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

Radicals, Fashionistas, Politicos, Young Jane, & More | Classic Returns

What a crazy roundtable the authors and artists of this month’s “Classic Returns” would make. We have a youthful Jane Austen, a crusading Black Panther, a Washington insider, a radicalized “literary gadfly,” a well-known Brit fashion editor, an Italian novelist, a TV screenwriter, two street photographers, and a gaggle of graffiti artists. Grab a plate and some flatware (or perhaps a can of spray paint) and dig in.

JaneAusten.FrEIndshipAusten, Jane. Love and Freindship: And Other Youthful Writings. Penguin Classics. 2016. 512p. ed. by Christine Alexander. notes. ISBN 9780141395111. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780141394718. LIT
No, that’s not a typo in the title. Austen’s “original idiosyncratic spelling” is only one of the many charms of this collection, edited and introduced by Juvenilia Press general editor, scholar (Scientia Professor of English, Univ. of New South Wales), and coeditor (The Child Writer from Austen to Woolf) Alexander. Here is Austen’s earliest writing—some pieces composed at age 11—including bawdy stories, pastiches, a novella, and much more. This is sure to delight fans of the author as well as those who enjoy watching the progression of a writer as she shapes and develops her skills.

JamesCarr.BADCarr, James. Bad: The Autobiography of James Carr. Three Rooms. Apr. 2016. 256p. ISBN 9781941110386. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781941110393. MEMOIR
Carr, who was brutally murdered in front of his home in 1972, began his criminal life early. He was sent to reform school after burning down his elementary school at age nine and spent more time in jails than out. A stint as Soledad Brother author George Jackson’s bunkmate at Folsom Prison changed his life. Jackson taught him to read and write and inspired him to fight the institutionalized racism so prevalent in the United States at that time. Carr went on to join the Black Panthers and speak out for prison reform. His “brutal, harrowing, unapologetic” memoir was originally published in 1975; this edition includes a new foreword by prison reform advocates and a prolog by the author’s daughter Gea, an activist herself.

GRACECoddingtonCoddington, Grace. Grace: Thirty Years of Fashion at Vogue. Phaidon. Nov. 2015. 408p. illus. ISBN 9780714870595. $150. DEC ARTS
Vogue’s creative director Coddington is nearly as famous as her boss Anna Wintour, especially after the 2009 documentary The September Issue was released. The 30 years alluded to in this handsome, overstuffed volume’s title actually refer to 1972–2002, when Coddington worked at British and U.S. Vogue; this is a reissue of a much-sought, long-out-of-print 2002 title, which was restricted to 5,000 copies in its first run. Included is an introduction by former fashion editor Michael Roberts and a foreword by La Wintour. Coddington and Phaidon plan to “twin” this republished work with a companion volume covering 2002 to the present in the creative life of this beloved and inspirational fashion icon. Look for Volume 2 in fall 2016.

SubwayARTCooper, Martha & Henry Chalfant. Subway Art. Thames & Hudson. Jan. 2016. 128p. photos. ISBN 9780500292129. pap. $24.95. DEC ARTS
In 1984, photographer/videographer Chalfant and photojournalist Cooper brought graffiti to the world—or at least to those who lived outside of New York City. Subway Art presented stunning photos of the burgeoning street art movement and the artists who created it. More than 30 years later, this reissue includes over 70 photographs not featured in the original edition and new introductions by both photographers. The title also contains afterwords that trace the decline of the subway graffiti scene in the late Eighties and its rebirth as a global art movement today.

 

De Roberto, Federico. The Viceroys. Verso. Jan. 2016. 640p. tr. from Italian by Archibald Colquhoun. ISBN 9781784782566. pap. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781784782573. F
Viceroys.DeRobertoA “lost literary classic” in the vein of Giuseppe Di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, this example of Italian realism by De Roberto (1861–1927) was written in 1894. It’s the saga of three generations of the aristocratic Uzeda family, based in Francalanza, Sicily. As cataclysmic changes rock their world, various family members scheme and struggle to hold on to their power. Literary scholar Franco Moretti (Danily C. and Laura Louise Bell Professor and Professor of Comparative Literature, English, Stanford Univ.) provides a foreword; also included is a lengthy 1961 introduction by translator Colquhoun.

 

 

 

Drury, Allen. That Summer. WordFire. Jun. 2016. 275p. ISBN 9781614754121. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781614754138. F

Drury.SummerAfter the success of his 1959 political novel, Advise and Consent, a New York Times best seller and Pulitzer Prize winner, as well as several sequels, Drury (1918–98) turned to a smaller stage. That Summer, written in 1965, is set in a tight-knit summer community in the High Sierra. It’s the story of Major Bill Steele, who comes to Greenmont to recover from a recent divorce, and Elizavetta, nearly 40 and “without experience in love.” The two are pushed together by the matchmaking women of the town, then pulled apart by the same people. Beyond the outer machinations of this social circle, the couple is beset by inner demons and powerful emotions. If this sounds a little soapy, consider that the 1967 Dell paperback release called it “the new Peyton Place of the California monied set.” Then recall that Advise and Consent contains a homosexual subplot and backroom maneuverings as well (it is, after all, set in Washington, DC). WordFire, a Colorado-based publisher, plans to reissue most of the 20 novels and five nonfiction works Drury wrote during his long and productive career.

Hall.DarkDebtsHall, Karen. Dark Debts. S. & S. Mar. 2016. 416p. ISBN 9781501104114. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781501104138. F
This 20th-anniversary edition of the first and only novel from TV screenwriter Hall (M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues, Moonlighting, Roseanne) is served with a twist. As Jonathan Karp, the author’s editor of many years, notes in the introduction, Hall realized upon rereading the manuscript that the ending needed work. She ended up revising the entire book. Dark Debts became a cult classic when published; described as genre-defying, with gothic, romantic, and thriller elements, it remains, says Karp, “the only love story I’ve ever read that is also a theological thriller and a meditation on the nature of good and evil.”

 

Tsiang.ChinaHandsTsiang, H.T. And China Has Hands. Kaya Pr. May 2016. 228p. ed. by Floyd Cheung. notes. ISBN 9781885030306. pap. $17.95. F
The latest release from independent publisher of Asian and Pacific Islander diasporic literature Kaya Press is the final novel by activist poet Tsiang (1899–1971). First published in 1937, it depicts 1930s New York through the eyes of a Chinese immigrant Wan-Lee Wong. When Wong meets Pearl Chang, a half-black, half-Chinese aspiring actress, the “proletariat bildungsroman” charts new ground, presenting one of the only biracial African American Chinese characters written in 20th-century American literature. Tsiang penned this work partially in answer to Pearl S. Buck’s portrayal of the Chinese experience in her best-selling novel, The Good Earth; an afterword by Tsiang scholar Floyd Cheung (English, American literature, Smith Coll.) provides critical and historical context.

 

 

 

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Liz French About Liz French

Library Journal Senior Editor Liz French edits nonfiction and women's fiction reviews at LJ and also compiles the "What We're Reading" and "Classic Returns" columns for LJ online. She's inordinately interested in what you're reading as well. Email: efrench@mediasourceinc.com, Twitter: @lizefrench

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