The 2016 Roundup

Another year, another failed Goodreads challenge. It’s become an annual tradition, but hopefully I’ll creep closer to succeeding in 2017, now that I’m not juggling a full-time job with part-time schooling. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves so early in the year.

I still managed to finish 25 books in 2016 (not counting textbooks) – below, are some of the highlights.

I often see articles with people talking about the books that “changed my life.” Up until 2016, I’ve never been able to name my own world-rocking book. There have been books that have changed my way of thinking, ignited my curiosity, taught me empathy for others, but life changing? Not quite.

But this summer I read Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson, the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, AL. And when I was done, I felt like Oprah when she found out she could eat bread every day on Weight Watchers. And if that’s not a life-changing feeling, I don’t know what is.

Stevenson’s stories of defending people of color wrongly condemned to death row in the South are compelling. The book is moving, infuriating, full of feelings of both hope and helplessness and a frighteningly sharp illustration of the systemic racism and corruption within the nation’s so-called justice system. I can’t recommend it enough.

(Here’s a great interview with Bryan Stevenson, about the need for America to confront – and openly discuss – its racist history.)

Also an excellent read, but one of a much different type, was The Bowery Boys: Adventures in Old New York: An Unconventional Exploration of Manhattan’s Historic Neighborhoods, Secret Spots and Colorful Characters.The hosts of the excellent Bowery Boys podcast, Greg Young and Tom Meyers, take their readers through the history of New York City and it’s citizens via the architecture of the Big Apple’s streets. They also take great care to emphasize the integral contribution of immigrants that made the city what it is today.

Kate Summerscale’s The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer tells the story of Robert Coombes who, in 1895, was convicted for the murder of his mother at the age of 13 and sent to Broadmoor, the Victorian lunatic asylum. The story of Robert, the murder, and his trial, is fascinating, but the second half of the book tells a story that is even more amazing.

Finally, 100 Years of Lynchings by Ralph Ginzburg is a simple book that packs a complex punch to the gut. Comprised only of newspaper articles published between the 1880s and 1960s covering lynchings in the United States, its power is in both the appalling details the articles provide and in the collection as a whole. It’s also interesting to see how newspapers in different parts of the U.S. reported on such savage crimes.

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