I read 66 books in 2016, and reviewed 52 of them. I decided right away that I would not review any books written by my clients, to avoid any possible conflicts of interest, so I had to make sure I read some extra books so I wouldn’t be caught short. (I work for a lot of really fantastic authors! I was especially proud of my longtime client Susan McBride for topping the Amazon bestseller lists with her thriller Walk Into Silence.)
The most popular posts (in terms of page views) were reviews of Act Like It by Lucy Parker (thanks to a retweet by NPR podcast host Linda Holmes) and Scientology: A to Xenu by Chris Shelton (which experienced a spike in views after Shelton appeared on Leah Remini’s A&E docuseries about Scientology). The least popular post: The Killing Kind by Chris Holm. I think the only people who read that one were my three most loyal readers: my mom, my husband, and my friend Vallery.
My favorite books that I reviewed during the past year? In no particular order: Emma Straub’s Modern Lovers, Laura Lippman’s Wilde Lake, Elizabeth McKenzie’s The Portable Veblen, Henning Mankell’s Italian Shoes, and Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10.
I only reviewed nine nonfiction books, and four of those were about Scientology. Considering the enormous popularity of Remini’s TV show, I’ll bet there will be more to come in 2017, though it might be harder to find a fresh angle on the “church” at this point. (For up-to-the-minute Scientology news, Tony Ortega’s Underground Bunker is always the first place to look.)
Sometimes I look back on what I read and chastise myself a bit for not reading more serious books—the timeless classics and big, important works of nonfiction—but considering everything that’s going on in the world right now, it seems like a pretty good time to stock up on escapist fare. Here’s a lovely passage by Neil Gaiman (author and former Scientologist!):
I’d like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if “escapist” fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.
If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn’t you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with (and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.
As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.