2016 was a great year for reading. (And I’m not just saying that—it was much better for me than 2015!) Sure, I’ve had dry spells, and I read a lot of not-great books. But I also read a ton of terrific titles this year.
Today I’m sharing the best-of-the-best: the handful of truly exceptional titles that earned a spot at the top of my list.
(Because these were my absolute favorite books of the year, it’s no surprise that I talked about 5 of the 7 on What Should I Read Next. I’ve included links to the exact spot in the episode where I discussed each title. Click to listen.)
An unexpected delight (although that doesn't mean no Kleenex was involved). I NEVER would have read this if a trusted bookseller hadn't pressed it into my hands and said READ IT: the plot summary would have made me put it right down. But it's one of my favorites of the year. I went into this novel knowing nothing and I liked it that way, so I'll just say Wood explores themes of love, loss, and identity through a quirky 11-year-old boy who loves making lists, a wily 104-year-old woman, an absentee father, a Boy Scout project, and the Guiness Book of World Records. Listen to me describe this on What Should I Read Next (Episode 29). More info →
I knew I had to read this when my husband (who beat me to it) couldn't stop sharing Cleave's well-turned sentences aloud, and even many months later, I still think about this book all the time. There have been so many WWII novels of late; this tale of four young, warm, wise-cracking friends in wartime England is a standout. Cleave's writing perfectly matches the story, and it all feels so real—maybe because Cleave based his novel on his own grandparents' experiences, or because he put himself on war rations while writing to better experience London during the Blitz? There's a sequel on the way (working title: Everything Sad Is Forgotten), and however long I have to wait, it will be worth it. Listen to me describe this book on What Should I Read Next (Episode 32). More info →
I LOVED this book (and so did many of you—it was one of the most popular books on the blog this summer). This novel in stories was nothing at all what I expected. The novel tracks three generations of Indian women and their fraught relationships. The title comes from a chance encounter one of these women has with a stranger, which is fitting because my favorite parts of the story deal with the small moments that change the course of a person's life, and the unlikely friendships that do the same. This is a wonderful, beautiful, and sad book, and I've been recommending it like crazy since I read it. Listen to me describe this book on What Should I Read Next (Episode 48). More info →
Every once in a while I stumble upon a book that completely and unexpectedly wows me. This was the unexpected find of 2016. In this novel, De Botton tells the story of a completely ordinary couple through a blend of philosophy and fiction, which might strike you as either as dead-boring or disastrous, but I loved it. Listen to me describe this book on What Should I Read Next (Episode 37). Add Audible narration for $11.99. More info →
Next up: nonfiction. I read far more fiction than nonfiction in 2016, but I still had a healthy number of nonfiction titles to choose from. These were the three books I couldn’t stop thinking about, that I’ve already returned to at least once, and that I intend to read again in the future.
I loved this book, and have already re-read it once, because I needed this message. We live in a distracted world, and more than ever before, good work isn't just going to happen. Instead, we need to choose to push out the distractions and focus on what really matters, and in his latest book, Newport tells us why and how to do exactly this. An excellent (and genuinely enjoyable) read for anyone who wants to thoughtfully examine their priorities, their working habits, or their relationship with social media. More info →
From the publisher: "You'll Grow Out of It hilariously, and candidly, explores the journey of the twenty-first century woman. As both a tomboy and a late bloomer, comedian Jessi Klein grew up feeling more like an outsider than a participant in the rites of modern femininity. In "You'll Grow Out of It, Klein offers-through an incisive collection of real-life stories-a relentlessly funny yet poignant take on a variety of topics she has experienced along her strange journey to womanhood and beyond. Raw, relatable, and consistently hilarious, "You'll Grow Out of It is a one-of-a-kind book by a singular and irresistible comic voice."
Do you ever read a book and think, my life would be better if I could memorize every word in this thing? That's how I felt after reading this. A fellow parent (who works as a psychologist at a local middle school) recommended this to me, saying it was a great roadmap for the tween and teen years. Parts of it were terrifying (because sometimes real life is like that), but I found this smart, helpful, and practical, and have been recommending it nonstop. More info →