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

Jesse Sublett's Top Reads of 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.

More Top 10s
Top 10 Movies of 2016
Top 10 Movies of 2016
The Chronicle film staff's overall winners of the year

Josh Kupecki, Dec. 30, 2016

Josh Kupecki's Top 10 Films of 2015
Josh Kupecki's Top 10 Films of 2015

Josh Kupecki, Jan. 1, 2016

More Fiction
<i>I’ll Take You There</i>
I’ll Take You There
Wally Lamb's novel spotlights a spirit of early Hollywood, but its Metabook edition gives her a 21st century showcase

Robert Faires, Dec. 2, 2016

Review: Emma Cline's <i>The Girls</i>
Review: Emma Cline's The Girls
This seismic literary debut tracks a California girl drawn to a dark cult in 1969

Tim Stegall, Aug. 12, 2016

More Arts Reviews
Theatre Synesthesia's <i>The Brutes</i>
Theatre Synesthesia's The Brutes
Casey Wimpee's original drama is about a Civil War-era family, but it's deeply relevant to our own fractured time

T. Lynn Mikeska, Dec. 15, 2017

Austin Playhouse’s <i>Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley</i>
Austin Playhouse’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
In its rush to be fun, the show fails to tap all the potential of this rom-com sequel to Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth Cobbe, Dec. 15, 2017

More by Jesse Sublett
Margaret Moser Tribute: Jesse Sublett
Jesse Sublett
When the Queen calls, you come

June 30, 2017

One for the Books
Jesse Sublett's Top Reads of 2015
The Theater of War leads a list that reminds us how ancient lessons about war continue to ring true today

Jan. 1, 2016


Top 10s, Fiction, Nonfiction, Ian McGuire, The North Water, Walter Moseley, Charcoal Joe, Kate Tempest, The Bricks That Built the Houses, Let Them Eat Chaos, Anne Carson, Float, Ta-Nehesi Coates, Between the World and Me, Timothy L. O'Brien, TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald, Paul Beatty, The Sellout

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)