Books I finished in 2016

Time for the annual recap of books I completed in the past year with some brief comments thrown in for added value. I totaled 48 books, not bad, though I was shooting for an average of one book per week and came up 4 short. There’s always next year.

what matters most is how well you walk through the fire by Charles Bukowski.  Borrowed this one from a student.

The Humanities and the Dream of America by Geoffrey Galt Harpham. I can’t recall many details, but I liked this book, and it fed my academic interest in what has become of the humanities in the last half century.

The People of Penn’s Woods by Lee Gutkind. A student recommended this one, and I have taught Gutkind’s textbook on creative nonfiction, so it was nice to read his own creative nonfiction for a change.

Citizen by Claudia Rankine. A lot of buzz around this book, all of it deserved. Intriguing hybrid style and very much apropos. The section on Serena Williams stood out to me the most. That and the examples of micro aggressions. I get it now.

Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving. I was really looking forward to Irving’s new book and have to admit I was disappointed. Not his best effort, although I will say that the characters stuck with me. The novel had a long tail, but so much repetitiveness: it needed to be cut by a third.

The Island of Dr Moreau by H.G. Wells. Re-read this one for my Literature and Environment course.

Eleven kinds of loneliness by Richard Yates. Taught this for the first time in a class and it was a pleasure to champion an author who in my opinion doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He seemed to go over well with the students.

An enemy of the people by Henrik Ibsen.  Another re-read for class. Ibsen never gets old.

The Yellow wallpaper and other stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Another re-read for Intro to Short Fiction. The Dover Thrift Edition is a manageable 9 story collection. Very teachable.

Spit back a boy by Iain Haley Pollock.  Poetry by our visiting writer at Widener in the spring. I taught it in Intro to Poetry.

Innocents and others by Dana Spiotta. Although  I liked Eat the Document better, this novel was well paced and intriguing.

Phantom Effect by Michael Aronovitz. I don’t generally read horror, but this was by a former colleague whose star is rising, and I have to say he has a flair for rich description and first person narration. All the local Delaware County references were thoroughly enjoyable as well.

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit. Inventive creative nonfiction. Solnit knows how to weave the strands together. Well executed.

Revolt of the Masses by Ortega y Gassett. A classic I’ve been meaning to read for years. I was reading Christopher Lasch and he brought it up, so I hit the pause button on Lasch until I read Ortega’s book.

Shoplandia by Jim Breslin. Had the pleasure of introducing Jim at the State Street Reading Series last spring. His book consists of linked stories evoking the strange world of QVC with humor and pathos.

Revolt of the Elites by Christopher Lasch. Lasch continues to be relevant today. He basically anticipates all that happened politically this year. Trump’s populism is better understood using him as a lens.

Vida by Patricia Engel. Our fall visiting writer. Engel’s linked stories played very well with my creative writing classes. She’s a formidable talent.

The Peregrine by Baker. This NYRB classic was a compelling read. A man who obsesses on Peregrine Falcons. Nature writing at its best.

Steppenwolf by Hesse.  The last time I read this book I was around 20 years old. I enjoyed it so much that I’m teaching it this spring, so it’s going to make next year’s list too.

Haven  in a Heartless World, by Christopher Lasch. Lasch rocks. I wish more people read him and thought like him. He was an independent minded social critic who made both liberals and conservatives squirm. I also like his critiques of social science and its influence.

How to read literature by Terry Eagleton. I’ve read most of Eagleton’s books and I’m a bit burned out on him. This book didn’t do a lot for me, but I enjoy his wit so much that I keep coming back for the jokes.

A primer for daily life by Susan Willis. The cultural studies approach here seems a little dated now, but at the time, this was probably ground breaking stuff. I completed it on my Nook in a cabin in Tioga County that had no wifi.

The Voyage out by Virginia Woolf. This was her debut novel and it’s totally impressive from start to finish.

Zero K by DeLillo. One of my favorite reads in 2016. DeLillo is pitch perfect here.

Natural Supernaturalism by M.H. Abrams. The kind of literary criticism I adore. Copiously researched, comprehensively synthesized, and written in a style blessedly free of arcane jargon. He actually made me want to read Hegel, and that’s saying something.

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. Took me years to finally get through it, but it was worth every page. A milestone and a book I plan to reread. The kind of novel that lives inside of you forever.

Education’s End by Kronmer. This was just OK. A little too polemical for my taste.

The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram. Great blend of anthropology, phenomenology and creative nonfiction. Loved it.

Telling Stories, ed. by Joyce Carol Oates. Excellent anthology that I adopted for creative writing this year. Read all the stories and taught a healthy sampling of authors, many of whom I read for the first time.

The Year of Lear by James Shapiro. My local independent bookshop went out of business, alas, and this was the last book I bought from them. I loved learning about Shakespeare in context. The Gunpowder Plot I knew nothing about until this.

Great Conversations 1, The Great Books Foundation. Excellent anthology that I taught in English 101 this past fall.

The Trial by Kafka. I found a used Folio society edition on Ebay from the 1960’s with a far out type design that seemed quite fitting to Kafka’s bizzarro yet all too normal world.

The Hobbit by Tolkien. I bought the Folio society edition, a beautiful volume, and enjoyed this way more than when I last read it, which was junior high school, I think.

The Debut by Anita Brookner. I forget why I picked this up but it’s the first Brookner I read and will not be the last. Quality writing.

Prior Analytics by Aristotle. I continue to plow my way through the Great Books of the Western World, verrry slowly….

Reinventing Eden by Carolyn Merchant. Took notes on this one. Very helpful for my Literature and Environment class.

Phedre by Racine. My first neoclassical tragedy. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it.

American Candide by Mahendra Singh. I hoped to like this modern adaptation but found it tiresome. Illustrations were great though.

The Great Chain of Being by Arthur Lovejoy. This is a classic and deservedly so.

Backing Hitler by Robert Gellately. Read this one around the time Trump won, for obvious reasons. Explains how the Germans responded to the rise of the Nazis. Fascinating and utterly disturbing.

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. A reread for class.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass  Reread it for class.

Dr. Sax by Jack Kerouac. Memories of youth Lowell Masschussetts. Kerouac’s runon stream of consciousness style is ambitious and the ending of the book is phantasmagorical.

Myths of Modern Individualism by Ian Watt. Mostly sought this out for Watt’s ideas about Robinson Crusoe and Faust to use for lecture notes. He also looks at Don Quixote and Casanova–all literary exemplars of the modern individual.

As You Like It by Shakespeare. Haven’t read it in decades. I was considering teaching it for Literature and Environment, because it’s considered a pastoral comedy.

The Tempest by Shakespeare. Another one I hadn’t read in years. It’s always worthwhile going back to the bard. I was also thinking about this one for Literature and Environment, because Leo Marx covers it in The Machine in the Garden.

A Singular Modernity by Fredric Jameson. I guess I can’t entirely escape wrestling with the angels of high theory. For Jameson, it was pretty readable.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Will be teaching this in the Spring. I put it on the syllabus based on the reviews and a discussion I had with a CliFi scholar. Good dystopian fiction that will play will alongside Dr. Moreau and other texts I’m doing in the course.

Here are my top ten memorable reads of the year. Drum roll please…

  1. The Magic Mountain
  2. Zero K
  3. Eleven Kinds of Loneliness
  4. Revolt of the Elites
  5. The Voyage Out
  6. The Debut
  7. The Trial
  8. Oryx and Crake
  9. The Spell of the Sensuous
  10. Citizen


Happy new year to all. Keep on truckin’ and keep on readin’.