What follows is a fact so obvious it probably doesn’t need to be said but I’m going to say it anyway: There is too much content being produced to watch/read/play/listen to everything. Whether you only have an hour or two a week free or you’re simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of possible content, it’s easy to have noteworthy or enjoyable entertainment pass by unnoticed or get lost in the next wave of new content. With that in mind, and with 2016 less than 24 hours behind us, I’m going to present 10 books published in 2016 that are worth checking out or adding to your library. This is not a list of what I personally consider to be the 10 best books of 2016. It is simply a list of recommendations that I selected because of their noteworthiness and – because I suffer from the same inability to keep up with content saturation as anyone else – because they are books that I actually read this year.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Published August 2nd by Doubleday Books.
Set in the pre-civil war United States, this fictional novel follows a slave from a Georgian cotton plantation named Cora. When she decides to flee from the plantation with the newly arrived Caesar the two make use of the underground railroad; unlike the historical underground railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly re-imagines the underground railroad literally. Manned by conductors, built by engineers, with stations accessible beneath the homes of railroad conductors, Cora and Caesar use the railroad to travel across the south, confronted time and again by the horrors and history of slavery in the United States. It is at once a dynamic adventure story and a shocking confrontation with the ugly history of a nation.
A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age by Daniel J. Levitin. Published September 6th by Dutton.
Written by a professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience at McGill University, A Field Guide to Lies is a simple and comprehensive guide to understanding how numbers, words, and the scientific method function in our world of mass information. From demonstrating how numbers and statistics can manipulate and interpret information to trick your brain to how to identify someone who is truly an expert in a field, the guide is a refreshing reminder of the value of critical thinking skills.
Morning Star by Pierce Brown. Published February 9th by Del Rey.
This is the first of two books that were published in 2016 that I am using as a means of recommending the entire series. Morning Star is the final novel in the Red Rising trilogy and an impressively satisfying conclusion to the series. This science fiction space opera charts the struggles of our protagonist Darrow as he tries to overthrow the oppressive systems of power that subjugate humanity under a colour system. The writing is kinetic, the characters visceral, and the combination of both delivers emotionally powerful storytelling that feels fresh and authentic even as it combines elements from various familiar science fiction concepts. Starting as a lowly Red and masquerading as a mighty Gold, Darrow’s struggle now reaches it’s peak in Morning Star and Pierce Brown provides an ending that doesn’t just satisfy the thirst for grandiose action sequences – something he has mastered from the previous two works – but also satisfies us thematically, showing Darrow’s maturity as a leader and a rebel.
The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. Published April 26th by Scholastic Press.
The second of two books that were published in 2016 that I am using as a means of recommending the entire series. The Raven King is the fourth and final novel in The Raven Cycle. This series is incredibly difficult to describe because with each new book the world Maggie Stiefvater has constructed grows and elaborates in diverse and thoroughly unexpected ways. In The Raven King, the search for Glendower that has spurred Blue, Gansey, Adam, and Ronan from one discovery to the next finally comes to a head as their home is threatened by a malevolent force that has been awakened by their search. Maggie Stiefvater delivers on promise after narrative promise and asks us once again what make someone a hero.
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. Published July 26th by Crown.
Another science fiction installment but instead of a massive space opera Dark Matter is a thriller and a love-story. Taken at gunpoint to a warehouse, Jason Dessen finds himself flung into a world identical to the one he’s known but where a crucial decision he made earlier in his life has been changed. Instead of a world where he has a wife and a son, he is single and director of a massive project that seeks to discover means of travelling to alternate universes. On a quest to return to his wife and son, Jason will travel between numerous realities, never knowing if he’s returning to the reality he left behind or one where humanities decisions have altered the world beyond recognition. Fast-paced, and deeply fun in the face of so much mind-bending science, this novel provides some wonderful surprises and excellent thrills.
Hamilton: The Revolution by Jeremy McCarter and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Published April 12th by Grand Central Publishing.
The history of the Broadway musical sensation Hamilton is beautiful bound and designed to resemble a text from the era which the musical evokes. Bouncing between Lin-Manuel Miranda’s notes on the various songs and Jeremy McCarter’s accounting of the various elements that went into Hamilton’s six year development, the book tells a powerful story about another powerful story. For anyone interested in how Hamilton legitimized hip-hop in theater, the making of a musical that took Broadway by storm, or just what went into the production of such a mesmerizing soundtrack.
Sex Object by Jessica Valenti. Published June 7th by Dey Street Books.
A memoir by Guardian US columnist and professional feminist Jessica Valenti, Sex Object is a blunt and moving account of how sexism has affected not only Jessica Valenti’s own life but the lives of the woman all around her (and the lives of countless women whose stories are not being told). It is bracing and daring and asks why we have words for so many different kinds of trauma and abuse but none for the daily societal trauma of being a woman in a world that hates you. A fantastic read that draws you in with dark humour but also real pain that is utterly human.
Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel. Published September 20th by HarperCollins
This Romeo and Juliet tale follows the son and daughter of two esteemed fossil hunters as they journey out into the Badlands in search of undiscovered dinosaurs. Behind it all is the quest for a fabled dinosaur fossil, a mysterious “rex” of the dinosaur world. But what takes center stage is the love story between Samuel and Rachel as they navigate the nature of their social status, the bitter rivalry of their fathers, and their shared ambitions as archaeologists. Intended for younger readers, the story is still an enjoyable adventure-romance.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. Published February 2nd by Philomel Books.
Set during World War II and following a cast of four characters attempting to reach the doomed MV Wilhelm Gustloff, Salt to the Sea is an often brutal but always hopeful story of young people whose world is turned into a waking nightmare by the atrocities of war. Each character is richly imagined, be it the charismatic Joana or the enigmatic Florian, the sociopathic Alfred or the brave Emilia. Their stories are the stories of a generation and the stories of survivors. Though the tragic sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff is a real historical event, the story is a historical fiction, and one of the best YA novels I have read all year.
Romeo and/or Juliet by Ryan North. Published June 7th by Penguin Publishing Group.
A hilarious Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style novel that places you as the reader in control of the fates of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Choosing to “play” as either character, your choices take them on widely and wildly diverging paths from the original Shakespearean story. In fact, very little of the original tale remains as Ryan North saturates the story with contemporary language and references, depicts Juliet as a gym-junkie with tattoos, and ends one story with Romeo and Juliet fighting a massive killer robot. I have not gone through every possible story that you can produce from this book but I have read enough to know that each one is a treat and a hilarious play (pun intended) on one of Shakespeare’s most well-known stories.
And there you have it, my 10 recommendations for books from 2016 that you should check out, if you haven’t already. Feel free to leave a comment if any of these books caught your eye or, if/when you’ve read them, what you thought of them. And if you have any recommendations of your own for books that were published in 2016 feel free to leave those as well! With all that said, it’s 2017 and time to look forward to another year of publishing. With any luck, we can help each other keep too many gems from being lost in the torrent.