Books I Read in 2016

  1. John Lennon Letters by John Lennon/Hunter Davies
    Some were really interesting, spilling with personality. And others were like looking at someone’s receipts. Overall, a decent read for big Lennon fans with some cool moments, but not a must-read.
  2. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
    Seems like the appropriate wrap up would be overbearingly footnoted and spilling with intricately complex literary structures. But suffice it to say: brilliant, difficult, funny, tragic, thrilling, inspiring, numbing, meticulous, challenging, sprawli, true. DFW's angle on addiction, entertainment, loneliness, brokenness, and humanity changed me, at the very least. Comes with a free pat on the back, courtesy of yourself and the ghosts of those who never finished.
  3. Swamplandia! By Karen Russell
    I loved/worshipped Russell's collection of short stories (Vampires In The Lemon Grove, thanks to a gift from my friend Jed Wells) for her imagination and her incredible way with words, so Swamplandia! (her exclamation point not mine) had a lot to live up to. But it did. Spooky, swampy, heartfelt picture of a family on the ropes. Fantastic (and fantastical) characters, a journey to an unexpected (and jarring) underworld, and vivid/brilliant/flowing writing to envy.
  4. Mo’ Meta Blues by Ahmir Questlove Thompson
    Great thoughts & insight into the creative process, band dynamics, the histories of hip hop and street cred, the black American experience. Got a little name-droppy—would've loved if he'd named about 1/3 of the songs but gone deeper & richer on the Why behind his love of the songs, as the guy is an encyclopedia on the history of music. A good, smart, obsessive, & fast read if you have any love for hip hop or neo-soul. It certainly pushed me to revisit D’Angelo and Erykah Badu, among others.
  5. Better Living Through Criticism by A.O. Scott
    A critic making the case for criticism as vital to art (and, maybe, art itself). I found myself alternately arguing with the author and nodding my head in agreement. It was a dense read, as he gets pretty philosophic for my tastes, but no book I read this year provoked me as much as this did.
  6. Tom Petty by Warren Zanes
    Very good with some new stories and different perspectives, but I think I prefer Paul Zollo’s book of interviews more. And there isn’t much that beats watching the epic (3+ hours) documentary Runnin Down A Dream...
  7. Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
    Just cruising through the classics with my oldest son. We’re on the next one right now.
  8. Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me by Steven Hyden
    One of my least favorite pop culture critiques is when we bag on art because "it's not what I wanted it to be." That's not to say it's an invalid critique (or that I've never used it—i remember saying that "Camera Obscura made the album I'd wished She & Him had") Still, as a fan of Hyden, I kind of wished he'd spent more time on the actual rivalries & the inside scoop. What he actually did was smarter and less history-dependent, which is: talk about what music rivalries tell us about US.
  9. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
    I'd heard Franzen was a brilliant writer. It was true—the character development/relationships, as well as the masterful unfolding of what he allows you to know and when, juggling timelines & points-of-view, great insight into privilege & politics & modern/corporate/suburban America (from a very white perspective) & middle age & more. Warning: nobody's happy and I didn't love how Franzen writes women. But a brilliant writer? No question.
  10. The Course of Love by Alain de Botton
    "We seem to know far too much about how love starts, and recklessly little about how it might continue." Fascinating read. The author emphasizes that love is a skill rather than an enthusiasm, and regrets how love stories seem to end at the beginning—how did you meet?—rather than the real story—what's it like to be married awhile?—that comprises the bulk of our existence.