I had a HARD time making a list this year. Usually when I am reading my #1 book of the year I know it while I am in the middle of it and then things just fall into place with the rest of the list. But not this year. This year no #1 ever showed itself. It wasn’t a bad year. I read so many books I really loved. But ultimately this is my list and it comes down to the sticky factor. Did this book stick in my head? Did it stay with me? Did I continue to talk about it for days and weeks and months afterwards?
Yes, this is MY list. It is not a list of the objectively best books. They are the books that did something to me when I read them. They are also the ones I got to this year. (A few that I read this year that were written last year would have made the list, like The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, Dragonfish by Vu Tran, and Delicious Foods by James Hannaham.)
I was not able to select a number one or rank my top 10, but I did manage to break it into two tiers. Each set is listed alphabetically. (Links are to Amazon, if you purchase through them it helps support the blog. Thanks!)
Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn. A tragedy of Shakespearean power set in the shacks and the gleaming resorts of Jamaica. A gut punch of a debut novel.
The Hike by Drew Magary. This book came out of nowhere and messed with my head in a way I can’t get over. Terrifying, absurd, utterly unique, and constantly unexpected, with the best ending I’ve read in years.
The Trespasser by Tana French. The Sixth Dublin Murder Squad book is the best yet, a straight-up procedural that is so sharp it could cut glass. I want 5 more Conway books.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. You don’t need me to tell you how good this book is. But you really can believe the hype.
Version Control by Dexter Palmer. A near-future science fiction novel about loving other people vs. loving what you do, complete with creative and creepy technology and worldbuilding.
Arcade by Drew Nellins Smith. A very honest book about sex from a narrator who can’t manage to be honest about anything else. A spare, gutsy novel about having only one foot out of the closet.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Sprawling and epic in scope, and yet each chapter is such a small and perfect treasure. Generations of one family are divided by slavery and united again.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. People are miracles. It turns out, so are trees. Jahren will open up rooms in your heart you did not know were there. A memoir worth the tears I cried reading it.
Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan. What starts as a light, romantic romp becomes a serious examination of whether people can change. If Clueless moved to Singapore and Cher wasn’t such a nice girl.
Shelter by Jung Yun. A man’s life unravels as the parents who victimized him are victimized themselves. Old wounds still feel awfully fresh no matter how hard you run. Dark, suspenseful, and full of heartache.
And since 10 is not enough, here’s 11-20.
All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle
Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam
Sunset City by Melissa Ginsburg
Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge
What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Honestly, there were a lot of great books this year (as always!) and it was very, very hard to make my list. There are plenty of books not on that list that make my heart hurt. (I’m so sorry, books! I love you!) It was also hard because some of my very favorite books this year were 2015 releases that I read too late. In very strong contention for last year’s top 10 were:
Delicious Foods by James Hannaham
Dragonfish by Vu Tran
Negroland by Margo Jefferson
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
And on top of all of those, I read a few backlist titles that just killed it. This was the first year I ever read any Octavia Butler and I feel like I need to seek forgiveness from some literary deity. If you are like me and want to atone, Kindred is a great place to start. Excellent sci-fi, social commentary that makes you shocked it’s 40 years old, and just a rip of a read.
I finally read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saénz, which I’d heard about for a while but definitely did not prioritize enough. Hands down one of my favorite YA novels of all time. I cried buckets in the best way.
4 of my top 20 are LGBTQ novels, and it’s possible I read more queer fiction this year than any other. (From backlist I read Redefining Realness, Edinburgh, and The Price of Salt (Carol) along with new releases like Juliet Takes a Breath and If I Was Your Girl.)
I also re-read the entire Dublin Murder Squad Series from Tana French, which was, I 100% admit, a highlight of the year. I got lost in those books for a few weeks when life was particularly nuts and I needed the escape.
Even though I didn’t get that #1 book that really rocked my world, I got so many stellar reads this year that I can’t complain. 2016 was a good year in reading for me.
What were your top books of 2016?