Looking Back at 2016, By the Books

2016 was the first time in a long time I didn't break 100 books read. I didn't get to many of the buzziest books I heard so many good things about. I didn't read a single one of my Book of the Month books (is that some kind of new record)? I didn't finish a single one of my reading challenges.

And I'm not even a little bit mad about it. Because looking back at this year of reading, there were still some really damn good books. Why I liked them, and links to review where available, are included below:

Best Fiction of 2016

Why They Run the Way They Do, by Susan Perabo (Simon & Schuster, February): Perabo's stories resonate with heart and meaning, moving beyond the fourth wall to draw readers into the cleverness of their structure as much as their plots. If you're uncertain about short stories to begin with, consider this collection as a starting point. If you're a sucker for the style, you'll love what Perabo's done with it. (Full review in Shelf Awareness.)

This Side of Providence, by Rachel W. Harper (Prospect Park Books, March): Why oh why did more people not talk about this book? Read this book? Love this book? Harper's novel focuses on a picks apart the ways racism, poverty and addiction impact one family. It's raw and honest and heartbreaking and really excellently done. (Full review in Shelf Awareness for Readers).

Shelter, by Jung Yun (Picador, March): Shelter takes the story of a dysfunctional family one step beyond "normal" dysfunction, and then two steps beyond that. I read the entire novel in one plane ride, unable to look away once I started it.

Dear Fang, with Love, 
by Rufi Thorpe
 (Knopf, May): I spent many a day trying to find words to describe this book, and never quite came up with anything satisfactory. It's a complex, but easy to read, little book, full of layered stories of family history, the Holocaust, Lithuania, mental illness, fathers and daughters and first loves and much more. I can't recommended it highly enough. (Full review.)

The Girls, by Emma Cline (Random House, June): Cline's novel is ostensibly about a 1960s teenager who is drawn into a cult. But what makes The Girls so incredible, so astounding, is not its fascinating story of a unique teenager in a unique situation in a unique time, but the ways in which Cline's fictional protagonist resonated so much with me--who was never alive in the 60s, never joined a cult, and never expected to find myself on the pages of a cult novel.

Here Comes the Sun, by Nicole Dennis-Benn (Liveright, June): Dennis-Benn's debut centers on a family in Jamaica whose lives are inextricably tied up with the resort industry in their small town. With lush scenery and idyllic landscapes comes a searing story of love, family, race, sex, and the lengths to which we will go to protect ourselves and our loved ones. (Full review in Shelf Awareness for Readers.)

The Sunlight Pilgrims, by Jenni Fagan (Hogarth, July): Set in a not-too-distant future beset by an Ice Age directly caused by climate change, the three misfits in Fagan's book try to make their way in a cruel, cold world. Fagan's novel flew very much under the radar, but its subtle humor and quiet message of hope and kindness is one we should consider revisiting as we stare down 2017. (Full review in Shelf Awareness for Readers.)

The Mothers, by Brit Bennet (Riverhead, October): Bennet's debut has been widely praised, and for good reason. It's everything I look for in a novel: well-plotted, complex characters, gorgeous sentences, and thoughtful points I chewed on long past the last page.

Best Nonfiction of 2016

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Mathew Desmond (Crown, March): I'm a sucker for an excellent sociological exploration of a little-studied topic, and that's exactly what Desmond's provided with Evicted. Prepare to be infuriated, prepare to be enlightened, prepare to think about the systems of poverty in the United States in a whole new light. (Full review in Shelf Awareness.)

On Trails: An Exploration, by Robert Moor (Simon & Schuster, July): Moor's exploration of trails, and the way they both shape and are shaped by our world, will appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in walking or hiking. Starting with the world's first trails and moving through the many varied trails made by humans, animals, and combinations of the two, On Trails is part travelogue, part memoir, part history, part sociology, and all around excellently done. (Full review in Shelf Awareness.)

Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Fear, Mock... and Why, by Sady Doyle (Melville House, September): Trainwrecks have long been pop culture icons: Mary Wollenstonecraft was recognized in her time for her illegitimate child; Plath for her breakdown and suicide; Britney for her shaved head and videotaped rantings; Miley Cyrus for her refusal to play by the rules. Doyle's book weaves the thread of the trainwreck through history, exploring how "the trainwreck" came to be a thing in the first place, and the impact of the role on feminist history through today. (Full review in Shelf Awareness.)

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction, by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow, May): Gaiman is most known for his incredibly imaginative fictions--be they screenplays, television episodes, novels, or short stories. But his nonfiction is just as varied, just as creative, and just as inspiring. The View from the Cheap Seats pulls together essays, introductions, speeches, Easter eggs, and more into one volume that will delight any Gaiman fan. (Full review in Shelf Awareness.)


Later this week, I'll be rounding up the best backlist I read in 2016. In the meantime, I want to know what your favorite books of the year were. Leave 'em in the comments!

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