This year I tried to carve out more time to read. I abandoned television. I limited my time on social media. I traded movies on long-haul flights for novels. I snuck to my bedroom when the inlaws were visiting to read (okay that isn’t a new strategy).
In 2016 I also started tracking my reading on Goodreads. I set myself a target of 100 books, which I failed to reach, but I definitely read more this year than the past few years. Hoorah!
These are my top picks for 2016, followed by my favourite 2016 ‘best books’ listicles, and a quick look at my TBR (to be read) pile for summer.
Easily my favourite author at the moment. Autumn is Smith’s post-Brexit novel and the first in her planned quartet of novels, each named for a season of the year. Smith’s writing is electric, and this reads like one long poem. Whenever I finish a Smith novel I immediately want to start re-reading it again. Her books are so richly layered I feel like I have only scratched the surface.
Everywhere I Look is a collection of essays, observations and diary entries by one of the greatest non-fiction writers. Sharp, honest, precise. When I read Garner I wonder why anyone else even bothers writing. If I could rub a magic lamp and have any wish granted it would be to write like Helen Garner.
A rollicking, brutal and rancid tale of life on a 19th century whaling ship headed for the Arctic. Murder, violence and extreme weather create the perfect setting for a heady thriller. It’s hard to beat the 1800’s for savagery. I loved being cast into the rank world of The North Water.
My Name is Lucy Barton was my first dip into reading Strout and now I’m wondering why I haven’t read anything of hers before. This was a quiet book that crept up on me. I read it straight after Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk, which may have been an overdose of back-to-back dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships, but I enjoyed this more than Levy. I know that will get me into trouble with everyone who loved Hot Milk, but there, I said it!
I would not have discovered this gem of a novel had it not been on the Booker long list. I reserved a bunch of long list titles from my local library and this was one of the first that was available. A beautiful and subtle story set in a parochial English coastal village. The village is haunted and the protagonist who arrives from out of town is haunted. At only 143 pages, The Many can be inhaled in one sitting.
More 19th century murder and mayhem. His Bloody Project was another Booker long list discovery. The narrative is crafted through a set of (fictional) primary source documents including court transcripts and medical reports and presented as if it is a true crime tale. I consumed this book and carried the story around in my head for some time afterwards.
A woman runs off to Alaska with her two kids in a campervan without telling anyone where she is headed. Not your typical road trip story. I read this while travelling through Canada so the landscape resonated with me. Some reviews have called Heroes of the Frontier a dark comedy, but I don’t think that label is quite right. It is dark, and it is funny, but it is also tender. The small family moving through the vast landscape captured me from the outset. I was cheering them on all the way.
Serious Sweet is a day in the life of two anti-heroes negotiating through their lives in London. I have been a fan of A.L. Kennedy since I first read her short stories. Reviewers call her tricksy and her novels do take some work, but I think they pay back the effort. The narrative switches in and out of the characters’ rambling inner voices but once you get into the rhythm you really feel like you are inhabiting the minds of Jon and Meg. Whether you want to be caught there is another question.
The Wonder was a final trip back to the 19th century, which seemed to be familiar territory for me to visit in my reading this year. I wasn’t immediately sold on this novel, but before I knew it, it had carried me away. I won’t give away any spoilers with the story line but I was captivated by this tale of life in a small Irish village where everything isn’t quite what it first seems on the surface.
Those are my picks for 2016, keeping in mind I still have a huge TBR pile of 2016 books to catch up on over summer.
Here are my favourite books I read in 2016 that were not new releases.
If you would like to check out other people’s 2016 favourites, here is my master list of listicles. You can also catch me on Radio National talking about some of these.
- Readings bookshop
- New Statesman
- Washington Post
- The Guardian (UK) part 1 and part two
- New York Times top 10
- New York Times 100 notable books
- The Age/ Sydney Morning Herald
- Anna Spargo-Ryan’s picks
- ABC’s Book Club
- Radio National
- Australian Financial Review
- Goodreads Choice Awards
- The Guardian (Australia)
- The Australian
- Kill Your Darlings
And my summer reading plans? Here are the 2016 books currently on my TBR pile. I’m sure I will add to it once I have another look through the listicles over the summer break.
- The Paper House by Anna Spargo-Ryan
- The Dry by Jane Harper
- Swing Time by Zadie Smith
- The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith
- Transit by Rachel Cusk
- Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
- The Good People by Hannah Kent
- Music and Freedom by Zoe Morrison
- In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi
- Position Doubtful by Kim Mahood
- The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry