Death of a Salesman

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Favorite Books of 2016

I know there are many people in the world who rarely read, which is probably one of the most depressing things to know about our society. I feel no shame in the time I spend daily reading or thinking about reading or discussing reading with my roommate.

In 2016, I read 92 books and plays, which is a personal record (I was determined to out-do my 2014 total of 91, so congratulations from me to myself). Unlike past years, I set a few goals at the beginning of the year other than reading a total of 52 books, which included reading works by specific people. By Thanksgiving, I’d accomplished all of those goals, so I’m upping the ante for 2017 (see my new reading list in a day or two if you’re curious about how nerdy/obsessive I can be).

Below, in the order I read them, is a list of my favorite books I read in 2016, followed by some honorable mentions. This list contains books both new and old, some of which have even achieved favorite status. You can consult my full 2016 reading list here.

What books did you love in 2016? Maybe I’ll add them to my shelf.


Brooklyn, Colm Toíbín

Both as a book and a film, Brooklyn has taken deep root in my soul. I adore this coming-of-age story (they tend to be my favorites anyway, but this one is especially great). The novel, which tells the story of a young Irish immigrant Eilis who moves to New York City to start a new life in the 1950s, is just as profound and beautiful as its Oscar-nominated film adaptation. This is a perfect book to enjoy on a cozy winter afternoon.

Collected Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay

I grabbed this book at a used bookstore to help fill out my reading list for my master’s comprehensive exams in the spring and was fortunate enough to love it as a piece of literature. I quickly became obsessed with Edna St. Vincent Millay herself (this girl was crazy progressive and hip in the 1920s) and her poetry doesn’t make me feel like an idiot as most poetry does. She’s witty, hilarious, and heartbreaking in equal parts.

‘Night, Mother, Marsha Norman

It’s strange that I only read ‘Night, Mother earlier this year because the story feels deeply engrained in me already. My mom has loved this play for a long time, and I finally understood why when I read it myself this spring. Norman’s play is sparse and simple but still incredibly profound. It’s impossible as a reader not to share the characters’ anxiety as the story progresses in real time toward a potential suicide. I can’t wait to share this play with my students this spring.

Hamilton: The Revolution, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

This may come as a surprise to you, but I’m a fan of Hamilton (okay just kidding I haven’t listened to any other music in a year). Since annotating is one of my favorite pastimes, reading the annotated edition of the complete musical, accompanied by beautiful photographs and behind-the-scenes information, was a dream. Hamilton: The Revolution is a must-have for fans of the musical. Though it’s a little pricier than the Chernow biography upon which the show is based, it’s far less likely to sit untouched on your bookshelf.

Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed

My only prior encounters with Cheryl Strayed came from seeing the film adaptation of Wild  and reading a few nonfiction essays in a writing workshop, but after my roommate loved this one and gave it to me as a graduation gift, I too fell in love. I intended to bring this as my reading material on a long drive to Nebraska over the summer, but I got so into it I breezed through the entire book before our departure. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of Strayed’s Dear Sugar letters, a column she wrote for The Rumpus. Strayed clearly answers each person with deep thought and tenderness, but she isn’t afraid to answer with honesty. Each entry makes you feel understood and valued. I have a feeling this book will be one I continue to share with friends and family.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy Schumer

After solidifying my love for Amy Schumer in 2015, I of course had to read her memoir when it was released this summer. Schumer doesn’t disappoint in this book that is equally laugh-out-loud funny and sweetly sad. Though I read this book months ago, there are still stories here that I think of and laugh about often.

The Book of Other People, edited by Zadie Smith

The Book of Other People is a collection of short stories written by several famous authors whose sole prompt was to create a character and write a story about them. As with many short story collections, the end result is a bit of a mixed bag, but the general feeling I had was a very pleasant one. When my roommate and I read this aloud together (now one of our favorite and cutest habits), we sometimes had difficulty stopping ourselves from reading indefinitely. Though many of the stories are great, see if you can get your hands on “Magda Mandela” by Hari Kunzru. It’s a quick read and you will not be disappointed.

A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness

I haven’t even seen A Monster Calls yet but I’m already guessing this will be the #1 tearjerker of 2017. The book tells the story of a young English boy named Conor whose mother’s cancer is continually worsening. Conor is visited nightly by a tree monster, a clear manifestation of his frustration and grief as he watches his mother fade. This is a beautiful story about love and loss. Just maybe skip the eye makeup before reading.

Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty

I’m very rarely a reader of mysteries, especially contemporary ones. However, once I saw the trailer for the upcoming HBO miniseries adaptation of this novel, I was too intrigued not to read it before the February air date. Who knew I’d be such a fan? The book rounds out at over 500 pages, but I couldn’t put it down in the 2 days I spent reading it. I think Moriarty does a great job of telling a dramatic story in a way that still feels authentic (something I’m a little worried about based on the footage from the miniseries). It was refreshing to see a story about women who come from various backgrounds, aren’t all about competition, and keep cattiness to a minimum. Though this was my first encounter with Moriarty, I’ve already purchased her latest book, Truly Madly Guilty, and look forward to enjoying it early next year.

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

2016 was a year of Ann Patchett for me. I’d never read her previously, but my roommate and I read Bel Canto together in the fall and I became a fan. Though I generally try not to be too easily distracted by my book purchases, when I bought State of Wonder in October, I couldn’t resist starting it almost immediately. The story is clearly inspired by Joseph Conrad’s classic Heart of Darkness, but differs in that it follows a woman sent to retrieve her female boss from the depths of the Amazon where she’s developing a fertility drug. Though I was—and still am—frustrated by the book’s conclusion, it features beautiful writing and some great twists that make for a worthwhile read.

The Penguin Arthur Miller

In my 92 books read this year, this one feels like the biggest accomplishment. In fact, it’s one book that contains 18—this is the complete canon of Arthur Miller’s dramatic works. Miller and I go way back at this point, but before 2016, I’d only read 3 of his plays. This edition isn’t exactly an easy one to travel with—note its comparative size to my cat in the featured photo—but now it has a stately position on my bookshelf made all the more grand by the fact that I’ve read all the words in it. Miller is an undeniable master of American drama, and I loved spending so much time with him this year. If you remember, think of him on February 10—the date not only of his death, but also the anniversary of the Broadway premiere of Death of a Salesman.

Why Not Me?, Mindy Kaling

My general relationship with Mindy Kaling over the past month has gone from casual fan to actively seeking friendship (so, Mindy, if you’re reading, let’s hang out!). When I bought this book in the airport a few weeks ago, I was just looking to be mildly entertained on my journey home, but many times I was made to laugh aloud. Then I watched the entirety of The Mindy Project in just a few days, and I became even more enamored. Though it would be wrong to call Why Not Me? a page-turner, it’s still the kind of book you have a hard time putting down.


Honorable Mentions: The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Voyager by Diana Gabaldon, At Fault by Kate Chopin, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy

Death of a Salesman

2016 Reading List #8: Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller

So this was my fourth time through Death of a Salesman, but that by no means signifies that it packs any less of an emotional punch. Death of a Salesman is known as the great American tragedy for a reason, and that is the terrible beauty of this story.

I’m assuming it’s not an unfamiliar story to most readers, but here’s the gist: Willy Loman is a 60-year-old salesman who’s past his prime and out of touch with reality. His elder son, Biff, has come home to stay with mother Linda and younger brother Happy. The conflict between Willy and Biff is primarily what drives the play’s action, as well as the characters’ hopes that someone in this family will get a better job to keep them all afloat financially.

Willy thinks one must only be well-liked to be successful, which is essentially his biggest mistake; because of his belief that he and his sons–particularly Biff–are well-liked leaves him unable to recognize the reality around him.

Death of a Salesman tells an incredibly pitiful story that’s nearly impossible not to relate to. It’s a heartbreaker and one you’ll be thinking of long after turning the final page.

Now I’m going to take a break from Mr. Miller and turn to another novel that will help me cross another goal off this year’s reading list: Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

Death of a Salesman

Book #23: Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller

Death of a Salesman

 

It’s a pretty generally understood fact that Death of a Salesman is an American classic. I loved this play when I first read it in high school four years ago, and I’m happy to say I found it to be just as amazingly profound this time around. As you probably know, the play follows the life of Willy Loman, a man struggling to make his life meaningful. This play is about the loss of the American Dream; though Willy has always lied to himself about his successes, he must face the reality that he’s lived a life without true impact or meaning. I can’t say much more than it’s brilliant, heartbreaking, and surprisingly relatable, even 65 years after it was released. If you haven’t read this play, it’s about time you change that.

The Night of the Iguana

Book #22: The Night of the Iguana, by Tennessee Williams

Book #22: The Night of the Iguana, by Tennessee Williams

This is the last Williams play I’ll be reading for my Modern American Drama course, so the idea of moving onto something different is appealing. This wasn’t one of my favorites of his, but there’s some stiff competition when you consider how great The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and A Streetcar Named Desire are. This story is a bit strange; it actually reminded me a bit of Ernest Hemingway’s writing because it takes place in Mexico and the setting is rather crucial to the plot. Since all the other Williams plays I’ve read are set in the American South, this one certainly stands out as something very different.

I think the aspect of this play I didn’t like very much was that it’s hard to identify with a character you want to root for as a reader. In The Glass Menagerie, you have Laura who is perfectly innocent and sweet. In Streetcar, you have Blanche, who can certainly be trying, and Stella, who’s just trying to do her best. Here, though, I didn’t really find a character I could identify with, and I’m not really even sure who the protagonist is.

Later this afternoon, I’ll be watching the 1964 film adaptation that stars Richard Burton and Ava Gardner. I’m interested to see how the story plays on screen and if it will make more sense to me this way.

So, I’ve crossed another chunk of plays off my reading list. Good news, though: the next play we read is Death of a Salesman, which is probably my very favorite American play (unless that changes this semester). It’s always nice to return to something you love.