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Malaprop's Bookstore and Cafe, we love you! We also love sharing book recommendations. Last week, we published Manager and Events Coordinator Melanie McNair's Top Picks for 2016. This time around, we're expanding. Here are the best books of the year from the staff at Malaprop's. There's something to suit every taste and age group. This winter, snuggle up and read a book!
The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
Ever wanted to sit down for a meal with Neil Gaiman? This sharp-looking collection of his non-fiction writing is food for the soul for readers, writers, artists, and humans of every sort. From the beloved sci-fi/fantasy author who revels in worlds imagined, here is wisdom, hope, and reflection for real life. Eat it up.
The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet
The heartwarming and gorgeously illustrated biography of beloved author E.B. White. Written and illustrated by Caldecott Honor winner, it's a perfect companion for young readers who are also reading Charlotte's Web, Trumpet of the Swan, and Stuart Little. Sweet, smart, compelling. A delight for kids and parents alike.
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
Two-time Newbery Award winner Kate DiCamillo's impeccable literary style triumphs again. Three misfit girls become friends over one fateful summer. As Raymie tries to come to terms with the breakup of her parents, she discovers that hope can be found in some unlikely places. Warmth, humor, love, and loss. A new classic that young readers will remember and return to again and again.
What a Beautiful Morning by Arthur Levine
My heart! This sweet story sings a song of love and family, as a young boy comes to grips with the complex issue of dementia. With plenty of hope to spare, this wonderful book can be shared with the young (and the young-ish), when changes force us to find our own way through challenging times.
Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Don't throw away your shot to make a Hamilton fan happy during the holidays! This is the ONLY gift for the Ham-crazed fan in your life. A beautifully photographed, annotated manuscript of the musical that is as revealing as it is useful. Get inside Lin-Manuel Miranda's head and hear what inspired his groundbreaking Broadway hit and enjoy insider, behind-the-scenes details of Broadway.
The Halo by C. Dale Young
In this powerful collection of poems, Young combines science and myth to describe the dislocations of growing up in a world where wounds are a source of strength and a secret shame.
Miss Jane by Brad Watson
Forced by the circumstances of her birth into a kind of exile from conventional existence, Jane manages to piece together a meaningful life in this beautiful and heartbreaking novel. Highly recommended for fans of Ron Rash!
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
At its heart, this deeply moving book is about the unlikely friendship that forms between the author and her curmudgeonly lab assistant Bill as they struggle to make it as working scientists. Jahren’s deep understanding of science and her clear, accessible - and, at times, poetic - prose style make this book a rare and awe-inspiring achievement!
Version Control by Dexter Palmer
As I read this brave, ambitious time-travel novel, I was reminded of the various ways that technology opens up new distances within and between us, even as it draws together those farthest apart. Science Fiction doesn’t get any better than this!
I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong
I love science books that deepen and challenge my current understanding of reality, and Yong's eye-opening book, drawing on cutting-edge research, checks both boxes by showing that animals and plants can be viewed as vast ecosystems of tiny organisms invisible to the naked eye.
Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders by Dylan Thuras, Ella Morton, and Joshua Foer
It's time to get off the beaten path. Inspiring equal parts wonder and wanderlust, Atlas Obscura celebrates over 700 of the strangest and most curious places in the world. With compelling descriptions, hundreds of photographs, charts and maps, it’s everything you need to visit the far corners of our surprising world. Even if you never leave home.
Electric Pencil: Drawings from Inside State Hospital No. 3 by James Edward Deeds
James Edward Deeds's subtle, meticulous, and wildly imaginative pencil and crayon drawings portray an unusual cast of characters: nineteenth-century dandies, Civil War soldiers, antique cars, fantastic boats and trains, country landscapes dotted with roaming animals, and fanciful architecture. None of these existed in the actual mid-twentieth-century landscape of Deeds's own life, but rather were representations of his inner world—an artist's poignant tribute to a faded past. Deeds created his remarkable drawings while a resident of State Hospital Number 3 in Nevada, Missouri.
The Tao of Bill Murray: Real-Life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment, and Party Crashing by Gavin Edwards
A collection of the most epic, hilarious, and strange Bill Murray anecdotes from the past four decades - many of which have never before been made public. Gavin Edwards has hunted down the very best of them to make a book that is a sideways mix of comedy and philosophy, full of photo bombs, street corner encounters, late-night party crashes, and movie set antics, an all-access look at Murray’s exceptional ability to infuse the everyday with surprise, absurdity, and wonder.
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
Are trees social beings? In this international bestseller, forester and author Peter Wohlleben convincingly makes the case that, yes, the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. After learning about the complex life of trees, a walk in the woods will never be the same again.
The Secret History of Twin Peaks: A Novel by Mark Frost
From Mark Frost, the co-creator of the landmark television series Twin Peaks, comes a novel that deepens the mysteries of that iconic town in ways that not only enrich the original series but readies fans for the upcoming Showtime episodes.
A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
This poignant and exquisitely written addition to Penny's Inspector Gamache mystery series proves once and for all that these books are just incidentally about a murder to be solved. In A Great Reckoning, and in all of the preceding novels, Louise plunges us into the lives of her characters in a way that makes us believe that they are real. Yes, there are murders, and yes, there is a mystery to be solved, but these books are really about character, what makes it, what breaks it, and how the light gets in through a character’s cracks and flaws. And though tragedy abounds; there is always, always, hope. Full disclosure: Louise Penny is my favorite author. Period. The End.
Hold Still by Sally Mann
Who knew Sally Mann was as spectacularly talented a writer as she is a photographer? I was seamlessly drawn into her life as she describes it with honesty and insight. The language is as spare and beautiful as her photographs.
The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly
Harry Bosch is back! For lovers of this well-crafted series it's so hard to wait! Connelly continues to add depth and complexity to Harry's character, and this thrilling tale has all the suspense and twists we've grown to love!
Everybody's Fool by Richard Russo
Beautifully written, this novel has the feel of settling in for a long chat with a funny, thoughtful friend. It's hard to believe it's been 23 years since Nobody's Fool, since reconnecting with everyone in North Bath is effortless. Russo's magic is all over this book featuring mudslides, grave robbery, collapsing buildings, poisonous snakes, drug deals, arson, and ,of course, lightning strikes! This is your relax and laugh post-election read!
The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson
Wow. Joshilyn Jackson just keeps getting better and better.
I solidly recommend ALL of her novels, and this one reveals her maturation as a writer and storyteller in the fierce, smart-as-a-whip, razor-witted, Paula Vauss. I don't think I've read a more deeply developed character this year. Paula will stay with you looong after you finish the book.
The Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth
This book is a witty, entertaining, and informative travelogue about five Scandinavian countries and what makes their residents as happy (or not) as popular opinion holds. Journalist Michael Booth, who has lived in Denmark for over a decade, embarks on a journey through all five of the Nordic countries to explore the reality behind the myth. A delightful read.
Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett
Pond is an eccentric, charming, and gorgeously written series of observations of daily life. It is a richly perceived world of the commonplace by a woman living alone in coastal Ireland. In an interview about the book, the author said: “In solitude you don’t need to make an impression on the world, so the world has some opportunity to make an impression on you.” The fertile, elegant specificity of the narrator’s impressions give form to the book.
Reading Pond is a thought-provoking and a sensory experience, and the book can also be very funny: a two-sentence story called ‘Stir-Fry,’ reads “I just threw my dinner in the bin. I knew as I was making I was going to do that, so I put in it all the things I never want to see again.” This debut novel is hard to describe, and wonderful to experience.
Underground Airlines by Ben Winters
Although marketed as science fiction, Underground Airlines might be more accurately labeled “speculative” or “alternative” history. It is set in a contemporary United States in which the Civil War never took place and slavery is still legal in four states. The novel delivers on two levels. as a story on how business and political interests collude to drive racial injustice, and as a noir-ish thriller. The narrator is of the “hard-boiled” noir tradition, a morally-ambiguous bounty hunter employed by the government to find escaped slaves (“Persons Bound to Labor”). Himself a former slave, he uncovers the scheme that drives the narrative and that takes him back to slave territory. Underground Airlines is both surprisingly relevant and hard to put down.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Eligible is Sittenfeld’s modern re-telling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She ably transfers the plot and characters of Austen’s novel into a contemporary setting, giving Lizzie Bennett a job as an accomplished magazine journalist and casting Darcy as a gifted neurosurgeon. Sittenfeld’s most enjoyable plot device is to introduce reality t.v. into the mix: Charles (“Chip”) Bingley, Darcy’s closest friend, is a doctor turned reality-dating-show star, and the novel’s climax and denouement take place at a reality-show staging of (spoiler alert!) Bingley and Jane Bennett’s wedding.
It is impossible for any modern-day rendering of a beloved, charming novel not to suffer just a little in the re-telling—charm, after all, is a word most often linked with the past—but Sittenfeld’s interpretation, although not always successful, is a delight to read.
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
The Lonely City is less a reflection on loneliness, as the title implies, than a meditation on the isolation of "otherness." Laing uses the life and work of a handful of artists—from the well known (Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol) to the more obscure (David Wojnarowicz, Klaus Nomi)—to illustrate her themes, underscoring their outsider status and the ironies of urban loneliness. This commentary runs alongside her own story of loneliness during a time of personal upheaval in New York City.
“What does it feel like to be lonely?” she asks. “It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast. It feels shameful and alarming, and over time these feelings radiate outwards, making the lonely person increasingly isolated, increasingly estranged.” Laing’s treatment of her subjects and her topic is intelligent, thought-provoking, and equally important, compassionate.
Love and Lemon's Cookbook by Jeanine Donofrio
Best cookbook I have ever owned! I have tested 30 of the recipes & only two were lackluster; the others were amazing. Its recipes are not too complicated; no random ingredients that will rot in your pantry as no other recipe in the world call for them. Jeanine suggests that you go your grocery or farmer's market and grab the best looking produce. Then you come back, and turn to that section in the book (the cauliflower recipes have been some of my favorite, the pizza in particular is one of the best pizzas I've ever tasted-her crust recipe is simple & delicious too!), then get cooking! Disclaimer, the book is vegetarian, however it has even impressed my carnivorous boyfriend, and there are often suggested options for making recipes vegan or gluten free.
That Bright Land by Terry Roberts
Not my normal choice of read - I tend to stay away from books that deal with war, even if it's the aftermath. Nor is it typical for me to grab a mystery. No, this book was gifted to me by Terry himself, on a day my father was admitted to the hospital for emergency surgery. I brought the book with me as I hightailed it to Chattanooga to be with my dad. It looked like something he would enjoy and I began reading it to him as he recovered. Both of us ended up loving the book. Terry's characters are diverse, interesting and they felt authentic. Terry is not a 'Captain Obvious' and we really were surprised with the chain of events. Very enjoyable, historically accurate, and well written.
Pharos Gate by Nick Bantock
This is the final volume in the Griffin & Sabine Saga- an epic love story of two artist souls trying to find each other across time/space/or dimensions, it is left vague and ethereal. There is much for the imagination in the sweeping beauty of the stamp & postcard creations, and in the words of their correspondence. Bits of philosophy, big life questions are woven into their letters. You can read it again and again noticing new things, and you can read this book separate from its precursors (though you will then want to read them too!).
Faithful by Alice Hoffman
I have loved Alice's books for years and have never been disappointed. This novel is no exception to that rule. She dives into her characters deeply, fleshing them out into rich, diverse, emotive people with whom you relate. It still amazes me how many voices she can take on. Some of the subject matter is a bit dark, and yet my heart is filled with love and hope by the end.
Atlas Obscura by Joshua Foer et al.
A fascinating book curated by wanderers and curiosity seekers. Find out about 1,000's of obscure places that if you’re lucky your travels will allow you to explore. The Poison Garden at Alnwick Northumberland is now on my bucket list, as well as Mount Erebus "Sunlight illuminates the ceiling of an ice cave on the southernmost active volcano on earth." Wonder of wonders!
The Guineveres by Sarah Domet
Four girls from four very different families band together as "the Guineveres" to survive their coming-of-age journeys as life in a convent. It is moving, engaging, & beautifully detailed.
Evicted by Matthew Desmond
A sociological deep-dive into the relationship and power dynamics between landlords & their renters in Milwaukee. This incredibly researched work follows numerous individuals & families as they navigate the complex world of urban housing and its effects it has on their lives as a whole. It's an eye-opening read for so many of us.
And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile
Fans of Nigerian fiction with enjoy this debut author's tale told through the eye of a child as he experiences the unraveling of his family and community amid years of political upheaval.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Like many Zadie Smith books, your relationship with the two girls (and with each other) is one of love, hate, complexity, and growth. By the end you feel that the story is only just beginning...
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Only New England winters can produce such a vividly dark and enthralling journey where you don't know where you're going and yet you can't get off the ride!
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
A heart-wrenching tale of the bonds of brotherly love. Centers around the enigmatic protagonist, Jude, and his friends’ attempts to uncover his dark past. This is a book that will stay with you.
The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker
Written in beautiful, poetic language. A story that centers around 8-year-old Ari and her imaginary pet seahorse, Jasper, after they are removed from their home following several family traumas. A quirky and sometimes dark story told through the eyes of an innocent.
The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
For anyone who is a fan of stream-of-consciousness or experimental writing. This tale of 90s London will have you lost in the thoughts of its 18-year-old protagonist discovering love and heartache for the first time. This book will consume every one of your sense.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang
A dark tale of a woman’s descent into madness. Obsessive, gritty, nightmarish, and thought-provoking.
Adios, Cowboy by Olja Savičević
Hilarious at the same time as it is serious. This is the story of Rusty and her return to her hometown in coastal Croatia to uncover the mystery behind her brother’s suicide. For fans of dry humor and old Westerns.
100 Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses by Lucy Corin
One of the most surprising books I've read this year. Lucy Corin has this way of writing that's strange and beautiful and funny, all at the same time.
Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera
I'm really glad Yuri Herrera's books are starting to get published in English because he's one of those writers who is completely amazing in his ability to write an entire world in the space of about 100 pages, and Lisa Dillman's translation is astonishingly good in its own right.
Ancient Tillage by Raduan Nassar
Although Raduan Nassar has been well-known in Brasil for a long time (this book came out in 1975), he's finally getting translated into English by Stefan Tobler, a wonderful translator and the editor of & Other Stories, a great, translation-specializing small press.
Seeing Red by Lina Meruane
A great semi-autobiographical book about a Chilean writer living in New York who begins to go blind due to a rare diabetic condition and her process of trying to acclimate and seeking risky and experimental surgeries to heal her, from one of my favorite small presses, Deep Vellum.
A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska
A deeply affecting book about a pair of conjoined twins who grow up in Macedonia throughout the 80s and 90s when the Soviet Union was in decline and conflict was rife in Eastern Europe, this book has a huge scope but the first person narrations give it a really down to earth, personal feel.
How to Set a Fire and Why by Jesse Ball
Fun, strange, accessible and wildly subversive. Part snarky coming-of-age-tale, part treatise on anarchist philosophy, one that somehow retains a humanity and sense of humor while being both topical and urgent.
Ema the Captive by Cesar Aira
A gentle meditation on the natural world in its grotesqueness and its beauty, humanity’s place within it, and the effect that human progress has had on both. With his usual incredible attention to detail and in measured, lucid prose, Aira somehow turns this tale into a page-turner, the kind of feat only he could accomplish.
Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marias
No one understands -- nor is fascinated by -- the human condition like Javier Marias. A bright, expansive novel about truth, guilt, justice and the secrets we choose to keep -- and the ones we don't. A massive novel of truths that skirts the line between literary and entertaining, intimate and universal.
Ninety-Nine Stories of God by Joy Williams
I want to give everyone I know this book for their birthday. I want to leave it in hotel nightstands like Gideon leave Bibles. This is a book full of little stories that are nevertheless full of mystery, wisdom, pathos and humor, tiny stories that demand to be reread and pondered.
Revulsion: Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador by Horacio Castellanos Moya
A snarky, manic commentary on a deflated, shallow El Salvadorian culture -- one filled with TV-obsessed rubes, cheap beer and hypocritical politicians -- that, nearly twenty years after its original publication, is probably more a reflection of America than we'd like to admit. Funny, sharp and fast-paced.
Golem by Lorenzo Ceccotti
A gorgeous, action-packed, futuristic political thriller. Fans of anime & manga will especially appreciate the art style.
Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville
In the midst of WWII a Surrealist bomb is set off in Paris. Paintings, poems, dreams, and nightmares animate and join the fray... weirdly wonderful, and unlike anything else out there.
The Signing Bones by Shaun Tan
A spectacularly beautiful book: full color photos of Tan's strange & intriguing sculptures paired with passages from Grimm's fairy tales.
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link
Link's newest book quickly climbed into the upper registers of my all-time-favorite short story collections. Fans of Karen Russell, Neil Gaiman, and Ray Bradbury absolutely must snag this one. Only one phrase truly sums it up: "gobsmacking magnificence."
Beyond the Woods: Fairy Tales Retold by Paula Guran
Nearly every story in this anthology of modern fairy tales and retellings left me hungry for more!
La transmigración de los cuerpos por Yuri Herrera
Es una oportunidad encantadora para describir este libro corto sobre un protagonista comprometido. Como las novelas negras, la narrativa combina las historias clásicas del amor y la traición en un ambiente de corrupción de la sociedad. Después, el mal viene a la nación y los momentos de humor negro empiezan.
Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Pick it up. Does it immediately bring you joy? Yes? Keep it and put it in its proper place, folded if necessary. No? Get rid of it. Kondo provides the basic guideline and then this book shows us how to fold, store and organize the joy.
The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
Bryson continues his journey through England, this time revisiting places he knew from years before and those he has never seen. His abiding affection for his residence of several years is apparent, as is his difficulty in adjusting to the consequences of economic austerity measures. We laugh with him and can commiserate with his outrage.
Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina
An extraordinary look at who, rather than what, animals are. Safina successfully asserts that, in our zeal not to anthropomorphize, we have made the equally unscientific error of ignoring clear evidence of cognition, feeling and community among our non-human, earthly cohabitants. Illuminating and deeply moving.
Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson
A beautiful, perhaps radical, and necessary addition to the conversation about our relationship with the earth and its non-human inhabitants in all their forms. E. O. Wilson offers yet another reasoned, eloquent and impassioned plea for the necessity of biodiversity.
Counternarratives by John Keene
The stories in Counternarratives construct unforgettable intersections of the utterly fantastic and achingly real. Prepare to be surprised, jolted, provoked and deeply moved by Keene’s defiant prose. Prepare to be confronted with the beauty, pathos and horror of the human past, present and future.