Atwood book after The Robber Bride; all the new age stuff she’s written in the last decade or so irks me to no end. Cat’s Eye, and The Robber Bride are fascinating looks at female relationships, better than even Ferrente did.

    • lauratfrey

      I have to read Ferrente still! I’m kind of scared because of all the buzz. I loved Oryx and Crake but the last two books of that trilogy were not as good, that’s for sure.

  3. tanya

    I absolutely love The Diviners! So glad you read it. And I believe CBC made it into a mini-series about a thousand years ago. Mid 1990s? I wonder if it is available anywhere.

  4. priscilla

    Cat’s Eye is absolutely one of my favorite books of all time (Need to read your post. Didn’t know we were mad at her! I should pay more attention.). I’m glad you reminded me about Birdie! I put that on my TBR last year, so I need to star it so I get to it this year.

    • lauratfrey

      It seems to be a neglected Atwood book. When I got it signed, the person managing the line said it was the only copy of Cat’s Eye she’d seen that night.

  5. Naomi

    I read Wide Sargasso Sea for Jean Rhys Reading Week. And liked it. But I’m thinking my next one will have to be GMM. (I picked WSS because it was the only one on my shelf.)
    The Diviners is also high on my list! Love your reasons for loving it. 🙂

  6. S.E. Panoply

    Ever since I got a hold of Voyage in the Dark, I knew I’d be reading more of Jean Rhys. When I’ll continue my foray of her work remains to be seen, but perhaps I’ll be forced to if it happens to catch my eye at a free book cart or an unbelievable deal I wouldn’t be able to pass up. 🙂

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