For several reasons, I recently discarded my book journal. Before recycling the notebook, I did a quick count of the number of books I read over the past year: 36. Of those, I wanted to share with you my favourite 11, in no particular order. Please note that only two of the books on this list were published in 2016. I strive to read a mix of classic and contemporary novels, but do enjoy that natural high every time I receive an email notifying me that a freshly printed, newly released book I have been looking forward to reading is on hold for me at the local library. Choosing a list of favourites is not an easy task; there were many that almost made the list, but I decided to cap it at 11. Here are my picks for this year’s favourite books:
- The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton
Alain de Botton shares incredible insight into the human mind through the story of a typical married couple. The lesson: There is no ‘happily ever after.’ Marriage requires work on both sides, but that work allows one to better understand his or her partner, making the journey of riding the ebb and flow enjoyable and rewarding. I love this book for the beautiful writing and ideas that left me with much to contemplate.
2. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
Ove is a grumpy man in his late fifties who at first might not seem very likable, until we read on and learn his story of love, grief, disappointment, and deep longing. The short, charming, whimsical chapters kept me turning page after page and left me craving more when I finished reading the prologue. I was introduced to Backman’s writing earlier this year and he quickly became one of my favourite authors. His storytelling is delightfully funny while touching on serious subjects. Backman reminds us to take life less seriously, appreciate the ordinary people (and pets) who surround us every day, and remember that everyone has a story. A Man Called Ove reminded me, in some ways, of the film Amélie.
3. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrik Backman
Another funny and heartbreaking story of love, loss, and complex relationships among people, told through the witty, quirky words of Backman. This is a delightful story of Elsa, her eccentric grandmother, and the legacy the grandmother leaves behind as she continues to empower Elsa, her family, and community posthumously. From time to time, we are fortunate to meet a person who lights up the room with a magical presence. That person does not see the world the way we do, and the stories she tells are different from ours, yet they are about the same ordinary subjects. Such people tend to change our worldview and of those around us through their fairy tales, allowing us to see the enchantment behind what at first might appear banal. This is the message of this charming book.
4. The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue
A haunting, captivating story of Lib, a nurse who apprenticed under Florence Nightingale, summoned to a small village in rural Ireland to keep watch over a young girl, Anna, who refuses to eat. What at first starts as an attempt to disprove the wondrous miracle with which the religious community is obsessed soon turns into an assignment to solve the mystery of whether Anna might be a victim of slow murder.
5. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven begins with a production of King Lear in one of my favourite theatres, the Elgin and Winter Garden in Toronto. In the midst of the play, the actor Arthur Leander collapses on stage and dies of a heart attack. Jeevan Chaudhary is a paramedic in training who attempts to resuscitate the actor. Observing the real-life drama unfolding on stage before her is Kirsten, a child actor who was greatly inspired by Arthur’s work and feels a strong curiosity to learn more about his life. Two days following the death at the theatre, the world is plagued by Georgian Flu, an epidemic that sweeps throughout the globe. Among the survivors are Jeevan and Kirsten, who separately struggle to make new lives for themselves. Read my full review here.
6. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
For the past few years, I have been drawn to fiction set during WWII. I picked up The Nightingale after fans of All the Light We Cannot See, which I cannot praise highly enough, recommended this book. This is a touching story of the passions of two sisters who differ drastically yet fight their own complex battles during the war, working to stay strong for their family and refusing to give up on love in the darkest times.
7. Glaciers, by Alexis M. Smith
I confess, I chose this book for its interesting cover and also because I was looking for a quick weekend read. What I found in the pages within was a beautiful, rich, delicate story of love, loss, and hope. Isobel is a quiet librarian with a fascination for memories, both her own and those of others. In her spare time, she browses antique and vintage clothing shops in search of materials to satisfy her nostalgic longing. As with Amélie, I imagine that if Isobel and I were ever to meet, we would quickly develop a friendship born of the realization that we have just come face to face with a kindred spirit. This is by no means a ‘chick book’ and the ending is not that of fairy tales; this story is beautiful as much as it is bittersweet.
8. The Go-Between, by L. P. Hartley
A coming-of-age story set in the Edwardian English countryside, in the middle of a hot summer, where Leo stays with his school friend and becomes a messenger between the friend’s beautiful and sophisticated older sister and a farmer. The imagery and symbolism in this novel are powerful and haunting, leading to a climax that will change Leo’s world for ever. The beautiful writing and a fascinating story are irresistible.
9. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
This is a delightfully enjoyable epistolary novel and I did not want to put it away when I reached the last page. For several days after finishing it, I found myself wondering about the characters and creating stories in my mind about how their lives on the island continued to unfold. I highly recommend this charming book to anyone who enjoys WWII fiction with a focus on the kindness of humanity.
10. The Muse, by Jessie Burton
I enjoyed Burton’s The Miniaturist, but The Muse kept me completely enthralled. This is a beautifully written book with a carefully laid plot, rich with elements of mystery, art, symbolism, and a sense of place in London and a small Spanish village. The story presents two parallel plots, of a Caribbean immigrant in London in the 1960s and an artist in rural Spain in the 1930s whose lives are delicately interwoven in unexpected ways.
11. The Forgetting Time, by Sharon Guskin
The Forgetting Time is a mystery without the typical elements expected of a book of that genre. Janie is a single mother whose son, Noah, has disturbing memories of his past life. With the assistance of a researcher, Janie and Noah search for the woman whom Noah misses and slowly piece together the story of how Noah was murdered. This is a meticulously planned and very well written science fiction novel that centres on a subject that I would typically avoid. As a mother, I found this book at times challenging to read. Yet, I kept being pulled by the exploration of the subjects of love, deep connection, belonging, co-dependence and independence.
What books did you read in 2016 that you would recommend? Please leave a comment below. Thank you for sharing this blog with a friend.