Sunday, March 5, 2017

Best* Books of 2016*

Two months and five days into 2017 sees me trying to catch up on my reading goals. For the second year in a row, I'm participating in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. The idea is that you set a goal for the number of books you want to read during the year, and Goodreads keeps track (provided that you've input your reading into the site). This is a bit difficult for someone like me who holds three jobs and is, depending on the point in time, trying to write or trying to get representation, but I managed my goal of 25 books last year.

I have plans for some of the books that I want to get to this year, and I think, even though I'm already behind, I should be able to make this year's goal--30 books this time. For today's post, though, I wanted to focus on some of the books I read last year.

I titled this post Best Books of 2016, but that comes with a couple of caveats. The first is that, when I say best, all that really means is that these books are the ones I enjoyed the best. Tastes in books are subjective, but if you've been reading this blog for this long, it's fair to guess there might be some overlap in your tastes and mine. The second is the "of 2016" bit. Only three of the five books on my list released in 2016, but I read them all during 2016, so close enough.

Here's my list, in no particular order:

(Also, I'm including Amazon links to all these books, in case you want to do some reading of your own.)

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This is not the type of book I normally pick up. I tend to shy away from books that take place over the course of centuries because I tend to get lost in the historical details and miss the individual characters and their stories. Gyasi managed to weave together multiple stories in such a way that, even though each character really only gets one chapter, they lived and breathed. Aside from the storytelling itself being riveting, Gyasi's prose is some of the most beautiful that I've ever read.

Other fun facts: Gyasi is roughly my age and grew up in the same town I did, so that's pretty cool.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

This book was recommended to me by one of the beta readers for Project 2016. I was familiar with Chambers's work at The Mary Sue, and I'm pretty much always looking for good soft science fiction that stars women, so this book was a hit with me. Chambers does a great job giving you a sense of the different species that inhabit her universe, and she takes the time to show the different social arrangements of other species in such a way that it explains their actions and motivations. This book is the first in a trilogy, and I've already preordered book two, which comes out this month.

Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson

It probably comes as no surprise that I am a big fan of Matilda--both the Roald Dahl book and the 1996 movie. I follow Wilson on Twitter, so I caught the announcement of her book of essays pretty early on and knew immediately that I had to get my hands on it. Wilson's sense of humor is sparkling, and she addresses issues of loss, childhood, and mental health with remarkable deftness. I'm not a crier in general, but this book hit me hard a couple of times. It was easily one of my favorite reads last year.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I missed this book when it first came out in 2013. I was in graduate school, and if it wasn't one of the books that I had to read for my classes, I pretty much missed every novel that came out. I finally got around to reading Fangirl in December and tore through it in a couple of days. As someone who's dealt with levels of social anxiety that range from inconvenient to incapacitating, Cath resonated with me. Books like Fangirl are why I will always read YA. I'm ten to twelve years removed from the "target" audience of this book, but I cared so much about the characters and their struggles--they felt familiar and honest in a way that sometimes Adult novels don't.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

I'm sort of cheating twice with this one. I read the paperback version of Nimona last year, but I originally read it in twice-weekly installments when Stevenson originally posted it online a few years before. This is also not a novel in the traditional sense. Nimona is a graphic novel--a comic. The thing that I admire most about Stevenson's writing is her ability to pace a story. Some of this might be by virtue of the medium: the mechanics are different when you're using the combination of images and words and panel shape and size to communicate than when you're using words exclusively. Even so, there's never a moment where you feel like you're spinning your wheels, waiting for the story to pick up. Stevenson's characters are also captivating and complex--she's able to explore morally grey areas without falling into the trap of being aggressively grim-dark.

And that's my list for 2016! I didn't set out to create a list that only included books by women, though I'm sort of pleased that the list worked out that way. One of my goals for 2016 was to read more books by women--I looked at my shelves and saw rows and rows of men's names, so I made a conscious effort last year to pick up more work by women. I'm trying to continue the trend this year--reading more women and, especially, more women of color. We'll see how well I do with that next year. In hindsight, I'm so glad I made the effort to seek out more books by women--otherwise, I could have missed one of these amazing books.

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