The Arts

Nine books you may have missed in 2016

Nine books you may have missed in 2016

Like many readers, my TBR (to be read) pile is out of control. I can’t read fast enough to keep up with the number of books added on a weekly basis. So, more often than not, I miss a lot of the books that make those end of year lists. As 2016 comes to a close, I thought it would be interesting to do two things: 1) take a look at small press books you and I may have missed this year and 2) ask our local booksellers what they’d recommend. Given my tastes and reading habits, you’ll see the first seven books are either fiction or memoir. Some I’ve read; others are still in the queue. The booksellers’ suggestions help round us out with some poetry, non-fiction, and a “children’s book for adults.” I hope you’ll check out the list and add some of these titles to your TBR pile, even if the 2017 books will begin to pile up next week. Also, I hope you’ll tell us what you’re reading. (Give us a shout at @thealtweekly or @wbbelcher on Twitter.) 


The Cosmopolitans by Sarah Schulman (The Feminist Press) 

The Cosmopolitans is a retelling of Balzac’s Cousin Bette. Set in Greenwich Village during the 1950s, the novel centers on the friendship between Earl, a black closeted gay actor, and his best friend and neighbor Bette, a middle-aged gay white woman. This is a story about Manhattan in the late ‘50s, truth-telling, and the need to be understood. “Simultaneously a realist exploration of a particular milieu, an illustration of the changing roles and possibilities for women at that time, and a series of thoughtful musings on the nature of companionship and platonic love, Earl and Bette’s story is also a satisfying revenge narrative and a portrait of an unexpected but vital friendship,” noted Publisher’s Weekly, in a starred review.      


Willful Disregard by Lena Andersson (Other Press) 

Lena Andersson’s novel won the August Prize, Sweden’s top literary award, in 2013. It is billed as “a novel about a perfectly reasonable woman’s descent into the delusions of unrequited love.” Ester, the protagonist, is rational and analytical. After she gives a lecture on Hugo Rask, a famed artist, only to find out that he’s in the audience, Ester’s hold on her life and imagination unravels. As much as it’s about perception, “Willful Disregard is a story about total and desperate devotion, and how willingly we betray ourselves in the pursuit of love.” 


Riverine: A Memoir of Anywhere But Here by Angela Palm (Graywolf Press) 

Angela Palm’s memoir of interconnected essays won the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize in 2014, and it appeared on August 2016 Indie Next list. The Kankakee River in rural Indiana is the backdrop. Kirkus notes: “Densely symbolic, unsentimental, and eloquent, Palm’s book explores the connections between yearning, desire, and homecoming with subtlety and lucidity. The result is a narrative that maps the complex relationships that exist between individual identity and place. An intelligent, evocative, and richly textured memoir.”  




The Inventors: A Memoir by Peter Selgin (Hawthorne Books) 

Another memoir on the list is Peter Selgin’s The Inventors, which was released in March by Hawthorne Books. Selgin’s work has received a lot of praise this year, most notably from Library Journal who declared that book was “destined to become a modern classic.” At once, this memoir is about Selgin’s relationships with his father, an inventor, and an influential teacher/mentor, who Selgin discovers had fabricated his life story. “The Inventors is the story of how these men shaped the author’s journey to manhood, a story of promises fulfilled and broken as he uncovers the truth about both men, and about himself.” 


Golden Delicious by Christopher Boucher (Melville House) 

 If you’re looking for something different, pick up Christopher Boucher’s Golden Delicious. This imaginative novel takes place in Appleseed, Mass., “where stories grow in soil, sentences are kept as pets, and pianos change your point of view.” As much as the novel is about family and love, it’s about the power of language, images, and storytelling. There’s an absurdity to the narration that is somehow tender, amusing, and moving. I heard Boucher read from the work in May, and both scenes he read have stuck with me for months. If you don’t want to take my word for it, listen to George Saunders, who wrote, “What a crazed, beautiful book…Boucher makes the world come alive by making language come alive.” 


 The Loved Ones by Sonya Chung (Relegation Books) 

I was lucky enough to interview Sonya Chung for Issue 1 of The Alt. In case you missed it, here’s a piece of what I wrote in October: “Structured around two narratives, The Loved Ones follows Charles and Alice Lee, a biracial couple whose marriage is disintegrating in tragedy’s wake, and Chong-ho and Soon-mi Lee, a Korean American couple whose teenage daughter Hannah serves as Charles and Alice’s babysitter. Both narratives stem from love stories that are subversive and defiant. As she skillfully reveals each character’s backstories, Chung charts a course where these two families, from vastly different cultural experiences, collide. The result is a deeply intimate portrayal of love, loss, and family ties that bond, stretch, and occasionally snap.” 

 From your friendly local booksellers: 

 “There’s this esoteric book that I just adore from David R. Godine, Publisher called The Noblest Roman: A History of the Centaur Types of Bruce Rogers by Jerry Kelly. Not only is this a fascinating account of one the most historical and popular fonts ever created, but it is a sensualist’s delight. Seriously, I love holding it and looking at the illustrations and the way the text appears on the page–not to mention the way the paper itself feels. It’s so darn pretty!” – Amy Lane, The Open Door Bookstore (Schenectady) 

 “I recommend The Well of Being (Flat Iron Press), which is a children’s book for adults, written and illustrated by Jean-Pierre Weill. We all have a story. This magical book gently encourages the reader along the path to self-discovery. A wonderful message graced with peaceful artwork, this book is perfect for gift giving.” – Nancy Scheemaker, Northshire Bookstore (Saratoga Springs) 

 “W.S. Merwin’s Garden Time (Copper Canyon Press) allows us to bear witness to the conversation – and the friction – between time and meaning. Composed as Merwin’s vision flagged and dictated to his wife, these poems strike an elegiac note that echoes in the hallways of memory and resonates in scenes of nature. These poems pause over the conflict between interior and exterior time, the individual and the world, and reach toward their strange harmony. While reading this collection, one is struck by Merwin’s masterful delivery as well as the poignant grasping for words to express the inevitability of loss and change. This quiet collection is not to be missed.” – Eve MacNeill, Battenkill Books (Cambridge) 






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