10.) The Transmigration of Bodies by Yuri Herrera, And Other Stories
9.) Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, Copper Canyon Press
8.) The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, Greystone Books
7.) Unbearable Splendor by Sun Yung Shin, Coffee House
6.) Pretentiousness by Dan Fox, Coffee House Press
5.) The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky, Brooklyn Arts Press
4.) Look by Solmaz Sharif, Graywolf Press
3.) Wintering by Peter Geye, Knopf Publishing Group
2.) Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching by Mychal Denzel Smith, Nation Books
1.) The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Doubleday Books
This was a tough year of reading for me. 2016 was objectively awful and most of my thoughts were focused around this horrendous election cycle and my reading choices reflected that. I was surprised in my compiling of this list at the amount of poetry I read and loved this year. I'm not much of a poetry reader. I have always been slightly intimidated by poetry. "Do I understand this? Is this or that concept over my head? Am I being pretentious?" See choice 6 for answers to that last question, or head over here for more on why I loved the Dan Fox book.
Perhaps I found poetry this year because it was really the only thing that felt enjoyable to read. Perhaps it was because poetry kicked major ass this year. Perhaps it was because I needed to feel a sense of accomplishment and reading small, powerful poetry books offered me that. Perhaps it was because I rediscovered Saul Williams this year and that reignited something within me. I'm not sure what it was but poetry saved me in 2016.
The Daniel Borzutsky is absolutely f&*%#ing incredible and if you haven't found that book go out and get it right now. You will not regret it. It won the National Book Award for poetry this year because everything is always about the performance of becoming human. Solmaz Sharif's collection of poems entitled Look tells the story of the punishing legacy enduring warfare can have on a family. She expertly utilizes language lifted from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms to demonstrate how we have sanitized the language of warfare into something more benign and less deadly. By doing so, we have allowed those who perpetrate warfare into convincing us that the true cost of such wars is not the loss of human life, but the loss of capitalist opportunity. Sharif's use of language in the collection accomplishes what is, in my view, the essential task of poetry, and that is to engender empathy and speak truth to power. And to that end, Look succeeds in spades. Sun Yung Shin's newest collection, Unbearable Splendor, is essential reading from one of our finest local poets. This collection has everything from cyborgs to Borges, and touches on displacement, identity, family, and uses form and space to capture the imagination.
In the non-fiction category, Mychal Denzel Smith's Invisible Man, Got The Whole World Watching was one of the first books I read this year and remained one of the best. In this work, Smith offers a personal story of self-creation and discovery through the lens of hip-hop and heroes. This is story written with force and vulnerability, and speaks to coming of age during the Obama presidency, confronting and combating white supremacy (a theme for my reading this year,) and finding peace in the midst of your insecurities. This book changed me. It reaffirmed me. I loved it.
And finally, my fiction picks. Wintering by Peter Geye, another one of our tremendous local authors, is a gripping story that takes place in one of my favorite places on earth, the North woods of Minnesota. It deals with the legacy our ancestors leave on our present selves and is a jarring and exciting novel. It's kind of like Cormac McCarthy took a canoe trip through the BWCA. I also had the honor and privilege to spend an evening asking Peter all the questions I could muster on this book and he was gracious and kind in his responses. Make sure you look out for more of our Fireside Sessions in the new year.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead has landed on numerous best of lists this holiday season and that's because this book is an absolute bombshell. If you've been in the store at all in the last 6 months, it's very likely that I have tried to put this in your hands and send you out the door. It had me catching my breath between page turns and grasping at words and concepts as if I was right along the trail with Cora. It is one of the finest examples of how fiction enables us to understand and absorb experiences foreign to us, which, in my opinion, is the fundamental reason why we read.
Bonus: Matt's Top Ten Albums of the Year
10.) Ology - Gallant
9.) Epoch - Tycho
8.) 22, a million - Bon Iver
7.) Malibu - Anderson . Paak
6.) Skin - Flume
5.) "Awaken, My Love" - Childish Gambino (this links to "Redbone" but find a stream of "California")
4.) We Got it From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service - A Tribe Called Quest
3.) A Seat At The Table - Solange
2.) The Life Of Pablo - Kanye West
1.) Coloring Book - Chance the Rapper
This list was much easier to compile than the books. Click on the artist's name to listen to a track off the album.