• My Favorite Books of 2016

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in WBN News & Events     Comments 26 comments

    tl;dr summary: A few of my favorite books of the year. I also want to hear about your favorite books from 2016 (even if you wrote them!). Leave titles and descriptions in the comments below, because we’re always looking for new good books to read. Doing so enters you into a drawing to win one of three copies of Martin Barkley’s The Lovesong of Smith Oliver Smith.



    Throughout 2016 I did my best to leave behind words such as “good” and “bad” when talking about art. Rather, like my pal Drew in this Electric Lit essay, I’m trying to express (and feel) non-judgmental opinions. “I enjoyed that book” is more helpful than “That’s a good book.” “I didn’t enjoy that book” is stronger than “That’s a bad book,” even if it doesn’t seem so.

    As Drew writes, “Better we should surrender to our own idiosyncratic preferences, embracing that rather than ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ works of art might be more fittingly characterized as ‘for me’ or ‘not for me.’ Or  —  because, who knows, I might still change my mind about Infinite Jest  — ‘for me right now’ or ‘not for me right now.'”

    All this is to say that what follows is a list, in no particular order, of the books I most enjoyed reading in 2016. (None were published in 2016; this is by coincidence, not intent.)

    None of them were written by friends of mine. i.e., I have no ulterior motives here. I just want to share some books I loved. Not good, not bad; just favorite.

    Your turn: What were your favorite books of 2016? Have you started keeping a reading list?!?! Let us know in the comments below.

    All commenters will be entered into a drawing to win one of three copies of The Lovesong of Smith Oliver Smith, new from Martin Barkley. And Austinites! Martin will read and then answer questions Thursday, January 12 at Malvern Books. Details here!


    Fiction Favorites

    The Door, Magda Szabo

    This is by far the most enjoyable novel about a Hungarian writer and her personal assistant that I’ve ever read.

    Bad joke aside, this is a beautiful book, well worth the extra effort it may take to get hooked on it. NYRB just republished another of her novels, so I’ll be checking that out.


    NW, Zadie Smith

    This may be my favorite of her four novels. I love her. She just keeps getting better.

    I’m halfway into her new one, Swing Time, and, no surprise, it’s “for me right now.” And probably always.


    Beatlebone, Kevin Barry

    1978 John Lennon takes a wild trip along Ireland’s west coast in an attempt to gain access to an island he purchased so that he can finally scream away his demons and start making music again. Watch for the bizarre and yet so appropriate authorial interjection in a middle chapter.

    I’ve read this book twice now and can’t wait to read it again. It’s so good for me right now. This novel was why we created the word “atmospheric.”


    Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling

    I can’t add anything new to the discussion here. This year I read them all, I loved them all, I want to reread them all.


    Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

    I wasn’t engaged throughout, but the final section, where she sweeps away her characters in the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane, is among the most riveting passages I’ll ever read.


    The Witches, Roald Dahl

    From time to time I’ll revisit childhood favorites to see how they hold up. This one does. It’s fun and spooky. Unlike its author, who, by many accounts, was spooky without the fun.


    Nonfiction Favorites

    Detroit City is the Place to Be, Mark Binelli

    Binelli moves back to Detroit, where he grew up, to see how it has changed and whether it deserves its reputation. The short answer? It does … but there’s hope. This one will work for anyone interested in urban decay, ruin porn, race relations, the working class, the auto industry, the this, the that. There’s a lot of meat here, and Binelli is almost always entertaining.


    The Echoing Green, Joshua Prager

    The writer delivers some compelling, difficult to disbelieve evidence that the 1951 “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” was something of a scam; if it’s true, the Giants had a telescope behind the centerfield scoreboard, and so Bobby Thomson knew that a fastball was coming from Ralph Branca.

    Though, as a few people say in the book, you still gotta hit it.

    One memorable thing I learned: It wouldn’t have been a home run in any other ballpark in the league. Off the wall at Fenway, in play almost everywhere else. Circumstances and luck.

    Anyway, this is among the best my favorite baseball books I’ve ever read.


    Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning, Jonathan Mahler

    Call me crazy, but Summer of Sam is among my top two or three Spike Lee movies. This is sort of a book version, exploring the nuttiness of 1977 New York City: the blackout, the wild mayoral race, disco and David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam”), with much of the narrative carried on the broad shoulders of Reggie Jackson and the super pale, teeny-tiny shoulders of Billy Martin.

    It doesn’t all hold together, but neither did the city. (Or did it? I don’t really know what the hell I’m saying.)



    I also reread my near-annual favorites, Johnny Tremain and Bottom of the 33rd. Have I talked enough about those two yet, both on this site and everywhere else I write? No?!

    So, share your favorite 2016 books with us below. Or share anything else you want to talk about.

    Also, many of you are sharing your 2017 writing and/or reading goals with us. Those of you who haven’t, you still can! And should.

    Remember, a little accountability can go a loooooooooooong way.

    Happy 2017, friends!


    David LinkedFULLWriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”


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    Danny Johnson

    The Last Road Home by Danny Johnson…publisher: Kensington Dear Mr. Johnson, My name is Karolyn Hermes–a Midwestern Mom, social worker, and voracious reader.  I picked up your novel from the library and wanted to tell you I felt it is one of the best examples of Southern literature I have ever read.  The characters were well-developed, and the story heart-breaking.  I was rooting for Junebug and Fancy the whole way.  I hope our country has moved beyond treating inter-racial couples the way they were treated, but I fear the racism still exists. I am sharing your book with all of… Read more »

    Liz Lipski

    The book that stayed with me the most was a non fiction book by Paul Kalanithi called When Breath Becomes Air/ Paul was a neurosurgeon who developed lung cancer and died at age 37. But prior to his medical studies he completed degrees in literature, so his writing is littered with many literary references. It is a beautiful book,.I wept. Another book that lingered long past the read was another non fiction book, in fact, a memoir, titled Bad Behaviour by Rebecca Starford. It is about the author’s time at boarding school, a time in which one yearn’s to be… Read more »

    Liz Lipski

    Fiction? Well, I’m a regular reader of crime novels as they help pass the time on the tram trip to work. But the only one that has ever stayed with me, I read a few years ago, and that was The Last Good Man – it’s like a crime novel for the thinking person. I tried to read A Little Life but I’m still up to 10% on my Kindle and so far ti seems all back story. Maybe non fiction is where it’s at. I’ve taken up the MM Blume gauntlet and am reading about how Hemingway came to… Read more »

    Beth B.

    I forget the author, Association of Small Bombs novel. Nonfiction, Seabiscuit. Long ago book, but the novel was this year ot maybe last? Both are good or great.

    Glynis Jolly

    I thoroughly enjoyed Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford. It isn’t a long book but it kept me guessing until almost the very end.

    Barbara Mealer

    Okay, this is where it gets difficult for me. I love to read. I have to say, my current reading material is great. I started it last year but got caught up in writing and waiting on the next book: The Belador series of the Alterant by Serrilyn Kenyon and Diana Love. I love the feisty Evalle. This is my fantasy reading for the year. I Am Liva by Phyllis T. Smith was my favorite for historical romance. I could almost imagine living in the Roman times and feel the frustration of being a woman who had no real say… Read more »

    Stephen C

    I highly recommend to all writers Lesley M. M. Blume’s outstanding book Everybody Behaves Badly. It was the best I’ve read on Hemingway AND writing in a long, long time. It answers all the questions I’ve ever wanted to know about how Hemingway became not just a writer but a cultural icon. Most other treatments try and explain away his stewardship over literature with psychoanalysis, highlighting his limitations as a man, or through feminism, taking whacks at his masculinity. I loved the book because Blume is completely comfortable with his masculinity, while at the same time doesn’t excuse his behavior,… Read more »


    Compelling critique, Stephen. It will be the next book I read. Thanks!

    Stephen C

    Liz, E., David and others. Feel free to contact me when you’re done with the Blume book, if you’d like someone to discuss it with. Contact David and you can get my email from him. I have a hundred thoughts on it, so I’d welcome anyone who wants to work its ideas out. I totally envy you David that you are able to share a book like The Sun Also Rises with someone you love, especially someone as wonderful as Justine. The Listi podcast is awesome, isn’t it? I can’t believe I only discovered it last summer. The interview with… Read more »

    Liz Lipski

    I’m going Listi, the book, Blume. I’ve just read The Natural Way of Things and to now be swimming through Hemingway’s spare, to-the-point prose is so wonderful. And how wonderful is that resource at Princeton?

    Stephen C

    No need to reread The Sun Also Rises if it’s ingrained in you. I did go back and read chunks, but not a full reread. For now, I am extremely pleased to have two full stories, of the 1920s Paris expat scene and Hemingway’s version of it. I thought the same as Blume regarding the few photos we have of Lady Duff Twysden, the inspiration for her book – “Damn, who is this woman!? Where’s HER story!?” Now I know thanks to Blume, and now I see how Hemingway immortalized her, for good but also for cruel. The greediness of… Read more »

    Loren Petisce-Ezyk

    I actually wrote an article for my radio station’s website about my top 10 books of 2016, before I saw this email. It was tough to narrow all the great books I read down to 10, but I did, and they are in the link above. Enjoy!

    Oh, my link didn’t show…here it is!


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