LJ Best Books 2016

A jury of our peers discussed, debated, disagreed, and finally declared LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles. VISIT THE WEBSITE

Best Books 2015: Top Ten

ljx151201webBBtt1Clegg, Bill. Did You Ever Have a Family. Scout: Gallery. ISBN 9781476798172. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781476798196. F
A house explodes, killing everyone a woman named June holds dear, and as the polished, quietly captivating prose moves back and forth in time and from character to character, Clegg explores how we live with unbearable loss. The different stories connect with jigsaw-like perfection, allowing the very idea of human connection to resonate throughout the narrative, and we feel the weight of family and the consequence of every action. (LJ 7/15)—BH

ljx151201webBBtt2Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Between the World and Me. Spiegel & Grau. ISBN 9780812993547. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780679645986. Memoir
In this extended open letter to his young son, Samori, Coates mixes memoir, discourse, and outcry while cautioning against illusions that America’s racism exists in a distant past that needs not be discussed. (LJ 8/15)—SS

ljx151201webBBtt3Fischer, Paul. A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped
Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power.
Flatiron. ISBN 9781250054265. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250054289. Hist
Film producer Fischer’s first book has all the trappings of a blockbuster movie: kidnappings, movie stars and auteurs, a cunning despot captor, daring escapes, and brutal prison scenes. But this is the true story of South Korean director Shin Sang-Ok; his ex-wife, actress Choi Eun-Hee; and their abduction by North Korea’s then-head propaganda minister (and future “Dear Leader”), Kim Jong-Il. A real “nonfiction thriller,” it opens a window on North Korea as well as the South Korean film industry. (LJ 2/15/15)—LF

Best Boy mech.inddGottlieb, Eli. Best Boy. Liveright. ISBN 9781631490477. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631490484. F
To have a middle-aged autistic character as a first-person narrator would seem to be an almost impossible feat for even the most talented writer, but Gottlieb succeeds brilliantly in this deeply moving novel. Todd Aaron has lived for most of his life at the Payton Living Center, obeying his late mother’s wishes to be a “best boy,” until the disruptive arrival of two newcomers motivates Todd to escape and return “home.” (LJ 5/15/15).—WW

Layout 1Groff, Lauren. Fates and Furies. Riverhead. ISBN 9781594634475. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698405127. F
In fiction, scenes from a marriage tend toward the sentimental or slapstick explosive. What’s striking about Groff’s bold, sharply observed work is how unexpected it is, how it circumvents all the conventions to give us a raw, edgy, and uncomfortable portrait of two not wholly admirable people bound by need. A lot more like real life than most stories, and how many big books are there, really, about the crosscurrents of marriage? (LJ 6/1/15)—BH

DeadWaketoChris.inddLarson, Erik. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. Crown. ISBN 9780307408860. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780553446753. Hist
When a seasoned American captain stumbles upon an ambitious German commander in the Atlantic Ocean, all while being tracked by a British spymaster, it leads to the sinking of the British passenger ship Lusitania and the United States’ entry into World War I. Best-selling
author Larson narrates this gripping tale. (LJ 2/1/15)—SS

ljx151201webBBtt7Macdonald, Helen. H Is for Hawk. Grove. ISBN 9780802123411. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780802191670. Sci
After the sudden death of her beloved father, Macdonald, an experienced falconer, acquired, raised, and trained a goshawk as a means of coping with her loss. The author had been captivated by hawks since childhood and, caring for Mabel, she saw the goshawk’s fierce and feral anger mirrored in herself. With extraordinarily beautiful prose and using T.H. White’s The Goshawk as guidance, Macdonald introduces readers to the craft of falconry, chronicling the patience required to raise and train a hawk successfully. (LJ 10/15/14)—SK

ljx151201webBBtt8Nguyen, Viet Thanh. The Sympathizer. Grove. ISBN 9780802123459. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780802191694. F
A Communist sympathizer working as a double agent in South Vietnam is directed to join those fleeing to America when Saigon falls, and the result is a blistering, brilliantly told account clarifying how little we have understood this country’s adventures in Vietnam—or the plight of the ­refugees here. What’s right, what’s truth, and where does our whiskey-swilling sympathizer really belong? One of the best novels available on the Vietnam War—or any war. (LJ 2/15/15)—BH

ljx151201webBBtt9Seabrook, John. The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory. Norton. ISBN 9780393241921. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393241938. Music
New Yorker staff writer Seabrook’s fascinating exploration of pop music tells of the ups and downs (there are a lot of both) of the industry and the ways hit songs are made. He examines the artist development and songwriting teams behind everyone from Britney Spears and ’N Sync to Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry. The impact of these writers is undeniable, especially when one considers the career of Swedish songwriter and producer Max Martin—he has writing credits on Billboard No. 1 singles for each of the aforementioned artists. (LJ 9/15/15)—AM

ljx151201webBBtt10Winchester, Simon. Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers. Harper. ISBN 9780062315410. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062315434. Soc SCI
Winchester’s talent for narrative nonfiction is here brought to bear on the history of the world’s “atomic ocean.” Taking as his jumping-off point ten historical events, from President Truman’s 1950 backing of the atomic bomb to the 1991 eruption of Mount Pintatubo in the Philippines, Winchester examines the peoples, cultures, events, and mistreatments characterizing an ocean that is vast enough to contain all of Earth’s continents. (LJ 9/1/15)—HV


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Comments

  1. Patty says:

    Thanks for the list, I’m right in the middle of book ordering season and this will be helpful in getting me some additional book options!

  2. Carole O'brien says:

    Loved Did You Ever Have a Familt, Fates and Furies and Dead Wake