2016 was a reading experiment. How many books could I fit in between 1st January and 31st December? Not quite one hundred, my ambition, but close enough. Being a perennial singleton definitely helped; most of my meals at home involved a fork in one hand and a book splayed under the fingers of the other (food splashes were regrettable but inevitable). I’m also willing to admit that my genre preferences helped too – I read a lot of Young Adult fiction, which tends to be shorter. Barkskins by Annie Proulx was the biggest book of all by a long shot.
I don’t intend to ever again keep count of how many books I read per year. Having a target and a rolling number in my head was fun because I’m competitive like that, but it also made me feel more annoyed when I read a book that I didn’t enjoy much or get much out of (although, with my massive to-be-read pile, I’m no stranger to that feeling – I can’t be wasting my precious time on pointless books!). There really, really ought to be a word for the pain of not being able to read all the books in the world. I know more than I knew a year ago, but I will never know enough.
So, what were my best books of 2016? While I can be a bit curmudgeonly about books sometimes (whether YA or literary fiction), there were many that I hugely enjoyed. Still, here’s the list of my Absolute Top Books:
Common Ground by Rob Cowen
The very first book that I read in 2016. A brilliant work of nature writing that has, honestly, deepened my experience of being in the world.
Gut by Guilia Enders
You’ll never think about your gut bacteria the same way. Or, if you hadn’t even thought about your gut bacteria until now, you’re welcome.
Skyfaring by Mark Vanhoenacker
A British Airways pilot takes you on an endless journey. Nature writing about commercial flight.
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
This children’s book won the Costa Book Prize in 2015, and with good reason. It’s really only “children’s” fiction because the main character is fourteen years old, but don’t let that fool you. This is fiction at its greatest.
The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
Speculative fiction, that slightly softer cousin of science fiction. The plotting was a little flawed, but boy, can this author get into the minds of spiders and octopuses and foxes and whales and seals and eagles and tigers and elephants and I think I remembered them all in this sentence.
Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
SPIDERS. INFECTED WITH A NANOVIRUS THAT MAKES THEM SUPER-EVOLVE INTO AN ADVANCED CIVILISATION THAT USES ANTS TO CREATE INTERNET. ALSO THEY GO INTO SPACE.