Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Books of the Year 2016

Here we go again: our annual popular post of books of the year as they feature in the press (excluding papers with pay-walls) and on some blogs.

This list will be regularly updated in the lead-up to Christmas, and build up steadily.

Most recent update: 5.1.2017.

Previous lists are here: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.

  •  In the Irish Times, hits and misses: John Connolly writes that "My disappointment of the year was Jenny Erpenbeck’s airless, joyless novel The End of Days, which stole time from me that I might otherwise have more profitably spent sticking pins in my eyes." So that's at least one off the list. More positively, Sinead Gleeson recommends "the sparse and affecting My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout", "a near-perfect novel told in pithy, beautiful language."  
  • The Irish Times Best Books of 2016: John Kelly calls Solar Bones by Mike McCormack "a work of some genius", and the excellent Eavan Boland goes for another fine contemporary poet, Adrienne Rich, whose Collected Poems were published recently.
  • The Irish Times also has a great list of favourite children's and YA books compiled by E.R.Murray. Owl Bat, Bat Owl by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick pops up a couple of times.
  • Nicholas Lezard's paperback choices are always worth paying attention to. Diary of a Short-Sighted Adolescent ('Romania's Adrian Mole') by Mircea Eliade, translated by Christopher Moncrieff, looks worth checking out.
  • Head over to the School Library Journal for informed lists of the best children's books of the year, divided into five sections by age.
  • The general Guardian/Observer lists are among the best each year, and here are parts one and two. Kudos to them for the proper showcasing of excellent cover design.  Hisham Matar's The Return gets lots of recommendations, as does Sebastian Barry's gay love story Days Without End. They also have best politics books, best fiction, and pretty much everything else. In Best Children's Books Julia Eccleshare goes for the latest Jon Klassen, We Found a Hat and the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary. Also, science books recommended by scientists, properly pushing the boundaries of just what a 'science book' is. And check out this podcast discussion.
  • The Observer's lists include Fiction by Alex Preston, who goes overboard for The Underground Railway: "It’s a profound and important novel, but more than anything it’s an absurdly good read, gripping you in its tightly wound plot, astonishing you with its leaps of imagination. If Colson Whitehead doesn’t win every prize going next year, I’ll appear on Saturday Review in my underpants." Kate Kellaway is in charge of poetry books, and Denise Riley's Say Something Back looks like one to buy.
  • The Guardian's publishers' list of their hits and misses is always good, especially publishers on the books they wish they had produced: Christopher Hamilton-Emery of Salt writes that "I wish I’d published: KJ Orr’s gorgeous debut, Light Box (Daunt). She is a writer of piercing, crystalline prose; her short stories unveil compulsions, discords, collisions and tiny, intensely memorable brutalities. The collection is, to use a rather worn phrase, stunning." Also, hidden gems of 2016.
  • Another good annual list is the picks by readers in The Guardian (why don't more outlets do this?). Sue Brooks goes for the interesting-sounding Being a Beast by Charles Foster ("Foster’s attempts to live like various animals is my book of the year. Funny, exuberant and courageous, nudging closer and closer to how it might feel to enter the non-human world").
  • The Bookbag: Top ten non-fiction books of 2016 includes one up our own street, The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation by David Crystal.
  • From the excellent Nigel Warburton, the best philosophy books of the year on FiveBooks. Top of his list is "about the philosophy known as ‘existentialism.’ It’s by Sarah Bakewell and it’s called At the Existentialist CafĂ©" and is "exceptional".
  • Boing Boing's list has plenty of unusual choices, such as Astonish Yourself: 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life which sounds tempting.
  • In the Telegraph, the Best Books of 2016 includes Human Acts by Han Kang, whose The Vegetarian was so unsettling. A Guide to Berlin by Gail Jones (not a travel book) sounds interesting.
  • The New York Times's 10 Best Books of 2016 includes The Vegetarian, and Colson Whitehead's Obama-boosted The Underground Railroad (will we be hearing about President Trump's reading lists?).
  • The same newspaper has an annual 100 Notable Books, and this time Edna O'Brien features with The Little Red Chairs as well as a favourite of many this year, Elizabeth Strout's My Name is Lucy Barton. They also have a Notable Children's Books feature.
  •  The Age from Australia includes Drusilla Modjeska recommending Eimear McBride's The Lesser Bohemians, and Zoe Morrison going for one of our favourites, the late Kent Haruf's pitch-perfect Our Souls at Night.
  • The Times Literary Supplement usually sets the intellectual bar high with their many recommendations. Karl Ove Knaussgaard's final volume, Some Rain Must Fall, in the his five-book auto-biographical splurge (the Marmite of modern literature) is called by Paul Binding "arguably the richest and most powerful of the sequence."
  • Mother Jones has 20 Notable Books of 2016and spots The Arab of the Future 2: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1984-1985, by Riad Sattouf & Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, by Marcelino Truong: "two of the most affecting memoirs of the year are graphic novels by French cartoonists who grew up astride two cultures."
  • The Financial Times has a good list. Thinking about 2016 might take in reading J.D. Vance's much-noticed Hillbilly Elegy, or from a different perspective one that looks very interesting, Peter Parker's Housman Country, "a reminder of the emotional charge behind all those grand abstractions of nationhood and sovereignty."
  • The New York Public Library has a list of the best books published for teens in 2016.  In the top 10 is Meg Medina's Burn Baby Burn.
  • The Spectator's Best and Worst Books of the Year by regular contributors includes Daniel Hahn's selection of the fine journalist Gary Younge's Another Day in the Death of America, which is clearly depressing but essential reading.
  • A Year in Reading by The Millions is always formidable: there are a lot of contributors here. Irish crime writer Tana French has apparently read Watership Down for the eighth time...
  • Crave give us their Art Books of the Year. 
  • Slate have various lists, including choices by Katy Waldman, including Michael Chabon's memoir Moonglow, and Laura Miller.
  • A different angle: Slate also look at the best covers of the year (US versions: Shrill is clever).
  • Book porn: The Best-designed Design Books of the year from FastCoDesign: check out those Virginia Woolf covers.
  • Electric Literature's 25 best short story collections of 2016Joy Williams is mentioned in plenty of other lists, too.
  • Bloomberg has a big list with some big-hitters, such as Christine Lagarde.  Lots of good thought-provoking reading here: Dominic Barton of McKinsey recommends Peter Frankopan's The Silk Road: a new history of the world.
  • The great NPR organisation has 10 books 'which faced tough topics head on', such as Emma Donoghue's The Wonder, which is 'teeming with drama and moral questions', and Olivia Laing's The Lonely City, which is in our own pile in waiting.
  • The Verso staff have put together their own list ('the antidote to the ills of 2016), such as Max Porter's Grief is the Thing with Feathers (clever and unusual, but a little over-rated?).
  • The always interesting Darcy Moore has a 'Baker's Dozen' of his Most Enjoyable Reads of 2016, including the sequel to the terrific Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari's Homo Deus: a brief history of tomorrow, and Robert Walser's gorgeous Looking at Pictures.
  • The Herald in Scotland has Scots writers choosing their books of the yearwith Hugh McDonald going for Karl Ove Knausgaard and Fredrik Ekelund's Home And Away "Knausgaard, author of the My Struggle series, masterpiece or mince according to individual taste, and Ekelund, playwright and novelist, correspond over the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The results are invigorating, unexpected and occasionally brilliant."
  • The formidable Maria Popova of Brain Pickings has her annual lists, including greatest science books (Paul Kalanithi's much-noticed When Breath Becomes Air: "What emerges is an uncommonly insightful, sincere, and sobering revelation of how much our sense of self is tied up with our sense of potential and possibility"), and Best Children's Books of the year, including "what might be the most beautiful children’s book title ever conceived", Cry Heart But Never Break. And she caps it off with her Overall Best Books, such as Sally Mann's Hold Still: a memoir with photographs.
  • Esquire has a list of 25 booksnovels include Emma Cline's well-received The Girls, and in non-fiction Brian Branchfield's Proxies sound intriguing.
  • The New Yorker has The Books We Loved in 2016: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, a re-telling of Pride and Prejudice, is recommended by Alexandra Schwartz and sounds like good fun.
  • The Spinoff from New Zealand has 20 best non-fiction books, 20 best books for kids, 5 best poetry books and 20 best fiction books; a local author in the final list is Tracey Slaughter, whose deleted scenes for lovers is a collection of stories which are "note-perfect, plentiful, and pack an emotional punch that reverberates for days."
  • The Sydney Morning Herald has a list for 'younger eyes' as well as Best Books, and Australian writers on The Books We Loved, with Tim Flannery writing that "Robin Dalton's Aunts Up the Cross, republished by Text in its classics series this year, is right up there with Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals as a quirky and hilarious childhood memoir. I haven't laughed so much in years."
  • Flavorwire has 15 Best Books of 2016 by Sarah Seltzer, including Ann Patchett's novel Commonwealth. 
  • On a different note, Nature magazine has a top 20. Hope Jahren's Lab Girl is getting plenty of notice.
  • Berkeleyside editors give their choiceCo-founder Lance Knobel mentions "the strangest book I read in 2016, Constantine Phipps’ What You Want, a reworking of Dante’s Inferno in rhyming couplets, telling the tale of a failed marriage by way of discussing philosophical approaches to happiness." Goodness.
  • Bloomberg has Great History Books of 2016: we like the look of  The Book.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle has 100 recommended books of the year.  
  • Paste Magazine has 30 non-fiction choicesincluding But What If We're Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman who investigates “collective wrongness” in his essay collection, and also best novels of the year starting with The Nest by the splendidly-named
    Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, as well as a good list of best Young Adult books.
  • The Miami Herald has the year's best fiction, headed up, like so many lists, by The Underground Railroad: "This powerful blend of the historical and the fantastical won the National Book Award earlier this fall, and no wonder — it’s a thrilling, relentless adventure, an exquisitely crafted novel that exerts a deep emotional pull" is a fair judgment.
  • Booktopia's Best Books of 2016: the definitive collection is headed by Hannah Kent's novel The Good People.

    Read more here: