The Lonely City
by Olivia Laing
You could call this book a collection of essays, or a memoir, or a work of art history. To narrow it down would be to miss the point, or at least lose some of what makes it so special. Reeling from the end of a relationship, Laing explores the work and lives of four New York City artists (Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, and Henry Darger) and the myriad ways loneliness and the city define and inform their work. It’s an engaging work of criticism and a powerful personal meditation all at once, and it’s the best book of nonfiction you’re likely to read this year.
The Border of Paradise
by Esmé Weijun Wang
While I was reading it and for days after I finished, I dreamt about this book. Wang's debut novel checks off a lot of boxes for me: it's a family saga, it's a sympathetic and realistic rendering of mental illness, and it's both beautifully written and deeply disturbing. Wang's characters follow their internal compasses down paths that seem to be somehow unexpected and preordained all at the same time, and they come to devastating ends. The Border of Paradise absolutely captivated me; I can't recommend it highly enough.
by Emma Cline
A fictional account of a grim and all-too-real episode in American history, Emma Cline’s The Girls is a compulsive read. Even I, the slowest of slow readers, breezed through it (much to my own surprise and delight). But what blindsided me about this book is how accurately — and I mean painfully so — Cline captures the feeling of being a teenage girl. If you are, have ever been, or even just know one, I think you’ll agree that’s no small feat, and will be amazed at Cline’s mastery of it. This book deserves every bit of buzz it’s generated and more.
Children of Earth and Sky
by Guy Gavriel Kay
It is no surprise that Guy Gavriel Kay was chosen to help edit Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. His understanding of language as a powerful, evocative tool with which to project life’s story into words, is prolific. This book is no exception. There is political intrigue, unexpected triumphs, and a pirate woman, Danica, whose likeness to the Greek goddess Artemis drives her to the center of it all. I was won over from page one.
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
by Mona Awad
This book is written for those of us who struggle in our skin. Awad beautifully describes how we never truly shed that skin, and how it affects us through the years. Her portrayal is truthful, and not necessarily what we want to hear, but rather what we need to acknowledge.
The Summer Before the War
by Helen Simonson
If Jane Austen lived in England in 1914, she would have written this book. Summer Before the War provides an insightful and compassionate look at a world heading towards tragedy, told through the eyes of a young woman newly situated in the countryside. She is a keen observer of small-town life about to undergo the tremendous changes of the beginning of the 20th century.
On the Edge
by Rafael Chirbes
Devastating, desolate, and disquieting, Rafael Chirbes's On the Edge ought to rank as one of the decade's finest novels. Set in late 2010, following the economic crisis that ravaged the Spanish economy (as well as many others around the world), On the Edge offers an unflinching glimpse of a nation despoiled and reeling. A remarkable portrait of one man's struggle to make sense of an encompassing personal, economic, and social decay, On the Edge breathes life into an otherwise asphyxiating scene.
Some Kind of Happiness
by Claire Legrand
I devoured this book in a few days; I just couldn't put it down. Finley, the main character, has what older readers will recognize as anxiety and depression, but being young, she doesn't have the vocabulary to know this. Despite that, the book has just enough fantasy/adventure elements to keep it from being an overly heavy or sad book. There are even some bits of mystery in it! Finley's experience is written with empathy and accuracy, and as well as being an important book, it's simply a good one.
by Don DeLillo
A stark, sci-fi-esque novel blending in elements of Middle East versus West politics, technology, religion, and philosophy — all done in DeLillo's signature precision and brevity. I'll call it science fiction for the poet in all of us.
My Struggle, Book Five
by Karl Ove Knausgaard
I can finally relate to Harry Potter fans! With each new release of Knausgaard's My Struggle, I am eagerly waiting outside Powell's before it opens so I can get my copy and immediately begin reading it. Book Five is no better or worse than the others, but a continuation of the finest literary collection of the century. I am highly anticipating the final installment so that I can finish the series, go back to the first book, and start all over again.
by Adam Ehrlich Sachs
I read a review of Inherited Disorders that said it's like Saturday Night Live sketches written by Kafka. For that reason exactly, it's my favorite read of 2016 so far. It's both very contemporary and totally timeless. Original yet familiar. Funny but serious. In short, it's awesome.
I'm Thinking of Ending Things
by Iain Reid
This book got under my skin in a major way. It's a one-sitting kind of book, and full of a creeping horror that made me desperate to see what happened next. To say anything else would be too risky. Just read it.
Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam (and Other Stories)
by Simon Hanselmann
Hanselmann's second collection of this beloved comic about a witch named Megg and her clan of anthropomorphic friends is at once devastating and hysterical. The rag-tag crew of characters are faced with severe, debilitating bouts of depression (largely intensified by substance abuse) as well as grappling with their sexuality and gender identities while trying to navigate their relationships, romantic and otherwise. I found myself both hating and relating to these characters at different points. Their struggles with self-loathing and exploring the limits and depths of their existence feel tangible in a way that would be nigh impossible without the spectacular illustrations. Highly recommended.
by Robert Hill
Wow, what a book! Robert Hill’s The Remnants takes an intense look at the small and dying town of New Eden, Somewhere, USA. Its residents are aging — and so very, very interrelated — and New Eden is assuredly creeping towards its last days. Hill’s characters are so precisely written, they feel as real as you and me, despite the generations of inbreeding, which have left them somewhere off the "normal" scale. Yet, these folks love and hope and yearn like the rest of us, and their stories are magical. Hill has the silver tongue of a master wordsmith. His gorgeous prose rambles from hilarious to sly to clever, and then doubles back so it can dive right off into beautiful, heartsick, and poignant.
On the Edge of Gone
by Corinne Duyvis
How do you measure the value of a human life? In the immediate aftermath of an apocalyptic disaster, Denise struggles to save her family. When she stumbles across a generation ship preparing to colonize space, Denise thinks she's finally found a way to survive. However, the ship will only make room for people they deem valuable. Can an autistic teen convince them to make room for herself, her addict mother, and her absent sister? Flowing seamlessly from intense action scenes to thought-provoking emotional drama, this well-written and perfectly paced novel is sure to keep you riveted.
The Madwoman Upstairs
by Catherine Lowell
As the last surviving Brontë, Samantha Whipple has a strenuous relationship with the works of her famous ancestors, especially as she's starting her first year at Old College, Oxford. Upon arriving at Old College, being assigned to "the Tower" dorm room is only the first sign of the strange things that will befall Samantha. At turns a mystery and an academic adventure (with an ongoing discussion on various theories of reading), this is a fun read for all Brontë fans and will feel incredibly familiar for many literature students!
by Pauls Toutonghi
In 1998, a beloved family dog disappeared on the Appalachian Trail. Dog Gone tells the true story of the pet — named Gonker — and his family's desperate attempt to get him home. But it's more than a simple story of a lost pet. In a precise, moving narrative, Toutonghi recounts the tumultuous history of Gonker's family and all its laughter, sorrow, and love.
by Alexis M. Smith
A wonderfully bewitching story, Alexis M. Smith's second book is as amazing as her first. This novel weaves together her skill with character and a delicious thread of intrigue and mystery. The voice is simply beautiful, and I can't wait to reread this one.
We Are the Ants
by Shaun David Hutchinson
This amazing, funny, heartbreaking, adventurous, love-filled sci-fi (but maybe not sci-fi), coming-of-age, young-adult-but-grown-up story is indescribable, but exactly what you need.
by Emma Cline
An intoxicating read with stunning writing. Evie's pensive thoughts and bold moves lead her down a dangerous path. Chilling and haunting!
The Raven King
by Maggie Stiefvater
Henrietta, Virginia: home to a prestigious private school, a convergence of ley lines, fast cars, retired hitmen, ghosts, psychics, dreamers, and, perhaps, a sleeping Welsh king. In this final installment of the Raven Cycle, a demon has awoken, and everything that's been foretold must finally come to pass. The suspenseful, bittersweet, and gratifying conclusion to this series will stick with readers for a long time.
Salt to the Sea
by Ruta Sepetys
Haunting, heartbreaking, and yet somehow uplifting. Refugees of a diverse background are hunted by the Soviets as they make their way to the Prussian coast to escape aboard the ship Wilhelm Gustloff. The Gustloff, now almost forgotten, was ultimately the worst maritime disaster in history, far more deadly than the Titanic. WWII can be overwhelming to read about, but author Sepetys makes this history graspable by telling intimate tales of four young adult strangers, tossed together by the messiness of war.
The View from the Cheap Seats
by Neil Gaiman
The View from the Cheap Seats is a beautiful book, which is not surprising, as this can be said about anything the magician and wizard Neil Gaiman pens. But this collection of his many nonfiction writings through the years is fantastic. The collection comprises an unintentional autobiography as it spans the length of Neil's varied career from journalist, to comic book genius, to novelist, to children's author, to music enthusiast, to husband to the magical musical lady Amanda Palmer. This book is worth reading for anyone who is a fan of Gaiman, a fan of creating art, a fan of libraries, a fan of science fiction, a fan of fantasy, or a lover of good writing — it is all here.
by Jo Marchant
Cure is a fascinating exploration of the power of the mind in regard to our physical health. Because Jo Marchant has a background in both science and journalism, her approach is no-nonsense and rigorous, which I greatly appreciated. She explores how effective such things as virtual reality, placebos, meditation, and acupuncture are in managing pain, and makes her exploration come alive by linking her coverage to the experiences of people she's interviewed. You're going to want others you know to read this so you have people who can discuss with you the ideas Marchant explores!
by Kate Leth and Matt Cummings
This adorable comic is about a group of people (and a goldfish) who get turned into magical girls whether they like it or not! It's cute, hilarious, and diverse. Written by Kate Leth, writer for the Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat! comic.
The Lonely City
by Olivia Laing
Using the lives of four artists — Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger, and David Wojnarowicz — in addition to aspects of her own life as a jumping off point, Olivia Laing has written a moving and empathetic study of (and meditation on) urban loneliness. The Lonely City is observant, wise, insightful, and beautifully written.
Bucky F*cking Dent
by David Duchovny
Set in 1978, David Duchovny's latest novel involves a fractured father-son relationship on the mend, love, disillusionment, and, of course, baseball. Ted Fullilove, an unpublished writer, slings peanuts at Yankee Stadium for a living. When he learns that his estranged father Marty, a die-hard Red Sox fan, has terminal cancer, he moves back into his childhood home and tries to make amends. He also, through increasingly tricky and endearing means, attempts to convince his father that the Red Sox are on a winning streak. A great cast of characters, quick-witted wordplay, and an all-around good story make this my favorite book so far of 2016.
by Christine Rice
Swarm Theory is phenomenal for many reasons, the first and foremost being that it is a genre-bending "novel-in-stories." The perspective shifts multiple times, and there's no protagonist, unless you count the fictional setting of New Canaan, Michigan. This darkly beautiful collection explores the meaning of humanity using the lives of broken, complex characters. It's one of the most haunting books I've ever read!
by Geoff Dyer
I'd like to nominate Geoff Dyer as the official spokesman for Generation X. Nobody writes better about procrastination and slackerdom, while at the same time being extremely prolific and incurably curious. White Sands, in typical Dyer style, details his pilgrimages to various places that most people would never even consider visiting. However, his eye for detail and embracement of the ridiculous will soon have you adding these destinations to your own bucket list.
The Narrow Door
by Paul Lisicky
When we talk about great love, we’re usually referring to a romantic partner, but some friendships can be as complicated and compelling as the most passionate romance. The relationship at the center of The Narrow Door, a deeply moving memoir about the death of a close writer friend, is of this caliber. The Narrow Door is also a book about the writer’s life, about compounding loss, about the need to piece together wreckage into something meaningful. It’s lush, engrossing, and heartbreaking.
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven
by Chris Cleave
This novel completely surprised me. I expected a well-told tale of life and love during the London Blitz. It was that and so much more. The beautifully drawn characters are brave, loyal, plucky, smart, and witty. They are also flawed, afraid, careless, and cowardly in the most heartbreaking of ways. The damage of war, from bomb devastation to the broken minds of shattered soldiers, is portrayed with gritty detail and beautiful language. The love story is equally compelling, soaring from cinematic heights to beat steadily in small wounded hearts. I loved it.
by Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson's conclusion to The Reckoners trilogy, Calamity, will leave you speechless. The story doesn't just come full circle; it comes full infinity circle in a masterful weave of plot and character evolution like none other. Friends will be lost, villains will find redemption, and heroes will find peace.
The Life of Elves
by Muriel Barbery
Elegant and poetic, Muriel Barbery's tale of two 11-year-old girls with mysterious origins takes us from the French countryside to Italian mountains and cities, as we learn about their lives and fantastic pasts.
Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine
by Diane Williams
The founder and editor of celebrated avant-garde literary annual NOON has crafted an array of opalescent flecks that glimmer in the periphery, dazzling when you least expect it. Williams exhibits fine-tuned precision and lapidary restraint to produce a work that is both timeless and an undeniable product of the current moment. She is an artist operating at the peak of her powers.
by Rob Roberge
Liar is all the things a great memoir should be — revealing, funny, and nakedly self-critical. Told in non-linear memories (sometimes admittedly cloudy due to Roberge's concussions and hard living), Liar's small-but-frank moments all add up into something many readers will be surprised to find themselves relating to.
City of the Lost
by Kelley Armstrong
Rockton: In the middle of the Canadian Yukon, this is the town where you go when you need to disappear, and only those with council-approved reasons can get in. Once the murders start, the secrets come out, and not all are as innocent as they would appear. Murder, mystery, and betrayal... who can you trust when no one is who they say they are? Kelley Armstrong has done it again!
by Timothy Garton Ash
Garton Ash's work provides us with an excellent conceptual foundation for discussion on the subject of free speech, along with illuminations about what it really means in a global and technological 21st-century world. His writing is accessible yet thorough, with numerous fascinating historical and modern-day examples of threats to and conflicts over free speech. The author is clearly passionate about this subject, and his enthusiasm and life experience make this work all the more appealing.
The Sound of Gravel
by Ruth Wariner
The Sound of Gravel really wasn't on my radar, but my mom asked me to bring her a copy on my next visit. Of course I opened the book to see what had captured her interest, and I was absorbed from the first page. I have read plenty of stories about love, resilience, and courage, but The Sound of Gravel stands out as one of the best. I love how Ruth Wariner tells her story — in an honest, straightforward way and from her perspective as a child. I also have much admiration for her perseverance, dedication to her family, and amazing accomplishments as an adult.
by Brian Blanchfield
In these essays, Blanchfield covers a wide range of subjects, from housesitting to footwashing. We follow his thought process and memories through surprising convergences and connections, ending up learning about the world and ourselves in the process. I've rarely been as excited by a collection of essays as I was while reading this book!
The Nordic Theory of Everything
by Anu Partanen
In this fascinating, emboldening book, Partanen unpacks what she calls the "Nordic Theory of Love," proving that putting social welfare ahead of private interests can and does lead to economic dynamism and greater social equality: two things Americans desperately need, and should be fighting for.
The Noise of Time
by Julian Barnes
I enjoy Julian Barnes's prose immensely. He has a wonderful and poetic way of phrasing things, and I find myself rereading sentences over and over again just for the pleasure. This makes for very slow reading! Ordered by Stalin to denounce Igor Stravinsky while on a propaganda tour in the U.S., Dmitri Shostakovich is torn: Should he obey, or follow his conscience and refuse?
Thunder Boy Jr.
by Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales
Already a fan of Sherman Alexie, I was excited to share his first children's picture book with my two-year-old. Verdict: Thunder Boy Jr. is a hit! Adults will appreciate the cultural and personal identity themes typical of all of his work — digestible for pint-size readers through the protesting voice of Thunder Boy! Yuyi Morales's illustrations are beautiful and vibrant, keeping little readers glued to each page. My daughter's enthusiasm to read Thunder Boy Jr. over and over again is met with the same delight. In her words: "More Thunder Boy, please!"
by Louise Erdrich
After accidentally killing the young neighbor boy, Landreaux gives his own son to the grieving parents. These actions and their consequences guide the rest of this unforgettable story that perfectly captures those turn-of-the-millennium years when relative peace gave way to deep uncertainty.
by Samantha Hunt
Mr. Splitfoot is one of those rare books in which both the language and the story take center stage. I was hooked by the remarkable prose and then compelled by the inventive plot and the (somewhat literally) fantastic characters. It is a beautiful, funny, bizarre, and wholly original tale that manages to incorporate love, death, motherhood, séances, and ghost activism.
by Curtis Sittenfeld
I don't delve into the classic retelling genre very often, but when I heard Curtis Sittenfeld had rewritten Pride and Prejudice and made the mythic Mr. Darcy a neurosurgeon, I felt I had to give Eligible a whirl. Liz Bennet is a journalist living in New York when she's forced to temporarily relocate to her hometown of Cincinnati while her father recuperates from surgery. Here she navigates her mother's snobbery and addiction to trash TV and catalog shopping, her younger sisters' refusal to leave the family stead, and the romantic throes and "hate sex" in her relationship with Darcy. Though nothing will compare to the wit and snark of Jane Austen's original, Sittenfeld's work is charming and worthy of a read.
The Best Worst Thing
by Kathleen Lane
Bunnies, bullies, a killer on the loose — Kathleen Lane’s The Best Worst Thing is not your run-of-the-mill middle-grade novel. Told through the unique and infectious voice of Maggie — Lane’s smart, curious, and beautifully neurotic narrator — this story about the multitudes of middle school worries and one girl who just wants to save the whole world is at once breathless and funny and heartbreaking and joyous — and a delight for any reader who is, or ever has been, a kid.