Jay Trachtenberg's Top Reads of 2016

Top Books to Make Sense of a World Breaking Down

Three novels explore our planet in crisis in Israel, rust-belt Ukraine, and the Antarctic

Jay Trachtenberg's Top Reads of 2016

My favorite read of the year was Jonathan Safran Foer's first novel in a decade, Here I Am (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). It takes us into the workings of a multi-generational, middle-class Jewish family, particularly the fragile and dissolving marriage of Jacob and Julia Bloch. While hosting Israeli relatives, a major earthquake devastates the Middle East and provides a vehicle to explore the relationship of American Jews to Israel. A master of writing dialogue, Foer provides an often dense novel of ideas that is insightful, very funny, and ultimately compelling.

Serhiy Zhadan has been called "Ukraine's most famous counterculture writer," and his award-winning 2010 novel Voroshilovgrad (Deep Vellum) appeared in English this year (translated by Reilly Costigan-Humes and Isaac Wheeler). Set in the industrial rust belt of post-Soviet eastern Ukraine, it is a dark but funny tale of an urbanite who returns to his hometown to run his brother's gas station. It's a road novel with splashes of magical realism and an embrace of fraternal loyalty. In hindsight, the bleak, disheartening environs and attitudes make it hard not to notice parallels to Trumpian middle America.

The Lamentations of Zeno (Verso), a slender novel by German writer Ilija Trojanow (translated by Philip Boehm), tells of a misanthropic climate scientist working as a travel guide on an Antarctic cruise ship. With a sharp ear for pop song lyrics and a love of glaciers, our antihero seems to be fighting a losing battle against climate change and the clueless humans who foster it.

Two local books with music themes worth checking out are Comin' Right at Ya (UT Press), Ray Benson and David Menconi's fast-paced, often hilarious 40-year history of Asleep at the Wheel, with a cavalcade of great Benson-told yarns; and Troubadours: Love Death Rumba (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform), the debut of Richard Lee Price, a heartfelt, often poetic ode to the healing and spiritual qualities of love and Latin music.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Top 10s
<i>The Austin Chronicle</i> Top 10 Films of 2018
The Austin Chronicle Top 10 Films of 2018
Our favorite films from our least favorite year

Richard Whittaker, Dec. 28, 2018

Top 10 Local Video Games
Top 10 Local Video Games
A horse-woman of the apocalypse and floppy fighting animals top Austin’s offerings

James Renovitch, Dec. 28, 2018

More Fiction
Bookmarked
Joe O’Connell’s Top Reads of 2017
These three novels and one memoir are all memorable for the ways they plumb the depths and mysteries of memory

Joe O'Connell, Dec. 29, 2017

Bookmarked
Rosalind Faires’ Top Reads of 2017
Uncovering literary gems in areas such as historical fantasy, suburbia melancholia, female-centric speculative fiction, and more

Rosalind Faires, Dec. 29, 2017

More Arts Reviews
Austin Symphony Orchestra's <i>Variation Voyage</i>
Austin Symphony Orchestra's Variation Voyage
ASO's first concert of 2019 had us hearing all sorts of feels, but Leon Fleisher's piano also got us thinking

Robert Faires, Jan. 18, 2019

“Dave McClinton: Despite It All” at the Butridge
"Dave McClinton: Despite It All" at the Butridge
The digital collagist’s new solo exhibition is peopled with many colors

Wayne Alan Brenner, Jan. 18, 2019

More by Jay Trachtenberg
Best Live Music Performances of 2018
Best Live Music Performances of 2018
The bands and venues that kept our critics on their feet

Dec. 28, 2018

Top Books of 2018 for American Road Tripping
Top Books of 2018 for American Road Tripping
Two novels set on the open road and two accounts of life in Trump's White House all made for journeys deep into America today

Dec. 28, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Top 10s, Fiction, Memoir, Jonathan Safran Foer, Here I Am, Serhiy Zhadan, Voroshilovgrad, The Lamentations of Zeno, Ilija Trojanow, Philip Boehm, Comin' Right at Ya, Ray Benson, David Menconi, Asleep at the Wheel, Richard Lee Price, Troubadours: Love Death Rumba

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle