My favorite books of 2016

My favorite books of 2016

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.)

First up: fiction.

Series: My favorite books of 2016: Fiction
Everyone Brave is Forgiven

Everyone Brave is Forgiven

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 →
Before We Visit the Goddess

Before We Visit the Goddess

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 →
The One-in-a-Million Boy

The One-in-a-Million Boy

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 →
The Course of Love: A Novel

The Course of Love: A Novel

First time on sale! ($11 cheaper than its previous lowest price.) 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). More info →

Honorable mention: The Trespasser, A Great Reckoning, A Gentleman in Moscow.

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.

Series: My favorite books of 2016: Nonfiction
You’ll Grow Out Of It

You’ll Grow Out Of It

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." More info →
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

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 →
Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood

Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood

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 →

Honorable mention: Lab Girl, Magic and Loss, Becoming Wise.

The best books I read this year that were published prior to 2016: Lonesome Dove, Gods in Alabama, Home Cooking.

What were YOUR favorite books this year? 

favorite books of 2016

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  1. Jacelyn says:

    Thank you, Anne, for this post. Many of your favorites and those of others in the comments are in my To Be Read list. My library has been pretty slow to get most of these, and I want to space out my purchases.
    I am grateful for this post for another reason. Truthfully, I have a hard time figuring out which books YOU have really loved or enjoyed. I understand why sometimes you are hesitant to speak negatively about a book and why/how you could still recommend a book not loved by you. I appreciate a genuine recommendation. Thank you!

    • Shayne Johnson says:

      I agree. I also parse through the wording used on Kindle Daily Deals. When the recommendations are from a 3rd party source, I am much less likely to buy than when they come from Anne herself.

    • Anne says:

      I could give lessons on how to tell if a reviewer genuinely enjoyed a book, whether it’s a review on a blog or the New York Times. 🙂 I don’t do a lot of straight reviews, but in general, when talking about books, one can share facts or one can share opinions/feelings. Facts—like plot and publishing history—are more or less objective. Not true for opinions/feelings. If you want to know what the reviewer thought, you know which one to focus on if you want to know how the reader in question liked the book, or didn’t.

  2. Carol says:

    I am so happy to see that you loved Lonesome Dove!! One of my all-time favorites. Thanks for sharing this list–many are already on my TBR list but I’m adding a few more! Merry Christmas!

  3. Melanie says:

    I agree, this was a great reading year!

    I just finished reading Everyone Brave is Forgiven for the second time in six months. I’m not much of a re-reader, so that’s really saying something. The second time I listened on audio, and this is one of those books where the audio really enhances the experience. Cleve’s dialogue was made to be spoken aloud. I’m not sure how I feel about a companion book…when something is so good there’s always that feel that continuing it could dilute it.

    My absolute favorite book of the year was To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey. It’s part adventure story, part love story and the writing is fabulous.

    I also, thanks to this blog, discovered Wendell Berry this year and I couldn’t be more in love with an author’s work! Finding out that Berry was mentored by Wallace Stegner (my other favorite author) made me both happy and jealous that I couldn’t be there in the classroom with them.

    • Laura says:

      I can’t wait to read Eowyn Ivey’s books! I’ve been saving them because I think I’ll love them, which sounds weird when I say it…

    • Kelsey says:

      Thank you so much for this post, Anne, and for all of the consistency you have in giving book advice! Some of my very favorite books of 2016 have come from your suggestions 🙂

  4. Laura says:

    I’d say the Enchanted April, My Antonia, Half Broke Horses, Miss Buncle’s Book, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper for fiction. Furiously Happy, Angela’s Ashes, Stir, The Road Back to You for nonfiction. Hard to pick!

  5. Karen Grosz says:

    Off the top of my head, When Breathe Becomes Air, Glory Over Everything and Redeeming Love were my favorites, but I truly enjoyed One-in-a-million boy. Reminding me of The Man Called Ove. Thanks for the suggestions.

  6. Julie says:

    I had a much harder time narrowing down my list of favorites but my six favorite fiction reads overlap with two of yours probably because I learned about them from you! They were One in a Million Boy and Everyone Brave is Forgiven. My others were 11/22/63 which I read because of Jamie Golden’s recommendation in episode 1 of your podcast-great episode. I also loved Our Souls At Night, A Gentleman in Moscow and The Underground Railroad. I had many more favorite reads this year, mostly memoirs which is definitely my favorite genre-I especially loved When We Were the Kennedys which I read because of your recommendation. What a great year for reading! Thank you! You can link to my year end wrap up on the nursebeansews blog.

  7. Jill Penny says:

    Thankyou for the idea of keeping a journal of previous books read. I love reading but whilst I can list all my childhood favourites, today’s ones get lost. I loved “The Jewelled Shawl” and Jo Jo Moyes “Me Before You” .
    I love Diana Gabaldons’ books, Sharon Penmans’ Plantagenet Series, and more.
    I really do need to write them down thanks!

  8. Susan says:

    A Gentleman in Moscow my Amor Towles is my FAVORITE book of the year. A masterpiece. I also loved One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood, Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly, Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King, Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave, The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, LaRose by Louis Erdrich, and Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton.

  9. LadyWoman says:

    I absolutely adore Home Cooking! Her writing is so descriptive and yet so shot and simple with just a tinge of sass.

    I didn’t read many books published in 2016 but I did enjoy Mongols by Stephen Graham Jones. I’d describe it as a low key werewolf story about family relationships and growing up.

    The best I read this year were probably Ghettoside (un-put-downable, read in one day) and Christy (my 3rd reading. It makes me want to be a better, more loving person).

  10. My by-far favorite for the year was “Dark Matter.” It’s the one I’m pushing into everyone’s hands and the one I’ll be giving my sister for her birthday. (I’m starting a tradition this year to give her my favorite “new” read from the year.) I can’t remember where I *first* heard about it, but it might have been “Books on the Nightstand,” which I only learned about on their third-from-last episode!
    I also loved “One in a Million Boy.” I heard about it on WSIRN, and included it in my beach reads this year.

  11. Love this list! Definitely check some of them out. Do you know of anywhereI can ebooks aside from.Kindle. Want to do the 2017 reading challenge but on a super tight budget. Thanks!!!!

    • Michelle says:

      I realize this is a late reply, but I want to echo Kathy’s suggestion to try your local library system(s). Many neighboring counties offer reciprocity to residents of nearby counties at their library systems at little or no cost. It expands your options/availability considerably. Also, is free and has many classics.

  12. Paula says:

    Thanks for the recommendations.
    My favourites this year:
    These Is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine.
    The Glass Castle
    Me Before You

  13. Donna says:

    Thanks for sharing, Anne!
    It’s difficult to choose my favourites of 2016 as I read way more than I’ve ever read in my life!
    But here we go…

    My favourite fiction published in 2016:

    Faithful by Alice Hoffman (I will be re-reading this at some point.)
    I See You by Clare Mackintosh (I am still thinking about it.)
    You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
    All Is Not Forgotten (I read this last week and I can’t stop thinking about it.)

    Favourite fiction published prior to 2016:

    I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh (Read it twice!)
    I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
    The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (This has been on my reading list forever and it felt good to finally read it.)
    Left Neglected by Lisa Genova (I can’t stop recommending it.)
    These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf
    Stay Up With Me: stories by Tom Barbash (I fell in love with short stories after last year’s reading challenge.)
    2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
    Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

    My favourite nonfiction published in 2016:
    Food and the City by Ina Yalof (I keep recommending this to everyone!)
    Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders

    Favourite nonfiction published prior to 2016:
    The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
    Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan (I read this as my pick for ‘a book I previously abandoned’ for the reading challenge!)
    Through the Glass by Shannon Moroney (SO happy I finally read this one!)
    Michelle Obama: A Life by Peter Slevin (I can’t recommend this one enough!)

  14. Libby says:

    The Atomic Weight of Love was HANDS DOWN the best, most beautiful book that I read this year. I haven’t heard much buzz about it but I was completely in love with it from the very first page. An epic life story of a woman who kept waiting for her turn… I felt like she was every woman I’ve ever known.

  15. Barbara H. says:

    The One in a Million Boy and Everyone Brave sound really intriguing. I posted my top 16 today. Near if not at the top would be Not In the Heart by Chris Fabry. It has been a very good reading year indeed.

  16. Rachel says:

    Clay girl by Heather Tucker took my breath away. I’m also loving And Again by Jessica Chiarella. Both were staff favorites selected at the Book Den pop up book store at TedMed. Happy New Year!! I also adored your top 3 which I read as part of the summer reading challenge! Love your lists!!

  17. It’s funny, I heard such good things about Home Cooking and tried it at a time that was a personally challenging time for me. I was NOT getting into it at all. I stopped about 1/4 of the way through and put it aside. Picked it up again about a month ago…LOVED it 🙂 Have you tried any of the recipes?

  18. Michelle says:

    I’m excited to see The Trespasser on the almost list – I’m about halfway through the audio version now. One of my favorites this year was The Girls by Emma Cline. There were flaws, but her capture of female adolescence was remarkable.

    I tend to read fiction, listen to non-fiction and The Boys in the Boat, Lab Girl and The Year of Yes! were all fantastic listens.

  19. Cris says:

    I’m not a big fan of fiction, so my favorites were Coming Clean: A Story of Faith by Seth Haines and The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath by Mark Buchanan. So much to think about! I found out about both of these on this blog in the Kindle deals.

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