As usual, this list rears its head in December. And as also is usual, none of the books listed here were actually published in 2016. However, this one is somewhat unusual in that it has a dearth of sci-fi and fantasy and, uh, is more thematically unified.
1. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
In spite of being acquainted with the film adaptation since childhood, it took me until recently to finally pick up the book. I wish I had sooner.
Watership Down is one of the great modern adventure stories and has an evocative power that is on par with Tolkien, as far as I’m concerned. The English countryside may not be quite as marvelous a place as Middle-Earth, but Adams gives it a mysticism and poetry which re-enchants it in its own way. It is beautiful and terrifying.
2. The Book of the Long Sun, by Gene Wolfe
A flawed masterpiece of theologically-laden sci-fi; an incredibly weird doorstopper; an equally ambitious followup to an earlier classic; Silk for Calde, etc. etc.
3. Le Morte D’Arthur, by Sir Thomas Malory
Le Morte was also on my previous year’s list, but it took me half of this year to finish, so it might as well go here as well. Malory’s compendium is as close as we have to a definitive collection of the Arthurian mythos in the English language. And as a gateway to it it felt like a, well, portal to another world.
4. Arthurian Romances, by Chretien de Troyes
More Arthurian romance. This collection introduced me to the French side of the mythos. If Malory is the dry historian, Troyes is the lively storyteller.
5. Idylls of the King, by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Even more Arthurian romance, this time filtered through the Victorian melancholy of Tennyson. With the exception of Wagner’s operas, this is the most aesthetically sumptuous take on the material I’ve found yet.
6. Collected Fictions, by Jorge Louis Borges
Although many of the stories contained within this volume could qualify as sci-fi and/or fantasy, Borges somehow managed to sneak into the Literature section of the bookstore under the cover of magical realism. Borges’ stories are typically bite-sized affairs of a few pages in length, and often feel more like surreal thought experiments than actual narratives. The man had quite the imagination.
7. David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
I’m also cheating a bit here too, given that I first picked up this novel during my teenage years, but only succeeded in finishing it a few months ago. I don’t think David Copperfield needs much introduction. But the book came back into my life in the middle of a sleepless night and helped me tide over some stressful weeks. Insomnia has been the occasion for quite a lot of reading in my life.
Another major lacuna in my English lit reading has been filled in – and, as one of the ur-English texts, it’s a pretty big one. But it was a pleasure rather than a duty. It made me wish I knew Old English so that I could read it in the original language, and I could see why Tolkien treasured it so much.
9. The Usagi Yojimbo Saga vols. 1-3, by Stan Sakai
The medievalism and the bunnies in the above entries kinda mash together in this comic. It’s got historical drama, detective stories, fables, talking animals – what’s not to like. Diving into the other omnibus volumes is only a matter of time.
10. Creating Characters With Personality, by Tom Bancroft
2016 was the year I started drawing. This short, simple book by a Disney alumnus helped me get my feet wet.