Friday, December 30, 2016

The Best Books I Read in 2016

2016: not a great year. I think we can all agree on that. One of the relentlessly bright spots, as usual, was the refuge and joy I found in reading. While I didn't read as many books as last year (33 versus 39) I'm happy with my final tally. I read widely. I read diversely. I read a number of books in translation. I read (almost) every book club pick. In these small ways, it was a good year. 

My trends from last year persist. Out of the 33 books I read, most of them were written by women. A third of them were penned by POC. Two-thirds of them were novels. When I was thinking about this post, I felt a twinge of disappointment, because I couldn't think of a book from 2016 that truly knocked me over. To be fair, I read both A Little Life and Fates and Furies last year, so the competition was stiff. When I started going through my spreadsheet, however, I realized there were a number of books I loved, but that they were more a slow burn rather than a raging fire. Still, they kept me warm.

Below are some stats and my made-up-on-the-spot superlatives. Special thanks to the friends, publishers, reviewers, and literature lovers who led me to such wonderful books this year, and especially to the authors who wrote them. I honestly don't know what I'd do without you.

Total books read in 2016: 33

Gender breakdown: 
Female: 26
Male: 7

Diversity breakdown: 
White: 22
POC: 11

Genre breakdown: 
Novels: 23
Short story collections: 7
Nonfiction/Memoir: 3

Month I read the most books: 
5 in January. I always start the year off strong! 

Month I read the least books: 
A single book in both June and October. I guess I was busy back then? 

Most fun I had while reading: 
Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal. Connected short stories linked by a famous chef and her favorite foods.  

Most overrated book: 
The Sellout by Paul Beatty. Intellectually, I know it's a brilliant and important book. Emotionally, I'm just not a huge fan of satire. 

Most underrated book: 
All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost, by Sam Chang. Proof that a brief, quiet book can pack a serious punch. 

Best family drama: 
The Turner House, by Angela Flourney. I love books about families, and the Turners did not disappoint. 

Prettiest prose: 
Goodnight, Beautiful Women, by Anna Noyes. Oh, what sentences! 

Best book club pick: 
Mr. Splitfoot, by Samantha Hunt. The fact that we broke out the Ouija board for our meeting might have helped. 

Most engrossing: 
Swing Time, by Zadie Smith. This story took a lot of turns but never lost its footing. And yes, that pun was intentional. 

Most disturbing book: 
The Vegetarian by Han Kang. I WAS NOT PREPARED FOR THIS BOOK.  

Most disappointing ending: 
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. I loved this book up until the last few pages, and then I just felt weird about the whole thing.  

Best book(s) of 2016, runners-up: 
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. I read all four of them toward the beginning of this year, and they've stuck with me. I don't think I'll ever forget Lila and Lenu. 

Best book of 2016: 
The Mothers, by Brit Bennett. My favorite books are about broken hearts, fractured families, and the search for home. This book had all those things, and was also a delight to read. I can't wait to see what Bennett does next.  

The full list of books I read in 2016, in order: 
Under the Udala Trees, by Chinelo Okparanta
The Turner House, by Angela Flourney 
Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi 
Find Me, by Laura Van Den Berg 
My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante 
Fortune Smiles, by Adam Johnson 
The Sellout, by Paul Beatty 
The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante 
Mr. Splitfoot, by Samantha Hunt 
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, by Elena Ferrante 
The Queen of the Night, by Alexander Chee 
The Vegetarian, by Han Kang 
Hall of Small Mammals, by Thomas Pierce 
Ghost Network, by Catie Disabato 
The Story of the Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante 
Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal 
Desert Boys, by Chris McCormick 
Goodnight, Beautiful Women, by Anna Noyes 
Orlando, by Virginia Woolf 
All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost, by Sam Chang 
The Girls, by Emma Cline 
Proxies, by Brian Blanchfield 
Never Broken, by Jewel 
The Nest, by Cynthia Sweeney 
Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi 
Karate Chop, by Dorothe Nors
Leave Me, by Gayle Forman 
Son and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, by Raomoa Ausubel 
The Mothers, by Britt Bennett 
The Round House, by Louise Erdrich 
Swing Time, by Zadie Smith 
American Housewife, by Helen Ellis 
Superstorm, by Kathryn Miles 

See also: