Best Books of 2016

2016 had a great many books that thrilled me, and others that delighted. The rest of the year I could have done without —  so many deaths and a horribly long election and a range of backlash to terrify anyone.

For those interested, these are the best books I read in 2016, though not all were published in 2016.

Best Series:

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and artist Nate Powell (March: Book One, March: Book Two, March: Book Three)

Best Photography:

Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer’s Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World by Art Wolfe, Rob Sheppard

Best Memoir:

Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio

Best Children’s Book:

Science Verse by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith

Best Young Adult Fiction:

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Best Short Story Collection: (I only read 3 and these 2 tied)

Heirlooms: Stories by Rachel Hall (this one has remained on my mind more than expected)

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Jessica Brockmole, Hazel Gaynor, Evangeline Holland, Marci Jefferson, Kate Kerrigan, Jennifer Robson, Heather Webb, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig

Best Jane Austen Fiction: (this is a three-way tie)

A Moment Forever by Cat Gardiner

Darcy’s Hope: Beauty from Ashes by Ginger Monette

The Courtship of Edward Gardiner by Nicole Clarkston

Best Poetry: (another tie)

Field Guide to the End of the World by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Obliterations by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza

Best Fiction: (a three-way tie)

The Secrets of Flight by Maggie Leffler

My Last Continent by Midge Raymond

This is the Story of You by Beth Kephart

What books were your favorites this year?

Obliterations by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza

Source: Jessica Piazza
Paperback, 80 pgs.
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With the media overload of the 21st Century, poets are bound to ask: How much of this information sticks and is it absorbed in the way that is expected? Obliterations: Erasures from the New York Times by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza, one of the best new authors according to CBS Los Angeles, explores that process by taking articles found in a variety of sections of The New York Times, including real estate and obituaries, and erasing words until a poem emerges from the detritus. Neither poet knew what the other created, and what has emerged is a collection that speaks not to ephemeral constructs but to concrete concerns and connections.

Most of us know that people who hear or read it at the same time never absorb information in exactly the same way, but what’s most fascinating about this collection is how many of the poems seem to respond to one another when placed side by side. Piazza and O’Neill’s poems for Education use the article “Varied Paths Toward Healing for Sites of Terrorized Schools” by Winnie Hu for inspiration, exploring the aftermath of school shootings. “Healing” provides a sharp, zeroed in image of red, a shade that cannot be forgotten because the memory of that violence is seared into the mind’s eye. In answer, “Toward Healing” takes a look at the broken pieces of the school, the touch of violence only to reclaim those terrifying memories to create a “shrine” of hope. Both poems parallel Hu’s article. Violence of this nature is deeply affecting, and people internalize it in different ways, taking from it a sense of hope for the future in those who survive or feeling that deep pessimism that comes from loss of young potential.

In these poems, Piazza and O’Neill are not only looking at how information is internalized and processed, but they are commenting on the information’s presentation by the journalists who wrote the articles. In most of these poems, it is clear that journalists no longer just report facts and data, but also offer a personal perspective on their subject matter.

For instance, the obituary of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the technical director of the Manhattan Project, explores the man’s career and his regret over how the atom bomb was used, but it also discusses the disconnect he saw between what scientists create and how it is used. “Bomb” and “Atom Bomb Pioneer” both pay homage to the creation of science but never shy away from the connection – both good and bad — between its development and its use.

From “Bomb”, “Art was delicate work. Sciences,/a celebrated ivory-tower, almost/wholly divorced from its gravity.// A change of direction that added/sinister overtones to the awakening/world.// A love affair, now dead.// A continuing fury that unified/the immense, tension-filled world.” But in “Atom Bomb Pioneer,” we see Oppenheimer in a different way with the telling end line, “I have known sin,/ he offered.//” Piazza and O’Neill bring the full weight of that creation to the fore, asking us to consider the consequences not in retrospect but in the present. They also take up that mantle of perspective to show readers a new outlook on the subject at hand.

In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” Obliterations: Erasures from the New York Times by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza leaves us with the digestible pieces that can be easily swallowed and endured. But within these pieces, we realize that the whole is not destroyed but enhanced in this innovative poetry collection.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Jessica Piazza is the author of three poetry collections: “Interrobang” (Red Hen Press), “This is not a sky” (Black Lawrence Press) and, with Heather Aimee O’Neill, “Obliterations” (Red Hen Press, forthcoming). Originally from Brooklyn, NY, she holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and English Literature from the University of Southern California, an M.A. in English Literature /Creative Writing from the University of Texas at Austin and a B.S. in Journalism from Boston University. She is co-founder of Gold Line Press and Bat City Review, and curates the Poetry Has Value blog, which explores the intersections of poetry, money and worth. You can learn more and read her work at www.jessicapiazza.com and www.poetryhasvalue.com.

About the Poet:

Heather Aimee O’Neill is the Assistant Director of the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, and teaches creative writing at CUNY Hunter College. An excerpt from her novel When The Lights Go On Again was published as a chapbook by Wallflower Press in April 2013. Her poetry chapbook, Memory Future, won the University of Southern California’s 2011 Gold Line Press Award, chosen by judge Carol Muske-Dukes. Her work was shortlisted for the 2011 Pirate’s Alley Faulkner-Wisdom Writing Award and has appeared in numerous literary journals. She is a freelance writer for publications such as Time Out New York, Parents Magazine and Salon.com, and is a regular book columnist at MTV’s AfterEllen.com.






Mailbox Monday #376

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

15th Affair by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro from my mom.

Detective Lindsay Boxer has everything she could possibly want. Her marriage and baby daughter are perfect, and life in Homicide in the San Francisco Police Department is going well. But all that could change in an instant.

Lindsay is called to a crime scene at the Four Seasons Hotel. There is a dead man in one of the rooms, shot at close range. The man checked in under a false name with no ID on him, so the first puzzle will be finding out who he is.

In the room next door are a dead young man and woman, also shot. They are surrounded by high-tech surveillance equipment. Could they have been spying on the man now dead in the room next to them?

And in the utilities cupboard down the hall is the dead body of a house maid. The murders are all clearly linked and professionally executed. But what is the motive behind it all? Lindsay will need to risk everything she has to find out.

Obliterations by Heather Aimee O’Neill and Jessica Piazza for review from Red Hen Press.

Every day we are forced to integrate the world’s news into our personal lives; we all have to decide what parts of the flood of news resonate with us and what we need to turn away from, out of necessity or sensitivity. Obliterations—a collection of erasure poems that use The New York Times as their source texts—springs from that seemingly immediate process of personalizing news information. By cutting, synthesizing and arranging existing news items into new poems, the erasure process creates a link between the authors’ poetic sensibilities and the supposedly more “objective” view of the newsmakers. Each author used the same articles but wrote separate erasures without seeing the other’s versions, highlighting the wonderful similarities and differences that arise when two works—or any two people with individual tastes and lenses—share the same stories.

What did you receive?