I’ve been through my escapist phase of literature where a swift plot, sexy or fantastical storylines stole me away from reality. But this year was decidedly not the year of light reading; in fact, I’d venture to say it was one of my heavier years yet. Not in some attempt to wallow in the heavy, the tragic, the depressing—no, rather I find a strange amount of light inside darker works. By looking the shadow in the face, so to speak, light seeps out the cracks and reminds me of what matters, what is beautiful.
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
Normally I wouldn’t put a book on my list that everyone is already talking about except this is, hands down, my favorite book of the year. There are so many things I could say about this novel which is, at its essence, the story of a boy who loses his mother too young and struggles to find meaning. What makes it my number one, however, is not just the brilliance of her language and imagery, or the pop off the page memorably raw characters, but it’s the way she holds art up as a sacred thing—visual art, writing, even the love of restoring antique furniture—and reminds you with emotional punches and linguistic beauty that without art we are little more than beasts. That art is the place we land and live and tango and lose and suffer a little more nobly between the highs and lows of our lives. This is a book you live inside for nearly 800 pages.
Wool, Hugh Howey
I love me some good Dystopian fiction, and Howey does not disappoint with this story of the people who inhabit the strange world of Silo 12 in a time hundreds of years past an unremembered blight that wiped out most of the world. The silo is strange to the reader, that is, not to its inhabitants, who have grown up for generations walking up and down its spiral stairs, living out their lives without ever seeing sunlight, and dreading the fateful but necessary days when someone goes to “cleaning”—ensuring population control. The setting of the Silo is beautifully realized, powerfully allegorical (Plato’s cave, anyone?), and the story has a strong female protagonist for a change who is, of all things, an engineer/mechanic. It’s a story about how we live, what we believe, and what we’d risk for freedom.
Night Film, Marisha Pessl
A disgraced former journalist, an iconoclastic cult filmmaker with an unconfirmed reputation for doing unspeakable things to his actors to get unique performances out of them; a dead piano prodigy…I was hooked from the jacket copy. Take this man on a dark, downward spiral into the heart of another man’s madness, and I could not put it down. I don’t want to say much more because it’s a book best experienced for oneself, but it’s a fabulous page-turner with lush prose.
Still Point of the Turning World, Emily Rapp
I’d been following non-fiction writer Emily Rapp’s blog for two years before this book came out. I won’t lie, it’s a hard book to read: her son Ronan was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease when he was nine months old and did not live to his third birthday. The book was her way of handling the journey of mothering a dying child. It’s raw, it’s real, it’s contemplative, fierce and ultimately a powerful reminder of what matters and how we must live our lives in the moment. And the good news is: Emily is now pregnant again with a child who does not have Tay-Sachs, so I’m happy for her.
The Dog Stars, Peter Heller
There are no zombies or vampires in this novel of the apocalypse; only raw human survival and need, and the natural world, which Heller paints so beautifully as he follows one man through his life as he’s adapted after the apocalypse; he’s already lost his wife and unborn child, and all family and friends. But he still has something to lose, and this novel is as much a meditation on grief as it is a testament to the beauty of being human, of being able to love at all and how, in the end, we need one another.
Photo Credit: Let There Be Light by Premnath Thirumalaisamy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.