As always, I set a reading goal and met it and slightly exceeded it in 2016. I split the two lists, one of authors I read for the first time this year and authors I have read before. Here are my favorite books I read in 2016. (Note: I was very partial to books published this year).
10. Hurt People by Cote Smith: This suburban dark fairy tale about two brothers, one who watches as his brother falls into the grip of a mysterious stranger is an oddly hypnotic look at lost youth and the best book of its kind since Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin.
9. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ All-Time Greatest Hits by Mark Binelli: If all you know about the musician Screamin’ Jay Hawkins is from Hocus Pocus, there is a whole dark and sad world waiting for you in these pages, filled with tall tales, apathetic ghosts and lost love, this is one of this year’s true surprises.
8. The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray: This complex story of time travel, inherited curses and the nature of time itself is challnageing, maddening but infectious.
7. Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett: This book answers the question of what happens when a black man wakes up one morning as a pasty faced white dude. He becomes a puppet for others nefarious plans, all the while pontificating on the state of his squalid city of Lagos. Smart, introspective and hilarious.
6. Prodigals by Greg Jackson: These fiercely intelligent stories, of people on the brink of life, of people on the brink of change, of people of the brink of whatever, bring with them a keen, almost overwrought sense of their own selves and the promise of a fascinating new talent.
5. Cannibals in Love by Mike Roberts: this novel, consisting of fifteen connected vignettes, is the first novel in long while that mixes the urgency of the time with a classic bildungsroman in the vein of Fredrick Exley and John Fante. Funny, poetic and sad, this novel has a beating, un-ironic heart.
4. A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh: One of the best non-fiction books to come out this year, this loose history of burglary, robbery and home safety will have you looking at the city you live in in a new light, and have you double checking to see if your front door is locked.
3. Heartbreaker by Maryse Meijer: My favorite story collection this year seemed to right the wrongs of Amelia Gray’s and Lindsay Hunter’s cold fiction with a lot of heart and painful reality, with the story “Jailbait” being the standout.
2. What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell: This meditative look at one man’s love for a male prostitute will swallow you whole. Rich in detail and painful scenes of betrayal, as well as mundane scenes granted importance through flighty skillful prose.
1. The Nix by Nathan Hill: This large 600 page book about the 60’s, online gaming, the Occupy movement and mythical creatures is a grand, epic novel of ideas and family, and earned its place at the top of this list.
10. The White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty: If you liked his sleeper hit and Booker prize winning novel The Sellout, you’ll love his debut. It has the same funny tone and hilarious quips that made that novel so great.
9. The Sport of Kings by C. E. Morgan: This large novel of race and race horses is a major step up from her first novel. Dreamlike yet brutal, this novel was hard to forget
8. Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch: Koch has had a steady place on my lists since The Dinner and this is his biggest, most complex story yet, blending an odd mystery with dull life of a has been writer with his dark, angry wit.
7. Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo: A sequel to his best book, Nobody’s Fool, we catch up with the residents of North Bath, which always seems on the edge of collapse. Adding in a welcome bit of violent menace into this earthy story made this one of Russo’s most accessible novels.
6. The Heavenly Table by Donald Ray Pollock: While I don’t want to call this bloody story of three bank robbing brothers and a recently swindled farmer a culmination of sorts for Pollock, since it denotes and end, this book really shows and author reaching his potential and at the height of his powers.
5. Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers: Again, Eggers proves himself as a master of the written word with this road novel that feels like a high brow National Lampoon’s Vacation, filled with treacherous landscapes and foibles, none of which is greater than what lies in the heart of the book’s main character.
4. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: Another great book getting its due, in both awards and lists like these, this fictional look at the antebellum south is a morally complicated tale of escape and promise and is probably the most original novel of slavery in America in a long time.
3. Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer: After bashing him for two books, Foer crafts a brilliant narrative of a Jewish family whose faith and connection is threatened by forces great or small. Gone are cutesy postmodern techniques, all of which clouded his true skill as a storyteller. Too bad I seem to be the only person who likes the book.
2. True Crime Addict by James Renner: Using his speculative and imaginative voice for a true, disquieting story, Renner produces his best and most personal work as he tries, fails and comes to grips with the odd disappearance of Maura Murray.
1. The Cartel by Don Winslow: This novel, along with its predecessor The Power of the Dog, make up one of the greatest fictional novels I have encountered. Filled with shocking violence, breakneck pacing, suspense and rich dialogue, Winslow successfully sums up the history of the North American drug trade, and the heinous limits of comprise, justice and revenge.