The Year in Reading 2016

Shelf of Fame 2016

Books I found particularly moving, thoughtful, or useful this year.


Dracula: Bram Stoker

I love Gothic novels. I’ve read this maybe four or five times. The more I read it, the more I enjoy it and all its strengths and weaknesses.

Gulliver’s Travels: Jonathan Swift

I had read a children’s version of this growing up and missed everything but the fun stuff. The satire here is incredible. At the end he writes against colonization and discusses America specifically. There’s an allusion to Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel. I need to read more Swift. I’m surprised how many levels Swift can write on and still be serious and comedic at the same time.

Naked Lunch: The Restored Text: William S. Burroughs

I wish I had read this when I was younger so that I would have written more fiction. Then again, I probably would have written bad versions of this.

Writing and Education

Responding to Student Writers: Nancy Sommers

Very useful. I picked this up because I had some problems and questions about my own practice in responding to student writers. It actually directly answered some of my questions and gave me good advice on continuing to improve this part of my professional practice. I try not to get complacent with my teaching and I find it useful to find small, helpful books like this one to review basic skills that need attention or improvement or even just a little reflection.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print: Rennie Browne and Dave King

My wife wrote a novel that went to an agent several years ago. This book was recommended. I finally got around to reading it this year. Clear, concise, and useful.

Essays and Criticism

Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s: Kim Newman

I’m hoping to read more histories and horror criticism this year. Newman’s book was a blast to read and I came away from it with new thoughts about some older films, and new additions to my list of need-to-see movies.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking: Susan Cain

Great book for introverts. Eerily familiar situations and reactions to situations. This book also helped me advocate in various ways for personal space, of not being ashamed that I recharge alone or with one or two friends at a time.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments: David Foster Wallace

People love him and people hate him (or maybe his fans?). Seems like that’s what happens when someone reaches iconic status, not to mention takes their own life. I love many of the essays in this collection and I also liked reading the extended versions for the first time.

Terrors of the Screen: Frank Manchel

I’ll acknowledge that this wasn’t a “great” book, but it’s fantastic for what it is. It’s a guide to horror films for young readers that came out in 1970 and is exactly the kind of book I was checking out in late elementary and middle school. Definitely a nostalgia pick, but when I read it, I also compiled a list of films mentioned. It’s a great list–almost a Great Books of pre-1970 horror movies, including great choices from the silent era. Maybe I’ll post it here sometime later, though I did leave off some films that I have frequently viewed.

Poetry and Philosophy

The Collected Works of William Shakespeare

The years it’s taken to read this were worth it. I read everything, the poems, the collaborations, the pieces hinted at being somewhat composed by the Bard. What should make every writer feel good is that there are clunkers here and that’s okay. This was about my third time reading the sonnet sequence, and while oddly I didn’t like certain ones as much as I used to, much of the sequence opened up to me. I could see larger patterns and structural ideas this time, whereas in the past I think I was just kind of starry-eyed about reading Shakespeare.

The Dream Songs: John Berryman

I can’t wait to read these again. And his other work for the first time.

The Fragments of Heraclitus

I have been reading versions of Heraclitus since 1995. I’m at the point that I now want to dip into the major criticism and some of the newer non-public domain translations. I’ll likely be reading bits of Heraclitus until I can’t read anymore.

The Nature of Things: Lucretius

Difficult, but worth the time. Fascinating. Bizarre and down-to-earth. I had started several translations over the course of about five years. I enjoyed the Penguin one by AE Stallings so far the most.

Nicomachean Ethics: Aristotle

Another thinker that evokes awe and ire. I find that dealing with the writing itself is often more interesting and fruitful than some of the particularly passionate positive or negative criticism.

On the Sublime: Longinus

I found this a fun read and one that I wanted to start over after I finished.

Plato: Collected Works

Like Shakespeare, a reading experience decades in the making. Wonderful. Frustrating.

General Favorites 2016

Books that left traces.


The Castle of Otranto: Horace Walpole
The Cat’s Table: Michael Ondaatje
Come Along with Me: Classic Short Stories and an Unfinished Novel: Shirley Jackson
Divisidero: Michael Ondaatje
The Drowned World: JG Ballard
The Horror Hall of Fame: Edited by Robert Silverberg and Martin Greenberg
My Brilliant Friend: Neapolitan Novels, Book One: Elena Ferrante
The Neon Bible: John Kennedy Toole
Sense and Sensibility: Jane Austen
Snuff: Chuck Palahniuk
Vathek: William Beckford


Bad Feminist: Essays: Roxane Gay
Don’t Be a Jerk: And Other Practical Advice from Dogen, Japan’s Greatest Zen Master: Brad Warner
Electronic Revolution: William Burroughs
For a New Novel: Essays on Fiction: Alain Robbe-Grillet
The Gnostics: The First Christian Heretics: Sean Martin
Sweet and Savage: The World Through the Shockumentary Film Lens: Mark Goodall (and JG Ballard)
Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists: Kay Larson


Art of Noise: Destruction of Music by Futurist Machines: Luigi Russolo
Codex Seraphinianus: Luigi Serafini
Swamp Thing: Alan Moore, et al.
Tales from the Crypt: The Official Archives Including the Complete History of EC Comics and the Hit Television Series: Digby Diehl


The Collected Poems of AE Housman
Omeros: Derek Walcott
The Wild Party: The Lost Classic by Joseph Moncure March: Edited and illustrated by Art Spiegelman

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