Grown-Up Reads

The Best Books of 2016, According to Real Readers

by Jennifer Ridgway

‘Tis the time of year when “Best of the Year” lists, written and compiled by book critics and scholars, start coming out. While I sometimes find new titles from these roundups to add to my wish lists, I prefer to hear what “real” people loved — the books they deem the most thrilling, most entertaining, or most informative of the year. We reached out to fellow readers to find out their favorite books of 2016. Consider adding these fan-favorite fiction and nonfiction reads to your own wish list before the holidays, or buying them with all those gift cards you receive as presents!

  • The Top Picks of the Year

  • Multiple people cited these fiction books as among their favorites from the year, listed in alphabetical order by author:

  • Sweetbitter

    by Stephanie Danler

    The story of Tess Danler’s move to New York City and coming of age while waitressing at a fancy Manhattan restaurant had many readers recalling their days as waiters and waitresses, whether in NYC or elsewhere. “I could not put it down,” one reader told me. “I was turning the pages voraciously, devouring [Danler’s] use of language, all while watching Tess’s story unfold. I absolutely loved the intensity and utter rawness of this novel,” another said.

  • Homegoing

    by Yaa Gyasi

    Gyasi’s debut novel about several generations of families, starting with two half-sisters, begins in 18th-century Ghana and progresses through history, in both Ghana and the U.S., to the 1970s. One fan called it “beautifully written and eye opening.” Another reader said it “helps relate how we ended up where we are in race relations.” It was “superbly, lyrically written with a powerful narrative that is moving and thought-provoking.”

  • Harmony

    by Carolyn Parkhurst

    This story about a family’s desperate choice to help their developmentally challenged daughter was hailed as “unforgettable and relatable for every parent. At turns touching and shocking … The epilogue is one of the most beautiful pieces I have read about being a parent.” It “reads like a thriller,” I was told. “Highly, highly recommend,” another reader raved.

  • Small Great Things

    by Jodi Picoult

    Picoult’s newest novel tackles race, privilege, and justice, and readers “couldn’t stop thinking about it.” One person said: “For such a hotly debated and sensitive subject, her writing was eloquent, honest, and real … Jodi nails humanity and also the hate that is still very present.” Others said it had them “thinking about privilege and power in a new light.”

  • Underground Railroad

    by Colson Whitehead

    Bestselling author Colson Whitehead’s novel about an escaped slave who travels via an actual underground railroad was praised for its “amazing and captivating storytelling.” One reader pointed to its context in modern-day society: “While we have come a long way from slavery, we still have a long way to go with race relations in this country. This book gives you a sense of what underlies much of the ongoing tension.” And another shared, “I couldn't put it down. I loved the way Whitehead takes artistic liberties with historical fiction, and that even when the details were fictionalized, every emotion rang entirely true. It was horrifying and captivating, and I'll never forget a step of Cora's journey.”

  • More Fantastic Fiction

  • I heard from even more fiction-lovers, and here’s some of the books that stole their hearts:

  • You Will Know Me

    by Megan Abbott

    Megan Abbot’s new novel is “such a tense page-turner that completely pulled me in to the world of competitive gymnastics. Great characters, and I loved that while I had a sense of what might have happened, things didn't completely come together for me until the end.”

  • The Mothers

    by Brit Bennett

    “All of the characters have so much depth, and the prose is gorgeous, but the story is really juicy and moves along too. I had to force myself to stop reading at night and go to sleep.”

  • The Rain in Portugal: Poems

    by Billy Collins

    “I thought this book was fantastic; it includes plain spoken poetry that utilizes the kinds of moments we all experience every day and connects them to much bigger issues in funny and relatable ways.”

  • Dark Matter

    by Blake Crouch

    “The concept of infinite realities is both mind-blowing and even a bit overwhelming to process, but definitely keeps you hooked from beginning to end. It’s a thriller that keeps your heart racing, but also a beautiful love story that tugs at the strings.”

  • American Housewife: Stories

    by Helen Ellis

    “This sharp, funny debut nailed the obsessions and frustrations that I feel so well that I couldn't help but wonder, ‘Have I been unconsciously writing stories under the pen name Helen Ellis?’ I knew I found my soul sister when I read, ‘Sixteen Candles’ is my ‘Star Wars.’”

  • The Trespasser

    by Tana French

    “Thank goodness that 2016 brought us another installment of the Dublin Murder Squad series … Murder squad politics, a prickly detective heroine, complicated familial histories, and a seemingly one-dimensional bludgeoning victim are all part of yet another ominous detective fiction title from the infallible Tana French.”

  • Eleanor

    by Jason Gurley

    Eleanor “threw me for a real loop when I read it … I loved it because it made me Ugly Cry. It stuck with me because I was blown away by how Gurley explored deep, dark familial emotions through an extremely interesting metaphysical storyline. I didn't come away from it feeling like I had just read a sci-fi book — it felt very real.”

  • The Matchmakers of Minnow Bay

    by Kelly Harms

    Kelly Harms’s new tale is “delightful. It reminded me of ‘Gilmore Girls’ and ‘The Holiday’ in the very best of ways, and I love that romantic comedy is alive and well in fiction.”

  • Behold the Dreamers

    by Imbolo Mbue

    “A timely and timeless story of coming to America and searching for a better life. A story of race, class, marriage, and the American dream.”

  • My Name Is Lucy Barton

    by Elizabeth Strout

    “There aren't many great — let alone perfect — books about a woman reconciling her past against the backdrop of her present. Elizabeth Strout's My Name Is Lucy Barton is all of this. It is everything.”

  • Smoke

    by Dan Vyleta

    Dan Vyleta’s Smoke is “weird, unnerving, totally inventive, and, by the end, a wild adventure story. Vyleta has created a fascinating world, a dystopian Victorian England, in which the compelling protagonists live. I still find myself thinking about the super odd, super cool smoke. It’s the stuff dreams — or nightmares — are made of.”

What new books did you enjoy most this year? Let us know in the comments below!