These were my favorite ten fiction reads of 2016. The first three are my absolute top picks; everything else is listed in alphabetical order.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (1985)
Lonesome Dove remains my biggest shocker: I was extremely reluctant to pick it up, but it ended up being my favorite book of the year (and one of my favorite books, like, ever). At face value, it’s about a ragtag group of cowboys that drives a massive herd of cattle from South Texas to Montana, but it’s also about bigger ideas like duty and friendship and mortality. And it’s a helluva wild adventure.
The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya (2015)
The Big Green Tent is about an unlikely trio that bonds as LORLs — Lovers of Russian Literature — an informal school group led by a popular but subversive teacher. They come of age in 1950s Moscow under the threat of Stalin, where brazen independent thought is dangerous. The book follows the boys throughout the rest of their lives. It’s a modern version of the classic, sweeping Russian novel (but way easier to read).
The Gringo Champion by Aura Xilonen (2017)
I feel kind of weird putting The Gringo Champion on my 2016 list because it won’t be out for a couple more weeks; I got an advance copy. It’s an immigration story that’s unlike any other immigration story I’ve read, in the most surprising and refreshing way. I’ll write more about it on its release day, but I will say now: OMG, the vocabulary in this book is insane! And the author was only nineteen years old when she wrote it!
American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis (2016)
On the surface, many of the women in American Housewife seem collected and well-kept. Past the veneer of perfection, however, the women in these twelve stories are acerbic and irreverent, participating in outlandish scenarios that are disturbing yet funny. It’s a witty collection.
Set in Addis Ababa at the start of the 1974 Ethiopian revolution, this book follows a doctor named Hailu and his family as they try to survive the violent transfer of power that brought down Emperor Haile Selassie and gave rise to the Derg. When Hailu is arrested, the entire family starts to fall apart. There’s a lot of political discussion in this book, but Mengiste’s pacing is excellent and easy to follow.
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013)
Set in 1829 and based on a true story, Burial Rites follows the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last woman who was executed in Iceland. She’s placed with a rural family while she awaits her fate, and as the book unfolds, her role in the crime she was convicted for becomes clear. It’s a quiet, atmospheric, beautifully written book.
Children of the New World: Stories by Alexander Weinstein (2016)
This collection of short stories is set in the near future and focuses on the darker side of our dependence on technology. Some stories are poignant and sad while others are outlandish and weird, but all of them contain a real-world relevance. If you’re a fan of the Netflix series Black Mirror, this one might interest you.
Mort(e) by Robert Repino (2014)
In the war with no name, animals are bipedal and have human-like intelligence; they are using biological warfare to wipe out all humans. One of the leaders of the movement is Mort(e), a former housecat who wants nothing more than to find his best friend and former next-door neighbor, Sheba. It’s a unique and creative book that brings to mind an amped-up, sci-fi version of Animal Farm.
Paper Girls, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan (2016)
The morning after Halloween of 1988, four pre-teen newspaper delivery girls begin their pre-dawn shift delivering newspapers. It’s Erin’s first day on the job, and after a rough encounter, she teams up with three other paper girls because there’s safety in numbers. Little do they know that an alien invasion of sorts is about to occur. It’s a fun and beautiful comic drawn by Cliff Chiang and drenched in beautiful neons by Matthew Wilson.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)
A pandemic has wiped out civilization as we know it. Using different perspectives, the book charts the early days of the disease, which spreads worldwide with a speed unlike anything anyone has ever seen. The book then jumps two decades into the future to focus on an acting troupe that travels from village to village performing for survivors; they find themselves in a village run by a dangerous cult leader. The buzz this book got when it came out was well-deserved.