So in 2016 I read a couple hundred books (not including books I didn’t finish, books I reread, literary journals, newspapers, articles, magazines, etc). As usual, it was not nearly enough. Now, I’ve narrowed it down to the twenty books that most made me go “WHOA.” As usual, these were books read in 2016 (so not necessarily only ones published in 2016) and as usual the order is meaningless.
Some things I noted about my overall reading: 52% were written by men and 48% by women. And 39% were authors from the US, while the other 61% were authors from outside the US. I don’t usually break my reading down into statistics, but I thought it would be interesting to see these two in particular.
In a few places, I’ve reviewed or written about the book elsewhere and I’ve included those links.
- The Ballad of Black Tom by: Victor LaValle. I love LaValle. His writing is beautiful and his pacing is stunning. This novella is no different. I reviewed it at Nerds of a Feather and I wrote a column on it at Ploughshares.
- The Regional Office is Under Attack! by: Manuel Gonzalez. Fun and dizzingly pced and also achingly smart and well written. I reviewed it here!
3-4.) System of Ghosts by: Lindsay Tigue and Blood Song by: Michael Schmeltzer. These were the two best poetry collections I read last year. Each is exquisitely written and the language feels so precise and yet so natural. I wrote about both of these poets at Ploughshares: here and here!
- Happiness, Like Water by: Chinelo Okperanta. Whoa. That’s what I said after reading the first story in this collection. Okperanta’s writing is so tender and so lyrical.
- What is Not Yours is Not Yours by: Helen Oyeyemi. Oyeyemi makes me seethe with jealousy, she’s so damn good. These strange stories are wondrous and gorgeous and filled with sharp edges. I reviewed it here!
- The Underground Railroad by: Colson Whitehead. If you’ve been a reader of this blog, you might know that Whitehead is my favorite author and that I’ve read his other novels over and over and over. This one is just as beautiful and powerful and heartbreaking as the rest. YES AND IT WON THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD AS WAS JUST AND GOOD AND NOW I CAN FINALLY BE QUIET ABOUT HIM NEEDING TO WIN. I reviewed it here!
- The View from the Cheap Seats by: Neil Gaiman. Gaiman’s essays are as generous as one would imagine they might be and his storytelling makes everything he’s passionate about practically leap off the page. I reviewed it here.
- Damned if I Do by: Percival Everett and Big Picture by: Percival Everett. One of my goals this year was to read every Everett that I hadn’t yet read. I did and I was not disappointed. WHY IS HE SO FRAKKING GOOD?
- Where We Go When All We Were is Gone by: Sequoia Nagamatsu. I loved these stories. Each one is a gem. Lovely writing and dazzlingly strange plots.
- The Tsar of Love and Techno by: Anthony Marra. Another “whoa” after each section. It’s also an interlinked story collection, so come on, it basically showed up at my door with chocolate and a coffee.
- The Hidden Keys by: Andre Alexis. How do I love Alexis? Let me count the ways: HE IS PERFECT AND I DON’T NEED TO COUNT THE WAYS. This novel is funny, and weird, and wonderfully written, and there were some passages that were so good I thought I might have forgotten how to breathe while reading them. I reviewed it here.
- Under the Harrow by: Flynn Berry. Smart and well written and talking about women and violence in ways both intelligent and emotionally true.
- The Calling by: Inger Ash Wolfe. I can’t resist a good mystery. This was a really, really good mystery with sharp, evocative writing, an excellent protagonist, and, FYI, it was made into an actually well done movie (with Topher Grace in it!).
- The Private Lives of Trees by: Alejandro Zambra. I’ll basically read anything Zambra writes. His writing makes me feel like I’m in a fugue state after I’m done with it. He’s basically just doing magic and putting it on the page somehow.
- Known and Strange Things by: Teju Cole. What I love about Cole’s writing is that it always surprises me. He thinks about things in a way that makes me rethink them as well. Particularly, I loved his essays on photography.
- Why Did You Lie? by: Yrsa Sigurdardottir. Even when it’s not top-line Yrsa, she still manages to write a mystery that keeps one so engrossed that “oh look, its one am, and the books done and didn’t I just started reading at ten??”
- Scholarship in the Digital Age by: Christine L. Borgman. This book is on here for two reasons: one it made me think about scholarship and the collecting of knowledge in new ways (which on its own is a pretty cool thing) and two I think it solved a problem for a novel I’ve been trying to write for over ten years. So I’m now like indebted to this book forever.
- End of Watch by: Stephen King. I debated including this one. It was solid but it took this series in a direction that I thought was unnecessary. But, ultimately, I think it did right by its protagonists to complete the trilogy and they were damn fine characters.