I’ve been doing this list for more than 10 years now, and almost every year, I make some allusion to the political darkness that has permeated the year. But when I look back on my post from 2014, I can’t remember what act of terrorism my coy remarks were referring to. I’ll probably remember 2016 as the year that America elected a fascist for President, but just in case: Donald Trump became president this year, and I’ve never been more scared and consumed by politics in my life.
So that was the low of 2016. There were a lot of highs. I met a man I love; I bought an apartment with tall ceilings, great natural light, and a perfect writing room; my dog Rex has continued to be a puppy angel; everyone I love remains alive; friends are making new people for me to love; I’ve had innumerable moments riding my bike, running or hiking where I was completely aware of how lucky I am to be healthy; I met one of my literary heroes, Maile Meloy; I finally watched Transparent, I visited L.A., Minneapolis, New York, Austin, and Las Vegas. And of course I read a lot of books.
Here’s my 2016 list:
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey
I like self-help in a there’s wisdom-in the obvious kind of way, but this book didn’t do it for me.
At Night We Walk in Circles, Daniel Alarcón
Quartet in Autumn, Barbara Pym
Lit, Mary Karr
In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri
I love Jhumpa Lahiri, but I can only recommend this book to people who are equally obsessed. For everyone else, the excerpt of this book in the New Yorker is more than enough.
Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff
Unrelated, Lauren Groff’s sister is an Olympic triathlete. And even more unrelated, Lindsey Buckingham’s brother was an Olympic swimmer.
Gryphon, Charles Baxter
This was the best short story collection I read all year. Charles Baxter knows how to write a sentence, set a mood, and make you feel.
Granta Best American Short Stories
About A Mountain, John D'Agata
A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
Readable, engaging, but also terrible? I almost stopped reading this book with 20 pages to go. It’s suffer porn, and if that’s your thing, have at it.
Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld
Remember when reading was fun? Curtis Sittenfeld does. Her books always charm and delight me, and it’s too bad I’ve never seen a man read her books. This was also the year she got her first story in the New Yorker, after 20 years of trying, which speaks to the value of persistence and also, shame on The New Yorker for waiting so long. Few stories in the New Yorker have been better than an excerpt from Prep or American Wife.
Burning Down the House, Charles Baxter
In Our Time, Ernest Hemingway
NW, Zadie Smith
My Struggle, Volume 1, Karl Ove Knausgaard
2011 Best American Fiction
The Girls, Emma Cline
The best and most honest take on the modern day female experience I’ve read in awhile. Recommended to anyone trying to understand women.
The News From Spain, Joan Wickersham
Leaving the Atocha Station, Ben Lerner
The Lay of the Land, Richard Ford
Open City, Teju Cole
For anyone in the market for a smart novel—not showy smart, but a novel sincerely contemplating big ideas—Open City is for you.
A Manual for Cleaning Women, Lucia Berlin
Swing Time, Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith is just the best. Her prose are engaging, thought provoking, and elegant, and she knows how to tell a story. It might not be a “perfect” novel, but it’s the most ambitious and enjoyable novel I’ve read in years.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers
I Am Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
Recommended to all writers and to anyone who finds this slim volume at a used bookstore.
Taking Care, Joy Williams
A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry