Was It Good for You?

The year in books

Was It Good for You?

Going Underground

Could be my burrowing tendencies talking, but two of my favorite books this year seem to have excavation at their cores. Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City (Doubleday) foregrounds the havoc wreaked by a wayward tunneling machine (or possibly a giant tiger) in an off-kilter Manhattan and provides endless layers of identity, reality, and high-wire flurries of cultural signifying to dig into. Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness: Stories (Knopf) tucks into a different brand of subterranean horror and, occasionally, cautious wonder; her masterful stories unearth the kinds of buried experience that make all the difference in a life. The oddest and most surprisingly fascinating read – Leann Shapton's Important Artifacts and Personal Property From the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) – also has an archaeological bent: It's a literal if fictional catalog of a romance between a freelance photographer and the author of a New York Times column dedicated to (yes) cake. The detail and knowingness that Sharpton put to the project blow past the conceit's preciousness; her perfectly pitched document of a relationship's arc – from mix CDs and vintage lingerie to a hammer-damaged white-noise machine and angry, handwritten notes on the back of gallery invitations, photographed, described, and priced as if for a post-breakup auction – unspools a suspenseful, human story, well-told.

On the home(ish) front, Michener Center grad James Hannaham's tale of a closeted gay man's stabs at new identity, God Says No (McSweeney's), captures a rarely heard voice with empathy and wit. Family memoir The Kids Are All Right (Harmony), co-written by former Chron colleague Diana Welch and her siblings, is unpretentious, entertaining, and touching. And the devastating honesty and surprising imagery of An Ocean of Despair (Monofonus Press), Thor Harris' account of debilitating depression – illustrated and packaged with his instrumental soundtrack – moved me to my soul.

More Top 10s
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, Dec. 30, 2016

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, Dec. 30, 2016

More year in books
Paradise, Loss
Paradise, Loss
The year in reading, 2005

Shawn Badgley, Jan. 6, 2006

More by Cindy Widner
Protect and Preserve
Protect and Preserve
Now that we've freaked out about Austin's unrelenting boom, can we figure out how to keep what's best about the city alive?

July 24, 2015

The Cartography of Home: Austin's Atlas
The Cartography of Home: Austin's Atlas
The Chronicle talks to Ann Armstrong of map project Austin's Atlas about the local preservation tool

July 24, 2015


year in books, Jonathan Lethem, Chronic City, Alice Munro, Too Much Happiness: Stories, Leann Shapton, Important Artifacts and Personal Property From the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry, James Hannaham, God Says No, The Kids Are All Right, Diana Welch, An Ocean of Despair, Thor Harris, Top 10s

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