Jesse Sublett's Top Reads of 2016
Top Books to Cover the Good, the Bad, and the Doomed
A list of memorable lit that includes a philosophical gumshoe, an irredeemable tycoon, and ill-fated whalers
Reviewed by Jesse Sublett, Fri., Dec. 30, 2016
Ian McGuire's The North Water (Henry Holt and Co.) was electrifying from start to finish – writing on the level of Cormac McCarthy and equally hard-boiled, an instant classic. The officers and men aboard this late 19th century whaling ship are so low as to make the term "motley crew" seem a euphemism, and yet McGuire manages to elicit sympathy for almost every doomed bastard in the group. "Doomed" is an understatement, too. Welcome back, Easy Rawlins! In Charcoal Joe (Doubleday), the great Walter Mosley gives us another story about the African-American crime-solver/philosopher, along with another favorite of mine, Fearless Jones, in post-Watts Los Angeles. I'd hitchhike in a snowstorm to see poet, rapper, and playwright Kate Tempest. This year saw her first novel, The Bricks That Built the Houses (Bloomsbury USA), but I may prefer her book-length poem, Let Them Eat Chaos (Bloomsbury USA), also released this year as a book and music CD. Unless you've got a great excuse, like being in a coma, don't talk to me again until you've read Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau) by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The classicist/poet/performance artist Anne Carson is someone they say is more loved than actually read. Anne says, "Back at you, dude," with Float (Knopf), 22 chapbooks (poetry, essays, and stuff) unbound inside a plastic slipcase. She is so weird! Out of the fart-storm of pomposity and fever of election 2016, TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald (Grand Central Publishing) by Timothy L. O'Brien authoritatively portrays a figure ill-informed, narcissistic, impetuous, deluded, childish, mendacious, racist, abusive, and irredeemable. Much like the man elected to the White House last November. Paul Beatty knocked me out with the first two pages of The Sellout (Picador), winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize, but the next 30 pages made me feel trapped in a stand-up comedy club with an out-of-order restroom. The man is clearly brimming with talent, so I'll give it a rest and try again later.