My Books of the Year 2016

I have read some excellent books in 2016 both new and not-quite-so-new. Here is a selection of my favourite reads of 2016:

Favourite fiction 

The Tidal Zone Sarah MossMy reading has been dominated by female authors more than ever this year. This isn’t something I deliberately set out to achieve but it is fantastic to see so many brilliant books written by women getting widespread attention. I highly recommend The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss and The Wonder by Emma Donoghue which could be possible contenders for next year’s Wellcome Book Prize awarded to a fiction or non-fiction book about health or medicine.

This Must Be The Place Maggie O'FarrellI really enjoyed The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry which is one of the most original historical novels I have read in a long time while other recent favourites with a more modern setting include Swing Time by Zadie Smith, the Brexit-themed Autumn by Ali Smith and This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell.

The People in the Trees Hanya Yanagihara Following the success of A Little Life in 2015, I turned to The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara, a fascinating debut novel set on a remote Micronesian island which is one of the most chilling and memorable books I have read this year.

My favourite Man Booker Prize longlisted title this year (of the four I have read so far) is His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet – a gripping and psychologically complex book initially presented as “true crime” with plenty of surprises along the way.

Favourite translated fiction

The Four Books Yan LiankeI made some fantastic discoveries through this year’s Man Booker International Prize longlist including The Four Books by Yan Lianke which satirises the Great Leap Forward in China and The Vegetarian by Han Kang, a subtle and surreal novella about a woman who decides to stop eating meat which won the Prize in May. The Story of the Lost Child was another worthy addition to the shortlist although 2016 will also be remembered as the year when Elena Ferrante’s identity was revealed much to the horror of her fans.

The Bird Tribunal Agnes RavatnI have also read some translated fiction which I hope will be featured in next year’s longlist including the surreal Japanese novel The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami and The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn, an atmospheric Norwegian thriller. Elsewhere, I finally read Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec, an experimental French 20th century classic which is utterly bizarre yet fascinating.

Favourite non-fiction 

It's All In Your Head Suzanne O'SullivanI discovered some excellent non-fiction through the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist including The Outrun by Amy Liptrot about her return to Orkney while recovering from alcoholism and this year’s winner It’s All In Your Head: Stories from the Frontline of Psychosomatic Illness by Suzanne O’Sullivan. I also loved Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon which won the Prize in 2014.

A Notable Woman Romantic Journals Jean Lucey PrattFor those interested in modern Russia, I recommend Luke Harding’s gripping account of the death of Alexander Litvinenko A Very Expensive Poison or if historical diaries are more your thing then I suggest A Notable Woman: The Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt – it is one of the longest books I have read this year but also one of the most absorbing accounts of daily life in 20th century Britain.

Back in February, I read Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence and Emperor Penguins by Gavin Francis which is a brilliant travel memoir from 2012 about the author’s unique experience of living at the Halley research station in Antarctica for a year as a base-camp doctor.

Another Day in the Death of America Gary YoungeFinally, although not a particularly festive choice, I would urge everyone to read Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge – a powerful and compelling account of the lives of ten children and teenagers who are known to have died on a single day in the United States as a result of gun violence. 

Other highlights

In terms of events, I went to Chiswick Book Festival in west London in September and I have been working my way through the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award shortlist after meeting the authors at a bloggers event last month. I also enjoyed hearing Philippe Sands talk about his prize-winning book ‘East West Street’ at the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction event at the Royal Academy and I hope to read it in 2017.

Which books did you enjoy reading this year? 

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “My Books of the Year 2016

  1. Great list! I agree that it’s wonderful to see so many books by women receive attention.

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  2. Susie | Novel Visits

    Wow! This is a very impressive list. The only one of your favorites I read was The Wonder which I really liked. I also loved A Little Life and have been curious about Hanya Yanagihara’s debut novel. The premise has always thrown me. Glad to hear you liked it. Have a Happy New Year!

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  3. Anzel van der Westhuizen

    Impressive list! There are quite a few titles on here that I’ll be adding to my own reading list.

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  4. Thank you for compiling this list. Looking forward to reading some of these books.

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  5. Great list! Best blog! Cannot wait to share your reading in 2017.
    I have read most of the books on your list, or they are in the TBR pile eg: The Four Books by Yan Lianke. I think my best non-fiction that I read last year was The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf which was a Christmas present last year. Hard to say which was my best fiction, except that it was NOT on the Booker longlist. I also liked Philippe Sands East West Street, which would come under biography, though my best biography was Ted Hughes, The Unauthorised Life by Jonathan Bate, best poetry probably Housman Country – Into the Heart of England by Peter Parker. Loved The Outrun, a different sort of memoir.
    I could go on and on…

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  6. What a great list! There are a couple on here that I haven’t seen recommended by others. Another Day in the Death of America sounds interesting.

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  7. What a great list and so good to see so many books by women and so much non-fiction. I’ve not done my best-ofs yet as I’m still going with wonderful books that might make the list!!

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  8. You’ve had an amazing reading year! I adore Emma Donoghue’s writing – Room made it onto my top ten favourites for this year! I look forward to checking out some of these titles. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Nihaad – Read & Seek

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  9. This is my favourite time of year, all of these ‘best of’ lists by readers I trust! I have The Wonder in my TBR stack, and plan on getting Thrift Shop as well. Afraid I didn’t like The Tidal Zone much (but wonder if it’s because I went for the audiobook??).

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    • Just seen your 2016 list – we’ve had a fair bit of reading overlap this year! I haven’t listened to any audiobooks but I can imagine that the experience is very different from reading something on a page, depending on how it has been interpreted.

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  10. Such a diverse list. My favourite on this page is The People in the Trees, which I would describe as “the opposite of bland”; I get so disappointed by bland books.

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  11. Interesting choices. The Gary Younge is excellent. I am reading my first Ferrante at the moment – the stand-alone The Lost Daughter – I have to say that I am not enjoying it at all. It is mostly because of the flavour which is ominous and sickly, without much let-up. I really enjoyed Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, which in spite of the subject matter leaves you feeling very positive.

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    • Glad you like the Gary Younge book – I think that will stay with me for a long time. I think the Neapolitan Novels are better than Ferrante’s shorter stand-alone novels with a much more satisfying character arc. I read Being Mortal a couple of years ago and I agree that it’s another book that everyone should read.

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