The LT Year in Reading: 2016 Edition
It’s that time of year again: what topped our list in 2016? And what did we absolutely despise? Check out Kate and Corey’s picks for their best (and worst!) reads of 2016:
Best Library Loot
Corey: Definitely A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé. It was one of those serendipitous library reads that you magically happen upon and turn out to be incredible. I was so lucky to find this one in the stacks this year!
Kate: Hmm. Probably A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was not a book of short stories by a recovered alcoholic that hopscotched all across the Southwest. Just wonderful.
“Hey, I didn’t know that!” Award for Best Nonfiction Read
Kate: Can I take a second to brag about the fact that I really tried to branch out into nonfiction this year? And still, somehow, only read a few. But Cooked by Michael Pollan was the best of them, probably, filled with compelling stories and facts about the food we cook and how we eat it.
Corey: Rebecca Trainster’s All the Single Ladies was so chock-a-block full of “hey, I didn’t know that!” moments, I think I irritated pretty much everyone I ever happened to be reading this book next to; I couldn’t stop myself from shouting out tidbits and marveling at Trainster’s research.
Kate: The Likeness by Tana French. Shades of Donna Tartt and Kate Atkinson. Plus, it takes place at Trinity and just outside Dublin, so I got to feel all nostalgic.
Corey: I only reread one book this year — Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — and it was, as usual, a total delight.
Best Premise, Worst Execution
Corey: I read a bunch of promising, but ultimately disappointing, books this year. But still, the worst execution has to go to A Discovery of Witches! Oh my god, Deborah Harkness, how do you start out with such an appealing premise — academic witch who refuses to use her powers suddenly finds a mysterious and powerful book in the depths of the Bodleian Library — and turn it into a bodice-ripper?! Oy. So much oy.
Kate: The Final Solution by Michael Chabon. A book about a parrot and a Holocaust survivor and a mathematical mystery should have been much more intriguing. I found myself thankful that this was short.
Worst Premise, Best Execution
Kate: “Jane Eyre, except instead of just taking everything thrown at her, she murders people.” That’s basically the premise of Jane Steele by Lyndsay Fay, which should have been more eye-rollingly cheesy than it actually was. I loved this book so much, it was so much fun, and though I love Jane Eyre, I think Jane Steele is a wonderful heroine, and worthy of her namesake. Love.
Corey: Twentysomething male drunks galavant around Paris while ignoring their families and jobs? Sounds awful, but, of course, Papa delivers. A Moveable Feast was so much better than I thought it would be — and vastly more enjoyable than anything else I’ve read by Hemingway.
The Peter Mendelsund Award for Best Cover
Kate: The cover of The Wonder by Emma Donoghue is so simple and so lovely, capturing the essence of the book in one simple image of a spoon.
Corey: Brian Selznik takes this cake for his beautifully intricate cover of The Marvels — and for all the charming drawings inside!
The Shock and Awe Award for Most Surprising Read
Corey: I’d been meaning to read The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach for years and finally got around to it this year; I was so pleasantly surprised to find such a great summer read!
Kate: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I sort of expected it to be a little preachy, but it was fantastic and so enlightening to read about the American black experience from the viewpoint of an immigrant from Nigeria.
Most Fun Read
Kate: The Rookby Daniel O’Malley, hands down. It was fun and exciting and funny and mind-bending in all of the best ways. Also, Myfanwy is just a wonderful character (with a fantastic name).
Corey: Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries started out so slowly that I thought I’d never get into it, but then, suddenly, I found myself hundreds of pages in and loving it. It turned out to be such a great book — it has it all: complex characters, levity, history, identity, and place — and certainly one of my favorite reads of 2016.
Corey: I’m going to have to say Lucy Knisley’s Something New simply because I had such ridiculously high expectations for it. It was a good, fun read, but I didn’t love it as much as her Age of License and was thus a little disappointed. My own fault, entirely, but still a little bit of a bummer for me.
Kate: Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust. I’m so depressed by the fact that I hated it. This was the only truly “major” work I read this year, and since it was translated by Lydia Davis, I had such high hopes! Sadly, I just found myself incredibly irritated by it. I’m realizing now that I had the same reaction to Madame Bovary, so maybe I am just not cut out for French literature…though I loved Dumas, so who knows? It was just such a slog.
Corey: I don’t even remember who recommended it, but Patrick Leigh Fermor’s travel narratives about his walk across Europe in the 1930s were incredible. I started the year off with A Time of Gifts and turned to Between the Woods and the Water for comfort after the election and both were pitch-perfect reads. Eloquent, wistful, beautiful, and transportive, Fermor’s books are the kind of recommendation I wish I got more often!
Kate: So hard to choose! Stuck between Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Americanah, and A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. They are all so different, but they were all so enjoyable.
Most Satisfying Read
Kate: Hmm. The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, probably. I read all five of the novels straight through, really enjoyed them, and felt accomplished when I was done. What more can you ask for? Also, probably Lonesome Dove. That was another big read that I checked off my list this year and thoroughly enjoyed.
Corey: I think I’m going to go with Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch. I read it right after finishing the actual Middlemarch and it scratched all my George Eliot withdrawal itches.
Books We Didn’t Get To (things that languished at the TBR all year!)
Kate: Ew. So, yet again, The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir and My Mother, She Killed Me, My Father, He Ate Me. They’re just sitting on my shelf, mocking me. Ick. I also didn’t finish A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson — entirely my own fault, not Atkinson’s.
Corey: Ugh, so many! I wasn’t a great reader this year — what a year, oof! — but I most regret not getting to Steinbeck’s East of Eden and The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell. Not to mention Persepolis, which spent another year unread. Basically, just look at this post for a quick and easy run-down of what I didn’t get to!
Book of the Year
Corey: Probably no surprise to loyal Literary Transgressions readers, but I’m going to have to go with Middlemarch! It was the first book I finished in 2016 and it absolutely colored the rest of my year in reading as I basically spent the rest of the year trying to find something equally satisfying. I did not succeed.
Kate: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab! It hit all of the right notes for me, and I happened to be wearing a very swishy black jacket during the month I read it, so I felt very much like Lila Bard. I love the relationship between Kell and Lila, as well as Kell and Rhy, and all of the characters felt incredibly real, no matter what fantastical worlds they were walking through. It made me want to pick up A Gathering of Shadows immediately, and I cannot wait for A Conjuring of Light.