Two weeks ago, I presented my annual “Avi” awards for the best books I have read in the past year. Here are abbreviated comments about my top choices in descending order.
9. The Narcissist Next Door by Jeffrey Kluger
Written two years ago, who could have guessed that the author’s analysis of Donald Trump as a classic narcissist would have such repercussions in the context of our national politics. But beyond Trump, there are insights about how to understand the peacocks in the oval office; the monsters in your corner office; and the problematic members of your own family.
8. Mendocino Fire by Elizabeth Tallent
I had never read this author before. But during my road trip north during my sabbatical, I found her piercing portrayals of residents in the far north of California haunting and illuminating.
7. The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani
The book jacket reads, “Chris Abani is a force of nature… a luminous, shattering talent.” A recommendation like that by Junot Diaz, one of my favorite authors, prompted me to buy this book. Diaz wasn’t exaggerating. This novel is a wild ride through the underbelly of Sin City.
6. The Physician by Noah Gordon
Jack Weinstein recommended this book to me. I’m so glad he did. This book, which was published 30 years ago, is much loved for its vivid account of Rob Cole’s epic journey from England to Persia to be trained as a physician. The rich portrayal of life in the eleventh-century is remarkable. Side note: DO NOT rent the movie version of this story. I watched 15 minutes on Netflix and thought it was garbage.
5. Killing a King by Dan Ephron
The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin in November 1995 shocked and horrified the world. Ephron offers a thoroughly researched account of Rabin’s murder and its effects upon Israel two decades later.
4. The Mathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer
This novel spans decades from wartime Poland to modern day Wisconsin. The book is “an unexpectedly moving and uproariously funny novel that captures humanity’s drive not just to survive, but to achieve the impossible.” More than a depiction of the world of mathematicians and Jewish emigres, the soulful quality of the writing is quite lovely.
3. Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart
The Jewish community in America has been enriched by the hundreds of thousands of Russian Jewish immigrants who have arrived in the past 25 years. This unflinching look at what it meant for one boy and his attempt to acculturate to the New World. It’s alternatingly humorous and heartbreaking.
After reading this autobiography, make sure to read one of Shteyngart’s works of fiction. He’s brilliant.
2. The Best Place on Earth by Ayelet Tsabari
This collection of short stories will offer you a view of Israel that is unencumbered by politics or world events. Tsabari focuses upon the lives of Israelis; some of whom are from the Yemenite neighborhood in which she grew-up. Poignant and precise, this book won the 2015 Sami Rohr Prize in Jewish Literature (which is slightly more prestigious than receiving an Avi Award).
1. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This small yet powerful work is a searing portrayal of what it means to be African-American. You should not read this book. Instead, you must listen to the audio version read by the author. Such power. Such conviction. Such truth.