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My Year in (the best) Books

NPR Books

My Year in (the best) Books
By Rebecca Howard
Tulsa City-County Library

It's the most wonderful time of the year—especially for readers. It typically starts with Publishers Weekly’s best of the year lists and then a cavalcade of book goodness begins to fill my inbox and populate my TBR list. NPR’s own Book Concierge may be the best gift of all this holiday season. Over 300 titles from NPR staff are here in lists as unique as the readers who will enjoy them. 

For over 10 years, I’ve shared my list of favorites with my colleagues at the Tulsa City-County Library and have enjoyed seeing the lists of my fellow librarians and book lovers. This year, I’m kicking off the list exchange with Public Radio Tulsa listeners in the hope that you’ll discover a new favorite for yourself. 

Rebecca’s Picks:

Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo 

Debut novelist Ayobami Adebayo gives us the story of a marriage that falters under societal expectations and secrecy. This novel is ultimately a hopeful and powerful statement about how we must rewrite longstanding narratives to create the families we desire.    

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne 

There’s nothing I could write that is a better description of this sweeping family saga than what my fellow librarian Neil Hollands wrote in a review on Goodreads: “If Dickens was gay, from Ireland, and lived in the modern era, this is a book he might write.” Boyne is one of my favorite authors who deftly moves from humor to heartbreak in a single sentence. 

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer 

When college freshman Greer Kadetsky hears a lecture by iconic feminist Faith Frank, she describes the experience of her head “cracking open.” This transformative meeting informs Greer’s life choices in multiple ways, reminding us of the power of influence and mentorship—particularly between women of different generations. Wolitzer’s social novels are timely, smart, witty and compassionate. Give me Wolizter over Franzen any day! 

Hunger: A Memoir of (my) Body by Roxane Gay 

A fierce, raw, and powerful memoir about Gay’s relationship with her body. A book club pairing recommendation—read this memoir together with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and discuss the body’s relationship to race and power. 

Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World by Suzy Hansen 

Journalist Hansen embarked on a long-term assignment to Turkey in an attempt to understand the Muslim world in the aftermath of 9/11. Like much travel abroad, this journey ended up less about acquiring knowledge and more about dismantling her assumptions. Another book club pairing suggestion: Read together with James Baldwin’s Another Country. 

No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America by Darnell L. Moore

A memoir by one of the nation’s leading Black Lives Matter activists that explores the intersectionality of race, sexual identify, poverty, and power. When Moore was fourteen, a group of his peers tried to set him on fire because of his sexual orientation/expression. No Ashes is Moore’s attempt to reconcile that frightened and cowed 14-year-old with the activist adult he has become. 

There There by Tommy Orange 

“We all came to the powwow for different reasons. The messy, dangling threads of our lives got pulled into a braid--tied to the back of everything we'd been doing all along to get us here.” Poetic and razor sharp sentences like this populate this debut novel by Tommy Orange. This is the story of how a disparate group of seemingly unrelated people ends up at a powwow. Each character’s pure or sinister motivations, desires, histories, and heartaches are laid bare in a fast flash of shimmering prose. 

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

An urbane and witty satirical romance with a delightfully obtuse title character, Less is as close to perfect as a novel gets. I need this one to be adapted for film. 

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin 

Congressional intern Aviva Grossman is publicly shamed and vilified after blogging about her affair with her boss. Young Jane Young is the story of what comes after. I found this to be a timely story told with a lot of compassion, particularly for young women and the harsh standards to which we hold them. Substantial and wise. 

Southernmost by Silas House 

There’s usually a book each year that I commit to handselling to everyone I know. Southernmost is this year’s pick. After a devastating flood that displaces many of his neighbors, evangelical preacher Asher Sharp offers shelter to a gay couple. This simple act of hospitality reveals the fractures in Asher’s marriage, church, and community, causing him to set across the country with his son to try to discover what he truly believes about grace and love. A quietly elegant gem of a book.