Another Year in Books: Best of 2016


best-of-2016Dear Readers,

Thank you so much for another wonderful year in the world of books. I wish you health and happiness in the new year, and a warm, cheery holiday season, however you celebrate.

Now, for the last Rosemary & Reading Glasses post of the year, the traditional last-minute gift guide. It would tax your patience if I were to talk about every book I’ve read this year (97 as of this writing, probably just over 100 by year’s end), so I’ve listed (with two exceptions) 2016 releases in categories constructed by my arbitrary whims. All these books are recommended.


Ocean Vuong, Night Sky with Exit Wounds

Donika Kelly, Bestiary

W. S. Merwin, Garden Time

Catherine Pierce, The Tornado is the World

Monica Youn, Blackacre

Honorable Mention to Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (2015), which I couldn’t bear to leave off this list.

Short Stories

Ellen Prentiss Campbell, Contents Under Pressure

Helen Oyeyemi, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours

Junot Díaz (editor) and Heidi Pitlor (series editor), The Best American Short Stories 2016

Clare Beams, We Show What We Have Learned

Short Novels

Kent Haruf, Our Souls at Night

Graham Swift, Mothering Sunday

Elizabeth Strout, My Name Is Lucy Barton

Idra Novey, Ways to Disappear

Longer Novels

Dominic Smith, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

Alexander Chee, The Queen of the Night

Louise Erdrich, LaRose

Peter Ho Davies, The Fortunes

Lived Up to the Hype

Ann Patchett, Commonwealth

Brit Bennett, The Mothers

Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

Jeff Zentner, The Serpent King

Books in Translation

Maylis de Kerangal, The Heart (translated by Sam Taylor)

Dulce María Loynaz, Absolute Solitude (translated by James O’Connor)

Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Reputations (translated by Anne McLean)


Claire Harman, Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart

Carlo Rovelli, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures

Depressing (and Very Good)

Katy Simpson Smith, Free Men

Jung Yun, Shelter

Garth Greenwell, What Belongs to You

Katie Roiphe, The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End

Delightful (and Very Good)

Shirley Barrett, Rush Oh! 

Lindsay Faye, Jane Steele

Honorable Mention to Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown, out in paperback this year

Best for Sleuths

Elliott Chaze, Black Wings Has My Angel

Erica Wright, The Granite Moth

Best for New Parents

Jennifer Stewart Miller, A Fox Appears

Best Shakespeare Adaptation

Margaret Atwood, Hag-Seed

Best Graphic Novel/Comic

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, Saga: Volume 6 (Start with Volume 1, though!)

Best Sui Generis

Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond


Recommended Reading: To the Letter and Letters of Note

Dear Readers,

I have mail on my mind. I’ve been—with the help and crayon skills of a small boy of my acquaintance—putting together the annual batch of Christmas/Hanukkah/Solstice/Festivus cards (if you’d like one, blog friends, do get in touch) and reflecting on the very great pleasure a handwritten note can elicit.

Earlier this week, I received an unexpected package in the mail—a note and two extraordinarily thoughtful gifts from a friend who visited this summer. This friend (who is a very private person, and who I’ll call L) happens to be one of the most wonderful writers I know; she thinks deeply and expresses herself clearly, and I’m fairly sure that if she had been born 200-odd years ago, she would have been a real-life Jane Austen heroine.

L writes gorgeous letters via email, but I am afraid that I have been a terrible correspondent, falling off the epistolary train, so to speak. Fortuitously, as this lovely gift arrived, I was reading a book that suggested to me a way to catch the train again: writing letters.

To the LetterSimon Garfield’s To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing* is one of the most charming books I’ve read in years. Part popular history, part love letter to letters themselves, it’s an entertaining, lively read that will have you reaching for pen and paper by page ten.

Mr. Garfield traces the history of the letter, letter-writing advice, and postal services in general, from the Romans to the twenty-first century, pausing over figures like Madame de Sévigné, Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Erasmus, and Ted Hughes. Examples and illustrations are abundant, but perhaps the crowning gem of the book is the correspondence between Chris and Bessie, two English friends (and also postal workers) who fall in love by post during World War II. Mr. Garfield places a selection of these letters between his longer chapters, approximating the delay that’s part and parcel of letter writing. (I should note that for most of the book the correspondence is one-sided; Chris felt the need to burn Bessie’s letters when he moved billets.)

I highly recommend To the Letter, especially for anyone (ahem) who reads mostly fiction, but would like to read more nonfiction.

Letters of NoteAnd since ’tis the season, friends, I’d also recommend To the Letter as a gift, especially if you pair it with Letters of Note (which I received as a birthday present from my husband—thanks, dear!), a gorgeous, coffee-table kind of book you’ll actually read. Shaun Usher, who runs the website Letters of Note (a Rosemary & Reading Glasses favorite) collects letters old and new, famous and not, and includes photocopies (and transcriptions, if needed) of the missives. It’s glorious.

Anyway, I’ve decided to join the movement to keep letters alive (to a particular uncle: I’m late to the party, I know!)—perhaps you’re already on board? Let me know!



*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.