Every December, dozens of news and entertainment websites release their best books of the year lists and 2016 was no exception. As a community of writers and editors, we love reading these lists, counting how many of the books we got around to this year, and adding those we didn’t to our reading lists for the coming months.
In reading the 2016 selections, we realized, “Why don’t we write our own best books of the year list?” We are, after all, a community of 1700+ writers and readers. And, because we’re so diverse, our list would likely include some titles that other media outlets likely forgot or ignored. So we asked the writers in our network to share their favorite books of 2016.
Somewhat surprisingly, our writers seemed to favor non-fiction this year, perhaps a testament to the current socio-economic and political climate at large. Author and ghostwriter Dan McNeill recommended Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer, a book that was also selected by the New York Times and the Washington Post as one of the best of the year and that McNeill described as “a well-written, deeply researched exploration of the forces behind seemingly incomprehensible events in American politics.”
Speechwriter and communications consultant Bob Rackleff offered another serious political history, An Iron Wind: Europe Under Hitler by Peter Fritzsche. “It describes the daily struggles of Europeans under German rule in World War II but, more important, what they were thinking and expressing during a madness that, they feared, would never end,” Rackleff said. “Fritzsche draws on diaries, letters and other documents by ordinary people. But he also includes the thoughts of novelists from Eli Wiesel and Irene Nemirovsky to Virginia Woolf. The effect of this well-written social history is fascinating, disturbing and compelling.”
Editor Emily Murdock Baker may have been a little biased to her selection, given that she edited it for Penguin before she went freelance earlier this year, but, hey, a good book is a good book. Her pick? The Crash Detectives: Investigating the World’s Most Mysterious Air Disasters by Christine Negroni. “Christine is a crash investigator and aviation journalist,” Murdock said, “and she unpacks crashes from Amelia Earhart to MH370. It’s about the science and psychology of plane crashes: why planes crash, and how past crashes have made today’s planes safer. It’s fascinating, and sadly timely, given the recent crashes in Colombia and Pakistan.”
On a lighter note, Gotham Ghostwriters president and founder Dan Gerstein chose Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, Born to Run. This will come as no surprise as anyone who knows Dan because he is a die-hard Bruce fan and saw him a total of four times in 2016 alone (including once in Milan). Somewhat surprisingly, Springsteen wrote the book himself rather than hire a ghostwriter like most celebrities do. Of course, anyone who can somehow convince an entire nation (not to mention a cadre of politicians) that a song opens with the lines “Born down in a dead man’s town/The first kick I took was when I hit the ground” is a happy patriotic song about how he’s proud to be an American is talented enough to write his own darn book. That being said, Dan is greatly disappointed Bruce did not need to hire us to find him a collaborator.
On the fiction side, editor Amanda Kirk selected Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford as her favorite read of the year. The novel follows a young woman after World War I who gains confidence and finds her calling by working at the BBC in the burgeoning field of radio broadcasting.
Writer, poet, and new Gotham Ghostwriters junior associate Hannah Carl chose Black Wave, the latest novel by author Michelle Tea. Carl first read Tea when she was 17 years old and picked up her novel Valencia in a bookstore in her hometown. Since then, she has read almost all of her books at least once and says Black Wave is a perfect addition to Tea’s canon, “an unapologetic and semi-autobiogra
I also selected novels as my favorite books this year, but I cheated and chose two because I couldn’t pick just one. Two of my favorite novelists, Zadie Smith and Emma Donoghue, released new books this year, and I devoured them both. In general, I don’t have favorite authors but favorite books; Smith and Donoghue are the exceptions. Smith’s seminal novel White Teeth is one of my favorite books of all time and while the new book, Swing Time, was not as powerful, it did continue Smith’s tradition of exploring race, gender, and class through the lens of complex, realistic characters. I was first introduced to Donoghue the way most people were–through her 2010 bestseller Room. But as much as I loved that book, it’s actually doesn’t accurately represent the rest of her body of work, which focuses mostly on historical fiction dominated by strong female characters. Her latest book, The Wonder, is much more in line with the rest of her novels and follows a young nurse in the mid-nineteenth century who is sent to Ireland to monitor the actions of an 11-year-old girl who has refused to eat for four months. Like several of Donoghue’s books, The Wonder, is based loosely on actual events and leaves the reader questioning several preconceived notions about right and wrong, good and evil, real and imagined.
What were your favorite books of 2016? Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments.
Brooke Carey is a freelance editor and writer and the Chief Matchmaking Officer at Gotham Ghostwriters.