My name is John Manos, and I’ve lived in Evanston since 1976. My mother grew up here (her father was an architect named Joseph Bristle who designed many homes and other buildings in the northwest part of town), and I had relatives who spent their lives here. I’m a self-employed writer and editor. My novel Dialogues of a Crime was included by Kirkus Reviews among their “best books of 2013.” I’ve written other books, a couple of movies that never made it to the theaters, and the documentary The History of the Horse for Luminair Films in Chicago. I am also a professional guitar player and a gardener.
1) The North Water by Ian MacGuire (2016)
This is a very dark book but a tremendous exploration of the true nature of evil. I agreed with the author’s definition – a willingness to follow every impulse that satisfies personal desires, regardless of the consequences for others. The writing is exceptionally good, and the structure is as complex and thoughtfully layered as such great novels as Disgrace by Coetzee.
2) The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016)
An extraordinary book in every way, this joins Invisible Man and Beloved as a rare novel that gave me – a white male – a visceral insight into the African American experience and the utter abomination of slavery. It builds on the fascinating device of every child’s first impression of the underground railroad – as a physical railroad with tracks in tunnels beneath the ground – and uses that intriguing concept as the base for an excellent narrative. It’s a great book.
3) The Assault by Harry Mulisch (1985)
This Dutch novel about a moment of moral horror during the German occupation of Holland during WWII is, I think, a masterpiece of short fiction. A vicious collaborator is assassinated, and the repercussions of how otherwise uninvolved people respond reverberate forward through time in surprising ways. It’s a thriller and also a complex metaphor for how Europe dealt with the consequences of Nazism. It feels like it has relevance in the United States today, but that might be stretching things. Regardless, it’s a very well-told, complex story.
4) House of Meetings by Martin Amis (2007)
This is the most interesting love story I’ve read since Love in the Time of Cholera. It’s about a pair of brothers with drastically different temperaments who end up in the same Siberian camp in the Soviet gulag. I don’t want to give any of it away, so that’s all I’ll do to describe the plot. Amis is a tremendous writer, and this is one of his best novels.
5) Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina (2015)
Quite different from my other picks this year, Beyond Words is a fascinating, delightful look into animal emotions. But it is not sentimental in any way – it actually examines animal feelings and communication in a scientific manner, viewing their thinking not as it compares to human thoughts and emotions but according to the terms that might apply to the animals themselves. I learned something new on almost every page.