There were so many books that I meant to read this year. I bought them, full of good intentions, and I still feel halfway accomplished as I look at them right now, lined up on my shelf, spines unbroken. This was also the year of books half-read, which is unusual for me. I’m usually such a completist that I will not only read every book I start from cover to cover, I will also read every book in a series immediately. Somehow, though, I managed to stop at the first Elena Ferrante book and the first book of The Magicians trilogy, though I really enjoyed both.
Maybe it’s part of getting older and realizing that your time on Earth is finite. Or maybe it’s just because this was a strange year — my novel, The Wangs vs. the World, came out this fall and it feels like I’ve been (happily!) promoting it all year. A lot of the books that I didn’t finish were by people that I was on panels with at various book festivals — you start off with the best of intentions, thinking that you’ll read every book, and then you realize that some of your co-panelists aren’t even entirely clear on the title of your book. Rather than being insulted, I was relieved — less reading guilt for me!
Here are a few of my favorites (or favorites-to-be!) from 2016:
Most Entertaining Co-Panelist Whose Book I Can’t Wait to Read: Tara Clancy is an inimitable force of nature. I have to admit, when she first came up and said hi at Book Riot Live where we were on a panel together, I thought she was doing a bit, like maybe she was pretending to be Joe Pesci or something. But that old New York accent is all hers, and she is incredibly honest and funny and has the ability to connect in a heart-to-heart way that doesn’t feel at all forced. The Clancys of Queens is top of my list.
Best (and Only) Book of Poetry That I Read in 2016 (But Now I Want to Read More!): Last year, I read Saeed Jones’s sharp, vulnerable essay, “Self-Portrait of the Artist as an Ungrateful Black Writer,” and admired it along with everyone else. I bought his book of poetry back then, but never read it. When Barnes & Noble asked him to be in conversation with me for the NYC launch of The Wangs vs. the World, I was thrilled — and he was sunny and generous and as brilliant as I expected. And then, finally, I started reading Saeed’s poems and even though I hate similes, I can’t stop myself from saying that reading his words feels like having a mouthful of blackberry hard candies, rich and uncomfortable and complex in all the best of ways. Read it!
Best Recommendation From A Co-Worker: Until this spring, I worked at Goodreads, where I helped run the newsletters and got to do fun things like the April Fools jokes. (I still think this and this should exist!) Every time I went up to San Francisco, Patrick Brown (best known, of course, for being married to Millions editor Edan Lepucki) had the same book on his desk: The Girls from Corona del Mar. Its cover might lead you to expect a lighthearted beach read, but it’s actually a beautiful, disturbing book that I have a hard time describing. I think its central question might be: What is cruelty? Mary Gaitskill meets…Paint It Black?
Book I Thought I Knew but Totally Didn’t: I spent much of the past five years watching this book be written — its author, Margaret Wappler, and I got together two or three times a week to work on our novels. I read Neon Green in an earlier state a couple of years ago and loved it then, but I just reread when it came out in July on Unnamed Press and was completely floored. It’s taken on a kind of curiosity and exploration of belief that I find really exciting while still retaining the beautiful strangeness that it’s had from the beginning.
Favorite Book by Someone Who Blurbed My Book: Anyone who was kind enough to blurb my book has obviously written one of my favorite books, but technically the only one I read in 2016 was Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth and I loved it. Caitlin Moran called it “Withnail with girls,” which is somewhat true, but it’s more visceral, more like a filthy poke in the heart while also being a sort of poetry. It also made me think of one of my favorite TV shows of 2016, Fleabag.
Book on a Topic That I Wanted to Write About (But Now Don’t Have To!): While I was working on The Wangs, which goes deep into the art world, news broke of an art forgery scandal involving an elderly Chinese painter in Queens who was expertly recreating paintings by Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Richard Diebenkorn, and other Modernist masters that were eventually sold for about $80 million. I was riveted. Wendy Lee’s The Art of Confidence was inspired by the case and I really admire her layered and unexpected take on the story.
Best Cover (And Best Title) of 2016: Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist. The cover makes me want to take to the streets and protest under its banner, and the title feels like a distillation of something I didn’t realize that I’ve been trying to say. The insides of this book totally live up to the package. It’s no surprise that Colum McCann was Sunil Yapa’s teacher — I love the way that Heart tells the stories of so many different people and calls on sympathies we should all develop.
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New this week: My Name Is Lucy Barton by the Pulitzer laureate and Year in Reading alumna Elizabeth Strout; The Happy Marriage by Tahar Ben Jelloun; And Again by Jessica Chiarella; American Housewife by Helen Ellis; Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa; This Census-Taker by China Miéville; Eleanor by Jason Gurley; The Dogs of Littlefield by Suzanne Berne; and Even the Dead by John Banville’s alter-ego Benjamin Black. For more on these and other new titles, check out our Great 2016 Book Preview.