A Year in Reading: Best of the Books

It's that magic time of year, friends! When book lists and best-of lists and year-end lists and round-up lists abound. Always a sucker for a good list, here's my attempt to narrow down my reading year into a few don't-miss-'em-can't-miss-'em favorites:


Most Powerful: Redeployment, by Phil Klay
Klay's book tackles the subject of war and its lasting impact on those who fight it with a bluntness that is startling and effective. I cried after most, if not all, of these stories, and have been pushing it into the hands of everyone I know ever since. (Full review.)

Hardest to Talk About: An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay
It's impossible to recommend a book so brutal, and impossible not to recommend it at the same time. (Full review.)

Best Prose: Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill
Offill's short novel of a marriage reads more like vignettes than a narrative story. And that's a wonderful thing. Couple that with some of the best stand-alone sentences I've ever read, and how can I not recommend it? (Full review.)

Most Unexpected: Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
This is a post-apocalyptic novel for people who don't like post-apocalyptic novels. And for people who do like post-apocalyptic novels. And for everyone else, too. This snuck up on me in a way I wasn't prepared for, but that I adored. Smart and impeccably imagined and I can't wait to read more of Mandel's work.

Feminism at Its Finest: Florence Gordon, by Brian Morton
I read Florence Gordon solely at the urging of Shannon from River City Reading. And hot damn, she was right. The crotchety, particular old lady who gives the book its name is a stunning, compelling character--and the family surrounds her is just as nuanced and refined. Morton's done something amazing here, and I wish all feminists, would-be feminists, anti-feminists, and others would give this one a chance.

Backlist Pick: The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russel
It was hard not to pick The Wife by Meg Wolitzer for this slot, but ultimately, The Sparrow proved one of the most powerful and thought-provoking books I read all year. It had been on my shelf for ages and I'm kicking myself for not picking it up sooner.


Memoir/Biography: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, by Jeff Hobbs
Hobbs' account of his college roommate's life--and untimely death--is the story of a man, but it is also the story of poverty in our country. Peace's life ended early, but the lessons we can learn from it don't have to. Read this. (Full review.)

Nerd Out: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, by Chris Taylor
Kind of a no-brainer for anyone with a passing interest in Star Wars. But it's also an interesting account of how one of the most unlikely movies--the original Star Wars--became a pop culture sensation. (Full review.)

History: Hotel on the Place Vendome, by Tilar Mazzeo
There was something fascinating to me about this account of the history of the Hotel Ritz in Paris. Mazzeo's account spans the entirety of the 20th century (and some of the 19th and 21st) through the lens of one building, and it is astonishing to realize how central and important four walls and a ceiling can be. (Full review.)


What were the best books you read this year?

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