The Best Books We Read in 2016

From novels to biography, sci-fi to political theory, at Duke University Press, reading is our jam. Here our staff members share their favorite reads from the past year. We hope you enjoy their suggestions, and perhaps find a few gift ideas in the mixjerusalem.

Kristen Twardowski, Sales and Marketing Research Coordinator, recommends Alan Moore’s epic novel, Jerusalem: “It is a glorious, dark fairy tale that beautifully marries the grime of modern England with mystical and historical stories. Though it is a lengthy read—I might even describe it as an epic—the book captures the complexity and fragility of humanity extraordinarily well. Reading Jerusalem is a great way to close out 2016 and welcome in the new year.”

Chris Robinson, Copywriter extraordinaire, read a ton of sci-fi this year. He says, “My favorite was Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, whstation-elevenich takes place in the near future after a virus wipes out most of the world’s population and follows an intertwining group of characters both before and after the epidemic. I loved how she was able to create a post-apocalyptic/dystopian future and make it so real and believable.”

Our Publicist and Exhibits Coordinator, Katie Smart, thoroughly enjoyed the modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice—Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield. “Sittenfeld does a great job of presenting a well-known story in a new, exciting, and diverse way that holds the reader’s attention, even if you know Darcy and Elizabeth will end up together in the end. First impressions, we’re reminded, are never quite what they seem. I recently discovered that this book is part of a series of Austen retellings, so if you’re not an Austen traditionalist and can stand some changes to the original nhere-i-amovels, check out the other books in the series.”

Jonathan Safran Foer’s first novel in over a decade made it onto Publicity Assistant Jessica Castro-Rappl’s favorites list. She says, “Here I Am follows a Jewish American family as both their personal world and the real world fall apart. It’s a story of love, loneliness, and longing; of the meaning and meaninglessness of life. It’s beautifully written and deeply affecting—it totally destroyed msigns-preceeding-end-of-worlde emotionally, but it’s absolutely worth reading.”

Editorial Associate Sandra Korn suggests Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World: “It’s such a beautiful short book, telling the story of Makina, who travels from Mexico to the US to retrieve her brother. Herrera uses lyrical, otherworldly language and nearly-magic descriptions and his book has totally reshaped how I think about border crossing and migration.”

Liz Beasley, Coordinating Editor, gets political with The Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik: “Words cannot express how much I love Ruth Bader Ginsberg, or how much I am absolutely SURE that you should read this book. Although it is in some ways a coffee table book—with illustrations of RBG’s daily workout, recipes from her late husband, Marty, and numerous photographs (including photos of young girls dressed like her in pearls, large glasses, and “dissent collars”)—there is nothing light or shallow about it. Her annotated notes on her decisions and dissents reveal an incredibly razor-sharp mind as well as the nuances involved in making judgments, and they give us an important sense of how women’s rights have both picked up and lost steam at various points in US history. You learn about the serious discrimination RBG faced in her long career, as well as her surprising friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia. I hope you will be charmed and moved, as I was. I read The Notorious RBG before the election, and I suspect reading it now might be heartbreaking, but I still recommend this book wholeheartedly. May she, and all women in politics, live long and prosper.”

The editors feternity-streetor our humanities and social science journals offer up the following recommendations. Charles Brower, Senior Managing Editor, says, “The most satisfying book I read this year was Eternity Street: Violence and Justice in Frontier Los Angeles by John Mack Faragher. It takes LA noir all the way back to its dusty beginnings, the incredibly violent decades before and after California became a state in 1850. The murder rate in Los Angeles was fifty times higher than in New York City, and Mexican Californios and Anglo settlers both resorted to ‘justice’ via posses and lynching as a way to make up for the incompetent, corrupt, or nonexistent legal system. Faragher’s book is filled with frequently hair-raising stories of villainy, retribution, and mob rule; in his account, from its earliest days as part of the US, California has been the nation’s Eden but also its bleeding edge.”

Joel T. Luber, Assistant Managing Editor, writes: “The book that struck me most this year was something older that I read for the first time. The Bus by Paul Kirchner reprints a series of one-page comic strips about municipal buses. In the strip highlighted below, the most common protagonist—an unnamed businessman—sits in jail and is able to escape by summoning a bus with a drawing of a bus stop sign. This points out the reader’s assumptions about the depicted reality (e.g., that there’s a fourth wall to the cell that’s not pictured) and also inverts on the normal cause an effect of the bus stop to great comedic effect. The book features almost one hundred similarly clever strips that use this most quotidian of subjects to subvert the conventions of representation, particular in comics, and the normal rules of the real world.”


Thanks to our staff for another year of great reads and recommendations. We look forward to expanding our collective literary minds in 2017.

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