While 2016 was a terrible year in many respects (Prince, Alan Rickman, Bowie, Trump…) it was definitely an excellent year for books. This year I managed to read a few over fifty (goddamn you work, Netflix and Hearthstone for being so distracting!), and they were all very enjoyable.
However, if I had to choose my favourites, these would be them:
My Favourite Book of the Year
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Hanya Yanagihara’s masterwork is not only my favourite book of the year, but probably also the best book I have every read. I rarely write reviews on Goodreads, but I felt like I had to for this one:
Holy moly. This has to be the most profound, the most devastating and yet the most beautiful book I have ever read. I can’t shake it, and I don’t want to. My advice is not to finish it on a plane like I did; what’s needed is solitude and a pillow to curl up with and bawl into. If I could give this more than 5 stars I would.
While I recommend this book thoroughly, it did break me, so make sure you are feeling really good about life before attempting it.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
This was the first novel I had read by Ann Patchett, and I can confidently say that after polishing this one off it won’t be the last. I loved this book so much: stories about big messy families are always a winner for me, and the way Patchett manages to craft such a vast array of characters using so few words is just astonishing.
The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
When The Glorious Heresies beat A Little Life for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction I was gobsmacked: how could anything possibly beat the brilliance that is A Little Life?! So I decided to see what all the fuss was about, and I’m very glad I did. Set in the seedy underbelly of Cork and featuring an eclectic cast of misfits, this gritty and funny novel is such a winner. Lisa McInerney is a brilliant writer, and I can’t wait to get my hands on whatever she writes next.
Special commendations must go to Crow Lake by Mary Lawson (thanks to Geraldine at Beaufort Street Books for this cracker of a recommendation), The Girls by Emma Cline and All That Is Lost Between Us by Sara Foster.
It’s really hard choosing favourites, so I’ve decided to break up the fiction category a little further so I can squeeze a few more in!
Crime Fiction Favourites
The Dry by Jane Harper
It is easy to see why Jane Harper’s first novel was awarded the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript: The Dry is proof that crime fiction can be both gripping and well written. This is one I binge read in one sitting, so I recommend reading it when you aren’t likely to get interrupted.
The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola
Based on a true Victorian murder investigation (the Edgeware Road Murder), The Unseeing explores the lives of a seamstress sentenced to hang and a young lawyer determined to find out the truth. With more twists than a Curly Wurly, this is a must read for lovers of historical crime fiction and Sarah Waters.
Historical Fiction Favourites
A Kiss From Mr. Fitzgerald by Natasha Lester
With a penchant for both medicine and the glamour of 1920’s New York, I was always going to love this book. I found delving into the world of early female medical students fascinating, and was completely swept away by the gorgeous love story. I have recommended this book to so many people, and will continue to do so until all of my friends have read it!
Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
I’ve wanted to read Kate Forsyth’s novels for a few years now (especially after listening to her excellent discussions with Richard Fidler), so this year I decided to take the plunge and read both Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl. I loved them both, but I think her take on the Rapunzel fairy tale just wins out.
While I didn’t polish it off as quickly as the two above, I also loved Hannah Kent’s second novel The Good People. That woman is a wizard with words.
I am not a big reader of fantasy any more, but two books I did really enjoy are The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (thanks to Natasha Lester for this recommendation). The richly depicted worlds in both of these books had me hooked from the get go.
I have also started reading The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss, which is pretty entertaining so far and therefore deserves an honourable mention.
I know that I’ve only been doing two books per section up until now, but I read so many good nonfiction books this year that I’m bumping it up to three.
The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke
Maxine Beneba Clarke is probably my favourite short story writer, and so I was very excited when her memoir The Hate Race was released. This frank account of her experiences with racism covers some pretty unsettling (slash downright disturbing) ground, but there is enough humour weaved in amongst to prevent the reader from crumpling (her ‘tribal dancing’ passage is an absolute cracker).
Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor
When I saw this was one of Julian Barnes’s Best Books of 2016 in The Guardian, I was not surprised. Like A Little Life, Cory Taylor’s reflection on life, death and everything in between was something I could not shake (the section entitled ‘Cold Feet’ in particular). The way Taylor manages to distill such complex feelings is astonishing, especially considering (or maybe because) she was just weeks away from death when she wrote this. I don’t normally re-read books, but this is one I know I’ll keep coming back to. Dying: A Memoir is a very important book. Read it.
Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner
Helen Garner is the bravest and best nonfiction writer this country has. No arguments. As I write this I’m flicking though Everywhere I Look trying to choose my favourite essay, and am struggling. Today it’s a toss between ‘How To Marry Your Daughters’ (a reflection on reading Pride and Prejudice which contains two of my most favourite lines ever: ‘Lydia Bennet, at sixteen, is a piece of trash’, and ‘And long live the Lydias of this world, the slack molls who provide the grit in the engine of the marriage plot’), ‘Dreams of Her Real Self’ where she explores her relationship with her mother, and her now famous ‘The Insults of Age’. If I repeat the exercise tomorrow I’ll probably have different results: this is a book that keeps on giving.
Gosh I love Helen Garner so much.
Other favourites were Mara Wilson’s Where Am I Now?, Trans: A Memoir by Juliet Jacques, Fight Like a Girl by Clementine Ford (her reflections on being a teenager were especially good) and the collection of sex positive essays Doing It edited by Karen Pickering.
What I’m planning on reading next year
As I mentioned earlier, I have never been much of a re-reader (there are always so many new things to read!) However, I have decided that in 2017 I will revisit a few favourites. So far I plan to reread three Margaret Atwood novels (The Blind Assassin, The Robber Bride and Alias Grace), The Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix and The Spare Room by Helen Garner. At some point I also want to reread the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman.
Books on my Christmas wish list include:
- My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
- Swing Time by Zadie Smith
- Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta
- The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
2017 releases I am excited about include:
- Her Mother’s Secret by Natasha Lester
- The Hidden Hours by Sara Foster
- Beauty in Thorns by Kate Forsyth
What books have you loved this year, and what are you looking forward to reading next year?