With every New Year, I like to call out my favorite books that I read the previous year. (Find my 2014 list here and 2015 list here.) This year, I am compiling another top books list for 2016, but this time, there is one clear standout and a handful of honorable mentions.
Again, the idea is to list the top books that I read in 2016. Most of what I read was not actually published in 2016. All the books on this list received five-star “it was amazing” ratings from me on Goodreads. The runners-up are listed in the order in which I read them, not any kind of ranking.
Book of the Year
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
I never ended up writing a review about this book, though I had intended to as soon as I recovered from the reading experience. The problem with reviewing House of Leaves is that any formal consideration of the book lends itself to dissertation-level thoughts that would have to be expressed in dissertation length to do it any justice. It took me years of trying to start House of Leaves before I finally committed and gave up my winter break to it. And by it, I mean madness. To read this book is to question your own sanity. It changed my idea of what literature is/does while avoiding gimmick with flawless execution.
Election by Tom Perotta
My Goodreads review: “A fun book – great read for a Presidential Election year.”
I don’t know if I would have felt the same sentiment had I read the book in December instead of February, but I’m going to let the comment stand.
Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan
My Goodreads review: “So good!”
If you’ve read Michael Pollan’s work before, you must read Cooked. It’s a wonderful exploration of food culture that will challenge you to take your relationship to food to the next level. If you haven’t read Michael Pollan’s work, I don’t know that this is the best place to start. Check out some of his earlier work first, but keep Cooked on your to-read list.
My Goodreads review: “Though each of the six novellas could stand alone, I really enjoyed reading them together as a collection. I had to take breaks to read other books between the novellas because there is a decent amount of recapitulation in each one, but I loved having all of them together in sequence. Harrison is one of my heroes, and I’m glad that we can still learn so much from him through his writing.”
The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Achievement Gap for American Children by E.D. Hirsch Jr.
My Goodreads review: “Anyone with a stake in the American educational system—so, all Americans but especially educators, educational policy makers, parents, and advocates—should read this book. People who haven’t read a lot of pedagogy might find the writing a bit dry, but it’s the best written (and least bogged down in jargon, abstraction, and vagueness) book on education that I’ve ever read, so if you have had to read a lot of pedagogy, The Knowledge Deficit will be a page turner! I want to hand it out to every teacher, administrator, and politician I know.”
The Wake (The Sandman #10) by Neil Gaiman
My Goodreads review: “After ‘really liking but not quite loving’ most of the volumes of this series, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed the way Gaiman closed his story. I look forward to rereading the series and have a feeling I’ll appreciate it even more with additional passes.”
If you’re a reader of graphic novels, then I’m sure you’ve already read The Sandman, but if you aren’t, it’s time to check the Dream King out. I was never “into comic books” until the used book store in Ames moved away from downtown and a new comic book store moved in. I wanted to support my Main Street bookstore, even if most of their books are illustrated. For me, The Sandman was a gateway into a whole new type of storytelling. I highly recommend to anyone who likes good literature but isn’t “into comic books” yet.
Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
My Goodreads review: “Listen: You might not like this book if you have a problem with illustrations of assholes and wide open beavers. The assholes look something like this: *. You’ll have to read the book to see the rest of the illustrations. You might like this book if you have chemicals in your brain that make you like Vonnegut, his illustrations, his characters, and his dark humor. And you might like the way he gives the plot away in Chapter 1 and defines useful terms like legume for the reader. You might like that this book prominently features Kilgore Trout.
“And so on.”
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
My Goodreads review: “A wonderful collection, mostly short stories with a few narrative poems here and there. As in any collection, there were a few pieces that I didn’t enjoy as much, but there were many more great ones.
“I really enjoyed Gaiman’s introduction, which includes a brief note on each of the pieces. You can certainly appreciate the ‘disturbances’ without any backstory, but as I writer, I always love reading notes like these.”
What’s missing from this list? Authors who aren’t white men! I do make sure to include women writers and writers-of-color in each year’s reading list, but this year none of the ones I chose made it to five-star status. Looking forward to 2017, I’m planning to devote a lot more of my reading time to these underrepresented authors with the hope that I’ll be able to feature them in next year’s New Year post. Feel free to shoot me any recommendations you might have.
In addition to tracking my books read and books-I-want-to-read on Goodreads, last year I made a Pinterest board to track them as well, and I’m doing it again this year. Check out my Books Read in 2016 board here and my Books to Read in 2017 board here.
Happy Reading in 2017!