Books of 2016
There are less than two and a half hours left of 2016 and I can’t wait to say good riddance to the thing. But it’s the end of the year as we know it and I haven’t had my celebratory drink yet, so let’s do this thing.
This year, I read 91 books, which is one more than last year. So despite having been a parent this entire year rather than just the last month, I still managed to beat last year. I imagine it’ll be another 20 years or so until I hit 2014 numbers ever again.
Someone is #sorrynotsorry.
Also, for the purposes of convenience and experiment, I wrote this entire thing on an iPad. Thus the truly hideous excel chart colors. The management apologizes.
Anyway, here’s this year’s breakdown.
As with last year, nearly half of my books were published this year. And another quarter were last year. It seems like the 20th century made a bit of a comeback since last year though. I blame that on the course on Science Fiction I taught over the summer. Hard to teach a retrospective without delving into the 20th century.
Ratings wise, I’m doing better than previous years with the majority of books receiving four stars. I’m getting better at picking them, although the duds were pretty memorably terrible.
Numerically speaking, I branched out slightly more than last year since my 5 star books weren’t all by authors I’d already read. Go me!
And then there’s the genres…I read a lot of things that fall under the category of science fiction and fantasy.
No, but seriously. There are so many fascinating books coming out in the field of SF&F, so many interesting authors doing new and exciting things, it’s hard to find time for something else. And I freely confess to a bias towards what fantasy writers in particular can do with their words and their worlds. It seems like the SF&F community is leading the vanguard in thinking about the future. It’s a good place to be. The vanguard, I mean. Not so sure about the future.
And for the diversity question,
Since I’m too lazy to fight with Excel any longer, the percentages are 68% women and 20% POC, so nearly the same as last year. I’m pleased I didn’t get worse. I’m not thrilled I didn’t get better. Quality-wise, the books by POC definitely stand out.
Alright, onto the exciting bit. My top ten books list in more or less the order that I read them
- The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell. I loved this book. It’s space exploration and new worlds and religion and meditation on God and tragedy and life. It’s what I want science fiction to be. It treats faith and science with the same delicacy. It’s gorgeous.
- The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. It’s rare that I actually want to hug a book but, although this one started off slow, it built itself into a wonderful version of steampunk fantasy that teetered just on the edge of the normal world. It had the elegance of one of its own watches in its construction and the emotional core needed to drive the intricacies.
- A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab. I always appreciate when a sequel is even better than the first and this book definitely exceeded expectations. Schwab fascinates with her world-building, her magical rules, and her brilliantly awesome women who can’t help but steal the show.
- Planetfall by Emma Newman. Even if this were only a book about the mysteries of a planet’s founding and the slow unraveling of a pack of lies, it would deserve a place on this list. But Newman combines it with one of the most sensitive and deft portrayals of mental illness in fiction and that itself deserves praise. Combined, it’s brilliant. And since there are more books set in the world, I won’t even ding her for the ending.
- Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire. Let me preface this by saying that Seanan doesn’t usually write the kind of books I like. But this book won me over. It struck the exact right chord. For everyone who looked in the wardrobe to find Narnia, who waited for their Hogwarts letter, who searched surreptitiously for the grail…you will know this book. It’s also the literary equivalent of a slasher film, which honestly only improves the experience.
- Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer. Okay, not everyone needs a mash-up of the 18th century novel and complex heterotopian science fiction. But I do, you guys. I really do. If this book is your thing, it will be your thing utterly and completely.
- Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Butler has been on my to-read list for a long time, but I finally read her in the summer of 2016 and her narrative of the US’s descent into autocracy, abuse of power, the ravages of climate change rings frighteningly true. Somehow, Butler makes this narrative into a story of hope, not of despair.
- The Jewel Hinged Jaw by Samuel Delany. This book is a work of literary criticism and I’m sad I had never come across it earlier because Delany writes and analyzes with clarity in both mind and prose. I want to think his thoughts and write his words. Even the most complex ideas come across – he does not make them relatable, but his mastery of his own knowledge is so evident that the reader practically absorbs it from him.
- Infomocracy by Malka Older. I would recommend reading this book before the 2016 election but, since time travel hasn’t been invented yet, you’ll have to settle for wishing for a world like the one Older imagines. Another instance of science fiction imagining a real and possible future that is neither u- nor dystopian, but a concrete version of our world that is both a vision of what could be better and an understanding that perfect is impossible. Older captures a future that shines as real, if not always realistic in our depressing world. The best part of it is how hard it is to disseminate fake news.
- The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. It’s like Firefly with diversity and without sexism. No, but seriously, it’s a vision of space opera without battles, of narrative development without ongoing conflict. It’s an almost meandering stream of stories tied together by people and I love that it works so well as a novel precisely because it feels more like a television show at times and that shouldn’t work, but of course it does and beautifully.
So there you have it. My top ten books of 2016. They’re not all five stars, but they are the books that moved me, that stuck with me, that changed the way I read and think. They are the books I will return to in my mind if not to actually reread them. They are the ones that feel the most like they have become a part of me. So, to their authors, thank you for that.