The Best Books We Read in 2016

The Best Books We Read in 2016

Last January, Bookish launched its very first annual reading challenge. We encouraged readers to tick books off of their TBR lists based on monthly themes. Our staff members joined in on the fun and, as a result, read some pretty fantastic books. Here, the Bookish team shares the great books they read this year.

You’ll notice that none of these books were published in 2016. We’re putting together a separate list of the best books of 2016. It’ll be going live later this month on our holiday calendar, so keep checking back!

A Little Life

I read Hanya Yanagihara A Little Life over the summer, and I fell into a sort of trance while I was reading it. I thought about the characters constantlythey felt like people I knew and loved, rather than imaginary strangers whose lives I happened to be peering in on. On the day I finished the book, I had been reading it in a coffee shop, but quickly became self-conscious about being the conspicuously crying girl in my local Peet’s. I relocated to a quiet corner of my gym locker room (getting home would take too long—I had to finish) and sobbed. I can’t tell you the last time I was so moved by a novel. Yanagihara’s book didn’t just entertain me; A Little Life reminded me of the sheer gut-wrenching power of fiction. —Elizabeth

Wild Seed

I read The Patternist Series by Octavia Butler this year. In fact, I read quite a few books from Butler’s backlist at a friend’s recommendation. The Patternist Series is a really amazing example of fantasy, sci-fi, history, and lore. Readers will encounter immortals playing with genetics on a generations-wide scale, mental and physical “powers”, and alien invasions, in settings ranging from African villages to contemporary California and beyond. Most contemporary series follow a characters within a short span of their lifetime, but this series introduces generations of offspring from birth to death, giving the reader an ongoing vision of the repercussions of the immortals’ god-play. —Kristina

Five Days at Memorial

I am eternally grateful to Elizabeth Rowe for recommending this book to me. Journalist Sheri Fink takes readers to Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans in the days after Hurricane Katrina hit. Packed with detail and first-hand accounts, Fink’s book weaves a harrowing and engrossing narrative about life, death, fear, and patient care. It’s also an incredibly human story about right and wrong, and living with the consequences of impossible choices. —Kelly

The Illustrated Man

My husband suggested that I read The Illustrated Man after I declared that I wanted to immerse myself in the sci-fi genre, as opposed to my usual genre-hopping. As I read through each story, there was a familiarity I couldn’t quite put my finger on—perhaps I had read a few in college, had conversations with friends about isolated stories, or read/seen these ideas reused in other books and movies. Either way, it felt like reuniting with an old friend who’s always been mysterious (and a little spooky… and haunts your dreams). —Tarah


If Beale Street Could Talk

I’ve had a copy of If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin for years, but never quite got around to it; I’m glad I eventually did. Originally published in 1974, this is an unbearably sad and beautifully written love story set against the racial tensions of the early part of that decade. It’s terrifying in its contemporary relevance. —Stuart

Plato at the Googleplex

I can recommend Plato at the Googleplex: Why Philosophy Won’t Go Away, by Rebecca Goldstein. About half of the book imagines Plato transported into the present, going on a book tour, and engaging in philosophical dialogues with all kinds of peopleGoogle engineers, a “tiger mom,” a neuroscientist, and others. The alternating chapters cover things like ancient Greek history and the life of Socrates, which provide background material that comes into play in the next chapter’s dialogue.

At some point during the book, the author explains that no matter how much you study Plato, you can never be sure what he really thinks about an issue, since he puts thoughts into the mouths of others in his dialogues. As I neared the end of this book, I realized that the author had played the same trick on meI ultimately don’t know what she thinks about these deeper issues of life and reality, but she certainly gave me plenty to think about. —Derek


When I was a new mother, a friend sent me A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother. What a godsend that book was. What a lifesaver. It helped me to see that some of my less clichéd feelings of motherhood were not all that odd. Same with this book, which I read as I was newly separated and headed for divorce. Not one to ever shy away from tough issues, Rachel Cusk digs right into the guts of the matter and exposes them to light and air. Yes, this is how it feels to pull yourself apart and build yourself anew. This is the death of a marriage and the rebirth of self. And boy, is it painful but out of pain, sometimes beauty arises. Cusks brings all this to light and more. —Myf


The Trip to Echo Spring

In Olivia Laing’s The Trip to Echo Spring, an English woman comes to America and writes about six alcoholic American writers: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever, and Raymond Carver. In addition to generating superb biographical portraits of all six and layering in acute discussion of links between writing and drink, Laing writes with exceptional skill about the various places she visits during her author pilgrimages. What sentences! I can recommend the book for the pleasure of its prose alone. Here are just two, from her first stop, Manhattan, the quotes abbreviated: “The city impressed itself on me by way of a repeating currency of images, a coinage of yellow cabs and fire escapes….” And: “The East River was pleating in little folds of blue and gold….” The book is full of such gems. —Phil

The Gypsies

My dad started talking about this book when we were on a family vacation this spring. The story was so compelling that I had to go find it. It’s a memoir of a 12-year-old Belgian boy who runs away with a gypsy family in the early 1930s. He returns to his biological family after a few months, but then spends the rest of his teenage years going back and forth between his biological family and his new gypsy family. The book details memorable events in Jan Yoors‘ travels with his gypsy family over those years, with loving descriptions of his adopted culture and explanations of the significance of those events within that culture. I loved the adventure of the story, the extreme foreignness of the culture that Yoors describes, and the way he describes the interactions between this culture and the mainstream Western European culture that they travel through. The photographs are amazing too. —Mary

To Kill a Mockingbird

This summer I finally got a tattoo homage to Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird that I’ve been planning for a long time. Leading up to it, I reread To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s still my favorite book of all time, and rereading it was the highlight of my summer. If you haven’t reread this book as an adult, I definitely urge you to. When every time you turn on the news you’re slapped in the face with terrible tragedies, it’s nice to go back in time and remember how smart and brave Atticus Finch and his kids were in the face of their own adversities. —Amanda

The Last Fish Tale

I made a quick visit to Gloucester, MA this summer and downloaded this ebook as soon as I got home. I couldn’t put it down. —Paul



I still can’t believe that I almost let this book slip through my fingers. While I am a YA addict, I don’t often read novels written in verse. But YA book world was abuzz after Sarah Crossan won the CILIP Carnegie medal, the Irish Children’s book of the year, and the Bookseller’s YA Book Prize for this novel. I knew I had to get my hands on it. This is an incredibly well-researched, thought-provoking, and heartbreaking novel. It’s narrated by Grace, a conjoined twin. She gives readers insight into her mind and heart during one of the most stressful, wonderful, and terrible years of her life. One is absolutely stunning. If you’re a YA fan and haven’t read it yet, pick it up now. —Kelly


The Stones of Aran: Pilgrimage

This summer, in preparation for my first visit to Ireland’s Aran Islands, I read Tim Robinson’s majestic Pilgrimage. The premise is simple: Robinson walks the coastline of Inishmore, the largest of the three islands. But the resulting book is brilliantly intricate, with Robinson meditating on the island’s singular weave of limestone geology, archaeology, botany, human history, and current life. Robinson brought to his book years of residence on the island, and a rare right-brain/left-brain harmony. An Englishman trained in math and physics at Cambridge, he went on to become a visual artist and cartographer, and has an uncanny eye for landscape and the language ability of a poet. Plus, before writing his book, he produced an award-winning map of Inishmore, so he knew every cranny and nook of the twelve-square-mile isle. In short, Robinson was the perfect person for this project, and delivered what some have called the greatest single verbal portrait of a landscape ever created. I can’t disagree! —Phil

The Penderwicks

My son and I read this book over the summer and found it completely and utterly delightful. Each of the sisters has a unique personality and is easily distinguishable from the others. The adventures they have are not over the top, rather they are believable and easy for any kid to relate to. We are looking forward to reading more books in this series. —Myf

Little Girl Gone

This book is totally underrated! A young mother ends up in a ditch, miles away from home, with amnesia and a missing baby. She can’t remember what happened to her baby and immediately becomes a suspect in her disappearance. In this gut-wrenching mystery, we see a mother suffering from postpartum depression and isolation in a way I’ve never seen before. The narrative flips from before to after the accident, even diving into the mother’s own childhood, and ultimately ends up revealing an insane twist I never, ever saw coming. I still find myself thinking about this story from time to time and I still get chills. It’s one of the few books marketed as “the next Gone Girl / Girl on the Train” that actually is just as good! —Amanda



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