Note to self: Spend less time reading year-end top 10 lists and spend more time reading. Or, at least, make your own top 10 list. So here goes. Note: These are books I read in 2016, most of them came out before then.
In no particular order:
Paul Theroux: Deep South. A travelogue going to places in rural and poor southern counties that nobody knows and where nobody goes. Deep and meaningful conversations with the people who got left behind and stick it out. Bonus: Great photography from the one and only Steve McCurry.
Stewart O’Nan: Sunset. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life at Hollywood, trying to make it as a screenwriter. Brilliantly written and incredibly interesting. But of course you could say that about pretty much any book by Stewart O’Nan. He just keeps churning out one great book after another.
Danilo Di Luca: Bestie da Vittoria. Among the many dozen of cyclist autobiographies this one stands out. Because he takes you straight into the mindset of the athlete who has to win at any cost. Not a nice place to be, but brutally honest.
Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens. Wow. Just wow. So much knowledge, so brilliantly told, and incredible nuggets of insights both in generally available knowledge as well as unique observation and analysis. Mandatory reading.
Elena Ferrante: Storia del Nuovo Cognome. Yes, you can believe the hype. The books in the Naples tetralogy really are that good. The emotional depths of the two heroines, the description of life in the Neapolitan slums, and the socio-economic development of post-war Italy make this compelling on so many levels.
Geoff Dyer: White Sands. A writer’s writer. Like nothing else. This collection of quasi-autobiographical essays is particularly rich.
Cheryl Strayed: Wild. Unputdownable. The combined description of personal and physical journeys is unique. Maybe a bit dramatic in places, but so authentic and raw that you come on board and stay there.
Wolf Biermann: Warte nicht auf bessere Zeiten. Somewhat embarrassingly I did not know his work. Still don’t. But this description of life growing up in the DDR and then getting kicked out is precise, authentic, often funny, and incredibly interesting. Mandatory reading.
Anne Garrels: Putin Country. NPR journalist covers life and people in a mid-size Russian city over twenty years and charts and impressive course from the breakup of the Soviet empire to Putin Country. Rich, authentic, and not quick to pass judgment.
Helen MacDonald: H is for Hawk. Oh boy. What a journey. You get sucked in on the first ten pages and then you’re in for the ride. Who ever thought a book (seemingly) about training a hawk could be so incredibly interesting.
Books that did not make the list:
David Millar: Racer. Very good.
Klaus Modick: 24 Türen. Not sure.
Marlon James: A Brief History of Seven Killings. Overwhelming.
David Mitchell: Slade House. Unputdownable.
Ragnar Hovland: Uber den Wassern schweben. Flott.
Walter Bernardi: Sex and the bici. Divertente.
Anthony Doerr: All the Light We Cannot See. Excellent.
Bill Bryson: The Road to Little Dribbling. Fun.
Amos Oz: Judas. Impressive.
Bradley Wiggins. My Time. Good enough.
Larry McMurtry: Roads. A pleasant surprise.
Brian Benson: Going Somewhere. Not quite good enough.
Alessandro Baricco: Mr Gwyn. Hhhhmmmm…
Reynolds: Slow Road.
Barnes: Noise of Time. Very good.
Stewart O’Nan: West of Sunset. Excellent.
David Grossman: Kommt ein Pferd in eine Bar. Sehr schwierig.
Seethaler: Ein ganzes Leben.
Di Luca: Bestie da Vittoria. Wow.
Stewart O’Nan: City of Secrets. Excellent.
Jens Voigt: Shut Up Legs: Fun.
Leta Semadeni: Tamangur. Schwierig.
Jan Cleijne: Legends of the Tour. Can’t remember.
Juliana Buhring: The Road I Ride. Good stuff.
Edward P. Sykes: Along the Med on a Bike Called Reggie. Can’t remember.
Hughes Kehlenbach: Long-Distance Cycling. Not so good.
Ketil Bjornstad: Die Unsterblichen. Stark.
Bjarne Riis: Riis. Good enough.
Geoff Dyer: Sheer Rage. Brilliant.
Dave Eggers: Heroes of the Frontier. Very good.
Leslie Jamison: The Empathy Exams. Impressive.
Emily Chappell: Unburdened. Not bad.
Jonathan Ames: Wake Up, Sir. Good fun.
J.D. Vance: Hillbilly Elegies. Expected more.
Ian McEwan: Nutshell. Brilliant and then some.
Robert Harris: Conclave. Good fun.
Keith Foskett: The Journey in Between. Pretty dull.
Keith Foskett: The Last Englishman. A bit better.
Jack Hitt: Off the Road. So so.
Rita Kuczynski: Mauerläufer. Da lernt man viel.
Manfred Krug: Abgehauen. Da auch.
Eva-Maria Hagen: Eva und der Wolf. Da auch.
Otessa Moshfegh: Eileen. Nasty and disappointing.
Ian Frazier: Great Plains. Good stuff.
William Boyd: The Vanishing Game. Great format.
Geraint Thomas: The World According to G. What a pleasant surprise.
Sabine Bode: Nachkriegskinder. Enttäuschend.
Josh Katz: Speaking American. Fun.
Rühle/Zekri: Deutschland extrem. Ganz interessant.
Tim Moore: The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold. Fun.
George Plimpton: Paper Lion. Pretty good.
Jonathan Safran Foer: Here I Am. Excellent.
Saul Friedländer: When Memory Comes. Remarkable.
Kjetil Bornstad: Erlings Fall. Solide.
MIchael Krüger: Das Irrenhaus. Toll.
Arno Surminski: Von den Kriegen. Schwierig.
Gerhard Jäger: Der Schnee, das Feuer, die Schuld und der Tod. Nicht schlecht.
William Boyd: The Blue Afternoon. Solid.