Erin’s Top 3 Reads of 2016
For me, 2016 was a bit of an odd year for reading. There were highly anticipated but unfulfilling sequels, books that were almost amazing but lost it in the last 20 pages, and books that I didn’t think I would enjoy but that I found enthralling. I don’t have a clear top 3, but I do have three very different books that stood out for me in 2016.
I am not a religious or spiritual person, but Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary was riveting from beginning to end. Just as the great masters painted her robes, Tóibín paints a picture with spare prose of Mary as a grieving mother, angry and traumatized at the loss of her son, swept up in a dangerous world of faith, war, and politics. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Meryl Streep. Streep brings the character of Mary to life as she details the events leading up to her son’s execution, and the desperation after to secure his legacy. In this story, Mary is human and flawed – not a blushing virgin but a tragic heroine. In a heartbreaking passage, she is reminded by the two unnamed disciples charged to mind her of her son’s divine lineage; she will have none of it, proclaiming her son’s death to be decidedly “not worth it.” While the book has not been free of controversy, it has been lauded by believers and non-believers alike.
Going from a relatively short treatment of ancient history to an epic 600 page dystopian not-so-distant future, The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman is a book that I didn’t think I’d get through but once into it was loathe to put down. The world has been ravaged by an unstoppable disease, and those left are now wandering in the ruins of cities and suburbs. Ice Cream Star and her clan survive by scavenging and maintaining uneasy alliances with other survivors. In this world, people only live until they reach the age of 20, at which point their bodies succumb to the disease that has wiped out humanity, a plight that Ice Cream’s brother is now facing. When Ice Cream finds a Roo, beings thought to kidnap children and use them as slaves, who has grown old enough to have wrinkles around his eyes, she believes there to be a cure for the disease that makes their lives so short and is determined to find it. The Country of Ice Cream Star is written entirely in a made up patois, so is intimidating to start. But the world that Newman builds, using barely recognizable pieces of things we find familiar, and the fiercely tenacious Ice Cream make the story worth the effort.
My third book is pretty much pure indulgence, because I’m a longtime fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s series of Sherlock Holmes stories. Mycroft Holmes written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (yes, you read that right, yes that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) explores the question of what made the corpulent older brother of Sherlock Holmes, ostensibly a quiet midlevel civil servant but often described as being the hidden power behind the British Government, the enigmatic man that he is in stories such as The Greek Interpreter and the Bruce-Partington Plans. In this book Abdul-Jabbar’s Mycroft is far from the man described as essentially lazy by his younger brother, but up for a bit of adventure with his friend Cyrus Douglas. When Cyrus gets reports of children dying under mysterious circumstances in his homeland of Trinidad, and Mycroft’s fiancée (also with colonial connections to the country) abruptly leaves England, Cyrus and Mycroft are drawn into a dark web of secrets that grows more treacherous with every step they take. Abdul-Jabbar – who is himself a Sherlockian – not only writes a pretty good adventure in the spirit of the Conan Doyle stories, he also takes an opportunity to examine British colonialism and Trinidad’s history.
All of these books are available at the Haliburton County Public Library. Whether you want something inspiring, challenging, or comfortable and familiar, there is always a book out there waiting for you.
*Originally published in County Life, December 29, 2016.