Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

Top Five Books of 2016

Every December, LT staff members compile a list of our top five favorite books we’ve read this year. You can see past years’ lists here.

We also like seeing members’ favorite reads, so we compiled a list that all of LibraryThing can add to. We’re interested in not just the most read books of 2016, but the best of the best. What were your top five for 2016? Note: books on this list weren’t necessarily published in 2016—these are the best we’ve read this year, regardless of publication date.

»List: Top Five Books of 2016—Add your own!

Without further ado, here are our staff favorites!


A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Hands down, the most devastating, beautiful book I’ve ever read. This is now the benchmark by which I judge all other “sad” books. Should come with a button which reads “I survived A Little Life.”

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Since finishing this book I’ve been waiting for something, anything to live up to it. No dice yet.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
I attended Lindy’s reading in St. Louis at Left Bank Books and, y’all, she is a force with which to be reckoned. Inspiring, thoughtful, and funny.

The Girls by Emma Cline
I read this on a trip to California and it was the perfect choice. Cline did an amazing job capturing the insecurity and loneliness of being a young teenaged girl, and the resulting motivations for action.

The Trespasser by Tana French
Not my favorite installment of the Dublin Murder Squad, but it’s still Tana French, y’all. Her writing is best.


March: Book One by John Lewis
Representative John Lewis’s personal account of his life as part of the Civil Rights Movement should be read by everyone. It’s intense, and Nate Powell’s black and white art is used to great effect to build on Lewis’s story.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
This wrapped up Leckie’s Imperial Raadch trilogy, and it hit all the right notes. Continuing to probe at what is left in the wake of an imperial steamroller, and pushing all my “robots are people, too” buttons, it was heart-tugging and funny, and left me wanting more of this universe.

Monstress, Vol. 1 by Marjorie Liu
Sana Takeda’s work on Monstress is hands-down some of the most beautiful art in current comics out there, and the world the co-creators have built is rich and intriguing.

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

The Memory Garden by Mary Rickert

Loranne’s honorable mentions:

  • The Trespasser by Tana French
  • Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang: The only reason this one isn’t in my Top Five proper is because I’m not done with it yet! Chiang’s stories are intimate and thought-provoking, and, if you like reading books movies are based on, the title piece—”Story of Your Life”—can’t be beat, as the inspiration for the movie Arrival.


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This narrative, which follows 5 generations of a family separated in the 18th century by the Atlantic slave trade, is a book I have physically shoved into multiple people’s hands. Alternating perspectives between American and Ghanaian descendents of two sisters, it touches on the histories of those countries through the eyes of ordinary people.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
This memoir/academic research/musings/fragment collection explores how to make a queer romance, and a family, in a world where there are no solid models for either of those endeavors. This stuck with me for weeks.

Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones
In 2014, I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Jones read aloud a few of the poems in this collection about a black gay man coming of age in the American South, but only got around to reading the whole thing this summer. My two favorites are: “Sleeping Arrangement” and “Pretending to Drown.”

Glorify by Emily C. Heath
This came to me at exactly a time when I needed a breath of fresh air into my faith. Rev. Heath suggests a refocusing for the progressive church centered in discipleship, and offers compelling reasons why. My mom, my church’s Lenten reading series, and many others also enjoyed reading and discussing it.

The City Watch Series by Terry Pratchett
I had dabbled in Sir Terry before, but had the opportunity to plow my way through Loranne’s copy of the City Watch books early this year, and enjoyed it mightily. I laughed; I cried; I developed a fondness for parenthetical footnotes. For a series of fantasy books, they really nail down issues that are perpetually present in the real world, pointing out political hypocrisies and themes. My favorite was probably Feet of Clay. Will re-read again, definitely.

KJ’s honorable mentions:
Gender Failure by Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, and Pocket, which helped me read >30k words a day of election coverage for 10 months on my phone without killing my eyesight. My soul, yes, but my eyes are fine.


The Great Poets by Gerard Manley Hopkins
I encountered Hopkins in my 20s and dismissed him as cramped—how wrong I was! I listened to him again between Boston and Portland, and almost drove off the road in unexpected pleasure. I haven’t discovered a poet I love this much in a decade.

Astrobiology: A Very Short Introduction by David C. Catling
A nice break from my usual interests; utterly fascinating, and surprisingly handy for understanding this year’s glut of astrobiology stories.

Ancient Near East: A Very Short Introduction by Amanda H. Podany
This was the year I got addicted to Oxford’s “A Very Short Introduction” series—can you tell? Despite all the classics and archaeology, by ANE knowledge was pretty scattered. This tied it all together for me, and led to further exploration. Other titles, such as the Ancient Egypt one, weren’t as satisfying.

Silence by Shusaku Endo
Can I add something I’m still reading? I can tell it’s going to be a favorite.

The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey
I’m not exactly unbiased here—my wife is the author and the book is dedicated to me and Liam. So read what Abby wrote.


A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Utterly devastating and literally heartbreaking. And beautiful. This book made me sob uncontrollably while on a plane (the stranger sitting next to me never commented, at least), and then proceeded to give me a book hangover where I was unable to read anything else for a month after.

The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey
Magical and creepy and lovely. I love Lisa and I’m (probably) going to love anything she writes, but this was particularly amazing.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith
I love books with multiple timelines that piece together at the end, and this did it perfectly.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Speaking of twisting narratives that weave into a complex awesome puzzle… I should have read this two years ago when KJ first told me to and I refused to believe all the hype. I was wrong.

The Green Road by Anne Enright

Abby’s honorable mentions:
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, and the fantastical wonderful world of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle books (but in particular The Raven King).


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
I am one of those awful people who has seen the movies but not read the books, until now. I decided I shouldn’t postpone any longer. Not that Rowling’s writing needs it, but Jim Dale made this book even easier to read. Looking forward to Book three! I didn’t skip Book two, don’t worry!

Love in the Asylum by Lisa Carey
Loved this book! Lisa’s provocative—in a good way—story-telling made this an interesting & easy read. The characters’ thoughts, gestures, and interactions are real, relatable, and I quickly settled into the story. Great read. Bonus: historical (fiction) story within the story.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Another must-read for fantasy lovers. It was a cute, easy read that, though I think I would have appreciated it more when I was 10, is still an automatic classic.

The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka
This book is the argument for authentically natural farming—farming that follows most closely the behavior of nature. A short, good read that I’ll likely reference while planning my own garden!

No Death, No Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh
Like just about every other human being, death is sometimes a challenging concept for me. This piece is a great meditation on how to define death, and how to remove fear from the inevitable. Worth the reflection.

Chris C.

The Master Algorithm by Pedro Domingos
I can’t recommend this book enough. I found it absolutely fascinating and revealing.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman

Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain

Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer


The Trespasser by Tana French
Latest book in Tana French’s “Dublin murder squad” series. Not my favorite of the series, but definitely not my least favorite either.

The Blood Mirror by Brent Weeks
Book 4 of the “lightbringer” series. I was disappointed by book three, so wasn’t expecting very much, but really enjoyed this book. Looking forward to the fifth and final book!

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality by Brian Greene
I was taking a physics course this year, so this book was a great supplement to some of the stuff we starting to learn in class, but with more detail/focus on cosmological physics concepts.

The Whispering City by Sara Moliner
Murder mystery/thriller set in 1950s Barcelona!

Storm Front by Jim Butcher
I always wanted to start this series, but never got around to it. Figured I might as well dig in while on vacation in Puerto Rico. Didn’t disappoint! A bit cheesy, but you kind of expect that from a noir private investigator/wizard series.


The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Achingly beautiful, and a wonderful narration by Frazer Douglas. This has been my before bed soundtrack pretty much since I first listened to it: I must have listened to the whole thing 5+ times through by now.

The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey
Even if I didn’t know and adore the author, this would have been one of my picks. You really feel like you’re a part of the world she builds, and the touch of magical realism plus these turns of phrase that made me stop reading and just think—gorgeous.

Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan E. Coyote
In case I didn’t already have a massive crush on Ivan Coyote.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
This was a total surprise. I’d seen the book featured in the window of a local shop for a while, and was looking for a new audiobook when this title popped up. By turns funny and bemusing and sweet, it’s just a damned good book.

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis
A really difficult but hugely illuminating book. Listening to Angela Davis narrate it made it that much more powerful. Very timely and a quick read, highly recommend to everyone.

Kirsten’s honorable mentions:

Chris H.

Turing’s Cathedral by George Dyson
A great (albeit extremely detailed) history of the computer. Featuring Einstein, von Neumann, WWII, Turing, the Manhattan Project, Eckert, Mauchly, Princeton Institute for Advanced Research, etc.

The Matthew Shardlake Series by C.J. Sansom
I’m a sucker for medieval mysteries and these are a lot of fun.

Grunt by Mary Roach
Because I tend to love anything that Mary Roach writes about. She goes in-depth into each subject she investigates and comes out with fun, interesting stories that are great for creating conversations around. See also: Packing for Mars or Bonk.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Do yourself a favor and read the book and skip the rather boring movie. The book has a great sense of humor (humour?), although it gets a little strung out towards the end. I enjoy hiking and would love to do the App Trail at some point, but reading this book will have to do for now.


Um Estranho em Goa by Jose Eduardo Agualusa

Site Reliability Engineering by Betsy Beyer

Maus by Art Spiegelman


Tell us about your favorites for 2016 on Talk, or add your own Top Five to our list!

Labels: holiday, lists, reading, recommendations, top five


  1. Top Five:
    Lilac Girls
    8th Circle
    The Last Road Home
    Looking For The Stranger

  2. Gay Russell-Dempsey says:

    I’m glad Homegoing made Kj’s list. That book was a beautifully written history lesson: beginning in the mid 1700s and ending in the present. Gyasi know how to tell a tale–and an amazing and colorful and heartbreaking tale it is.
    But why haven’t you guys discovered Elena Ferrante? She’s a wonder; translated from the Italian.
    Also, I am just starting Between the World and Me and that first section had me thinking “here is a writer with something very deep, very new, and very important to say…and I’m listening!”

  3. Pat DeB says:

    A Little Life
    Miss Jane
    The Girls
    Burial Rites

  4. Monique says:

    a man called Ove is also made into a film. Hilarious and heartbreaking 🙂

  5. Mchwest says:

    I’m really sad that the only book that I’ve read included in your 5 favorites list wasn’t even a book from this year, A Walk In The Woods.

  6. Mchwest says:

    A Gentleman In Moscow
    Sunshine Beach
    Truly Madly Guilty
    Flight Patterns
    Dispatches From Pluto

  7. Aletheia says:

    The top 5 I read this year (in no order):
    The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
    The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson
    When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
    Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
    The Mirage by Matt Ruff

  8. Kim says:

    I read mainly vintage books:

    Family Roundabout
    Some Tame Gazelle
    A Chelsea Concerto
    The Pink Dress
    No Holly for Miss Quinn

  9. Carm says:

    The Undergound Railroad
    Another Brooklyn
    How to Survive a Plague
    The Age of Miracles
    Just Getting Started

  10. Mark F says:

    Top five for me:
    Golden Son by Pierce Brown (science fiction)
    Factory Man by Beth Macy (business history/biography)
    Orphan X bu Gregg Hurwitz (thriller)
    Dust or Silo by Hugh Howey (science fiction)
    The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton (thriller)

  11. Matts Djos says:

    The Great Books are still on my list, still a priority and sometimes reread:
    Anna Karenina, Tolstoy
    The Odyssey (revised edition)
    Faust (Goethe)
    Madam Bovary (Flaubert)
    The Brothers Karamazov (third try)

  12. holly_golightly says:

    The Rising of Bella Casey by Mary Morrissy
    Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
    Wild by Cheryl Strayed
    Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

    Honourable mentions to:
    The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
    Girls Will Be Girls by Emer O’Toole

  13. Beth Clarke says:

    Between the World and Me
    A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon
    Fates and Furies

  14. JSW Books says:

    1.The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
    2.My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry – Fredrik Backman
    3.Left Neglected – Lisa Genova
    4.Arcadia — Lauren Goff
    5.Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice – Bill Browder

    I need to add some Honorable Mentions:
    New York: The Novel — Edward Rutherfurd
    Washington, A Life – Ron Chernow
    Lilac Girls, A Novel – Martha Hall Kelly
    Eligible: A Modern Telling of Pride and Prejudice – Curtis Sittenfeld

  15. BobonBooks says:

    1.The Noise of Time, Julian Barnes (fiction)
    2.Reading for the Common Good, C. Christopher Smith (books on books)
    3.The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (classic)
    4.Silence and Beauty, Makoto Fujimura (art)
    5.The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson (history)

  16. Let It Shine – Alyssa Cole
    The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation – Jonathan Hennessey
    The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers
    His Road Home – Anna Richland
    Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

  17. rainpebble says:

    My top 5 reads of the year, in no particular order:
    [Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era] by [[James M. McPherson]],
    [Faithful] by [[Alice Hoffman]],
    [Looking for Alaska] by [[John Green]],
    [Awakenings] by [[Oliver Sacks]] and
    [The Color Purple] by [[Alice Walker]].

  18. pechmerle says:

    Listing these for a thematic cluster rather than a “best of” list:
    Hotel Florida, Amanda Vaill (non-fiction)
    Night Soldiers, Alan Furst (fiction, Spanish civil war section is core)
    For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway (re-reading the famous novel)– reading the above two first is leading to seeing — and feeling — subtle spots where Hemingway brings hard-won insights from the real events into his portrayals of his characters and incidents

  19. Nicole says:

    Thank you for sharing your favorites with us, and letting us play along.

    Just thought you should know that your “add your own Top Five to our list!” link takes you to last year’s list.


  20. Tom Kiefer says:

    I think that last “add your own Top Five to our list” is *supposed* to link to https://www.librarything.com/list/11172/all/Top-Five-Books-of-2016 — although, I gotta say, the UI/UX flow for the “Add work to list” feature thereon is truly frustratingly terrible.

  21. Fulner says:

    I gave only 3 books 5 stars this year, one Fiction, one nonfiction and one I listened on audio book. In that order:

    The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith (1980)
    Against Intellectual Monopoly by Kevin K. LeviNE and Michael Borderine (2008)
    Fun is Good by Mike Veeck (2005)

    Of those I gave 4 stars to I will add to this list to make 5:

    The History of Black Catholics in the United States by Cyprian Davis (1990)
    Farmer in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein (1950)

  22. mandy says:

    1. Ernst, Kathleen – Settler’s Year
    2. MacDonald, John D. – One Monday We Killed Them All
    3. Gardner, Erle Stanley – This is Murder
    4. Randazzo, Joe – Funny on Purpose: the Definitive Guide to an Unpredictable Career in Comedy
    5. And a bunch of trashy romances, because what else would you read for escapism while in dire circumstances?

  23. Monty says:

    The Narrow Road to the Deep North

    His Bloody Project

    The Goldfinch

    The Cartel

    The Bean Trees

  24. 1. Ernst, Kathleen – Settler’s Year
    2. MacDonald, John D. – One Monday We Killed Them All
    3. Gardner, Erle Stanley – This is Murder
    4. Randazzo, Joe – Funny on Purpose: the Definitive Guide to an Unpredictable Career in Comedy
    5. And a bunch of trashy romances, because what else would you read for escapism while in dire circumstances?

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