Best of the Year: Staff Favorites, 2016

In the tradition of Best Books, Holiday Gift Guides, the “yearly roundup” and Top Ten lists, we present some of our favorite books published in 2016, selected by the staff at the Book Beat.

hidden lifeThe Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World

A paradigm-smashing chronicle of joyous entanglement that will make you acknowledge your own entanglement in the ancient and ever-new web of being.”—Charles Foster, author of Being a Beast

Are trees social beings? In this international bestseller, forester and author Peter Wohlleben convincingly makes the case that, yes, the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. Wohlleben also shares his deep love of woods and forests, explaining the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in his woodland.

After learning about the complex life of trees, a walk in the woods will never be the same again.

lorenLoren Eiseley: Collected Essays on Evolution, Nature, the Cosmos

For the first time, the collected essays of a uniquely elegant science and nature writer: profound, intimate reflections on evolution and other wonders of the natural world in the tradition of Thoreau, Darwin, and Muir.

An eminent paleontologist with the soul and skill of a poet, Loren Eiseley (1907-1977) was among the 20th-century’s greatest inheritors of the literary tradition of Henry David Thoreau, Charles Darwin, and John Muir, and a precursor to such later writers as Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, and Carl Sagan. After decades of fieldwork and discovery as a “bone-hunter” and professor, he turned late in life to the personal essay, and beginning with the surprise million copy seller The Immense Journey (1957) he produced an astonishing succession of books that won acclaim both as science and as art. Two volume hardbound boxed set in slipcase.

61jfoeheqsl-_sx311_bo1204203200_Ghosts Girlfriends and Other Stories by Robert Walser, brings together eighty-one brief texts spanning Robert Walser’s career, from pieces conceived amid his early triumphs to later works written at a psychiatric clinic in Bern.

“With the publication of Girlfriends, Ghosts, and Other Stories, we have one more opportunity to discover this extraordinary Swiss writer…With his intrusions into the text, Walser shows a delightful disregard for the established boundaries between reader and writer…The result is a literature that laughs at itself, an utterly original form of art.” —A.M. Kaempf, Los Angeles Review of Books

The moral core of Walser’s art is the refusal of power; of domination…Walser’s virtues are those of the most mature, most civilized art. He is a truly wonderful, heartbreaking writer. —Susan Sontag

Original release in paperback $15.95

unnamedThe Last Wolf and Herman by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, features a classic, obsessed Krasznahorkai narrator, a man hired to write (by mistake, by a glitch of fate) the true tale of the last wolf of Extremadura, a barren stretch of Spain. This miserable experience (being mistaken for another, dragged about a cold foreign place, appalled by a species’ end) is narrated— all in a single sentence—as a sad looping tale, a howl more or less, in a dreary wintry Berlin bar to a patently bored bartender. “La?szlo? Krasznahorkai is a visionary writer of extraordinary intensity and vocal range who captures the texture of present-day existence in scenes that are terrifying, strange, appallingly comic, and often shatteringly beautiful: magnificent works of deep imagination and complex passions, in which the human comedy verges painfully onto transcendence.” —Marina Warner, Announcing The 2015 Man Booker International Prize

5172lgbxmql-_sx327_bo1204203200_Based on a True Story by Norm Macdonald

The possibly true memoir of the actor, raconteur, gambler, former SNL cast member, and one of the best stand-up comedians of all time.

As this book’s title suggests, Norm Macdonald tells the story of his life—more or less—from his origins on a farm in the-back-of-beyond Canada and an epically disastrous appearance on Star Search to his account of auditioning for Lorne Michaels and his memorable run as the anchor of Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live—until he was fired because a corporate executive didn’t think he was funny. But Based on a True Story is much more than a memoir; it’s the hilarious, inspired epic of Norm’s life.

51iyvulvmwl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Frantumaglia: A Writer’s Journey by Elena Ferrante

This book invites readers into Elena Ferrante’s workshop. It offers a glimpse into the drawers of her writing desk, those drawers from which emerged her three early standalone novels and the four installments of My Brilliant Friend, known in English as the Neapolitan Quartet. Consisting of over 20 years of letters, essays, reflections, and interviews, it is a unique depiction of an author who embodies a consummate passion for writing.

51btaybwril-_sx334_bo1204203200_Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy by David Daley

The explosive account of how Republican legislators and political operatives fundamentally rigged our American democracy through redistricting.

With Barack Obama’s historic election in 2008, pundits proclaimed the Republicans as dead as the Whigs of yesteryear. Yet even as Democrats swooned, a small cadre of Republican operatives, including Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie, and Chris Jankowski began plotting their comeback with a simple yet ingenious plan. These men had devised a way to take a tradition of dirty tricks—known to political insiders as “ratf**king”—to a whole new, unprecedented level.

9780812989786Known and Strange Things: Essays by Teju Cole

“[Cole] brings a subtle, layered perspective to all he encounters—whether it’s photographs, books, foreign countries, or Internet memes. The collected essays of Known and Strange Things offer a glimpse of a roving mind in action.” —Vanity Fair

With this collection of more than fifty pieces on politics, photography, travel, history, and literature, Teju Cole solidifies his place as one of today’s most powerful and original voices. On page after page, deploying prose dense with beauty and ideas, he finds fresh and potent ways to interpret art, people, and historical moments, taking in subjects from Virginia Woolf, Shakespeare, and W. G. Sebald to Instagram, Barack Obama, and Boko Haram. Cole brings us new considerations of James Baldwin in the age of Black Lives Matter; the African American photographer Roy DeCarava, who, forced to shoot with film calibrated exclusively for white skin tones, found his way to a startling and true depiction of black subjects; and (in an essay that inspired both praise and pushback when it first appeared) the White Savior Industrial Complex, the system by which African nations are sentimentally aided by an America “developed on pillage.”

61dqqnm8cgl-_sx323_bo1204203200_Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll by Peter Guralnick

The author of the critically acclaimed Elvis Presley biography Last Train to Memphis brings us the life of Sam Phillips, the visionary genius who singlehandedly steered the revolutionary path of Sun Records.

The music that he shaped in his tiny Memphis studio with artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Ike Turner, Howlin’ Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash, introduced a sound that had never been heard before. He brought forth a singular mix of black and white voices passionately proclaiming the vitality of the American vernacular tradition while at the same time declaring, once and for all, a new, integrated musical day. With extensive interviews and firsthand personal observations extending over a 25-year period with Phillips, along with wide-ranging interviews with nearly all the legendary Sun Records artists, Guralnick gives us an ardent, unrestrained portrait of an American original as compelling in his own right as Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, or Thomas Edison. New in paperback, $19.95

61fg5dvpqcl-_ac_us160_Heaven Was Detroit edited by M.L. Liebler, captures a wide spectrum of Detroit popular music from the early 1900s to the twenty-first century. Readers will find in this unique and stimulating anthology new essays, and a few classics, by widely known and respected music writers, critics, and recording artists who weigh in on their careers and experiences in the Detroit music scene, from rock to jazz and everything in between. With a foreword by the acclaimed rock writer Dave Marsh and iconic photos by Leni Sinclair, the book features such well-known writers as Greil Marcus, Jaan Uhelszki, Al Young, Susan Whitall, Gary Graff, John Sinclair, and many others. Paperback $34.95

51ofwg7mkl-_sx421_bo1204203200_The Other Paris by Luc Sante

A trip through Paris as it will never be again–dark and dank and poor and slapdash and truly bohemian

Paris, the City of Lights, the city of fine dining and seductive couture and intellectual hauteur, was until fairly recently always accompanied by its shadow: the city of the poor, the outcast, the criminal, the eccentric, the willfully nonconforming. In The Other Paris, Luc Sante gives us a panoramic view of that second metropolis, which has nearly vanished but whose traces are in the bricks and stones of the contemporary city, in the culture of France itself, and, by extension, throughout the world.New in paperback $17

51jqmqctlfl-_sx470_bo1204203200_Yuge!: 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump by G. B. Trudeau

“Doonesbury is one of the most overrated strips out there. Mediocre at best.”
–Donald Trump, 1989

He tried to warn us. Ever since the release of the first Trump-for-President trial balloon in 1987, Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau has tirelessly tracked and highlighted the unsavory career of the most unqualified candidate to ever aspire to the White House. It’s all there–the hilarious narcissism, the schoolyard bullying, the loathsome misogyny, the breathtaking ignorance; and a good portion of the Doonesbury cast has been tangled up in it. Join Duke, Honey, Earl, J.J., Mike, Mark, Roland, Boopsie, B.D., Sal, Alice, Elmont, Sid, Zonker, Sam, Bernie, Rev. Sloan, and even the Red Rascal as they cross storylines with the big, orange airhorn who’s giving the GOP such fits.

Garry Trudeau is the “sleazeball” “third-rate talent” who draws the “overrated” comic strip Doonesbury, which “very few people read.” He lives in New York City with his wife Jane Pauley, who “has far more talent than he has.”

Best of the Year 2016 recommendations by Stephen Dueweke, Kyle Callert, Madelyn Etzcorn, Dominic Pietro, Alejandra Villegas and Cary Loren.

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