If you’re needing book recommendations to beef up your winter break reading list, look no further. As 2016 comes to a close, the Cafe staff is striking a reflective pose. Each of us chose two of the best books we read this year: one that was published in 2016 (because it’s important to have something positive that came out of this garbage fire of a year), and one that was published before 2016.
Emily Moses, editor in chief
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (2016)
A true surprise! I’ve written before about how I very rarely read fiction, but the best book I read this year that was published this year was, indeed, Jacqueline Woodson’s reflective, ethereal, Morrison-esque novel Another Brooklyn. I devoured this book in one sitting, then turned it over and read it again. The form of this book breathes in a way that has perfectly married the content of memory retrieval, and that has changed the way I write about my own memories. I cannot recommend this book enough.
The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch (2011)
I am so late to the Lidia Yuknavitch party, but, holy hell, I can tell you that it is better to be late than never. Yuknavitch’s sentence structure and word choice haunts me still, months after I finished this book, and I am still struggling to find anything intelligent or helpful to say about this book other than You must read it you really must and you can thank me later.
Vince Granata, staff editor
What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell (2016)
The most beautiful book I read this year. Greenwell writes musical sentences and creates some of the most breathtaking prose I’ve encountered. The novel explores an American teacher’s relationship with a man he meets during a clandestine rendezvous in Sofia, Bulgaria. While the story of this relationship and the unnamed narrator’s history are compelling, Greenwell’s writing is what I will never forget, the many ways he bends sentences that swell with symphonic effect.
My Brother by Jamaica Kincaid (1997)
My Brother feels almost too full, packed with honest reflection and lucid recollections of Kincaid’s complex relationship with her brother. The narrative follows Kincaid’s struggle to help her brother after he contracts AIDS. Much of the book’s power surrounds just how much about her brother’s life remains unknowable to Kincaid and how much of his life is tied up with her family’s story on Antigua, a place she has moved far away from.
Karen Keating, staff editor
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin (reprinted 2016)
This short story collection is a marvel. It will give you goosebumps, make you gasp, laugh, and fall in love, over and over, with the characters who populate these pages, along with the writer who inked them into life. Here is a great article about the author, and here is a great review of the collection.
Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins (2012)
A captivating collection I’ll forever keep on my shelf for its master lessons in plot, structure, and good old fashioned story-telling. Read “Ghosts, Cowboys.” Read “The Past Perfect, the Past Continuous, the Simple Past.” Read “The Diggings.” Read them all.