Favorite Books of 2016

Today’s Top Ten (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) asks us to list our ten favorite books of 2016. When I sat down to write this post, I learned that Carrie Fisher had died. I had been telling myself all morning to start focusing on small things, like reading and writing and blogging and yoga, and not to think too much about the headlines or about all the things that currently make everything seem somewhat useless or hopeless. This year has been a very tough one, not just for much of the world but for a lot of people very close to me, but up to November I at least thought that we would all get past it. But like a lot of you out there, I feel that since November 8 that the world has tilted. I cannot seem to get over the shock I feel that so much of America is filled with hatred, that so many people willingly believe fake news and that science is equal to nothing more than mere opinion. For the first time ever, I fear the future. I also realize how weirdly lucky I am to have the luxury of that fear. I have lived through a great time of mostly peace and progress and prosperity. Like a lot of people, I assumed the world would more or less continue that way. Not anymore. And now in less than three days, the passing of two more icons. I mean, what the hell?

That said, 2016 really did have one big bright spot for me, and that was reading. I slowed down a bit after November, but at that point I was only two books away from my goal of reading 50 books this year. As of today, I’ve read 54, and I may finish another two before the year is out. I don’t have any fancy graphics and I didn’t write reviews for most of these, but these were the books that made the best impression on me in 2016:

Commonwealth, Ann Patchett. For those of us who like stories about families and all their quirks and foibles. I plan to re-read this one in 2017. That’s how much I liked it.

The Turner House, Angela Flournoy. I read this family drama about a group of grown children grappling with what to do about their Detroit family home right after finishing Commonwealth, and I found it every bit as engaging.

Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt. I had no idea what to expect from this strange and wonderful novel. The ending vexed me but overall the story was so original and engrossing I knew it would have to be on this list.

Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue. This novel about a Cameroonian family trying to make a go of life in New York just prior to the Lehman Brothers melt down and the national financial crisis that followed isn’t exactly an uplifting tale, but Mbue is such a good writer and her characters were so wonderful this one was hard to put down. She’s such a confident writer, it’s hard to believe this is a debut (same goes for Flournoy, actually).

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead. I wish I could press this book into the hands of every American. I wish that books really could change minds and make people more empathetic.

All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews. You might not think you would laugh out loud reading a book about a woman trying to keep her sister from committing suicide, but you would be wrong. This touching, funny, smart book about our obligations to family and ourselves is absolutely terrific.

The Girls, Emma Cline. I keep going back and forth on this one, trying to decide if it’s overrated and I drank the KoolAid or if it really is that good. I think the fact that I read it in July and I am still thinking about it in December probably says more than anything.

Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner. Enter this in the “Why did I wait so long to read this?” category. This classic, beautiful family saga was my most favorite book this year, and another I plan to re-read sooner rather than later.

The Rules of Civility, Amor Towles. I am just a sucker for a New York tale, and I read a lot of them this year, but this one was my absolute favorite.

The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson. This harrowing tale about an orphan in North Korea has stuck in my brain, almost as though it were a documentary of things that have actually happened. Most certainly, it shows what humans are able to to endure.

You can see the full list of everything I read this year here.

What was your favorite book of 2016?

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19 comments

  1. Yes to everything you said. It’s hard for me to get excited about 2017 when so much seems out of balance. I like what you said too: “I also realize how weirdly lucky I am to have the luxury of that fear.” It helps bring things into focus a little, I think.

    Reading is what is going to help continue to get through the coming year(s). I hope, anyway.

    Thank you for sharing your list! I haven’t read any of the books on your list, but they all sound good and many are on my wish list. I still need to make my list. I read some great books this year and am looking forward to dedicating a post to them. Here’s to some great reading in 2017!

  2. Fantastic list! I’ll be reading Commonwealth, Behold the Dreamers, and The Underground Railroad in the coming months. I loved Angle of Repose but it’s been so long since I read it that I feel like i’m due for a reread. I also want to read his Crossing to Safety.

    You’re not the only one who feels scared and unmoored by this year. I am trying to not feed my anxieties but also stay informed, which is a delicate balancing act. I think my solution lies in seeking community, committing to giving – and reading! Also, making one’s voice heard with elected officials at every level. But it’s all pretty damn terrifying.

  3. Rules of Civility is my #1 book this year…I also liked,,,,,

    Mrs. Hemingway: A Novel, by Naomi Wood
    The Swans of New York…no author name, sorry
    Vanessa and Her Sister…no author name, again sorry.

    I had a sketchy reading year. The books above are the best of a motley assortment.

    I hate this year…I want it to be over. Ick.

  4. I loved The Turner House! I’m planning to read Commonwealth soon. I didn’t finish The Girls, because I didn’t love the writing style, but I’m wondering if I should give it another try. Mr. Splitfoot is another book I hear great things about.

  5. Oh yeah… I loved The Hummingbird Wizard by Meredith Blevins… the first and best in a thrilogy, although all three are more than enjoyable.

  6. Commonwealth and The Underground Railroad are both on my to-read list for 2017. It’s been way too long since I read The Angle of Repose. Such a masterpiece! That’s one that I really should find time to read again and savor. Wishing you lots more great reading in the new year!

  7. Wendy, I look forward to reading your list! Thinking about books has kept me sane the last few months. I have a feeling that getting back to blogging will be more important than ever for all of us in 2017. It feels good to know we are part of a community that sees the insanity for what it is. I hope you have a wonderful 2017 in reading and everywhere else!

  8. Laila, Crossing to Safety is also SO GOOD. I really could have gone with either one, but the historical/family saga angles of Angle of Repose won out for me.

    “I am trying to not feed my anxieties but also stay informed, which is a delicate balancing act.” Yes, that’s it exactly. I’ll be looking for small ways to help/rebel.

  9. Curlygeek, if you loved The Turner House then I think you will enjoy Commonwealth. I was surprised by how funny it is. I can see your point about the writing style of The Girls…she has some quirks that I noticed right off the bat, but I got into the story and those went away for me. Mr. Splitfoot…I may have to re-read it soon! It’s so unusual while being very accessible.

  10. Lisa, I hope you will enjoy them both. The Underground Railroad can get very dark, but Whiteheads approach to the story is so eye-opening and original. I’ve heard it compared to Gulliver’s Travels, but I thought more of The Odyssey. And you’ll be surprised how funny Commonwealth is. Given her previous books I expected more of a quiet drama, but I laughed out loud more than once. Happy reading to you!

  11. Andi, The Turner House is just solid. I was a little worried starting it right after Commonwealth because I thought nothing was going to live up to that one. Mr. Splitfoot will be a re-read for me. I loved it so much, I still think about it on a weekly basis. Have you read her other novels?

  12. Everyone seems to love Stegner when they finally get around to reading one of his books – so why haven’t I done it yet?! I have Crossing to Safety on my shelf, and have heard great things about both.
    Almost every one of your favourite books are on my to-read list. I just need more time! I read All My Puny Sorrows 2 years ago (I think!), and wholeheartedly agree with your assessment. 🙂

  13. Naomi, I hope you enjoy them all as much as I did! Everyone seems to have Crossing to Safety on the TBR…maybe this will be it’s new breakout year!

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