This One Goes to Eleven: Keaton's Top Reads

Article by keaton

There are too many books. Too many to read. Too many to fit on any year end top ten list. So, I’ve decided to add an additional spot this year, just because I couldn’t bring myself to leave off even one more of the fascinating reads published in 2016. And I still can’t live with myself unless I mention so many others from this year that left an impression on me—GRIEF IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS, BLACKASS, ALBINA AND THE DOG-MEN, THE SADNESS, THE GLOAMING. And then there’s the older releases I finally found the time to read—2666, BLUETS, SIGNS PRECEDING THE END OF THE WORLD, and so many more. Yep, it’s been a fantastic year in reading, but there are simply too many to narrow this list down to my ten favorites. Yeah, maybe that’s a cop out. But in this age of uncertainty, who couldn’t use one more badass book to read? So, here you go. It’s bonus time. This one goes to eleven.

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How to Set a Fire and Why: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101870570
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Pantheon - July 5th, 2016


A fast-paced, stylized novel featuring a genius teenage misanthrope looking for her place in the world and finding it in destruction. Lucia Stanton is a Huck Finn or Holden Caulfield kind of character—wise beyond her years, acerbic, funny, always getting into trouble. After a family tragedy, she finds purpose in her high school's secret Arson Club. That’s right...Arson Club. Ball’s rendering of adolescent alienation and thought processes is spot on. Lucia is alive on the page—one of my favorite protagonists of the year. Through her unforgettable voice, Ball makes bald social critiques and raises complex moral questions. It’s a hell of a ride. I can see HOW TO SET A FIRE AND WHY becoming a cult classic—being passed among precocious high schoolers reading beyond their years and fed up with ineffectual system around them—for a long time to come.

Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was: A Novel Cover Image
By Sjón, Victoria Cribb (Translated by)
ISBN: 9780374212438
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - August 2nd, 2016


Another sparse, dreamlike, near-perfect gem of a novel by the great Icelandic author, Sjón! Translated by Victoria Cribb, MOONSTONE weaves together a young gay hustler’s coming-of-age in isolated and conservative Reykjavík, with the world-changing birth of cinema, and the cataclysm of the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. The result is a minimalist epic masterpiece. It is sexually explicit, psychologically daring, and at times nightmarish. And in true Sjón fashion, the ending of the strange tale completely flips the entire book on its head, making of it something magical and almost beyond comprehension in its imaginative beauty. Nobody writes like this guy.

Seeing Red Cover Image
By Lina Meruane, Megan McDowell (Translator)
ISBN: 9781941920244
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Deep Vellum Publishing - February 23rd, 2016


"Visceral" is the one word I’d use to describe this autobiographical novel out of Chile. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, the story centers around a medical ordeal in which the author, Meruane, nearly lost her vision. When weak blood vessels, stemming from her diabetes, burst and fill her eyes with blood, the protagonist of SEEING RED is suddenly forced to live as a blind woman with a dwindling chance of recovery. Meruane’s writing is direct, crackling with a kinetic energy, and imbued with no small amount of bitterness. The prose is so immediate, it seems like she wrote the entire book in one go. The result is a propulsive, no-frills character study, darkly erotic, and unsettling in its depiction of bodily illness and the resulting psychological effects. And it has a great ending!

The Kingdom Cover Image
By Fuminori Nakamura, Kalau Almony (Translated by)
ISBN: 9781616955922
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Soho Crime - July 12th, 2016


A taut, lurid and deliciously dark potboiler from the reigning king of Japanese noir. Comprising a "sister" novel to Nakamura's English-language debut, THE THIEF, THE KINGDOM is a psychological thriller with philosophical leanings. Translated by Kalau Almony, it follows a remorseless prostitute and set-up artist, who uses her sexuality to entrap important men in blackmail schemes. She is a detached loner, but nevertheless gets dragged into a situation well beyond her abilities to control. At the center of it all is the villain, Kizaki—a seemingly omnipotent underworld boss whose dedication to the art of cruelty is unrivaled. Imagine him as a cross between Michael Corleone, the Marquis de Sade and The Joker. He is one of the most frightening characters in contemporary literature. All in all, this is a brilliant pulp crime novel. I read it in a single day, almost nonstop. It's vicious, depraved, contemplative, and above all FUN! Long live Fumi.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399184413
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Riverhead Books - March 1st, 2016


Did you know that space is not emptiness, but is actually made of infinitesimally small “grains” of matter? Or how about that the very concept of time is a product of the laws of thermodynamics? One of the world's preeminent theoretical physicists lays out seven succinct overviews of the most momentous ideas in modern physics, ranging from the cosmic to the subatomic scale. Translated from the Italian by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre, Rovelli's summaries of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, quantum mechanics, particle physics, and more are conveyed in concise yet lyrical essays that make extremely complex concepts completely accessible. All in all, a perfect introduction to the field of physics for any reader. I read it in just two days, but it's changed my entire perception of reality. Utterly fascinating.

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A Collapse of Horses Cover Image
ISBN: 9781566894135
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Coffee House Press - February 9th, 2016


From sadistic childhood games, to amnesiac arsonists, to vacation resorts on the edge of insanity, A COLLAPSE OF HORSES is an absolutely terrifying collection of literary horror stories from a “writer’s writer" who is a master of exploiting the inherent suspense of the unknown. Evenson’s stories remind me of The Twilight Zone or SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK...for adults. They comprise top notch offerings of psychological horror, suspense and science fiction. He is of the same ilk as Poe and Shirley Jackson. This scratches an old itch for me. I loved it. But first, a warning: you’ll want to turn on all the lights in your house before reading this one.

The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555977368
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Graywolf Press - April 5th, 2016


I will read anything Nelson writes—poetry, memoir, grocery lists. Easily one of our greatest living nonfiction writers and one of our finest cultural critics, she is simply put a most vital voice for our day and age. This recently republished work of prose is a masterful amalgamation of genres. A brave, intensely personal memoir, a true crime account of a cold case murder, and an incisive study of our society's relationship with violence, misogyny, justice, and loss, THE RED PARTS recounts the trial of a man charged with the murder of Nelson’s aunt decades earlier (first explored in her debut, JANE: A MURDER) after advances in DNA testing finds new evidence. But her real focus is the resulting psychological toll it takes on her and her family. THE RED PARTS is a powerful and necessary work. Everyone should be reading Maggie Nelson.

Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812983739
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Random House - November 1st, 2016


Contemporary Renaissance man and National Book Award-winner McBride gives us yet another astonishing work. This time, it’s a searching, heartfelt and honest biography of the late great James Brown. KILL ‘EM AND LEAVE is an immersive work of nonfiction, equal parts personal memoir of a fan, cultural critique of race in America, and a reassessment/reclamation of the Godfather of Soul as both a man and an artist. McBride performs a literary autopsy on Brown's legacy, cutting through the myth and legend surrounding JB in order to find the real man, flaws and all. Easily the most enlightening study of an enigmatic and profoundly influential American icon from a writer who is nothing less than a national treasure.

Homegoing: A novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101947135
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Knopf - June 7th, 2016


This debut novel by an amazingly talented young author from Ghana follows two branches of an African/African-American family, spanning seven generations and almost 300 years. Told in unadorned and unflinching prose, HOMEGOING is a marvel of historical fiction, a breathtakingly ambitious family saga, and a novel of true social importance. Gyasi's narrative skill belies her twenty-six years. Each of her characters is wholly and vibrantly alive. She conveys inhumanity, suffering, sorrow, love, resilience, and triumph with equal force. Her nuanced look at the history and ongoing legacy of the slave trade is simply stunning. One of the more impressive debuts I've ever read.

Ninety-Nine Stories of God Cover Image
ISBN: 9781941040355
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Tin House Books - July 12th, 2016


A potent collection of (very) short fiction from a longtime master finally getting her due. Recalling the parables of Kafka and Borges, the tiny works in Williams’ NINETY-NINE STORIES OF GOD can be endlessly unpacked. You will want to revisit this book again and again, and you’ll find something new every time. Alternately, odd, humorous, macabre, straightforward, and totally inscrutable, these stories remind you what can be done with fiction: anything. Absolutely tremendous stuff.

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The Underground Railroad (Pulitzer Prize Winner) (National Book Award Winner) (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385542364
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Doubleday - August 2nd, 2016


THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD is hands down the best book I read all year. A life-changing, endlessly imaginative historical novel from one of America's best young authors, THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD is an escaped slave narrative that doubles as a true American epic—the continuing origin story of Africans in America. The major conceit that sets this work apart, a surprisingly obvious twist that allows the novel to transcend and become something else entirely, is that the titular network of slave emancipation is a literal railroad. Sounds simple, but it is in fact a profound literary device. And, interestingly, as an actual railroad, Whitehead is able to use the Underground Railroad as a much more powerful metaphor for the black American odyssey. Moreover, despite this sole fantastical element, the rest of Whitehead's portrayal of Southern slavery is unvarnished, graphically violent, and works as a critique of contemporary race relations as well as an indictment of the duplicitous "American imperative" that has allowed for slavery, brutality and genocide in the name of freedom, progress and purity throughout our country's history. This is a near-perfect novel. Nothing seems out of place. There are echoes of everything from GULLIVER'S TRAVELS, to INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL, to THE LOTTERY, and more that only serve to heighten the almost mythic quality of this work of fiction. It's astounding how good this book is. I can't say enough about it. A masterpiece.

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