The 15 best books of 2016
It’s rare for a debut novel to have this kind of impact. This coming-of-age story set in Northern California in the 1960s follows Evie, a lonely 14-year-old desperate for attention—any attention. She finds it in the seductive, mesmerizing Suzanne, a 19-year-old follower of Charles Manson, and soon, Evie falls in with the cult. Little does she know that the group is careening toward an unthinkably violent end.
Life changes in an instant. One second, Kalanithi is about to finish his postdoctoral training in neurosurgery and has a whole world of possibilities ahead of him; the next, he’s a patient struggling with a stage IV cancer diagnosis. At that moment, when many people would simply quit, Kalanithi decided to write a book. His resulting memoir is poignant, gripping and beautifully composed.
Dark and caustically funny, Awad’s debut novel-in-short-stories centers on Elizabeth, a woman who has always struggled with her weight. As a teen, she fights with her best friend over which one of them is more of a whale; as a young woman, she struggles to find stylish clothing that fits her body type; as a professional, she obsesses over the skinny coworker she loves to hate. The book somehow manages to strike a balance between depressing and hilarious—think Lena Dunham in Girls.
Everything changes for Ted—an Ivy League graduate who sells peanuts at Yankee Stadium by day and works on the Great American Novel by night—when he discovers his estranged father is dying. Ted moves back into his childhood home to care for the cantankerous widower, and plenty of melodrama ensues as the two reconnect. Though it sounds grim, actor-author Duchovny’s novel is full-on hilarious, finding joy in even the smallest moments between father and son.
Each of Oyeyemi’s short stories stands alone, with just a few threads connecting them. Characters show up in multiple tales, and locks and keys keep popping up in the plots. Imaginative, playful and entirely unique, this collection of short stories is magical realism at its finest.
The gymnasts in Abbot’s psychological thriller are not the bedazzled sweethearts we’re used to cheering on during the Olympics. No, these teenage girls are ambitious, cunning and perhaps not who their parents think they are. When Ryan, a young hottie who works at the gym, is killed in a mysterious hit-and-run accident, the girls and their parents must grapple with the truth of their situation—and how little they know about one another.
The melodrama and spectacle of the Paris Opera colors every scene of Chee’s novel. Our main character is Lilliet Berne, a soprano and budding starlet who’s hiding her past as a courtesan and ladies maid. When a mysterious stranger approaches her with an original role written just for her, Lilliet thinks she has finally achieved the pinnacle of success—until she realizes the opera could reveal the truth about her past. The author drew inspiration from stranger-than-fiction opera history, making for a fascinatingly absurd story that almost seems real.
Whitehead’s critically acclaimed novel meshes together history with surrealism, creating a dreamlike atmosphere that reminds the reader of both poetry and fable. The author turns the network of abolitionists who aided escaping slaves into a literal railroad hidden beneath the soil. Even after Cora, the teenage protagonist, manages to escape the cotton plantation and hitch a ride on a train headed north, her trials are far from over. Though Whitehead has transformed Cora’s journey into a kind of myth, the raw emotion in her struggle for freedom is as real as it gets.
Nine years—that’s how long Seinfeld, or the “show about nothing”, was on the air. Of course, that’s not counting the thousands of reruns that have aired since the series ended in 1998. Lovers of comedy, New York City and ruffled pirate shirts will love this deep dive into the show’s history and creation, written with detail and precision by a former Entertainment Weekly staffer.