While many eyes are fixed on the biggest movie and TV releases, we’d be remiss in not having a conversation about the best books of 2016. Some of the most talented writers in the world debuted new work in 2016, and for the avid reader, it was a veritable treasure trove of well-written stories.
That said, it can be difficult to sift through the stacks to pick out the must-reads of the bunch. We went ahead and did the job for you, hand-picking the best books that 2016 had to offer.
1. The Girls by Emma Cline
You’d be hard-pressed to find a major outlet that wasn’t impressed by The Girls, Emma Cline’s chilling fictionalization of the Manson Family murders, told through the eyes of a naive young girl who’s pulled into a murderous commune.
The book garnered almost 30,000 votes in Goodreads’ Best Fiction category, made NPR’s list of 2016’s best novels, and was included in the Washington Posts’ Notable Fiction category for 2016. Suffice it to say, the consensus just about everywhere is that Cline completely knocked it out of the park.
2. A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
The second installment in V.E. Schwab’s wildly popular Shades of Magic series, A Gathering of Shadows builds wonderfully on the rich fantasy world we saw in the first book. The premise revolves around a young man named Kell, with the ability to move through four separate realities, each featuring a version of London with varying degrees of magic.
For A Gathering of Shadows, we get a sequel effort more than worthy of its predecessor, dubbed by Entertainment Weekly as “addictive and immersive,” and checking in at second place in Goodreads’ Best of Fantasy list for 2016 (behind J.K. Rowling’s Cursed Child).
3. Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
Anna Kendrick is one of Hollywood’s most relatable personalities, so it only makes sense that her memoir would be relatable as well. And even at 31, a full-on “this is my life so far” story from the talented actress makes for a compelling read cover-to-cover. As AV Club put it in their own review, “the overwhelming majority of the book is the tale of an unusual life and oddball persona rising to fame, and it’s a damn entertaining one.”
4. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
There’s barely a “best of” list that Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad didn’t make in 2016, as a coming-of-age story focusing on a young slave girl who attempts a daring escape through the titular legendary passage. The book was voted the Best Historical Fiction novel of 2016 by Goodreads, was included on NPR’s list of must-reads, and even sat atop The New York Times’ own list of the year’s 10 top books.
It’s a story that’s as timely as it is insightful, acting as an allegory for the tragically deep roots of racism in America.
5. Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray
It’s easy to lose track of all the various new novels set in the Star Wars universe, with Disney having green-lit 15 of them since they first purchased Lucasfilm back in 2012. 2016 gave us the best they’ve had to offer yet though, in the form of Claudia Gray’s Star Wars: Bloodline.
The book gives us rare insight into Princess Leia’s life post-Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, answering many of the most burning questions posted by the 2015 release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Voted by Goodreads as the third best sci-fi novel of 2016, it’s a must-read for anyone who considers themselves even a casual Star Wars fan.
6. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer
The Koch brothers could very well be two of the most influential figures in politics who we also know very little about in the mainstream. Jane Mayer’s Dark Money shines a bright spotlight on them, tracing their trail of influence, back room dealings, and how they helped shape the radical right in America that we know today.
With our volatile political climate being what it is, it makes for an insanely compelling peek behind the curtain, all while diving headfirst into the dubious legacy of the Kochs.
7. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
io9 Editor-in-Chief Charlie Jane Anders isn’t just a voice for sci-fi news. All the Birds in the Sky proves firsthand that she’s also a skilled storyteller, expertly combining science-fiction and fantasy elements into one eminently readable masterwork. NPR’s Jason Heller aptly points out how the book “opens a profound, poetic new perspective on each,” citing how it “overturns sci-fi and fantasy, gently.”
In a year packed with exciting new releases within both genres, Anders stood tall as a breakout author.
8. Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan Safran Foer is one of the most talented and iconic authors our country has to offer, having burst onto the scene with 2002’s classic, Everything Is Illuminated. He returns with his first new novel in over a decade with Here I Am. It’s a story that The New York Times was effusive of in their praise, describing it as “an ambitious platter of intellection and emotion,” a summary we have a hard time disagreeing with for our own reading.
9. Morning Star by Pierce Brown
There are few sci-fi novels from 2016 that garnered the amount of universal praise that Pierce Brown’s Morning Star did. The final installment in Brown’s Red Rising trilogy, The New York Times best-seller gave fans a fitting ending for what’s become a breakout series. To top it off, Morning Star was voted as Goodreads’ top sci-fi novel of the year, winning in a landslide over Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter, and the aforementioned Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray.
10. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen is nothing short of rock ‘n’ roll royalty, with a storied career that’s transcended decades. It only seems natural for the pride of blue collar New Jersey to finally give us a tell-all, and that’s exactly what we got with his memoir, appropriately titled Born to Run.
The Guardian describes how Springsteen “delivered his story with quiet dignity,” in a book that’s “neither sensational nor self-serving,” a summary that embodies everything about Springsteen’s character.
11. In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi
If you’re looking for a profoundly gripping and emotional story, then you can’t do much better than Susan Faludi’s In the Darkroom, which tells the story of her father’s gender reassignment, alongside an intensely personal historical narrative set in Nazi-occupied Hungary. It’s garnered praise just about everywhere you look too, labeled as everything from “an elegant masterpiece” to a “rich, arresting and ultimately generous investigation.”
12. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
It’s been a big year for J.K. Rowling’s reborn Harry Potter saga. Fans got the first new movie in the saga in years with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and a smash hit play in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The staging of the play was followed quickly by a novelization, becoming the fastest-selling book of the decade after moving 680,000 copies in its first three days on shelves.
It’s tough to argue with those numbers, especially in a story that faithfully revives one of the most beloved fantasy franchises in literary history.
13. The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay
The Mirror Thief was 2016’s biggest indie hit, starting as an obscure cult phenomenon and ballooning into a universally lauded instant classic. As the book’s publisher notes, Martin Seay’s debut effort has made a handful of respected “best of” lists. It was named The New York Times’ “Notable Book of the Year,” and landed on NPR’s book list as well.
The New York Times’ full review even likens it to David Mitchell’s renown Cloud Atlas, lauding it as “audaciously well written, demanding, frustrating and oddly enlightening.”
14. The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
It’s not easy making human biology both relatable and easy to understand, but that’s exactly what Siddhartha Mukherjee manages to do with The Gene: An Intimate History. The book checks in as Goodreads’ second ranked science and technology book of 2016, while making NPR’s own list of must-read works. NPR describes a special sort of “humor and warmth” just beneath the surface of a descriptive lesson in inherited genes, and how brilliant scientific minds aren’t always the people you’d expect.
15. Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet by Ta-Nehisi Coates
It’s not often that you see a comic book publisher enlist the help of a storied nonfiction novelist. It’s a move that worked out like gangbusters for Marvel’s Black Panther revival, bringing on Ta-Nehisi Coates as the new series’ sole writer. When it hit shelves in April 2016, it was the month’s best-selling comic, with The Guardian noting how “the characters are clear, the ethical issues they face feel real and the world of Wakanda seems lived in.”
We still have to wait until 2018 to see Marvel Studios’ Black Panther feature film, but for now, Coates’ comic is the quintessential portrayal that fans have been waiting for.
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