The year has come to a close, and as I’ve done in years before here is my personal top five list of books I read in 2016. Some of these came out in 2016, but this list considers all books I read in the year, regardless of when they were published. I’m proud to say I’ve read more books of my own initiative this year than ever before, which I hope to surpass in the new year ahead.
The Lost Time Accidents
Author: John Wray
The story follows Waldemar “Waldy” Tolliver, who finds himself trapped outside of time. He uses this situation to finish work on his family’s history, tracing their generational obsession with the physics of time. The plot spans pre-World War One Austria, the Golden Age of American pulp science fiction, to the modern day. This novel leans hard on the science fiction genre, but stood out more to me as fiction about science, dealing more closely with the drama, obsessions, and lives of the people trying to figure out the secret behind the enigmatic “lost time accidents,” rather than what the “Accidents” actually are. It’s a little bit lengthy with some periods more engaging than others, but otherwise a thought-provoking read that blends speculative and historical fiction.
Wolves of the Calla
Author: Stephen King
The fifth book in Stephen King’s series The Dark Tower, we continue following Roland Deschain and his comrades on their quest to find the Tower. The group ends up in the rural community of Calla Bryn Sturgis, which is plagued by the return of a band of raiders known as The Wolves that steal children every generation. It was great to get the plot moving again after two novels that were largely flashbacks. While the whole affair with the Calla could have been more concise, the characters are so endearing it was like meeting with old friends again. The build-up is well worth the length too, having a climax that had me in such suspense I could hardly sit still.
When You Are Engulfed in Flames
Author: David Sedaris
A collection of anecdotal essays, this book is bitingly funny, witty, and inspired a lot of self-reflection. Sedaris’ stories deal with a lot of uncomfortable social situations, but deeper than that they help to explore many sides of humanity, such as the feelings behind unusually amicable relationships with abrasive or even terrible people. It was also effective at making me think about my own prejudices, presenting the reality of a situation one way and then changing it suddenly when new information is learned. It never spelled out any lessons, but taught me to analyze my assumptions and the way I view other people, making me laugh quite a bit while doing so.
Author: Joseph Boyden
The most sombre entry in this list, Wenjack is a fictionalized account of the real-life Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack’s escape from his abusive residential school in Northern Ontario. His perspective during his journey is paired with that of the manitous — spirits that inhabit the wilderness around him — who observe, push, and comfort Chanie as he tries to make his way home. It’s a rather quick read that carries with it a great deal of weight. Trauma is presented in a subtle yet impactful way, demonstrating a nightmarish reality that many children suffered in Canada’s history. The narration is told in an almost dreamlike quality that is lighter on characterization, but deeply evocative of the emotions and struggles the characters experience. It’s heartbreaking to read but very important to do so.
Author: Terry Pratchett
Genre: Comic Fantasy
While trying to find his calling, the hapless teen Mort is taken on as an apprentice to Death, the anthropomorphic personification that oversees the Discworld. Death really just wants some time off, and more responsibility is thrust on Mort than he can handle, setting off a chain of events that threatens the fabric of existence itself. This is the fourth Discworld novel I’ve read this year and easily my most favourite. Death is a character that’s existed on the periphery of the series until now and has always been a fascinating character to me. His frank understanding of the world, dry wit, and little eccentricities make him both endearing and compelling. The use of Mort to better understand Death’s role is effective, and he feels like the most well-rounded protagonist the series has had thus far. The humour continues to be on point, with a notable shift in how it factors into the story. The book has a compelling plot that happens to be funny, rather than having more attention paid to lampooning the fantasy genre.