It is the solemn duty of every blogger who writes about books to compile a year-end list of the best books read that year. Since I am nothing if not a dutiful blogger, I have been agonizing for days over my list.
As of today, I have read 88 books this year and the majority of them were terrific reads. Those who follow the blog know that I rate my books on a scale of one to five stars, using the Goodreads definitions; one-star meaning "not good" and five-stars meaning "exceptional." I had a few one- and two-star reads this year, but most of them were three stars or higher.
In compiling my list, I narrowed the 88 books down to four- and five-star reads, because often there's very little daylight between four and five stars. But that list proved much too unwieldy. I couldn't give you a list with more than forty books on it! So, in the end I selected just the five-star reads. Even that list had nineteen books on it, but I simply couldn't choose among them, so here they all are - my favorite books read in 2016 with links to my reviews of the books.
The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante: This was the second in Ferrante's highly (and justifiably) praised Neapolitan Quartet series. In my opinion, it was even better than the first book.
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald: Macdonald wrote this memoir of her lifelong obsession with birds, particularly with raptors, and with her work in attempting to train a Goshawk, supposedly one of the most difficult raptors to tame and train.
The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante: This was the fourth and final book in Ferrante's Neapolitan series. I was sorry to see it end.
The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin: This was the first in Le Guin's fantasy Earthsea Cycle books. It was a wonderful beginning.
The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes: I am a big fan of Julian Barnes and I always look forward to his books. In this one, he takes the bare facts of Dimitri Shostakovich's life and gives us Shostakovich's interior dialogues, his explanation and justification of his life.
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley: A blockbuster summer read that was much more than just a thrilling page-turner. Hawley ruminates on the role of the media in modern life and presciently touches on the issue of fake news.
LaRose by Louise Erdrich: Nobody does it better than Louise Erdrich, in my opinion, and this story of a conflicted man who tries to make amends for accidentally killing a child by offering the grieving family his own child as a replacement is one of her best.
Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith: Smith caught the personality of Jane Austen's delightful Emma and translated her smoothly into a modern setting. This was one of several retellings of Austen or Shakespeare classics that I enjoyed this year.
Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler: Another retelling, this one of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, and it's by the wonderful Anne Tyler, another personal favorite. How could I not love it?
Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope: And, yes, still another reinterpretation of an Austen classic makes my list. This was actually the first book published in The Austen Project and it set a high standard for all those retellings that followed.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow: Chernow's book, published twelve years ago, has had a revival of interest because of the hit Broadway musical which is based on it. It had languished on my bookshelf for twelve long years and I finally got around to reading it this year. Wonderful book! It reads almost like a Dickens novel.
Nutshell by Ian McEwan: Ian McEwan is a writer of perfect little gems of books in which not a single word can be extracted or changed without altering the meaning. This was another one, an imaginative retelling of Hamlet with Hamlet being represented as a fetus!
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: This was an under-the-radar Swedish novel that unexpectedly became an international bestseller. It featured an irascible curmudgeon as its main character, Ove, and the reader would have to have a heart of stone to end the book without loving him.
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood: This was another one in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, a retelling of The Tempest, that I had been impatiently waiting for all year. It was worth the wait!
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: Many of my favorite writers had new books out this year, which is one of the reasons it was such a terrific year of reading for me. One of those favorites is Ann Patchett and her story of the Keating and Cousins families and their intermingling lives was wonderful and gave the reader a lot to think about.
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout: Strout's ability to delineate and explore the motivations in the lives of conflicted women is well known. Like her wonderful Olive Kitteridge, this one drew me in and I didn't want to leave Lucy Barton.
Moonglow by Michael Chabon: If you held my feet to the fire and forced me to name my favorite of all the wonderful books that I've read this year, this would be it. Chabon's fictionalized memoir of his own family's experiences has everything that one could wish for in a book, and like Ian McEwan's books, one would not want to extract or change a single word of it.
Here I am by Jonathan Safran Foer: Foer's tale of the unlovable and unraveling Bloch family of Washington, D.C., juxtaposed with upheaval and catastrophe in the Middle East and the possible destruction of Israel is a tour de force of imaginative storytelling.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith: And of my favorites, this one would be a very close second. Smith's portrayal of the lives of two young girls raised in poverty but in very different personal circumstances rang true for me in every aspect. Smith just gets better and better as a writer.
And there you have it, my creme de la creme of 2016. I can unreservedly recommend any one of them to lovers of good writing, and there were so many others that just barely missed making the list. One can only hope for another such fascinating year of words in 2017.