Scott MacKay's Favorite Books of 2016

Dec 19, 2016

In no particular order, the best of what I read in 2016 and some titles I’m looking forward to in the new year. These thoughts are particularly my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of RIPR or anyone else.

FICTION:

"The Sellout" by Paul Beatty: The first American author to win the Man Booker Prize spins a raucous, satirical tale about race in America, set in Los Angeles. Mordant humor abounds.

"The Underground Railroad" by Colin Whitehead: A Kafkaesque look at the price of slavery, told though the voice of a young slave named Cora, who escapes a Georgia Plantation and risks her life in pursuit of freedom. One of the year’s very best.

"Moonglow" by Michael Chabon: Under the influence of the powerful painkiller Dilaudid, a grandfather opens up about his memories of familial survival during the Holocaust and World War II. Wonderfully written.

"The Jealous Kind" by James Lee Burke:  Burke leaves his New Orleans roots for a coming of age story set in 1952 in Houston, where young love is aglow in a tangle of crime and social class.

"Nutshell" by Ian McEwan: In a Hamlet riff, an unborn baby narrates a story about his mother and her lover, the brother of his father, plotting to kill the father. Compact and beautifully written.

"Everybody’s Fool" by Richard Russo:  Sequel  to Nobody’s Fool by the master story teller of small town hijinks. Set in upstate New York, sings with funny, self-sabotaging characters.

"Razor Girl" by Carl Hiaasen:  More weird Florida stuff with the usual Hiaasen flourishes, this one set largely in Key West.

NON-FICTION:

"Dark Money" by Jane Mayer: Very well-researched by old friend Mayer about the post-Citizens United World, where the billionaire Koch Brothers and their allies seek to use hidden money to undermine  American democracy.

"His Final Battle: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt" by Joe Lelyveld:  An insightful look at the last 16 months of the life of New Dealer and World War II leader FDR. To the end, FDR was a deft political strategist who had so many health problems that he should not have run for a 4th term in 1944.

"Republic of Spin" by David Greenberg: Traces how the concern for image and communicating with the public became as, or more, important for presidents as matters of substance. Well-researched.

"Strangers in Their Own Land" by Arlie R. Hochschild. A Berkeley professor spends five years with Tea Party and Trump acolytes in the Lake Charles region of Louisiana. The environmental degradation endured by these folks is beyond belief in the 21st Century.

"White Trash: The 400-Year Untold Story of Class in America" by Nancy Isenberg. A very well-researched and nuanced look at changing notions of what constitutes low class in America and the changing notions of culture.

"Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon" by Larry Tye: A great narrative by a former Boston Globe reporter, This work is particularly good on Kennedy's early career and his alliance with Commie witch hunter Joe McCarthy.

"The Boys in the Bunkhouse" by Dan Barry: Fascinating tale of doom and redemption about a group of intellectually disabled men enslaved in a hick town in flyover America. By old friend, former ProJo colleague and current New York Times columnist.

RHODE ISLAND-BASED BOOKS:

"The Book That Matters Most" by Ann Hood: A woman’s 25 year marriage breaks up and she finds redemption from betrayal and loneliness via a book club anchored on Providence’s East Side. Many local Providence scenes.

"The Last Good Heist" by Tim While, Randy Richard and Wayne Worcester:  A real-life mob-inspired Providence robbery –The 1970s Bonded Vault heist—this one  reads like a crime novel, with taut prose and short, peppery chapters.  Occasional lapses into cliché and one-dimensional  depictions – State Police Col. Walter Stone, for instance,  was not only an intrepid mobfrighter but also an egregious misogynist and minor-league J. Edgar Hoover who stayed on the job way too long.

"The Dread Line" by Bruce DeSilva: Another in the former Providence Journal reporter’s Liam Mulligan series set in the Ocean State. A thriller with a grand sense of place that makes Rhode Island a prime character.

BOOKS ON MY NIGHTSTAND. Titles I can’t wait to get to before 2016 ends or when 2017 begins.

"If Jane Should Want To Be Sold, Stories of Slavery, Indenture and Freedom in Little Compton, Rhode Island," by Marjory Gomez O’Toole.

"Swing Time" by Zadie Smith.

"The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American  Hero" by Tim Egan.

"The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds" by Michael Lewis.

"Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen.

"At the Existentialist Cafe" by Sarah Blakewell.