An ode to the pop-fiction palate cleanser

I decided to try it at an airport, because… I was already drinking a bloody, you know? Anyway I loved it, practically inhaled it, and passed it on to a friend. She was looking for a pick-me-up, had been into the hard stuff lately. Pretty soon I found another friend who liked it, and a week later, a third confessed: She’d needed it, needed the break from reality.

So there you have it. If you’re looking for a reprieve from life’s daily frustrations, Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies is an almost guaranteed conduit to temporary nirvana. 

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Lessons from The Terranauts: Filter bubbles have nothing on real bubbles


In a world being redefined by xenophobia and authoritarianism, reviewing books has seemed, well, frivolous of late. I read Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler last month, but was distracted by Trump before I could start a review draft. I tore through Han Kang’s The Vegetarian a week ago, but got sidelined by protests before jotting down any notes. I inhaled Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 on Saturday, but a murder mystery at sea seems silly when staring down an IRL humanitarian crisis. And don’t even get me started on George Washington’s biographyโ€”the man once graciously returned a lost dog to a British general, in the middle of a war. Donald Trump’s broadsides feel pettier than usual after even a few pages with the original founding father.

Still, reading a bookโ€”preferably one set in a time/place/galaxy far, far, awayโ€”can be a welcome reprieve these days, and I really went into T.C. Boyle’s The Terranauts expecting to forget, for at least a few hours, about the particular brand of America we find ourselves in at the moment. I suppose, in some sense, the book did accomplish that: For a few beautiful hours, I disliked the characters in this novel almost as much as I dislike a certain newly minted leader of the free world. 

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The ultimate authoritative best books of 2016


Slavery. Racism. Urbanism. Disease. While 2016 may not have been a banner year for liberal democracy in the world at large, it should definitely go down as a woke time in book publishing.

For dedicated bibliophiles, the low thrum of literary FOMO that bubbles up around May has by mid-December evolved into a full-fledged panic. Every week brings a new โ€œbest books of the yearโ€ list, each one littered with titles you havenโ€™t even heard of, let alone read. Any nascent new-year confidence is supplanted by fears of intellectual inadequacy orโ€”unthinkable in this age of success micro-steps and wellness lifehacksโ€”unproductiveness.

Take a breath; Iโ€™ve got you covered. By combining 36 different qualitative โ€œbest booksโ€ lists by everyone from the New York Times to The Telegraph to a smattering of celebrities (full list of lists here), I’ve created the Ultimate Authoritative Unimpeachable Top 20 Books of 2016. Here they are:

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If you only read one novel about a 19th century Scottish triple-homicide…


The fact that His Bloody Project is (mostly) fictional is either the most or least important thing you could know about it, depending on how much you care.

Framed as a memoir written by an accused murderer, coupled with court transcripts and another associated documents related to the crime, HBPโ€”down to its faux-bloody-fingerprinted coverโ€”wants very badly to sell itself as a true-crime adventure, an In Cold Blood for fans of 1800s homicides committed in remote and sparsely populated Scottish enclaves. That the book is in fact a epistolary novel marauding as truth makes it all the more ambitious and, like its main character, all the more tricky to pin down.

Said main character is Roddy Macrae, who opens his lawyer-prescribed written statement, i.e. the book, with a fairly direct confession:

“My life has been short and of little consequences, and I have no wish to absolve myself of responsibility for the deeds which I have lately committed. [My advocate] has instructed me to set out, with as much clarity as possible, the circumstances surrounding the murder of Lachlan Mackenzie and the others, and this I will do to the best of my ability….I shall begin by saying that I carried out these acts with the sole purpose of delivering my father from the tribulations he has lately suffered.”

And so with this rather dispassionate Inigo Montoya-ing, Roddy establishes the conclusion of a situation whose origin the reader does not yet know, and will spend the rest of the book finding out. Without spoiling anything, suffice it to say that Roddy’s father is a stern and downtrodden farmer, and Lachlan Mackenzieโ€”town police officer, of sortsโ€”is a douche of the most fable-ready order: petty, power-hungry, and loathsome from jump. But Roddy is no angel, and stacking his version of events up against the version outlined by other parties is one of the primary exercises in reading this slim and quirky book.

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3 thrillers to distract you from all of the things

It’s a good time to read a gripping book: The weather is getting colder, the days are getting shorter, and it’ll be hard to maintain a decent library when climate change puts us all underwater. So here are a few page-turners that got me through the past week.

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