The 10 Best Books We Read in 2016
No matter how many shows fill our Netflix queue, reading never gets old. And along with a slew of binge-worthy programming, 2016 brought us a plethora of page-turning books, from memoirs to historical fiction, and everything in between. Here, we rounded up the best titles that we read this year, and you should, too.
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
If you grew up in New York City circa 2006, then Stephanie Danler's engrossing debut will give you serious nostalgia pangs for a pre-gentrified Brooklyn and life before smartphones. The story centers on Tess, a 22-year-old waitress who takes a job at a well-known restaurant in downtown Manhattan—not so subtly modeled after Danny Meyer's Union Square Cafe, where Danler used to work—and willingly falls into a bizarre love triangle between the bartender and a senior server. Millennial hijinks ensue.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
You'll constantly hold back tears while reading this heart-wrenching memoir of a talented neurosurgeon who's unexpectedly diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in his mid-thirties. Despite his avid interest in medicine, Paul Kalanithi was an appreciator of great literature, and his enthusiasm shows in this inspiring story.
The Girls by Emma Cline
There was no shortage of hype over The Girls, Emma Cline's lascivious retelling of the Manson family murders, but the hot summer read proved worthy of all the accolades. Told from the protagonist's perspective at two different points in her life—when she's 14 and joins a cult and her later adult years when she reflects on everything she did—the narrative is imaginative, fast-paced, and so sensational that you'll finish wanting more.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Smith's long-awaited fifth novel follows the lives of two close friends and childhood dancers who lose touch in their early twenties as they embark on completely different career paths. Through alternating narratives, one in North London and another in West Africa, each one encounters similar issues of race, class, and gender.
The Nix by Nathan Hill
This epic mother-son tragicomic is about a college professor and failed writer who finds a new subject in his estranged mother, after she unexpectedly assaults a conservative governor in public and causes a media firestorm. Through different timelines in the narrator's life, Hill chronicles fifty-plus years, from the 1968 riots to the 2011 Republican National Convention. Each section is more entertaining and action-packed than the last.
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
While Emma Straub's last novel followed a Manhattan family on vacation, her latest zeroes in on the very real, sometimes painful inner-workings of life at home. The focus is on a group of close friends and former bandmates from college who settle down a stone's throw away from each other in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn and deal with raising teenagers, mid-life angst, and surprising revelations from their past.
The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
How far would you go to claim your trust fund? That's the question at the crux of this debut novel about an affluent Manhattan family whose nest egg becomes uncertain when one boisterous member gets into a near fatal drunk driving accident. Due to the unfortunate incident, an intriguing cast of characters is forced to come together, and in doing so, each one winds up learning a lot about themselves.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Whitehead's masterful work of historical fiction tells the story of a young slave who decides to take the ultimate risk and escape the antebellum South through the Underground Railroad. Unsurprisingly, she endures drama at nearly every step of her arduous journey. The Underground Railroad is a shocking, unsettling, and essential look at our country's cruel and unforgiving past.
Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam
Set in modern day New York, this scintillatingly honest read follows two close friends with drastically different interests—one is primarily focused on marriage and charity work and the other is happily single and working in publishing—who eventually lose touch and attempt to rekindle their friendship years later. It's a testament to the power and complexity of female relationships, which this male writer acutely observes.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Homecoming traces the lineage of two Ghanaian half-sisters, one of whom stayed in Africa and one who was trafficked to America on a slave ship, and charts how much their unfortunate circumstances—in the face of rampant discrimination—have predetermined their lives and the lives of their progeny. It's at once a sweeping narrative and a unique, intimate portrayal.