2016 – A Great Year for Lies and Professional Liars

Every January I take the time to look back at the best literature of the previous year. Last year, thanks to library audiobooks, I was able to consume 97 books, 86 of them novels.

2016 was a good year to be immersed in fiction. There were a lot of strident voices, unpleasant people, and bald-faced lies. You all know what I’m talking about. Frankly, when someone presents me with a different version of reality, I’d prefer that person be a novelist. It’s okay for novelists to make stuff up—it’s their job. Furthermore, a novelist knows he or she is fabricating a story and readers accept it as such. It’s frightening when politicians become adept at excreting words via their bodies’ exit ramp. It’s even more frightening when they believe in the fabricated reality they’ve created. Most frightening of all is when a large minority of American voters buy into the fantasy.

Which brings me to why we should read/listen to literature. It’s not all about escapism. Any teacher can tell you that children who read, or are read to, develop better vocabularies, an ear for grammar and sentence structure, and develop better communication skills. But more importantly, reading expands our critical thinking. Reading fiction can give you insight into places, times, and scenarios you  might otherwise not experience. By exposing you to different people’s cultures, customs and plights, reading can activate empathy sensors thus making you feel more forgiving and nurturing instead of condescending and inflexible. I think that’s a good thing.

I usually consult expert sources—MPR news, GoodReads, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Book Pages, etc—and report their best-of-the-year choices. I did that this year, but found only nominal correlation between their Best Books and mine. So, feel free to google their lists—I’m giving you mine.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

News of the World by Paulette Jiles, is so immersive and enchanting it’s like a time-travel ticket to the nineteenth century. Set in 1870, this is an adventure/relationship novel featuring a seventy-year-old man who travels through rural Texas reading aloud a selection of newspapers to the largely illiterate populace. He is tasked with returning a ten-year-old girl—who  had been taken by the Kiowa tribe four years previously—to  her relatives over four-hundred miles away. Short-listed for the 2016 National Book Award, this tender novella is appropriate for all ages.

Small Great Things

If you are white like me, and think you “don’t see color” you really should listen to Jodi Picoult’s new novel, Small Great Things. Typical of Ms. Picoult, she has chosen a controversial social issue—modern day American racism—and told the story using  alternating points of views. I was especially happy that they used three different readers for the fourteen-hour audio version—all of them excellent. This thought-provoking  tale of a black labor and delivery nurse and a white supremacist couple is compelling and tightly-plotted with well-drawn characters. Warning: may cause an examination of values and foster introspection.

Dodgers by Bill Beverly

Dodgers by Bill Beverly, is a dark coming-of-age novel about 15-year-old Los Angeles gang member who, along with his younger brother and two other teenage boys, is sent by his uncle  to kill a witness hiding out in Wisconsin. Winner of the CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger award as well as CWA  Best Debut Crime novel, this is more than a gangster/road trip book—this is first-rate fiction.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Though I have previously written about  A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, I want to remind you all not to miss this wonderfully written 18-hour audiobook. The author does a brilliant job re-creating the Moscow of Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev as he tells the story of Count Rostov and his cronies in The Metropol Hotel.  You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and ultimately you will sigh at the  triumph of goodness over cruelty and hope over despair. Given our new regime, I think  it is highly appropriate reading for our times.

Hollyn Chase
Since her retirement, Hollyn Chase has served as VP of operations at Chez Chase--she also cooks and vacuums. Darling Jack, her husband of forty-two years, gets to be President; they agree that this is because he works much harder than she does. Being the VP is not all glitz and glamour, she does many mundane things. But she does them happily since she discovered that listening to audiobooks makes the boring bearable. Because her mind is always occupied, she's stopped plotting to overthrow the government. Her children, who rarely agree on anything, are both happy about this. Besides her addiction to fiction, she's fairly normal and sometimes even nice.
Comment Policy: We welcome your comments, with some caveats: Please keep your comments positive and civilized. If your comment is critical, please make it constructive. If your comment is rude, we will delete it. If you are constantly negative or a general pest, troll, or hater, we will ban you from the site forever. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Comments are disabled on articles older than 90 days. Thank you. Carry on.

17 Responses

  1. Avatar Francie says:

    Thank you! Encouraging us to be better informed by reading (or listening!) might be the best suggestion for paying tribute to the Reverend Martin Luther King.

    • Avatar Hollyn Chase says:

      Thank you Francine! I’m very grateful to Doni for publishing my article on this most timely of days.

  2. Jim Dowling Jim Dowling says:

    I’d like to see a movie made from News of the World.  Great story.

  3. Avatar john says:

    Are these available through the library or audible or B & N bookstore?

    • Avatar Hollyn Chase says:

      Yes, I got all of these from the SF library, (as ebooks and audiobooks) but they are also available at B&N and Audible. They are probably available at our local library, but you may need to place a request or a reserve.

  4. Avatar robin knighten says:

    Thanks Holly, I’m always looking for “new reads” that someone else enjoys. It was nice seeing you again. Robin

  5. Avatar robin knighten says:

    Sorry, I meant Hollyn

  6. A. Jacoby A. Jacoby says:

    “It’s frightening when politicians become adept at excreting words via their bodies’ exit ramp.”

    That is one of the very all time best sentences I’ve ever read! You should write your own novels. Oh, wait . . . . that isn’t fiction!!

    And yes, there is more than one exit ramp in the body . . . and frequently it’s difficult to figure out which one they are using. LOL!!

    • Avatar hollyn says:

      Thanks Adrienne, that’s one of my favorite lines too.  I try very hard to avoid profanity and vulgar expressions, so this was a nice variation on people who talk #@!%.

      It broke my heart when my other publisher deleted it (along with a couple of other sentences). I am so grateful that Doni allows my opinion column to be uncensored

      • Avatar Suzanne P says:

        Hollyn, this article grabbed my attention immediately with the sentence. So happy they allowed you to voice your opinion in full!  Loved it!

  7. Avatar K. Beck says:

    “Warning: may cause an examination of values and foster introspection.  And this is what is also great about fiction! People can often discuss “fiction” without ending up in a screaming match!…because it is fiction, no matter it may be based on fact. Great article. Thanks for your writing!

    • Avatar hollyn says:

      You are so right. My book club consists of people on opposite ends of the political/religious spectrum and in twenty-three years of sharing our views on books the discourse always remains civil.

  8. Avatar cheyenne says:

    There are many fiction books that almost reflect fact.  To Kill a Mocking Bird, Hellstroms Hive, The Red Badge of Courage even Planet of the Apes.  Reading really opens up other worlds and leads to better connect to the real world through relevance and creates thinking.  I have no idea what I was trying to say.

    • Avatar hollyn says:

      Thanks Cheyenne, I get you. And it led me to think that as much as I like reading/listening, I may like talking about books with people even more. Because discussing fiction really facilitates connection. I think everyone should belong to a book club! My book club is reading Hillbilly Elegy in March–I think we will have a fascinating conversation.  Yeah, I know that Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir, not fiction, but hey, I hear it’s so good it reads like fiction . . .

  9. Avatar Sally says:

    Thanks for your article!  It inspires me to read some publications about which I knew nothing!