I was disappointed that I'd read so few of The New York Times' 100 Notable Books of the Year during 2016. In past years when the list came out, I was delighted to have read several of the honorees, but this year brought a disconnect with books loved by the critics.
A couple that didn't engage me: Don DeLillo's "Zero K" had zero warmth, and Nancy Isenberg's "White Trash, a 400-year History of Class Divide in America" seemed a tough slog. I hope to try again with Isenberg, following Donald Trump's winning the presidency by appealing to the white working class.
Here are a few books I enjoyed that haven't received any recognition on end-of-year lists. One is a book first published in 2003.
Ron Rash, Poems, New and Selected. Rash's poetry displays the narrative power of his novels and stories. His well-crafted vignettes of Appalachian history and culture are like sunlight reflected from antique glass, or stones glimpsed through a clear mountain stream.
About this time last year, I found Rash's short story collection "Something Rich and Strange" in a drugstore in Hayesville, N.C. His stories are fashioned with traditional techniques of plot and character, sometimes too much in the O. Henry mode. Those who miss old-fashioned stories that used to appear in magazines like the Saturday Evening Post and the New Yorker will love Rash's Appalachian tales.
His novel "The Risen" is an entertaining mystery, grounded in the North Carolina region of which Asheville is the capital, but doesn't reach the level of his other work.
Jay McInerney, "Bright, Precious Days." McInerney's novel about a New York literary couple drew attention when published in August, but didn't receive end-of-year kudos. The third part of a trilogy, the novel is an old-fashioned "good read," with vivid characters, lyrical writing and deft humor with laughter that also stings.
John Feinstein, "The Legends Club: Dean Smith, Mike Krzyewski, Jim Valvano". The veteran sportswriter is a book factory, churning out glib, readable prose. While Feinstein shows his Duke bias, this book is an informed and captivating look at ACC basketball's fierce rivalries during the 1980s. Even non-ACC basketball freaks will have their sports nostalgia stirred.
Jill Lepore, "Joe Gould's Teeth." The Harvard author whose previous popular histories received heavy critical love didn't make a big splash with this revisiting of the eccentric character made famous by New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell. Lepore gives a fascinating portrait of Gould, a longtime Manhattan character who claimed to have written an encyclopedic history of the world. Along with Mitchell, Gould knew an all-star cast of Manhattan cultural figures over a surprising number of years. Lepore reached the sad conclusion that Gould might have died in a state mental institution, the victim of lobotomy. Her purpose was to find whether Gould really did write his opus. Mitchell found it was a hoax, but Lepore offers evidence that Gould might have written some of it, without coming up with definitive proof.
Erik Larson, "The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America." I read Larson's 2003 look at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair after a September visit to the Windy City enflamed my interest in the Midwestern metropolis. My son Luke's recommendation was on target: Larson weaves a richly textured tale of how the world's fair came about, the new products and innovations it engendered, and the creepy mass murderer who killed a number of young women who came to Chicago from rural towns seeking their fortunes. Leo DeCaprio bought movie rights a few years ago, and will reportedly play the debonair psychopath HH Holmes.