As I look back at my “year in books,” I feel especially nostalgic.
I remember cold early mornings in West Virginia at the beginning of the year and sweltering South Carolina summer days after we moved. I remember the book I read first and the books I read in the aftermath of my most challenging days.
With so many great lists of 2016’s best books, I almost didn’t bother. I read 34 books in 2016, a number that makes me proud given how hectic this year has been. Between moving, a new job, many personal tragedies, the election, and, of course, chasing around a 3 year old, I’m surprised (and thankful) that I still made time to read.
Note: Not all of these books were published in 2016 (I’m always a few years behind). I read mostly novels and non-fiction, but one of my goals is to read more poetry and short fiction next year. Here are a few notable books that will always remind me of 2016.
First Book: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
On January 1st, one of my close friends passed away. For those first weeks of the year, I couldn’t concentrate long enough to hold many coherent thoughts and I didn’t think I would read again for a very long time. By the time I started , I was finally ready for words again. I couldn’t have chosen a better novel to start off 2016. It was President Obama’s favorite book of 2015 and easily one of my favorites of 2016, as well.
Most deserving of all the hype: Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Underground Railroad is on almost every end-of-the-year list and won the National Book Award (among other awards). This book is deserving of all the buzz and recognition. I can’t think of a single reader-friend that I wouldn’t recommend it to.
Personal favorite (fiction): Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
“It’s nearly impossible to put down,” says Michael Schaub in his NPR review of Schaub’s review nails it. Wasserman’s book is brutal and raw and so authentic in its portrayal of friendship and teenage girls that I couldn’t sleep at night. Literary suspense at its finest. Plus: Kurt Cobain.
Personal favorite (non-fiction): Bandit by Molly Brodak
Disclaimer: I know this author personally; we were both in the same M.F.A program at West Virginia University (her in poetry, me in fiction). I knew I would love it because I already adore Molly Brodak’s poetry. blew me away and exceeded all of my expectations. I dare you to read the description and not add it to your to-read list. I can’t imagine anyone not being spellbound by this memoir.
Book that got me through the election: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
The results of the election hit me harder than I expected (and I know I’m not the only one). Reading helped get me through the weeks that followed. I eagerly escaped into Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, loving both the writing and the story so much that I can remember little else about the middle of November. This tremendous novel is worth owning, reading multiple times, and lending (or hoarding for yourself).
Last book of the year: Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry
Just as I started the year with distinct book memories, Flynn Berry’s helped get me through the final days of 2016. I’ve been reading quite a few psychological thrillers and this novel stands out as distinct. And flawless. I can’t recommend this book enough.
Other books that I read and loved:
Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis
Dare Me by Megan Abbott
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
Quiet by Susan Cain