Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Best of 2016

My reading dropped off a bit in the last third of 2016, as you may have noticed by the correlating drop-off in posts. Turns out starting a new job and getting married in a few months leaves a sadly tiny amount of time for reading. I am resolving to find more time in 2017 - all that time spent wedding planning can now go toward reading.

But I still read 134 books this year (45,438 pages, per Goodreads), and really liked a lot of them. As per usual, I'm pulling from all 134 books this year, regardless of publication year, though I'll note the ones that were 2016 releases. I'll also link to my reviews of the book, where applicable, otherwise to the book's Goodreads page. I regret that I failed to write reviews for many of these, and I'm going to get better about corralling my thoughts quickly after finishing a five-star book this year.

Let me know what your favorites were, and if there are any 2016 releases I missed! (This seems a good place to note that I currently have 23% left in "The Underground Railroad," and couldn't quite squeeze it in before the end of the year.)

1. "Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi. Gyasi's debut novel of half siblings whose lives and those of their descendants are shaped by very different experiences of the slave trade is the best book I read all year, hands down. This was also my single biggest fail in review-writing. I have been recommending it to nearly everyone I've talked books with since I finished it, but didn't manage to get a review together. In my defense, I listened to it on audio and promptly bought a hardcover copy when I finished it, thinking I'd re-read it in print (because the prose is stunning and deserves the direct attention of my eyeballs) and write a more detailed review then. But, I started my new job two weeks later, and the review is unwritten. One day, I will get to it, but for now, this is my favorite book of the year, and everyone, everyone, everyone should read it. (2016 release)

2. "The Library at Mount Char" by Scott Hawkins. This 2015 release was the freshest, most innovative novel I read this year, and another that I listened to on audio (and supplemented with an eARC from NetGalley) and promptly purchased a print copy upon finishing. Hawkins' tale of Carolyn and her siblings and the strange library she inhabits is creepy and intriguing and impossible to put down once you've started.

3. "The Fifth Season" and "The Obelisk Gate" by N.K. Jemisin. A joint review of the first two books in Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy is forthcoming, as I just finished "The Obelisk Gate" on my honeymoon last week. Jemisin's apocalyptic fantasy novels are powerful dissections of oppressive social structures and the myriad ways people attempt to control or otherwise deal with those who are different and/or feared. I can't wait to read the conclusion this year. ("The Obelisk Gate" is a 2016 release)

4. "A Little Life" by Hanya Yanagihara. Like when I wrote my first review, I don't have much to say about this powerhouse of a novel that hasn't been said more eloquently by others. It blew me away, the prose was stunning, and the utter emotional devastation it brings is a testament to its strength. I am still bitter it didn't win more of the awards for which it was shortlisted.

5. "Behold the Dreamers" by Imbolo Mbue. I loved this debut novel detailing the intertwined stories of an immigrant family and the family of their father's employer in the immediate run-up and aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. The vibrant characters made this novel, and I look forward to more from Mbue. (2016 release)

6. "The Mothers" by Brit Bennett. This is another 2016 debut that lived up to the hype (and its beautiful cover), and another novel whose review is forthcoming, as I also read it on my honeymoon. Bennett's story of Nadia starts with her mother's death and her decision to have an abortion, and covers the ramifications of that decision through the eyes of her church community. It was a fast, powerful read, and I'm glad I managed to get to this one before the end of the year. (2016 release)

7. "Leaving the Atocha Station" by Ben Lerner. This was a NYC book club pick that took our group by surprise. Several of us in that group had met while studying abroad in Madrid, and this novel captures that experience perfectly. It's a modern, and for me, far more accessible version of "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," with beautiful, lyrical prose. Apologies for re-hashing my Goodreads review here, but my feelings toward this book are identical and, perhaps most tellingly, just as strong seven months after finishing it.

8. "Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family" by Amy Ellis Nutt. This 2015 non-fiction title was another early 2016 read for me, but one that has stuck with me. Nicole's life story and continued activism will remain essential reading as long as transgender people continue to face discrimination.

9. "Middlemarch" by George Eliot. I feel really great when I read a classic and understand how it earned its place in the cannon. We tackled this in big book club, and had some really excellent conversation on feminism and relationships. I'm happy to report it did not kill our book club, and I am glad to have read it and shared it with our group.

10. "Kitchens of the Great Midwest" by J. Ryan Stradal. I'm posting this with the paperback cover under protest, as I far prefer the hardcover, but I suspect the paperback is the one you're more likely to find now. I have been widely recommending this novel as pick-me-up snuggly blanket of a book that makes you feel warm and comforted and loved. It's a novel told in interconnected vignettes centering on a woman with an extraordinary palate that comes together in a delightful, satisfying conclusion.

So there you have it! To wrap up, I'll also share my other five-star books this year, in no particular order:

  • "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt
  • "Aurora" by Kim Stanley Robinson (my favorite SF read of the year)
  • "Shrill" by Lindy West (2016 release)
  • "So You've Been Publicly Shamed" by Jon Ronson
  • "My Life on the Road" by Gloria Steinem
  • "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay" by J.K. Rowling (2016 release) - I feel this deserves a small explanation. I pre-ordered the screenplay and read it quickly because I knew I wouldn't make it to the theater opening week, and I didn't want to be spoiled. However, I thought I'd make it to see this in theaters at some point, and was (and still am, I guess) holding my review until I see it it in the form in which it was intended to be enjoyed. But I really loved reading this, and feel it is the rightful heir to the Harry Potter empire. (On the other hand, the further I get from "Cursed Child," the more I would like to pretend it just doesn't exist. I'm a hypocrite, though, since I'll still try and see it when it comes to the US.)

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