What a year in books! Perhaps most notably, J.K. Rowling delivered a new (well, sort of) Harry Potter story. Veterans like Jonathan Safran Foer and Zadie Smith published again for the first time in a more than a decade. And there were such a wonderful crop of debut novels: Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, Brit Bennett’s The Mothers, and Nathan Hill’s The Nix, just to name a few. Colson Whitehead wow’ed us again, and walked away with a much deserved National Book Award. And Paul Kalanithi and his wife made us all sob. Yep, it was a great year in books!
It was another great year for the store, as well, as we continue to do our best to best serve the diverse readers of the wonderful Roscoe Village neighborhood and the Chicago literary community as a whole.
But of course, it’s always about the books. And so here are the best books we all read this year. Please let us know what’s on your best-books-of-the-year list in the comments below!
The Mothers, by Britt Bennett — This is a wise and lovely debut, and Bennett is a true storyteller who writes with a full heart and a keen emotional intelligence. Just…read this!
The Last Days of Night, by Graham Moore — This fabulous piece of historical fiction recounts the “war of the currents” – the race between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse to provide the country with electric light. If you love legal thrillers or anything by Eric Larson, I promise you will love this book, too.
Sweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler — Danler’s writing about food is utterly exquisite in this impressive debut novel. But Danler’s real strength here is capturing what it’s like to be a 22-year-old with NYC as your playground.
When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi — This quasi-memoir about a man dying of cancer asks a vital question: What exactly is meaning and what makes life meaningful? Absolutely beautiful, and a must read.
The Sport of Kings, by C.E. Morgan — Against the backdrop of a landscape that’s both exquisitely beautiful and stained by hardship and violence, Morgan tells us a family saga of a rich, prominent Kentucky family. This story is an exploration of big ideas, heritage, virulent racism, evolution. It demands to be savored!
Stories of Your Lie and Others, by Ted Chiang — These stories are about normal people coming up against giant, incomprehensible things – aliens, a tower built to the heavens, angelic visitations. But he still manages to keep the stories focused on the characters.
The Apostle Killer, by Richard Beard — This wonderfully strange novel reimagines the Roman world right after Jesus’ crucifixion as a modern-day spy thriller. Funny, exciting, and inventive, I had a blast reading this book!
But What If We’re Wrong?, by Chuck Klosterman — In this book of essays, Klosterman takes a look at the state of the world of science and art, and discusses how the future might view the early 21st century. You will NOT agree with everything he says, but man is it fun to argue your way through this book.
Moonglow, by Michael Chabon — Loosely based on a week Chabon spent with his grandfather before he died, this story, which jumps around the 20th century to all its major events, is a funny, heart-warming, thought-provoking, and truly enjoyable novel.
All The Birds In The Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders — The author has delivered something really special here – a story of two outcasts, one who has magical abilities and one who is a science-fiction scientist. This novel delivers real emotionally resonant moments. I loved it!
Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi — This is a rich and ambitious debut novel about two separated half-sisters in Ghana and follows their bloodlines through 300 years of slavery, colonialism, and racial divides. But it doesn’t just take a look at big issues with society; it also delves into the deeply personal wounds that people — especially families — can inflict on each other. Despite this heaviness, this is a book that glimmers with hope and strives to open the reader to a new understanding of humanity.
Blackacre, by Monica Youn — With exquisite intelligence and lyricism, this collection of poetry is rooted in desire – more specifically, Youn’s desire for a biological child. Youn draws on and is influenced by everything from 15th century poetry to urban legends to film.
Problems, by Jade Sharma — Raw, gritty, and graphic, this novel follows Maya through her life of drugs, sex, and (expletive deleted) up relationships. A darkly humorous book punctured with thoughtful reflections, the voice in this novel is witty and uncompromising.
I’m Supposed To Protect You From All This, by Nadja Spiegelman — This is a brave, graceful memoir that traces the origin of the tense relationship she’s had with her mother, New Yorker art director Francoise Mouly. Compassion, understanding, and forgiveness weave through this memoir, as Spiegelman uncover surprising parallels between the lives of four generations of women.
One of Us Is Sleeping, by Josephine Klougart — Told in a series of poetic glimpses, we access the mind of a woman writer who is reeling after a devastating breakup and the news of her mother’s cancer. Klougart’s writing is heartbreakingly gorgeous in the way she captures grief and memory. I can’t wait until more of her works are translated.
Version Control, by Dexter Palmer — This fascinating, fiercely smart novel is brimming with ideas — about technology, authenticity, causality, race, Big Data, and yes, even time travel. But it’s a novel firmly grounded in reality – humorous, heart-breaking, and just really fantastic.
Behold The Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue — This is an assured, stunningly profound, amazingly well-written novel about not only the difficulty for immigrants who come to this country for a better life, but also how the system as a whole is rigged against them. Mbue is a master at turning expectations on their ears – a truly wonderful reading experience.
A Gentleman In Moscow, by Amor Towles — Utterly spectacular! One of the more purely pleasurable reading experiences I’ve had in a long time, this novel follows charming, witty, urbane Count Rostov, holed up in Moscow hotel, through several major events of the 20th century. He’s not a character you’ll soon forget!
The Nix, by Nathan Hill — An expansive plot, covering 45 years from the violent protest in Chicago in 1968 to the protests in NYC in 2011, Hill’s novel of politics, trust, and loyalty is as entertaining, engaging, and smart as anything I’ve read all year.
Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett — This semi-autobiographical, deeply personal novel is among Patchett’s best. She’s interested here in family relationships, how they ebb and flow over time. You can’t choose your family, but sometimes you get a second chance at a new family when your parents do stupid things. A really fascinating, fun read!
The Girl Who Drank The Moon, by Kelly Barnhill — My favorite book all year, this is a beautifully written story about life, loss, truth, lies, hope, sorrow, family, and magic (also dragons!). If you’re looking for a stand-alone middle-grade fantasy, this one’s for you!
Lily and the Octopus, by Stephen Rowley — Written in accessible, breezy language, this is a little weird, a little quirky, and little funny. It’s a prefect vacation read…except that it’s about a dog dying of cancer. Be sure to pack your tissues. (Ed. note: I loved this book, too, but it absolutely destroyed me.)
The Fireman, by Joe Hill — This great post-apocalyptic novel uses the end of the world to explore human nature. In this case, Hill explores a very tiny pocket of humanity and we watch as they revert to cultish behavior. Great for Stephen King fans.
Mighty Jack, by Ben Hatke — Jack is stuck looking after his sister all summer while his mom is busy working two jobs. While it could be a dull few months, it could also be prime time for a classic adventure story! This twist on Jack and the Beanstalk features a magical garden, swordfights, friendship, and a healthy dose of family drama, all told in graphic novel form. Ben Hatke’s art is perfect as ever.
A Child Of Books, by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston — This is the type of picture book I buy for my friends instead of for their kids. Like the classic “Miss Rumphius” or Jeffers’ previous book, “The Heart and the Bottle,” the message speaks to adults who have forgotten their childhood dreams or otherwise lost their imaginations. “A Child of Books” will hopefully also appeal to kids who love books and the power held within them.
The Female of the Species, by Mindy McGinnis — I love when authors introduce characters by each of them their own chapter(s). McGinnis does a great job of keeping the story flowing while also allowing the reader to get to know each character.
Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult — Picoult touches on a really difficult issue in this book that is still a huge problem in this day and age. Do you love YA but looking for something with a little more depth? This is the book for you.
Highly Illogical Behavior, by John Corey Whaley — Whaley really knows how to catch your attention right away. This is such a great fast-paced read that young and old will love.
Replica, by Lauren Oliver — I love that this book is two stories in one and you can start reading from the front or back. This gives readers unique takes on the book depending on how they read it. Couldn’t put it down!
If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo — This book starts off as a typical high school love story but of course there is a twist. The main character Amanda used to be Andrew. Amanda’s character has such an important story to tell and Russo really tells it beautifully.