The Best Books from the Worst Year

Let’s be honest, 2016 has been kind of a hot mess. Between so many celebrity deaths (David Bowie, Sharon Jones, Prince, Alan Rickman, Muhammad Ali, Elie Wiesel… holy cow, SO MANY) and some, uh, general upheaval, most people are ready to write this one off as a loss.

But! As much as we’d like to say goodbye and good riddance to the year as a whole, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention one of the very good things that came from 2016; this year has offered readers a wealth of fabulous new books. Debut authors and big-hitters alike have released incredible works in 2016, and the staff of LPL would like to share a few of our favorites. If you’re looking for great gifts for bibliophiles in your life, try one of these librarian-approved reads:

Fisher: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Screenplay)

Who would have known that my favorite book of the year would be a screenplay written by literary goddess J.K. Rowling herself.  I love the ways in which Rowling expands her wizarding world inFantastic Beasts because it not only made me feel like a kid again but also transported me to a magical world that is full of fascinating characters, gripping plot twists, and adorkable interactions. In addition, I appreciate that the political climate and social justice issues embedded in the story mirror what is going on in America today, which makes Fantastic Beasts even more impactful and relevant.

Pro Tip: Be sure to read it while listening to the breathtaking, jazzy score by James Newton Howard.

Jake: Stamped From the Beginning

Those in the library auditorium when Ibram X. Kendi came to speak quickly learned that this historian has done his research, and he presents it well. I vote his penetrating examination of racism in America, Stamped from the Beginning, best book of 2016.

When his book won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, Kendi addressed years of sifting through centuries of racism. Though it was grueling and gruesome, he reminded us that “In the midst of the human ugliness of racism, there was the human beauty.” Read this appalling but nonetheless beautiful book.

Kate: What is Not Yours is Not Yours

Choosing one book is nearly impossible! I’ve mentioned several favorites through the year (books byJesmyn Ward,Yaa Gyasi, Nicole Dennis-Benn, & Natashia Deon) but one that I’ve not specifically blogged about isWhat is Not Yours is Not Yours, a story collection by Helen Oyeyemi. With hints of magic, vivid imagery, and surprising story lines, these can be savored slowly or devoured all at once.

William: Still Life With Tornado

This is easily one of the the best YA novels I’ve read this year. It’s an intense, heartbreaking look at abuse, trauma, and dealing with the demons of your past and surviving. It could be hard for some to read – but it’s not without its hope. Author A.S. King is brilliant.

Dan: King Baby

I’m always amazed at how Kate Beaton, whose adult-oriented comic Hark, a Vagrant— a sort of literary and historical version of The Far Side, is able to sketch complex sight gags and subtle facial expressions. In recent years she has turned to writing picture books. Last year’s The Princess and the Pony, in which a princess receives a pony that is disappointingly cute instead of glamorous (and has a problem with gas), was one of the funniest picture books of 2015, and now she is back with King Baby, a story about the most tyrannical ruler of all. Only Kate Beaton could draw a baby who remains irresistibly cuddly, even as he brutalizes his loyal subjects with constant demands (and bodily functions). This makes a great read for young monarchs and is a perfect gift book for any with recently arrived royalty in their lives.

Polli: The Underground Railroad

Author Colson Whitehead is an artist, cutting language to something spare, sharp, and bright. In this face-paced work, the Underground Railroad out of slavery isn’t a metaphor; it’s a reality. One night, abandoned and outcast, Cora flees the extreme brutality of her enslavement with Caesar, a man she barely knows. Cora finds that brutality can assume many faces and forms, and as the fractured nation faces how to deal with the “the slavery question,” true freedom seems ever elusive, no matter where she travels. Moving back and forth through time, Whitehead gives us a novel that reminds us that our nation has only recently been built on a fault line of our own making, one that can never be healed by throwing dirt over shoulders as we walk away from it. I highly recommend this book.

Ilka: Reasons to Stay Alive

In 2016, I’m unable to think of a more important time for self care. Enter Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig. It houses a vital perspective from a recovered suicide survivor and anxiety sufferer, but it has the ability to enable empathy for those who haven’t experienced these things. What better handbook to have in uncertain times than one that motivates us to keep propelling forward.

Shirley: The Last Wild Places of Kansas and Swingtime

The Last Wild Places of Kansas: Journeys Into Hidden Landscapes by George Frazier is an entertaining, locally-focused natural history travelogue. Frazier’s compassionate and engaging writing reads like classic storytelling, yet provides rich detail of Native American and early explorers’ experiences in Kansas. Reading about this local author’s experiences will give many Kansan’s a surreal sense of personal relation to the stories.

Additionally, Swing Time by Zadie Smith is a coming of age story narrated by an irreverently-thoughtful brown-skinned young woman. While we may not learn the narrator’s name, she offers clever, searing insights about friendship, race, class and so much more! This complex novel of serendipitous truth and wit is framed in a vivid reflection of cultural icons and dance perfection. This book is a Finalist for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction.

Meredith: Another Brooklyn

This lyrical, haunting tale of the interwoven girlhoods of four young girls in 1970s Brooklyn is beautiful and heartbreaking. It’s excellent on audiobook!

Honorable Mention: All the Wrong Places by Ann Gallagher – A diverse, funny, and moving romance that avoids cliché.

Eli : A Taste of Honey

Not only is Kai Ashante Wilson’s A Taste of Honey the best thing I’ve read this year, but it’s also what I would call the most surprising. When I picked it up on a whim, I had no idea this 150-some page novella could possibly contain such an original, intriguing fantasy world (with hints of sci-fi) as well as a dynamic, expertly crafted tale of LGBTQ romance. Its world may be uncanny, with its god-like beings meddling with a royal family drama, but the love story at the core is all too relatable.

There you have it, folks – ten of the best books that came out of one of the worst years.

Image via pixabay, public domain