In this powerful work of narrative nonfiction, Desmond documents the months he spent living alongside tenants and landlords in Milwaukee, exploring the issues of poverty and homelessness in a segregated city. Taking readers on a journey into the daily lives of families facing eviction, sometimes repeatedly, the author creates a compelling and heartbreaking work that leaves readers wondering how we got here and what we can do to help. (LJ 1/16)—SS
In what might be her most personal work yet, Faludi examines thorny issues of identity, history, gender roles, nature vs. nurture, nationalism, and the Holocaust, all through the lens of her relationship with her long-estranged, confounding father. Born Istvan Friedman in Hungary, morphing into American dad Steve Faludi, then transitioning at age 76 into “a complete woman” named Stefi living in post- Communist Budapest, this Zelig-like figure is at the center of Faludi’s page-turning memoir. (LJ 8/16)—LF
Ostensibly telling the story of one woman’s slide into radicalism during the Sixties and the consequences for the son she abandoned, Hill’s acute, richly detailed narrative encompasses three decades of American political and social history to create absolutely addictive fiction. Perfectly drawn characters and interlocking stories and voices allow readers to live in the text. (LJ 7/16)—BH
This magnificent epistolary second novel by the author of the acclaimed The Snow Child blends adventure and romance with a hint of magical realism. In the winter of 1885 as Lt. Col. Allen Forrester leads an exploratory expedition up the frozen Wolverine River into uncharted Alaskan territory, his wife, Sophie, remains in Vancouver, WA, facing a difficult pregnancy alone and chafing under restrictive social conventions. (Xpress Reviews, 7/22/16)—WW
Demonstrating the diligence of a researcher and a storyteller’s flair for narrative, physician and Pulitzer Prize winner Mukherjee explores the history of genetics, from Gregor Mendel’s experiments with pea plants to eugenics to stem cell research. At once sweeping and deeply personal, this absorbing, profoundly stimulating tribute to scientific discovery never loses sight of the individual contributions that have led to our understanding of the subject. (LJ 4/1/16)—MD
Writer and poet Phillips uncovers the lynching, racial violence, terrorism, and white supremacy that marked the history of Forsyth County, GA. The story is both personal and pertinent, as the author digs into a forgotten past of his hometown and asks probing questions about the persistence of racism and the tenacity of hatred. There are few heroes in this accounting, which stands as a sobering reminder that the racial fantasies and fears that have ruled so much of our history only continue to haunt the present. (LJ 7/16)—KP
Sanders won the Pulitzer Prize for his feature in alt-weekly newspaper The Stranger covering the courtroom testimony of a Seattle woman who was brutally assaulted in a home invasion that left her partner dead. In this moving book-length account, he further explores the crime and trial, tracing the backgrounds of the victims and perpetrator and highlighting the failures of the judicial and mental health–care systems that let the man back on the streets. It’s heartbreaking, infuriating, required reading. (LJ 12/15)—AM
The bones of Patty Hearst’s story are relatively well known—pampered heiress kidnapped by radicals joins their ranks, famously helping them rob a bank at gunpoint—but as Toobin here shows, the details that flesh out the saga of Hearst and the group calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army are weirder and more compelling than any work of fiction. Toobin’s meticulous research is the book’s bedrock, but his flair for dramatic storytelling makes it a joy to read. (LJ 8/16)—SK
From the history of the “spinster” to the cult of domesticity, Traister investigates how scores of single women have contributed to important social and political movements that have changed U.S. history— before and after Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. This intersectional study also explores how class, race, sexuality, and religion have played a role in singlehood both past and present and what might be in store for the future. (LJ 2/15/16)—SS
Whitehead’s brilliantly conceived narrative telescopes several centuries’ worth of slavery and oppression in America by putting two escaped slaves on what is literally an underground railroad, emblematic of the brief magical realist touches used throughout to enhance our understanding of the African American experience. As the narrative moves forward, ratcheting up both imagery and tension, those touches serve to highlight how awful the reality really was. A wholly original work. (LJ 7/16)—BH
We nominated, debated, and discussed. Then the LJ 12 (yes, 12 of us, just like a jury) convened and voted. On a blustery October day, we got down to it, paring the list of titles from 33 possibilities to the Ten Best Books of 2016.
The arguments were heard, the 12 cast their ballots, and the nonfiction party won the majority: seven out of ten. The results reflect the particularly strong year for nonfiction, and our selections cover weighty issues, such as racial injustice, convoluted family histories, the sorry state of mental health care, advances in gene therapy, the nationwide housing crisis, the effect of single ladies on U.S. history and culture, and the phenomenon that is the Patty Hearst story. Stephanie Klose, who nominated Jeffrey Toobin’s account of the Hearst kidnapping and its aftereffects, calls his book “weirder and more compelling than any work of fiction,” and that observation could apply to any or all of the “true books” we chose this year.
Our fiction choices tell their own hard truths. Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad employs touches of magical realism to highlight the horror of slavery and racism. Nathan Hill’s The Nix, as Barbara Hoffert notes, “encompasses three decades of American political and social history to create absolutely addictive fiction.” And hints of magical realism aid and abet the truth telling in Eowyn Ivey’s To the Bright Edge of the World (which also garnered a Best Historical Fiction nod).
The truth is out there in this year’s Best Books; share these titles with your patrons—and everyone.—LF
Choosing only five top titles in each category, plus a Top Ten, is a daunting exercise, so LJ’s editors decided to up the ante, selecting honorable mentions in fiction, nonfiction, romance, e-originals, graphic novels, and poetry.
Want a hard copy? Just fill out the form below to download a printable PDF version of the full LJ Best Books 2016 list:
LJ editors are listed by initial at the end of annotations:
All outside contributors are listed by name: