The Best Books We Read in 2016
Everyone needs a break from their screens every now and then. Thankfully, that doesn't have to mean taking a break from entertainment. This year, we at Thrillist Entertainment somehow managed to carve out time to turn off our TVs and power down our laptops every once in a while, and these are the books we read and loved when we did. They make great gifts -- for your friends and family, or for yourself.
While many now view The Daily Show as a beloved American media institution, Jon Stewart's righteously irreverent late-night talk show didn't emerge fully formed out the gate. This comprehensive account of the show's ascendancy takes you into the writers room, out into the field with the correspondents, and behind the desk with the man in charge as they turned a scrappy satirical news show into a phenomenon.
This debut book of reportage is a deeply personal and clear-eyed look at sex and dating today, from a writer who is "single, straight, and female" -- and clearly brilliant. Covering topics like internet dating, porn, and polyamory, Witt describes her own minute reactions, the zeitgeist, and the historical context of gender and sexuality with equal facility. While you'll learn a lot about sex in our futuristic present, this addictive read is also about what a strange and confusing thing it is to be a person today, with limitless options and no idea what to do with them.
When two Ghanaian sisters are violently torn from their families in the 18th century, it's not the end of their story but a beginning. The family tree from which Effia and Esi are plucked continues to branch outward, through the Gold Coast and beyond to Europe and America, and we follow every descendent on his or her own journey. Get a raw, unvarnished look at how family folklore weighs on each subsequent generation, and marvel at how Gyasi brings together far-flung characters who will never meet.
BoJack Horseman production designer Lisa Hanawalt is an idiosyncratic artist in her own right, and this year released her second graphic novel of sorts -- though what you'll find between the covers vacillates wildly in length and subject matter. From cheeky watercolor doodles and snort-worthy snack puns, to behind-the-scenes restaurant narratives and blow-by-blow movie retellings, each page offers an unfiltered glimpse at Hanawalt's wide-eyed point of view.
Many books attempt to establish a sense of place, but few feel as lived-in, finely observed, and emotionally rich as Brit Bennett's Southern California. It breathes -- but it also scars. A love triangle about a teenage girl who gets involved with her pastor's football star son, The Mothers skillfully moves across time and raises the psychological stakes with every chapter. It's a tender, introspective novel that unfolds like a Netflix drama you'd cancel plans to binge. Instead of descending into turgid melodrama or belabored twists, Bennett keeps her characters grounded in the particulars of the sun-speckled world she's created.
The Nest is a bespoke cupcake of a book. In her debut novel, Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney crafts a poignantly funny portrait of a New York family going to war over the remains of a trust fund. Like one of filmmaker Nicole Holofcener's wry romantic comedies, the story asks you to sympathize with people who live relatively cushy lives -- cars are crashed, literary magazines are discussed, white wine is consumed -- but Sweeney never hesitates to tweak their cluelessness or highlight their charms. She's a satirist who knows laughter and empathy aren't in opposition. In fact, they go perfectly together.
After cracking us up with his writing for years, ex-MTV VJ (and Thrillist contributor!) Dave Holmes finally wrote a whole damn memoir, structured around a playlist from the music superfan. Each song corresponds to an experience in Holmes' life, from his time closeted in Catholic school to becoming a VJ. It's perfect for music nerds and comedy fans alike.
Some of us are still quite grateful for novels about the flailing post-college years, thank you very much. While Tulathimutte pushes back against claims that his latest novel gives voice to the millennial generation (though this millennial agrees!), we're just saying that any adult reader will relate to find humor in the exploits of his book's entitled Bay Area post-grad protagonists.
A literary, humorous sci-fi novel about superpowered female assassins protecting humans from alien menace as brainwashed vassals of an imperious, shadowy global organization that may or may not have a traitor in its ranks -- and written by the author of the surprising, amazing 2014 story collection The Miniature Wife? We were in immediately, and fans of George Saunders and Joss Whedon should join us.
What did Lewis and Clark have to do with the heinous murder of Laura Palmer and subsequent investigation that summoned FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper to the weird and wonderful logging town in Washington State 25 years ago? Frost's bizarre and tantalizing dossier should prep you for the 2017 return of the iconic series he co-created with David Lynch, who will direct every episode of the upcoming Showtime continuation.
If you spend any time perusing the self-help-oriented sections of the internet, you might be under the impression that we're living in the midst of a narcissism epidemic. In this short and thoughtful book, essayist Kristin Dombek interrogates the unexamined assumptions behind the personality quizzes, thinkpieces, and web forums that may have convinced you everyone in the world is a self-obsessed asshole… except for you. The book's mix of highbrow and lowbrow references -- Tucker Max and My Super Sweet 16 get as much attention as Freud and Ovid -- makes it an invigorating, bracing read. It's a thoroughly modern look at an ancient question: Does everyone suck, or is it just me?
Of all the comic madness that unspooled from the major publishers this year, none was riskier, more brazen, unadulterated fun than DC's crossover between the Green Lantern universe and J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek. As Spock would say, the mash-up was completely logical, extending Trek's strong personalities into the spiraling spectrum of Lantern lore. And while technically a 2015 run, DC bundled the comics as a hardbound novel in 2016, and sequelized it with 2016's Star Trek/Green Lantern: Stranger Worlds, so the whole intergalactic saga deserved a spot on this list.
This slim, sweat-soaked crime novel drops you at the outskirts of Houston, a land of cheap porn, dark bars, and pickup trucks. In telling the story of a troubled young woman trying to solve her even more troubled friend's murder, poet-turned-novelist Melissa Ginsburg turns a simple mystery plot into a simmering mood piece constructed out of perfectly chosen details. Sunset City presents a vision of Houston that's gritty and unsentimental, but it also leaves room for moments of quiet beauty amid all the lies, bad behavior, and desperation. It will chill you like a cool drink on a hot summer day.
Join eight scientists (four men, four women) in Tillman, Arizona as they become data for an Earthbound space colony prototype. Though the premise of Boyle's 16th novel might call to mind a sci-fi reality series, his take on the Biospherians comes packed with real existential substance. Remember: This is the same literary force that brought you "Chicxulub" and World's End.
When everyone from the National Book Awards to Oprah's Book Club flips for a title, you know you have an opus on your hands. Whitehead's latest, about a young slave traveling up the East Coast towards freedom aboard a literal underground railroad train, remixes history and magical realism to create an empirically true account of black life in the 1800s. Rich with sensory detail and soaring extrapolation, The Underground Railroad creates new empathy for the horrors of slavery by transcending fact with fiction.
This collection contains nine contemporary fairytales, connected mostly in the sense that they all have to do with locks and keys found in surreal circumstances. (Highlights include a puppeteering school, a locked library, and a mystical diary.) While the young author's playful yet virtuosic stories might sound a little strange, they're sure to enrich your bookshelf in a way that's at once delicious and thought-provoking.
TV writer (Inside Amy Schumer, Transparent) Jessi Klein put forth this autobiographical collection of essays, ranging in topics from stand-up to porn-watching to giving birth. Nothing is off-limits for Klein, who is eager to share her mistakes and relative wisdom with the conversational, self-assured delivery you'd hear on The Moth. What Klein's array of stories all have in common: They're hilarious, and will remind you there's a light at the end of every dark tunnel.
The best crime novels often reveal a secret underbelly to subcultures you never knew existed. After tackling the world of competitive high school cheerleading with 2012's Dare Me, teen-noir specialist Megan Abbott takes on the cutthroat, leotard-filled universe of elite women's gymnastics. When a tragic car accident takes a young man's life, a tight-knit community of parents, coaches, and children is thrown into crisis. The best part about this book? Like a well-trained gymnast, Abbott knows how to stick the landing.
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