It was kind of a weird reading year for me. Usually by now my Best Of list has over 20 books on it and I have to pick and choose what I include. At first I only had 15 Best picks and 2 honorable mentions. But even though I spend basically all year marinating on the list, a few books called out to me all day and I realized that they should really be on this list and I sat down and redid just about everything below 10. 1-10 gets cemented pretty clearly in my brain but below that I was leaving out some great books. So here is my longer, better list.
Presented below in alphabetical order by title.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. A delicate and sure modern, surreal fable of immigration and the search for home.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay. One of the most affecting memoirs I’ve ever read, it’ll change the way you look at the world. Gay wants to show us what it is like to exist today as a fat woman.
Ill Will by Dan Chaon. An unsettling thriller that examines the perils of masculinity and obsession, with a side of Satanic Panic from the 80’s for extra fun.
A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton. This is one of the big below-the-radar books this year that I want to tell everyone about. I almost missed it myself. A gripping story of optimism, class mobility, and loss through three generations of a New Orleans family.
Sing, Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward. Technically my #1 for this year, it was a pretty clear choice for me. This book is a mashup of The Odyssey and Toni Morrison that’s haunting and complex.
Amatka by Karin Tidbeck. Scandinavian bleakness meets surreal speculative fiction. This was my first novel by Tidbeck and it was inventive in a way I found incredibly exciting. I definitely need to read more of her.
The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. Thanks to the publicist who sent me a hand-written card telling me exactly why I should read this book. I usually avoid true crime, but this one is affecting and heartwrenching.
The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun. My only real regret this year is not re-reading this sly, smart horror novel from Korea. It reminded me of Shirley Jackson in the way it crept up on me. Another under-the-radar read I recommend you track down.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie. Muslim, politics, and terrorism collide in this novel, which made me a little hesitant to read it, but it works so well. This isn’t a hot button issue thriller or a lofty theoretical analysis, but a story that’s rooted in everyday life and families.
White Tears by Hari Kunzru. A trip of a horror novel about hipsters, racism, appropriation, and music. This was one of the most exciting and bizarre books I read this year and that’s a huge compliment.
Chemistry by Weike Wang. This is one of those books that has spent months living in my head and growing there. At first it felt like it was keeping me at a distance, but eventually I got so close to the failed grad student at its center that I don’t think I’ll ever quite lose her.
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay. A powerful and affecting story collection that showcases Gay’s agility and her uncanny knack of making you feel seen and understood. I saw real experiences here I have never seen in a book before.
Marlena by Julie Buntin. If you enjoy books about obsessive teenage female friendships, this is one of the best ones I’ve read. But beware, the chills of the small town in Michigan where it’s set may get into your bones.
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal. This book makes me smile whenever I think of it. While it certainly belongs in the larger category of immigrant stories, these are the stories of the immigrants who don’t fit into their communities and how they find their identity.
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen. A moving and affecting story collection that’s a strong follow-up to Nguyen’s debut, The Sympathizer, one of my favorite books of 2016.
Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz. How class affects the friendship of a group of college students. Set in the social and political upheaval of 1970’s South Korea.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The big YA book of the year is also worth the buzz. I was skeptical after hearing all the accolades but it measures up. It’s a book teens (and plenty of adults) should read.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. A one-sitting YA novel written in verse about family, poverty, and cycles of violence that never feels preachy and packs a big punch.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. A last minute addition thanks to a few late recommendations. A bubble bath of a book about old Hollywood that’s an excellent treat yourself read.
The Wanderers by Meg Howrey. The astronauts for the first mission to Mars embark on a 17-month training mission. It’s a novel about scientists, something I love, and a novel about what it’s like to be in a family with someone who’s always willing to leave you behind for Outer Space.
Borne by Jeff Vandermeer.
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.
Human Acts by Han Kang.
Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.
I have spent a lot of the year feeling like I didn’t have as many best books as usual, but when I made this list I realized that there have been books I left off that may not have hit me immediately upon reading them, but that snuck up on me and ended up getting lodged firmly in my brain. So it was better than I thought.
I meant to do a whole re-reading project this year but only made it a few books in. It’s hard for me to do anything prolonged. (Which may be why the 5th Patrick Melrose book has been sitting on my bed, untouched, for a few weeks.) But the first book I re-read was easily one of my best reading experiences this year. It was the new audio version of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a book I hadn’t read since it came out. I was worried the audio wouldn’t work because it’s such a dense book, turns out it’s better on audio, you finally get to feel the rhythm in the prose. My other biggest backlist standout was also audio (in fact, all of the backlist titles I’m mentioning here were audiobooks), True Grit by Charles Portis, which is a nearly perfect book with my new favorite first person narrator. I also caught up on a couple recent hits that I thought I would like but that it took me a while to get to: The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, which is one of the most lovely and romantic YA novels I’ve ever read, and The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, which made me concentrate pretty hard, but also made me think a lot about art and gender and parenthood.
There were easily 20 more new releases this year I could recommend without reservation. Little Fires Everywhere! This Is Just My Face! The Birdwatcher! And I wasn’t great at keeping up with releases this year, but you can always follow me on Goodreads to stay up to date on what I’m reading.
How did your year in reading go?