I was talking to a friend the other day, someone who shared my love for literature and I mentioned that I’ve been reading a lot of contemporary fiction and nonfiction as of late — that I feel like I should delve into classics a little bit more. She said that there are a lot of contemporary fiction that are good which made my literary heart swell.
And it’s true, most of the releases I had the chance to read this year blew my mind. The New York Times came out with their best books of 2016, two of which I reviewed on the blog. Buzzfeed also came out with their own list, similar to what has been featured in the NYT and on this blog.
Coming up with only five books was hard, but there were a number of considerations. I like to think of Libromance as a living and breathing part of the world, wherein books featured reflect the struggles of our time. Whether these are external factors — political nightmares, increasing state violence, etc. — or internal factors — the need for security, means for survival, our capacity to love — the decision to narrow it down to just five was a meaningful and intentional process.
Libromance’s Best Books of 2016
The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
…the story of Cora, a slave who ran away from a plantation in Georgia through a real-life railroad built underground. She used the railroad three times: one heading towards the Carolinas, the second towards Tennessee and then Indiana. Historically, the “underground railroad” was a network of secret routes and safe houses, established by abolitionists and free slaves to aid black folks to get to free states.
Known And Strange Things, Teju Cole
…I usually try to finish a book in a week or two but I stayed with Teju’s new book for about a month, as I processed each essay and its significance differently, in the context of a queer Filipino immigrant experience in the United States.
The Course of Love, Alain de Botton
…the love stories we see and hear about are really only the beginning of those relationships, Alain de Botton argues, in his new book The Course of Love. What happens after the proposal, followed by the wedding, are the lives of two people bound not by romance alone but by the humbling reality of living with another person.
Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
…reading Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing at the time of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s deaths was surreal, as if I was looking at the lives of these two black men from a generational perspective, with Gyasi’s historical fiction lens.
The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen
…writing about war is never an easy task, it involves remembering what must not be forgotten, slowly treading a path in one’s memory that is never neutral. It is filled with opposing forces — of heroes and villains, of the noble and the wretched, of the conqueror and the conquered. But it must be done. This, I believe, was Viet Thanh Nguyen’s task with his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Sympathizer.
These books shook, carried, woke me in infinite ways, beyond my own experiences as a queer Pinay immigrant. There were many that didn’t make the list and you can always check those out here. Have you read any of these books? Let me know in the comments below!
Pia Cortez is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She runs a book blog called Libromance where she reviews books and publishes literary features with a queer Filipino immigrant lens. She is a contributor at Hella Pinay, an online magazine for Filipino-American women and at New Life Quarterly, a literary magazine based in Oakland, California. She is currently working on her first novel.