Finally, the post we’ve all been waiting for. The absolute climax of great literature, without further ado: my favourite books I’ve read in 2016. I have them roughly sorted by how much I love them, leading up to my favourite book of the year…
While this is the absolute best of the best, I wouldn’t want to not at least mention the books that almost made this list, and probably would have had I had a less amazing reading year: honorary mentions include Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, Animal Farm by George Orwell, The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, Room by the wonderful Emma Donoghue and The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters.
And now, into the one’s that made it. Drumroll and excited atmosphere please.
Arcadia by Iain Pears. Just a huge, epic time travel parallel universe spy love adventure story of worldbuilding and slowly interweaving, this is. Intrigued yet?
Not at all, what I’d normally read but absolutely wonderful and a total escape from reality. I read this during a summer holiday trip and had so much time to just get lost and appreciate the slow building and the gorgeous story.
The Group by Mary McCarthy. This is set in 1930s New York and follows a handful of recent university graduates struggle with settling down and finding their space in life. It’s a bit the Bell Jar really, not quite as well written but quite as feminist.
I loved the frankness and I loved the ambition to portray more than one experience, and while not all narrators were equally strong, I still enjoyed it a lot.
Atonement by Ian McEwan. This one was quite early in the year, but I can still evoke the feeling of not being able to put this down and having my mind blown by the way it wrapped up. There’s a lot of gruesome war stuff going down in this novel, and yet WWII is at best a backdrop, it feels like a side narrative the characters can’t help but go down, quite fitting really, having the war just cut into their lives and the previously built up drama. And there is a lot of non-war drama in this. And gorgeous language. And that freakin’ ENDING.
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. I realise I spend way too much time talking about this book, but it’s just so me. It’s a memoir set in Iran and talking about a feminist book club, linking politics and literature. It’s absolutely gorgeous in every conceivable way, except it’s merciless spoiling of classic books perhaps, and I can’t wait to read more about Iran. Also, I reviewed it here.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger. I do just love me some Salinger. While I’m pretty sure I prefer the Glass-family books of his, Catcher in the Rye is a classic for a reason and I just love his writing. This novel has such a distinct voice and Holden is a wonderfully unreliable narrator, it just makes me happy and fuzzy with Salinger-nostalgia already. And it hasn’t even been a year.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. Very big book. Very very great book. This is a gigantic, ambitious, engrossing novel set in New York during World War II and following two cousins creating a comic superhero. It’s brilliant and beautifully written, it’s about creating to cope and coping to create and I loved it so much.
The virgin suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. This must be one of the most deliciously written books I remember reading this year, and while the themes and the story didn’t blow me away AS much as other books on this list, boy did the language make up for that. Every single sentence was a pleasure and it’s one of those books mockingly floating around your brain when you try to put words into sentences, but also sparking a wonderful ambition of wanting to handle language the way Eugenides can.
So, let’s get into my favourite four and also the books I couldn’t possibly rank anymore. They’re all works of brilliance alike.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Without a spark of doubt up there in my favourite books of all time. I just reread it and genuinely think it’ll just keep getting better and better. I could really feel how every chapter, every sentence, every word was important and in the right place, and the voice and the setting just make me so happy (in a not-romanticising-a-shit-time-full-of-racists-way!), as do the characters, as does the pacing and the writing. So. damn. good.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Again, can’t wait to reread this (very likely this year), it made me read all of the old classics and yet it stands undefeated in its brilliance. I can’t describe how much I enjoyed this, again, literally everything felt right. The story was so well-constructed, the writing was beautiful and the gothic elements made it all the better. Such a wonderful classic.
Franny and Zooey by J.D.Salinger. Definitely my favourite Salinger so far. His writing, especially when stripped of Holden Caulfield’s incessant swearing, just makes me so happy right now. I love the Glass-family setting, the themes in this (especially in Franny. God, that’s one brilliant story.), and yes, I freakin’ love Salinger.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Now, I said I can’t rank, and yet looking back on my 2016-self, this was (and is) probably my absolute number one book I’ve loved this year. I just can’t get over anything this novel did, it’s so heartbreaking with great stuff on gender and mental health and writing, it once again has that mid-20th-century-East-Coast-setting that I can’t seem to get over (refer to Franny & Zooey, Kavalier & Clay, Catcher in the Rye and The Group for confirmation of secret obsession), writing that felt tailored to my taste and just some brilliant novel-doing.
So there you go. Quite classics-heavy, I’m aware, but that just reflects my reading choices this year, really, and maybe the fact that books and authors are in the literary canon for a reason… To an even better reading year 2017, and if everything falls apart, to rereading this list a million times.