Best Books I Read in 2016

I read 49 books this year. You can see them all on my Goodreads Profile if you like. I’m pretty sure you can find me on Goodreads (which I am obsessed with) though my email address—pam.sinel(at) Here are my ten favorites in no particular order.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
I loved Danler’s voice. The way she describes mundane moments, including details about the quality of the light, or the smell in the air, is almost poetic, and does an incredible job of putting the reader right in the scene. Though I’ve never been in the restaurant industry, I have been 22 year old woman trying to figure out what life and sex and love were about and in that way I totally identified with Tess and found myself rooting for her… How can you not?

I know Danler has another book contract and though she says the next novel will be nothing like Sweetbitter, I am dying to know more about Tess’s past (and where she goes in the future) and I hope that will be revealed at some point. In an interview (I think in Vanity Fair?) Danler says she and Tess are different in very important ways. That said, I found her Vogue essay on her own relationship with her dad filled in some of the holes, at least as far as Danler’s experience and what might have led her to create a dynamic like the one between Jake and Tess.

I don’t always internet stalk the authors of the books I read, but I was so intrigued by Danler, That this is her debut novel, and she’s a relatively young woman, make her stand apart from most of the authors I read. I’m sure that was part of my fascination with her as a person.

I would have given this novel five stars, but I found myself skimming through the dialogue occasionally, especially when she would talk to Ariel. Her character and the friendship (if you’d call it that) between her and Tess annoyed me. That said, I stayed up waaay past my bedtime to read “just one more chapter” of this book.

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl by Mona Awad 
One of the best books I’ve read this year and maybe ever. Awad is unfailingly sharp in her ability to capture the details that put you right in every scene. This book is as hilarious as it is heartbreaking. The author’s style reminds me of Elizabeth crane and Lorrie Moore. I talked a bit more extensively about my deep love for this book a little more here. 

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
Loved, loved, loved this modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. It was a delightful, compelling, hilarious read, from start to finish. The dialogue rang true, and I couldn’t help but fall in love with Liz. I really hope this book becomes a movie.

Three Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell
A coming of age story told from three different perspectives, about three different characters and how their lives intersect as they explore what it means to live an honest life in Greenwich Village in the 1960’s. Themes of feminism, sexual identity, race, and class seep into the compelling narrative.

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
Is it ok to count this as one of the best books I’ve read this year, when I actually read it for the first time 15 years prior? My list. My rules. It’s totally ok. I rarely read books twice (so many books, so little time!), but this one more than warranted a second reading. I loved it the first time and I loved it the second time. Both times, I loved Grealy’s voice and her ability to tell her story in a genuine, unfussy way. It would have been really easy to paint herself as the sad, long-suffering victim of a vicious childhood cancer that left her with a significant facial deformity. But Grealy didn’t do that. She just told her story. She told us what she remembered of her ordeal,  how she felt about it, how she made meaning of it. I was struck by the details that stood out in my mind the first time I read it, versus the way I read those same details, this time around, with nearly half a lifetime’s worth of experiences under my belt, including, not insignificantly, the experience of being a mother.

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
It’s dark. It’s creepy. (e.g. my kind of book).  The plot twists and turns so hard (think: 5-point harness). LOVED. The plot, the writing, the poetry in nearly every sentence, the way Lehane sets the scene, the way he puts you right in the neighborhood, the dialogue, he got EVERYTHING right. This may be one of the best novels I’ve ever read. I can’t wait to read more by him.

It’s Ok to Laugh by Nora McInerny Purmort
This might be one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read. Can I relate to my husband and my father dying at the same time I’m having a miscarriage? No. None of that has ever happened to me. Yet, somehow I totally relate to the author to the point where I want to be her best friend and I’m pissed I don’t live in the Minneapolis area so I can stalk her Twitter feed and “run into her” so we can eventually become besties and someday laugh about how I planned the whole thing. She is funny and self-deprecating and so honest, I don’t know how you could not tear through this book.

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
It’s a memoir of a friendship between two writers, one of whom is the late Lucy Grealy (author of Autobiography of a Face). Or perhaps more accurately, it’s part Patchett’s memoir and part tribute to her best friend. Whatever it is, I couldn’t stop reading it. It’s beautiful and life-affirming.

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
I fell in love with the protagonist, a teenage girl whose dad moves her out of the only home she’s known in Chicago: into his new  wife’s home home in California, less than a year after her mom’s death. On top of navigating the social dynamics of her new school, adjusting to her new stepmom and step brother, and trying to process her grief, she has a suitor. Kind of. She thinks. The problem is, she doesn’t know his name. Or if he’s even real. Or even a he. He created an anonymous email account through which to communicate with her. Its a sweet story of family, Identity, overcoming adversity, friendship, and growing up. If you liked Kissing in America (which I mentioned in my best books of 2015 post),  you will love this.

You by Caroline Kepnes
Utterly compelling to the last page. I devoured it in three days. Reminds me of Gillian Flynn. What was interesting was that I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters… Wasn’t even sure if I liked any of them, yet I HAD to know what would happen to them. Normally if I don’t care about the characters I can’t get into the plot. Kepnes is a mastermind.

6 thoughts on “Best Books I Read in 2016

  1. Wendy Grunthal says:

    Hi Pam, Thanks so much for this post. I’m sending the link to my book club. 🙂 I’m going to suggest ’13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl’ for our next read.

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