LJ Best Books 2016

A jury of our peers discussed, debated, disagreed, and finally declared LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles. VISIT THE WEBSITE

Eddie Huang, Lindy West, & Russell Banks | May 2016 Audio in Advance | Nonfiction

y450_293__1457540863_86478Banks, Russell. Voyager: Travel Writings. Blackstone. ISBN 9781504736398. Reader TBA.
Now in his 70s, Banks has indulged his wanderlust for more than half a century. Here he shares highlights from his travels: interviewing Fidel Castro in Cuba; motoring to a hippie reunion with college friends in Chapel Hill, NC; eloping to Edinburgh with his fourth wife, Chase; driving a sunset orange metallic Hummer down Alaska’s Seward Highway. In each essay, Banks considers his life and the world. Recalling his trips to the Caribbean in the title essay, “Voyager,” Banks dissects his relationships with the four women who would become his wives. In the Himalayas, he embarks on a different quest of self-discovery. “One climbs a mountain not to conquer it, but to be lifted like this away from the earth up into the sky,” he writes.

Bhat, Nilima & Raj Sisodia. Shakti Leadership: Embracing Feminine and Masculine Power in Business. Dreamscape. ISBN Reader TBA.
Too many leaders, men and women alike, have bought into a notion of militaristic, win-at-all-costs leadership that exclusively emphasizes traditionally “masculine” qualities. The result has been corruption, environmental degradation, and a host of other serious problems. But there is another way. Reaching into ancient spiritual and mythical teachings, Bhat and Sisodia revive a feminine archetype of leadership: cooperative, creative, empathetic. While these qualities are often thought of as “feminine,” we all have them; however, for people in leadership positions, they tend to be undervalued and underdeveloped. Using exercises and inspirational examples, Bhat and Sisodia guide listeners through their own heroic journey to begin to lead with their whole selves.

Boyles, Denis. Everything Explained That Is Explainable!: The Creation of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s Celebrated Eleventh Edition 1910-1911. HighBridge. ISBN 9781681681702. Read by Corrie James.
Boyles tells the story of the American tycoon Horace Everett Hooper, the brash natural-born salesman who found an outdated set of reference books gathering dust in a warehouse, bought them for almost nothing, repackaged them, and sold them on credit as “one-shelf libraries” to farmers. The author writes how Hooper and his partner, Henry Haxton, found the Encyclopædia Britannica, went to the then-struggling London Times in search of new ways to increase its readership, and produced and sold the Encyclopædia Britannica through the then unheard-of notion of the Times Book Club. In a frenzy of effort and fanatical conviction, the eleventh edition was put together with contributions by the most admired writers, thinkers, and scientists of the day, including John Muir, Lord Macaulay, G. K. Chesterton, Edmund Husserl, Bertrand Russell, and W. M. Rossetti.

Cohen, Rich. The Sun & the Moon & The Rolling Stones. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780451482242. Read by the author.
The story begins at the beginning—the fateful meeting of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on a train platform in 1961—and goes on to span decades, with a focus on the time between the albums Beggars Banquet (1968) and Exile on Main Street (1972) when the Stones were prolific and innovative and at the height of their powers. Cohen is equally as good on the low points as the highs, and he puts his finger on the moments that not only defined the Stones as gifted musicians schooled in the blues and arguably the most innovative songwriters of their generation, but as the avatars of much in modern culture.

Dickey, Bronwen. Pit Bull: The Battle Over an American Icon. ISBN 9781494568641. Read by Randye Kaye.
When Dickey brought her new dog home, she saw no traces of the infamous viciousness in her affectionate, timid pit bull. Which made her wonder: how had a breed beloved by Teddy Roosevelt, Helen Keller, and TV’s “Little Rascals” come to be known as a brutal fighter? Her search for answers takes her from 19th-century New York City dogfighting pits—the cruelty of which drew the attention of the recently formed ASPCA—to early 20th-century movie sets where pit bulls cavorted with Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton; from the battlefields of Gettysburg and the Marne, where pit bulls earned presidential recognition, to desolate urban neighborhoods where the dogs were loved, prized, and brutalized.

Fenster, Julie M. Jefferson’s America: The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers Who Transformed a Nation. HighBridge. ISBN 9781681681269. Read by John Pruden.
Almost everyone who has taken a U.S. history course is familiar with Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase and the travels of Lewis and Clark, but Jefferson sent four other expeditions West as well. Zebulon Pike was dispatched on two missions: first, to the headwaters of the Mississippi, and second, toward what is now Colorado. William Dunbar and Dr. George Hunter explored northern Louisiana and Arkansas. Peter Custis and Thomas Freeman (with military officer Richard Sparks) followed the Red River of North Texas and Oklahoma. The stakes for American expansion were enormously high—at a time when Britain, France, and Spain were also all vying for control of the vast expanse of land west of the Mississippi River, the geopolitics of discovery were paramount. Jefferson, a true student of the Enlightenment, sought out men of science to undertake these urgent missions into the frontier. But they weren’t always well-matched—with each other, or even with the task of exploring itself.

Gaiman, Neil. The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction. HarperAudio. ISBN 9780062417190. Reader TBA.
This collection brings together for the first time ever more than 60 pieces of Gaiman’s nonfiction on a broad range of topics, including (but not limited to): authors past and present, music, storytelling, comics, bookshops, travel, fairy tales, America, inspiration, libraries, ghosts, and the title piece, which recounts the author’s experiences at the 2010 Academy Awards.

41b14I7CgaL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200___1457540768_38134Heinrich, Bernd. One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives. Dreamscape. ISBN 9781520006147. Reader TBA.
Heinrich returns to his great love: close, day-to-day observations of individual wild birds. Heinrich’s observations lead to fascinating questions—and sometimes startling discoveries. A great crested flycatcher bringing food to the young acts surreptitiously and is attacked by the mate. A pair of Northern flickers hammering their nest-hole into the side of Heinrich’s cabin delivers the opportunity to observe the feeding competition between siblings, and to make a related discovery about nest-cleaning. One of a clutch of redstart warbler babies fledges out of the nest from 20 feet above the ground, and lands on the grass below. It can’t fly. What will happen next?

Huang, Eddie. Double Cup Love: On the Trail of Family, Good, and Broken Hearts in China. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780147523532. Read by the author.
In the follow-up to his coming-of-age memoir Fresh Off the Boat, Huang tells a powerful story about love and family. After growing up in a first-generation immigrant family in the comically hostile world of suburban America, Huang begins to wonder just how authentic his Chinese identity really is. So he enlists his brothers Emery and Evan and returns to the country his ancestors abandoned. His immediate goal is to sample China’s best food and see if his cooking measures up to local tastes—but his deeper goals are to reconnect with his homeland, repair his frayed family relationships, decide whether to marry his all-American girlfriend, and figure out just where to find meaning in his life.

Hurley, Kameron. Geek Feminist Revolution: Essays on Subversion, Tactical Profanity, and the Power of the Media. HighBridge. ISBN 9781622319824. Read by C.S.E. Cooney.
Hurley’s powerful collection of essays addresses topics such as overcoming misogyny in geek culture, the persistence required to succeed as a woman writing science fiction, and imagining a better world and a better future through the stories we write.

Kurlansky, Mark. Paper: Paging Through History. Recorded Books. ISBN 9781501921971. Reader TBA.
Paper is one of the simplest and most essential pieces of human technology. For the past two millennia, the ability to produce it in ever more efficient ways has supported the proliferation of literacy, media, religion, education, commerce, and art; it has formed the foundation of civilizations, promoting revolutions and restoring stability. Now, amid discussion of “going paperless” and as speculation about the effects of a digitally dependent society grows rampant we’ve come to a world-historic juncture. Thousands of years ago, Socrates and Plato warned that written language would be the end of “true knowledge,” replacing the need to excise memory and think through complex questions. Similar arguments were made about the switch from handwritten to printed books, and today about the role of computer technology. By tracing paper’s evolution from antiquity to the present, with an emphasis on the contributions made in Asia and the Middle East, Kurlansky challenges common assumptions about technology’s influence, affirming that paper is here to stay.

McLynn, Frank. Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy. Blackstone. ISBN 9781469096087. Read by Timothy Andres Pabon.
Mongol leader Genghis Khan’s empire stretched from the Pacific Ocean to central Europe, including all of China, the Middle East, and Russia. So how did an illiterate nomad rise to such colossal power and subdue most of the known world, eclipsing Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon? Credited by some with paving the way for the Renaissance, condemned by others for being the most heinous murderer in history, Genghis Khan’s actual name was Temujin, and the story of his success is that of the Mongol people: a loose collection of fractious tribes who tended livestock, considered bathing taboo, and possessed an unparalleled genius for horseback warfare. United under Genghis, a strategist of astonishing cunning and versatility, they could dominate any sedentary society they chose.

Meier, Barry. Missing Man: The American Spy Who Vanished in Iran. HighBridge. ISBN 9781681681641. Read by Ray Porter.
In late 2013, Americans were shocked to learn that a former FBI agent turned private investigator who disappeared in Iran in 2007 was there on a mission for the CIA. The missing man, Robert Levinson, pleaded in a video for help from the United States. Meier, an investigative reporter for the New York Times, draws on years of interviews and never-before-disclosed CIA files to weave together a riveting narrative of the ex-agent’s journey to Iran and the hunt to rescue him, venturing into the shadowy spaces between crime, business, espionage, and the law Its colorful cast includes CIA operatives, Russian oligarchs, White House officials, gangsters, FBI agents, journalists, and a fugitive American terrorist and assassin.

Ripert, Eric & Veronica Chambers. 32 Yolks. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780147522740. Read by Peter Ganim.
Before he earned three Michelin stars at Le Bernardin, won the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef, or became a regular guest judge on Bravo’s Top Chef, and even before he knew how to make a proper omelet, Ripert was a young boy in the South of France who felt most at home in the kitchen. His desire to not only cook, but to become the best would lead him into some of the most celebrated and demanding restaurants in Paris, serving under such legendary chefs as Joël Robuchon and Dominique Bouchet, and trying to survive the brutal, exacting environment of their kitchens.

9780307958242__1457540587_70106Vanderbilt, Tom. You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780399567681. Read by Jeffrey Kafer.
From the tangled underpinnings of our food taste to our unsettling insecurity before unfamiliar works of art to the complex dynamics of our playlists and the pop charts, our preferences and opinions are constantly being shaped by countless forces. And in the digital age, a nonstop procession of “thumbs up” and “likes” and “stars” is helping dictate our choices. Taste has moved online—there are more ways than ever for us, and companies, to see what and how we are consuming. If you’ve ever wondered how Netflix recommends movies, how to spot a fake Yelp review, or why books often see a sudden decline in Amazon ratings after they win a major prize, Vanderbilt has answers to these questions and many more.

Voigt, Emily. The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World’s Most Coveted Fish. Tantor. ISBN 9781515955658. Read by Xe Sands.
Delving into an outlandish realm of obsession, paranoia, and criminality, Voigt tells the story of a fish like none other: a powerful predator dating to the age of the dinosaurs. Treasured as a status symbol believed to bring good luck, the Asian arowana is bred on high-security farms in Southeast Asia and sold by the hundreds of thousands each year. In the United States, however, it’s protected by the Endangered Species Act and illegal to bring into the country, though it remains the object of a thriving black market. From the South Bronx to Singapore, Voigt follows the trail of the fish, ultimately embarking on a years-long quest to find the arowana in the wild, venturing deep into some of the last remaining tropical wildernesses on earth.

Watkins, D. The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir. Blackstone. ISBN 9781478939825. Reader TBA.
The smartest kid on his block in East Baltimore, Watkins was certain he would escape the life of drugs, decadence, and violence that had surrounded him since birth. But when his brother Devin is shot—only days after Watkins receives notice that he’s been accepted into Georgetown University—the plans for his life are exploded, and he takes up the mantel of his brother’s crack empire. Watkins succeeds in cultivating the family business, but when he meets a woman unlike any he’s known before, his priorities are once more put into question. 

West, Lindy. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman. Blackstone. ISBN 9781478940067. Reader TBA.
West’s essays that bravely shares her life, including her transition from quiet to feminist-out-loud, coming of age in a popular culture that is hostile to women (especially fat, funny women) and how keeping quiet is not an option for any of us. Topics covered include her public war with stand-up comedians over rape jokes, flying while fat, and Internet trolls.

Weston, J. Kael. The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780399567643. Read by the author.
Weston spent seven years on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan working for the U.S. State Department. The overall frame for the book, from which the title is taken, centers on soldiers who have received a grievous wound to the face. There is a moment during their recovery when they must look upon their reconstructed appearance for the first time. This is known as “the mirror test.” From an intricate tapestry of voices and stories—Iraqi, Afghan, and American—Weston delivers a larger mirror test for our nation in its global role. Listeners will meet generals, corporals and captains, senators and ambassadors, NATO allies, Iraqi truck drivers, city councils, imams and mullahs, Afghan schoolteachers, madrassa and college students, former Taliban fighters and ex-Guantánamo prison detainees, a torture victim, SEAL and Delta Force teams, and many marines.

y648__1457540675_52121Winslow, Emily. Jane Doe January: My Twenty-Year Search for Truth and Justice. Blackstone. ISBN 9781504734684. Read by Ann Marie Lee.
This memoir of the cold case prosecution of a serial rapist is told by one of his victims. Emily Winslow was a young drama student at Carnegie Mellon University when a man brutally attacked and raped her in January 1992. While the police’s search for her rapist proved futile, Emily reclaimed her life. Over the course of the next two decades, she fell in love, married, had two children, and began writing mystery novels set in her new hometown of Cambridge, England. Then, in fall 2013, she received shocking news—the police had found her rapist. Caught between past and present, and between two very different cultures, the crime novelist searches for clarity. Beginning her own investigation, she delves into the man’s family and past, reconnects with the detectives of her case, and works with prosecutors in the months leading to trial.

Yang, Kao Kalia. The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father. HighBridge. ISBN 9781681681627. Read by the author.
In the Hmong tradition, the song poet recounts the story of his people, their history and tragedies, joys and losses; extemporizing or drawing on folk tales, he keeps the past alive, invokes the spirits and the homeland, and records courtships, births, weddings, and wishes. Yang tells the life of her father, song poet Bee Yang, a Hmong refugee in Minnesota. Bee lost his father as a young boy and keenly felt his orphanhood. He would wander from one neighbor to the next, collecting the things they said to each other, whispering the words to himself at night until, one day, a song was born. Bee sings the life of his people through the war-torn jungle and a Thai refugee camp. But the songs fall away in the cold, bitter world of a Minneapolis housing project and on the factory floor until, with the death of Bee’s mother, the songs leave him for good.

Zeisler, Andi. We Were Feminists Once, From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement. Tantor. ISBN 9781515904526. Read by Joell A. Jacob.
Feminism has gone mainstream, but true equality is never an easy sell. Drawing on almost 20 years of experience covering popular culture from the frontlines of the feminist movement, Zeisler’s cultural history includes stories of institutions and real women, feminists and otherwise, in America. She exposes how feminism has transformed into something barely warranting the name, ignoring the many for the one, shamelessly colluding with market forces and popular culture. This kind of feminism is not particularly nuanced, and it doesn’t challenge identities and hegemonies as much as it offers nips and tucks. It is no longer a collective action on behalf of all women and those traditionally marginalized, but more about self-actualization of the few.

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Stephanie Klose About Stephanie Klose

Stephanie Klose (sklose@mediasourceinc.com, @sklose on Twitter) is Media Editor, Library Journal.