Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Top Ten Books of 2016

When I was picking what books I wanted to read over Christmas, I tried to pick ones as light as possible. Honestly, I didn't know how much more I could take. I read so many great books this year that at some point I just had to stop, take a break, read some trash...

So here is the top ten books I read this year. I struggled a lot with this because of the vast amount of amazing literature I managed to plough through, so the ones that actually made it into this post I assure you will be well worth your time.

This is an incredible coming-of-age novel, told by a young girl growing up in 1980's New York. Following the death of her beloved uncle, she begins to struggle with her family, friends and who to turn to. It is a sad but warming story, and I really feel the atmosphere perfectly captures what it was like to be a teenager during this era. In my edition, the author provides you with a playlist and I listened to it for the entire time I read the book. I really got into the character's heads and didn't want to let the story go.

This was a haunting experience that I don't think I can truly sum up in one paragraph. I wrote a review of it here, if you want any information, but this book is also set in New York. It follows four friends who met in college through their life, their struggles, and their friendships. It was one of the most heartbreaking, powerful and torturous things I've ever read. Yet, the writing was beautiful and kept me reading into the night. If you are looking for something heavy that won't let you go long after you've finished it, you'll like this.

8. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath's novel about a depressed teenage girl (also in New York, bloody hell) is on my top ten because of how much I related. Though not as fragile as Esther, she talks about how lost and disconnected she is with the world around her. The way she interacts with the other girls in the novel is shocking in it's truth. Near the end, she is subjected to some horrific treatments thinking that they can cure her hysteria. It is a truly moving but saddening novel.

7. Hamlet - William Shakespeare
This play is just great, alright? Hamlet finds out his uncle and mother plotted to kill his father and seeks to avenge him. The whole play deals with themes of madness, suicide and death. It is immense and erratic but at the same time a complete wonder and one of the most captivating of Shakespeare's plays. 

I've been meaning to read this book for such a long time, and when I finally got around to it I knew it was making my top ten only a few chapters in. The intricacy of the satire in the narrative is just genius. Heller's voice is so distinct and so are his messages about the corruption of war and the people that orchestrate it. It is a novel to read for anybody interested in war literature of any period. And even if you aren't, the genius of the narrative is enough in itself to make it one of the best things ever written.

5. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
All of the top five I read between September-December, and they changed my literary outlook insanely quickly. The Secret History began this in September, and opened the doorway to the rest of the Literary Brat Pack (Easton Ellis, McInerney, etc). This novel is about a group of elite academics in (you guessed it) New York. They are obsessed with the romantic idea of the sublime and it chronicles their experiments and drugs, literature and what it means to be alive. It is such an incredible novel written by one of the finest contemporary writers we have. If you are a literary/romantic fanatic, you must read this.

This is a beautiful novel, honestly. From a distance, this just seems to be a character study of an English professor from his childhood to his death. But then you get closer, and you realise what this text is trying to do. It is trying to show you how significant the minute details of individual lives actually are. In hindsight, it reminds me a lot of A Little Life in it's exploration of realistic, day-to-day woes, only it was a lot less forced. Stoner is a novel which you naturally connect to and genuinely want to keep reading about forever. If you're someone interested in studying literature, this novel will be an extra treat for you to read.

3. Nausea - Jean Paul Sartre
This book makes me sigh with satisfaction. Ugh, honestly, it is perfect. This is a work of existentialist fiction following a student who is attempting to write a book about a historical politician. Yet he begins to experience a 'nausea' when he realises the absurdity of his existence and the objects of which surround him. The prose is absolutely magnificent and so was the sense of voice. It is great for people interested in existentialism or French literature.

2. American Psycho - Bret Easton Ellis
This could've been number one, but that spot is reserved. Set in New York (last one, I promise) it is narrated by Patrick Bateman who works on Wall Street and is sickeningly obsessed with the materials around him. As well as being a misogynist, he judges those around him on their wealth, image, and the satisfaction he can gain from them. Oh, and he's also a psychotic axe-murderer, which is quite important. Although this is one of the most graphically violent novels I've ever read, the voice and characterization in this was amazing and stands as a deep criticism of consumer culture.

1. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
Moby, Moby, Moby. What do I even say about this? Melville's novel is about Captain Ahab, a deranged sea-captain who enters on an insane quest to get revenge for the whale that robbed him of his leg. Aboard is the narrator, Ishmael, and cannibal Quequeg, along with a variety of other quite crazy characters that makes this one of the most engrossing reads in the world. This is a huge novel, full of both adventure and long passages of whaling history and culture, but it's so interesting. Melville's writing is stunning which means it never gets boring, and the themes and symbols in it are glaringly obvious but universal in their purpose. Read this now.

I have some inevitable honorable mentions for the books that didn't make the top ten, but that I also gave five stars and really recommend to you. They are The Outsider, the Chaos Walking Trilogy, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Submarine, and The Drowning of Arthur Braxton. I'd encourage you to seek every single one of these books out because they were insanely brilliant. If there's one thing I hope for in 2017, it's that I can have as good a reading year as I did this one.

Despite everything that's happened in 2016 - all of the loses and hardships many have faced through the past twelve months - I hope that everyone has managed to hold it together the best they could. Have an amazing reading year everybody and don't forget to tell me what you read too.

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