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

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    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.

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  • Homegoing

    by Yaa Gyasi

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    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.”

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  • 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

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    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.”

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  • Underground Railroad

    by Colson Whitehead

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    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.”

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