The Best Books We Missed in 2016 – The Atlantic
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis really made an impression on me, though I can’t say that I was consciously aware of it as an influence when I was working on my book. I think it’s a brilliant, very disturbing, and complicated portrait of a monster, who is at the same time a product of his culture and his age. Certainly my main character, Lizzie, is no Patrick Bateman, but I do think I was interested in exploring a kind of monstrousness, a psychosis that our body-image-obsessed culture can bring out in us. Another favorite is The Remains of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Not only is it a wonderful story with an incredibly rich and nuanced first-person voice, but I love the way Ishiguro can create a narrator who is so blind to certain truths inside himself, truths that are available to the reader to recognize, but that the narrator can’t access due to his own psychological and emotional blinkers.
In a fall when so much political commentary has so quickly come to look dated and deluded, it is especially thrilling to read cultural commentary that spans more than a decade and is anything but. Mark Greif writes in his preface that as a child “I taught myself to overturn, undo, deflate, rearrange, unthink, and rethink.” That protean persistence of mind drives his essays, most of which first appeared in n+1, the journal he founded in 2004 with friends. His title may suggest obstreperousness, but Greif is above all fiercely curious. Whether he has the notorious Octomom in his sights, or our obsession with exercise, or confrontations with the police, he delivers insights about 21st-century America that will take you by surprise. As a guide to “what we call ‘experience’ today and what we name ‘reality,’” as he puts it, Greif will help you unthink and rethink, and who doesn’t need to do that? This gathering of his essays could not be better timed. —A.H.
Mark Greif: The best novel I read this year—Aravind Adiga’s Selection Day—was published in England and Europe, but won’t come out in the U.S. until January. In its primal triangle of rival brothers and a maniacal father, hell-bent on success in cricket in India, Adiga grips the passions while painting an extraordinary panorama of contemporary sports, greed, celebrity, and mundanity. As a literary master, Adiga has only advanced in his art since his Booker Prize-winning The White Tiger. Reaching back to books that could easily be missed because they came out just as 2015 was ending, I really admired Lester Spence’s sharp and mind-changing Knocking the Hustle: Against the Neoliberal Turn in Black Politics, a volume that’s both personally acute and analytically profound about black life and black insurgency in contemporary America. I’d recommend it to everyone. And a book that came out at the start of 2016, Ben Ratliff’s crystalline Every Song Ever, likewise dug under familiar categories of description—here, from aesthetics and music criticism—to open the reader’s eyes to truer visions of our artistic situation and experience.