According to my Goodreads page, I finished 30 books in 2016, which proves that even in today’s era of bite-size, high speed information intake, I still love nothing more than telling people how many books I’ve read. Here are the top five (from any year).
by Richard Adams
I’ve always said that Watership Down is one of my favorite novels, but it’s been so many years since I first read it that I worried going back to it I’d find it hadn’t kept up with me. It has. This is a true all-ages book.
I realize now that as a child one reason Watership Down was so important to me is that it guided me into grown-up ideas–most notably that life involves shocking change and loss and requires bravery to face them–but at age 41, if I were reading it without preconceptions, I can’t imagine I’d label it a children’s story. That’s because its themes have only become more essential to me as I’ve aged. I’m able to more deeply plumb them, and Adams’s book matured with me to help me examine how bravery intertwines with the concepts that are most important to me now: compassion, responsibility, modeling behavior. Being a grown-up.
That aside, Watership Down is epic fantasy the way it should be written, with a rich world, thrilling set pieces, and memorable characters (Hazel is still one of my favorite heroes in all of literature). As a writer, I envy Adams’s acute originality in conceiving a rabbit adventure within the bounds of scientific reality and the rigor he employed to pull it of. As a guy who wishes he had a metal band, I would definitely name it Hazel-Rah.
The most impressive thing about this very impressive book is how thoroughly Richard K. Morgan has thought through his central premise (that human beings have become downloadable entities who move from body to body). He not only plugs the holes you think of but also digs out the ones you haven’t thought and fills them with essential themes. Meanwhile, he nods to the tropes of hardboiled detective fiction but lets them hang around only long enough to make themselves useful, and he piles on just enough space opera to his cyberpunk sleeve to give it some musculature. It’s all clever, thoughtful, exciting, sexy, and really enjoyable.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
by Douglas Adams
I read this when it was published around 1987 and hadn’t returned to it since. I found it just as imaginative, original, smart, hilarious, challenging without ever seeming hard, and a reminder that Douglas Adams is the writer whose work I strive to emulate the most even when I don’t know I’m doing it (i.e. when I’m not blatantly stealing from it).
by Stephen King
I’m amazed by Stephen King’s memory for the attitudes of childhood and its shifted weight of the substance of life. I’m not able to recall any of that at will, but his writing wells it up in a way that feels real and true. I’m also amazed at how well IT holds together through its 1000 pages (or, in this case, 44 hours of reading) with continued surprises, tension and, if no moments that left me lying awake in the dark afraid of what might be behind me, some scenes that throughly creeped me out, thanks in no small part to Steven Weber’s exceptional narration.
The Pale King
by David Foster Wallace
I wouldn’t have become a comedy writer if I hadn’t read DFW at exactly the time I needed to 20 years ago, so I read The Pale King 20 years later because I needed inspiration, which worked. And also didn’t work, because I had to be okay with hitting something like §27 and realizing that I’d never be able to produce it, that it’s beyond my abilities, like a runner watching Usain Bolt in the 100m. This is a very funny, observant, skillful, and smart book that made me feel like a door in my life has closed that I wish would stay open. Thanks for everything, Dave.