The Best Books We Read in 2016

December 23, 2016 - Picnic Time

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is a story told by a family tree that branches out opposite centuries and countries. The dual matriarchs, Esi and Effia, are half-sisters distant during birth in a 18th-century Gold Coast (present-day Ghana). As adults, they scarcely cranky paths during a Cape Coast Castle, an outpost that was constituent to a trans-Atlantic worker trade. One sister is forced to marry a British official, while a other is sole into labour and shipped to America.

Homegoing tells these diasporic stories inventively and beautifully: Each section is dedicated to a new impression and a new period, though it’s always transparent how a family bloodline runs by each. With this, her initial novel, Gyasi traces a trauma, memories, and adore upheld between generations by those forced to apart and migrate.

Book I’m anticipating to review before 2017 arrives: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Anna Diamond, editorial fellow

The Hike by Drew Magary


Drew Magary’s latest novel is a difficult angel tale, though it’s also a fear story that we review with a lights on. The Hike follows Ben, a suburban family man, as his brief transport in a woods is interrupted by a torpedo in a Rottweiler mask. He escapes down though finds himself mislaid in a surreal universe populated by clear crabs and demons manifested from his childhood imagination. From here, there’s no shun for Ben (or, for that matter, for a reader). He faces a slew of obstacles, that strike relentlessly, section after chapter, solemnly forcing him to adjust to his heartless new circumstances. we kept interlude to ask “Where was this going?” The ultimate answer to that doubt still rattles me. Every tract spin in this story is there for a reason, and in a end, that’s where a genuine fear lies.

Book I’m anticipating to review before 2017 arrives: The Nix by Nathan Hill

Jason Goldstein, comparison developer

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Before attending a new reading of Zadie Smith’s newest novel, Swing Time, we hustled to finish her 2005 book On Beauty. When a progressing novel came adult during a QA apportionment of a event, Smith explained that letter is a approach for her to slake her oddity by contrast out opposite experiences—in a box of On Beauty, that of carrying an educational for a parent.


Set usually outward of Boston, a novel follows dual feuding families headed by fathers who are professors during a same chosen university and who, in many ways, act as foils for any other. Howard Belsey is a humorless white Englishman and anti-aesthete, struggling to write an epic desertion of Rembrandt. Monty Kipps is a burning visiting academician of Caribbean skirmish and a author of a successful book praising a same artist.

As a novel progresses, a families’ lives spin ever some-more intertwined, with burgeoning friendships, spats, deaths, and affairs. Smith navigates these difficult twists and turns with grace, shifting into a minds of her characters with such palliate you’d never know these were lives she hadn’t lived. (Take a strong-willed Kiki Simmonds Belsey who, training of her father Howard’s infidelity, “found she could pattern negligence for even his many neutral earthy characteristics.”)

As always with Smith, a book is peppered with amusement both light and dark. “Writing On Beauty, it dawned on me,” she joked during a reading, “there’s lots of ways to have an unfortunate childhood.”

Book I’m anticipating to review before 2017 arrives: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Stephanie Hayes, partner editor

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

Albert Camus, when asked to promulgate The Stranger, said, “In a multitude any masculine who does not yowl during his mother’s wake runs a risk of being condemned to death.” Echoes of this progressing work are apparent in Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk, an unsettling, elegant novel that was shortlisted for a Man Booker Prize this year. Both works try a attribute between mothers and children; existential crises; and governmental expectations of distress and empathy. Both reimagine a beach—usually a place of escapism—as a low purgatory.


Hot Milk’s protagonist, Sofia, is a twentysomething graduate-school castaway who accompanies her mother, Rose, to a southern seashore of Spain in hunt of a heal for Rose’s cloudy (and, in Sofia’s view, psychosomatic) paralysis. Their attribute is poisonous and codependent: Sofia’s unpleasant opinion and doubts about her mother’s illness both inspires and feeds off Rose’s complacency and perfectionist nature.

The alloy Rose has come to see, Gómez, takes Rose off her many pills, and sends Sofia—who has acted as her mother’s “waitress” for years—away to a beach. Removed from her mother, she is forced to cruise that Rose is not a burden, though rather a crutch for her possess immobility. Gómez after takes a medical seductiveness in Sofia, explaining that her box is some-more constrained than her mother’s. “What is wrong with you?” he asks. Sitting on a blinding beach, Sofia creates unfinished attempts to clear this question, to compute between a symptoms and a disease. Yet her oddity is detached, academic—and a doubt of either her yawn is a outcome of a disorder, or merely an component of a tellurian condition, stays unanswered. “Is it easier to obey to genocide than to life?” she asks. It’s pragmatic that mom and daughter—joined like an ouroboros—must any select one.

Book I’m anticipating to review before 2017 arrives: The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, edited by Karen V. Kukil

— Isabel Henderson, editorial fellow

The Waves by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf’s The Waves is a kind of book that final to be created about, even as it resists elementary encapsulation. It follows 6 propagandize friends, Neville, Bernard, Louis, Jinny, Susan, and Rhoda, from childhood by aged age, as they figure and conclude and correct their identities. Over time and in spin they are lonely, ambitious, uncertain, regretful, and impatient; they understanding with adore and communication and parenthood and dreams they never utterly achieved. Each in their possess way, they come to adore another classmate, Percival; later, any in their possess way, they humour his death.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

What stands out a many about The Waves, though—and what competence make it hardest to love, and hardest to write about—is a style, a radical examination in impression and narration. The novel is created in a array of interior monologues, in that a characters aren’t differentiated by voice so many as by their several ways of relating to a world—through nature, in Susan’s case, or by a fickle tide of tellurian observations, in Bernard’s. Rhoda and Neville, meanwhile, humour from consistent self-doubt. You get a sense, reading, that this is a record of thoughts a characters themselves are hardly wakeful that they have. Maybe we even recognize, as we did, things that we too have felt, and would express, if usually we had a words.

Book I’m anticipating to review before 2017 arrives: The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

Rosa Inocencio Smith, partner editor

Time Travel by James Gleick

The thought of time transport has had a weirdly distinct participation in American enlightenment this year. A surreal presidential race, that stirred many observers to jump by time in hunt of context, led some people to illusory swap realities (see: Biff Tannen, Back to a Future) and ecstatic others to moments from a tangible past (see: Michiko Kakutani’s review of Volker Ullrich’s work). Many of those dejected by Donald Trump’s feat have voiced a enterprise to mortar brazen in time—Rip Van Winkle style—by, say, 4 or 8 years. All a while, 2016 has seemed to widen on for eons, longer than any unaccompanied year in new memory. Was choosing day unequivocally usually 6 weeks ago?


Given all this, it seems doomed that 2016 was also a year that constructed James Gleick’s unusual book, Time Travel, that explores a scientific, technological, and literary intersection of a surprisingly difficult concept. “Somehow,” Gleick marvels, “humanity got by for thousands of years though asking, What if we could transport into a future? What would a universe be like? What if we could transport into a past—could we change history?” Gleick examines given a judgment emerged when it did—officially, in 1895, with a announcement of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine—and how a thought of time transport has reverberated by enlightenment ever since.

Much of Time Travel focuses on technology. It’s no coincidence, Gleick argues, that time-travel narratives flourished in a early 20th century, during a emergence of a new age in transport and communication, when layers of time became manifest in infrequently differing ways. He also investigates a inlet of time itself, examining by both systematic and literary texts a thought that a past and a destiny can be earthy places—a idea essential for a judgment of time travel.

Ultimately, Time Travel centers around a unaccompanied question: Why do we need time travel? To find a answer, Gleick brilliantly stitches together moments during clearly manifold points in history: He goes from explaining a tract of an part of Doctor Who in one judgment to revisiting a invention of a Cinématographe in 1890s France a next. But what could be a dizzying account is skilfully handled. And that’s given Gleick’s journey in time transport is, in a end, not about distinctions between past and future, though a adore minute to “the constant now.”

Book I’m anticipating to review before 2017 arrives: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Adrienne LaFrance, staff writer

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit


This collection of essays starts with maybe Solnit’s many famous one, initial published in 2008, of a same name. In it, Solnit recounts a night a masculine described to her in length a new book he’d listened about—”with that self-satisfied demeanour we know so good in a masculine holding worth, eyes bound on a hairy distant setting of his possess authority”—only to be informed, when he was finally done, that Solnit had created it. The letter gave arise to a tenure “mansplaining,” and a confront therein would offer as a dictionary-worthy instance of a act, that has been around since, we assume, a emergence of time. Solnit puts mansplaining on a prolonged spectrum of masculine function that women have endured for centuries, an “archipelago of arrogance” dominated by a habitual negligence for women’s “right to speak, to have ideas, to be concurred to be in possession of contribution and truths, to have value, to be a tellurian being.” She explores this spectrum in a remaining, entirely reported essays, from a travel nuisance of strangers, to a aroused rapes of immature girls, to a deaths of wives during a hands of their husbands. So, warning: This could be demoralizing read. But it’s an critical and required sign of a ways in that women on this world share a unaccompanied believe that, during a core, can comparison geography, ethnicity, and ideology. Men explain things to women all a time, everywhere. That believe creates a clarity of brotherhood that creates conference these stories—which should be told, and often—a small bit some-more bearable.

Book I’m anticipating to review before 2017 arrives: All a Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and a Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister

Marina Koren, comparison associate editor

Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte

William Morrow

Tony Tulathimutte distances himself from a thrown-about explain that what he’s created is a “voice of a generation” millennial novel. As any reasonable chairman would. That sounds like a misfortune probable thing. Private Citizens is some-more like a classically good novel that’s singular for being set in a evident now and for so decently display a best and misfortune of immature adulthood. A dryly mortified transport by a heads of a expel of mostly miserable immature Bay-Area friends being mostly miserable, mostly hilariously, and somehow hopefully.

Book I’m anticipating to review before 2017 arrives: How to Be a Person in a World by Heather Havrilesky

James Hamblin, comparison editor

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