A couple of other bloggers I read, K.M. Weiland and Kiera, wrote posts about the best books they read in 2016. Usually, by the end of the year, I forget which books I read that year, but thanks to Goodreads, this is no longer the case. 2016 was the second year I tracked my reading on that website. This year, there’s even a convenient little page that sums up all of one’s reading.
I read a lot in 2016—126 books to be exact. It was actually fewer than 126 because some of those were short stories that tied in to series I’d read. But still, even without counting those, I still read a ton of books. Here are some of my favorites.
I really enjoyed The Count of Monte Cristo. It took me forever to read it because it’s massive. I won’t discuss the plot because I assume you’re somewhat familiar with it. I actually want to read it again—there’s so much going on that I’m sure I missed a few things here and there.
I read Jane Eyre again this year. I’ve read it innumerable times before and it still remains one of my favorites. Again, I assume you’re somewhat familiar with the plot, so I won’t discuss any details.
Best Science Fiction
This one is a no-brainer for me. Robert Charles Wilson’s Burning Paradise was easily the best science fiction I read last year. Featuring a group of people on the run from dangerous aliens, it’s actually equal parts alternate history and science fiction, which makes it all the better (those are two of my favorite genres). I liked it so much that I definitely plan to read more of this author’s work.
I can’t possibly choose just one or even two books for this category, so here goes. I read a ton of history and I read some really outstanding history books last year. So here goes:
Moscow Nights is excellent because it’s Cold War plus classical music. This excellent biography of Van Cliburn, the American pianist who won the first ever Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow during the height of the Cold War combines two of my favorite topics in one book—what more could anyone possibly want?! 😉
Stalin’s Secret Agents basically answers every question I ever had about twentieth-century history. Seriously, if you want to understand the twentieth century, read this book.
The White Generals is a very detailed, very academic account of the Russian Civil War. There aren’t many books in English that focus specifically on the Civil War, and of the few that do, they’re often tinged with a pro-Bolshevik feel. This book is very pro-White, which I liked. (As an aside, I feel like there’s a certain irony in the fact that Russia, which was once Communist and suppressed any positive mention of the White Movement, has produced more pro-White scholarship in the past twenty-five years than the free, English-speaking world has managed to do in a period three times as long.)
I will warn you, though: The White Generals is not an easy read, especially if you don’t have a very strong background of Russian history during this era.
Alix and Nicky is an excellent and sympathetic account of the last tsar of Russia and his wife. The author doesn’t shy away from criticizing them when necessary, but the vitriolic hatred of Nicholas that characterizes some historians’ work is absent, thank goodness.
Finally, The King of Vodka, a biography of Pyotr Smirnov, founder of Smirnoff Vodka, is an engrossing account of Russia in the nineteenth century. I didn’t just enjoy it because of the tale of how Smirnoff was founded. It’s also illuminating in that it shows how much the tsars didn’t do to foster business and a solid middle class in Russia that would have been a valuable bulwark against the Bolsheviks when the revolution happened in 1917. Seriously, to understand what happened in Russia in the twentieth century, you have to go further back into the nineteenth. (I guess this is true for many things, but somehow the connections between Russia in the nineteenth century and the twentieth century were never explicitly discussed when I was studying Russian history.)
Best Political Science/Current Events
Red Mafiya is an older book, but it’s still relevant today. Like it or not, the Russian mafia is in the United States (and are probably here to stay for a while). This book traces exactly how they got started here—and how US law enforcement ignored them for too long.
Okay, so I only read two books in Russian in 2016. I know, I know, that’s atrocious and is something I plan to change this year. Still, I did enjoy a certain book very much.
Вердикт: невиновен! (Verdict: Not Guilty!) is a charming little whodunit featuring a young lawyer who must play detective to help save her client from conviction. It’s quite a fun book and is not available in English at this time, as far as I know. (Might this be a future translation project for me? Hmmm…)
Anyway, that’s all I have in regards to books. I actually plan to read less this year, as last year’s pace was rather furious and felt a bit stressful at times. I felt like I was racing against the clock, but I don’t know why. My goal was only forty books, which isn’t difficult for me to achieve. I set this year’s goal to forty as well, but with a caveat: one-fourth of them must be in Russian. Considering how slowly I read in Russian, that will be a real challenge!