We asked the staff of Farrar, Straus and Giroux to name the best book published in 2016, pick their favorite titles—old, new, or forthcoming—that they read or reread this year, and to share which FSG books they’ll be gifting during the holidays.
Readers from every corner of the office—in art, contracts, editorial, foreign rights, marketing, permissions, production, publicity, and sales—wrote about the books that made an impression and what they were looking forward to wrapping up. It’s a subjective list, as always, but these are FSG’s Favorite Books of 2016.
The two books that received the most votes for “best book published in 2016” were Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer and What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell. Other books with multiple votes were Future Sex by Emily Witt, The Sport of Kings by C. E. Morgan, The Sellout by Paul Beatty, and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.
What were your favorite books this year?
Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad is taut, well structured, and well paced, and it has the weight of truth behind it. I’m a fan of his, and I’d say this is his best novel, over Zone One and even The Intuitionist.
My favorite thing I read this year is a novel I’m still making my way through, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever read. Every now and again I set myself reading challenges, and this year it was to read Proust. By the time this edition of Work in Progress is posted, I’ll likely have finished the fourth volume, so I’ll be coasting to the finish line, with only three comparatively slim volumes to go. Scott Auerbach
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It’s been a year of rereading for me (to be fair, many years are). A few that stand out on my repeats list are Quicksand and Passing by Nella Larsen, whom I hadn’t read since high school, along with Middlemarch and John Donne, always.
Other newer favorites include the The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz (terrifying!) and The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen. Carolina Baizan
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In the spring I tandem read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels and the first four books of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle (I’m timing my reading of My Struggle to FSG’s releases of the paperbacks). The little pas de deux between the two made for an interesting dialogue, and, of course, each series on its own is incredible.
I also began reading Carson McCullers this year and have loved The Member of the Wedding and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. They’re beautiful and heart-wrenching novels.
Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings, a short collection of autobiographical essays, was a book I’ve had on my shelf for a while, and I let myself savor it at the end of summer. She’s always one of my favorites. Norma Barksdale
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I read Adam Johnson’s Fortune Smiles this year and I was completely blown away. Dude is operating on so many levels. After reading it I felt bound to and defensive of the most unlikely characters. I still think about those friends all the time. I miss them! It’s a brilliant collection. Emily Bell
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Since the election I’ve been paging through If They Come in the Morning: Voices of Resistance (edited by Angela Davis), which was first published in 1971, but was reissued by Verso just last month. The book—composed of essays, letters, and poems—features an open letter to Davis from James Baldwin, whose novel Giovanni’s Room is the only thing I have ever reread: first this past January, then again in July. Other favorites from this year are: The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind, an anthology edited by Claudia Rankine, Beth Loffreda, and Max King Cap; The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon; and A History of Pan-African Revolt by C.L.R. James. Also: My Brother by Jamaica Kincaid. I heard her read a few years ago, and when an audience member asked how she deals with negative criticism, she said “I don’t care if stupid people don’t like my writing,” which is, I think, the perfect refrain for 2017. Maya Binyam
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The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth: A novel about the Norman conquest of England, written in an imaginative approximation of Old English, might sound gimmicky—and has a certain machisistic quality, to be sure. But Kingsnorth succeeds wildly, and his book is a surprisingly engrossing meditation on political violence, ecology, and much else.
The North Water by Ian McGuire: A novel that bears the burden of its influences well: Melville, Conrad, even Cormac McCarthy. But be warned: if you are, like me, squeamish when it comes to scenes of graphic nineteenth-century surgery, this book might make you puke. Scott Borchert
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E. F. Benson, Ghost Stories (ed. Mark Gatiss): So many of these stories don’t have proper endings—even the favorite of favorites, “Caterpillars,” is kind of a damp squib in its final lines. But it’s a measure of Benson’s skill that this doesn’t make a damn bit of difference!
Mauro Javier Cardenas’s The Revolutionaries Try Again: A beautiful, rollicking, comic debut novel about the ineffectuality of beautiful, rollicking, comic debut novels as means of barricading oneself from the (continuing, worsening) nightmare of history.
Jen George’s The Babysitter at Rest: Can’t remember the last time I read a work of fiction that showed me so many new ways to skin the old cat. George could get into the ring with Donald Barthelme.
Roger Lewinter’s The Attraction of Things and Story of Love in Solitude (trans. Rachel Careau): Two micromasterpieces that serve as helpful reminders of the reasons one bothers reading books to begin with.
Alan Moore’s Jerusalem: Look, I can’t pretend to be very far into this monster yet, but I’ll feel silly, later, if I don’t mention it . . . Also worth bringing up: Moore’s ongoing comic Providence (art by Jacen Burrows) is one of the best things he’s ever done.
Gerald Murnane’s Border Districts: Supposedly his final work of fiction. What will I do when there’s nothing left of his to read, I wonder? (Answer: Take up playing the horses?)
Jean D’Ormesson’s The Glory of the Empire: A Novel, a History (trans. Barbara Bray): Damn impressive, not to mention charming, false history. Not often one can use the phrase “Goes Borges one better . . .” without its being hyperbole.
Cynthia Ozick’s Bloodshed and Three Novellas: Should have been a favorite long ago, in fact. I’m slow.
Fran Ross’s Oreo: Hard to believe this needed to be rescued and reprinted. Funny as Flann O’Brien. Fantastic.
Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s Writings (trans. and ed. Sally Shafto): Unbelievable, indispensable collection of the filmmakers’ theoretical and practical texts both on their own work and aesthetics and politics in general.
Robert Stone’s novels Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise, Children of Light, Outerbridge Reach, and Damascus Gate. A writer I’d been avoiding most of my life turned out to be precisely who was needed over the course of a particularly trying year. Stone’s work isn’t the sort of thing I’m normally attracted to, yet I’m absolutely infatuated with him, these days. Either I’m maturing or my brain is going soft.
Joy Williams’s The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories: I’m a year late on this. So sue me.
Recent reprints of long out-of-print English novels: G. S. Marlowe’s I Am Your Brother, Dennis Parry’s Sea of Glass, and Robert Aickman’s The Late Breakfasters, all published by the redoubtable Valancourt Books in Virginia.
More translations: Jon Fosse’s Morning and Evening (trans. Damion Searls), Wolfgang Hildesheimer’s Tynset (trans. Jeffrey Castle), and Markus Werner’s Cold Shoulder (trans. Michael Hofmann), all Dalkey Archive. Juan José Saer’s The Clouds (trans. Hilary Vaughn Dobel), Open Letter. Jeremy Davies
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This year, I watched all three seasons of Transparent and read Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer at the same time. Both families still feel real to me months later, and they are some of the best representations of American Jewish family life that I have ever watched or read. They are overflowing with jokes, love, big ideas, wonder, deception, transition, and pain.
A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler is a small book that stayed with me for a long time. The premise is simple: a man is born, a man suffers, and a man dies. Within the narrative of loneliness and separation is a book filled with moments of beauty of a simple life, lived.
Among the Thugs by Bill Buford is a book from the ’80s about soccer hooliganism in England. Buford does a terrific job of putting the reader inside of the fights, riots, hard drinking and drugging, and general bad behavior before, during, and after the matches have long been finished. The far-right and neo-Nazi groups who played a big part of organizing these soccer clubs are also a reminder of the ways in which these invasive ideas enter into sport and at the same time affect culture and politics at large.
I read John Henry Days for a book club years ago and liked it, but it was clear early on in reading The Underground Railroad that Colson Whitehead had a breakthrough when writing his newest novel. This book doesn’t need much more attention from me, but it’s an inventive novel, perfectly paced, while also being a visceral retelling of the brutal history of America’s original sin. Daniel del Valle
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One nonfiction book published this year loomed above the rest: Matthew Desmond’s Evicted. It’s a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction—a seamless blend of reportage and scholarship that chronicles the lives of several poor families in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as they struggle to keep a roof over their heads. But Desmond also follows the landlords, enabling us to see this thicket of exploitation and extreme poverty from all sides. He unravels the human stories behind genuinely shocking statistics, and makes a decisive case that “we have failed to fully appreciate how deeply housing is implicated in the creation of poverty.” Even though it’s a difficult read, Desmond offers realistic policy prescriptions that would go far in alleviating many housing-related hardships. If like most of the West we considered shelter a human right and followed that conviction by implementing a universal voucher program modeled on food stamps and mandating the right to counsel in housing court, we could bring about great and lasting change.
I also reread Madame Bovary, which was very rewarding to read outside of an academic context. It’s just so good and so instructive about what makes a great novel. My infatuation for Michel Houellebecq’s Submission made me curious enough to pick up J. K. Huysman’s À rebours, which was bizarre and delightful. And I finally read Luc Sante’s Low Life, which has led me to wander the streets of the Lower East Side and Chinatown reimagining scenes from the book. Laird Gallagher
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I was entranced and moved by Amy Berkowitz’s Tender Points. It’s a difficult book to describe (in a good way), a kind of personal detective story about trauma and the body that interrogates chronic pain literature and ’90s cartoons, noise music and Anne Carson, medical listserv comment boards and video art. It’s urgent, haunting, meticulously crafted, darkly comic, and it has the strangest, smartest structure of anything I’ve read this year. Truly unclassifiable. Brian Gittis
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My favorite this year was Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, which I loved more and more as the series went on. Debra Helfand
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As a neurotic, Jewish young man, Jonathan Safran Foer is pretty much my personal deity, and Here I Am really blew me away. It was an incredible leap from his first two novels but equally hilarious and meaningful. I reread Brett Easton Ellis’s fantastic and disturbing debut, Less Than Zero, which gave me nightmares, and got totally consumed by Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Finally, Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You, my favorite title of the year, moved me beyond words; it’s some of the best prose I have ever read, and manages to hide universal truth and experience within the seemingly mundane. Jackson Howard
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The Summer Book by Tove Jansson: Recommended by an awful lot of Finns as the quintessential Finnish novel, The Summer Book is a very short book that stays with you a very long time. It never sentimentalizes or lays itself too bare, but its elegant descriptions of the turns of life on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland are sneakily loaded with the kind of emotional truth that can topple you over for days. Plus, it features a little girl and an elderly woman who are each delightful curmudgeons as often as they are intrepid explorers and precise philosophers. I want to read it again right now. Jenna Johnson
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For months I’ve been raving about Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith. It’s not only about how smart octopuses are, but a wild complication of how we typically think of intelligence.
The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas is a sheer account of the Norwegian countryside that makes one want to drop everything and head north. Plus it’s a brilliant story about jealousy.
Everland by Rebecca Hunt cut straight to my fascination with arctic exploration and I was thrilled by a book that used this setting to consider how time and stories fold back in on themselves.
Goodnight, Beautiful Women was an outrageously good debut from Anna Noyes from the deeps of Maine, and feeling and subtlety with the full power of the short story is on startling display.
And finally I came to the works of the Argentinian Juan José Saer this year. His book Scars is a wicked, insane exploration of a murder, complete with odd housekeepers and gambling addictions. It’s chillingly good.
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The Brothers Vonnegut by Ginger Strand: Fascinating dual biography of Kurt Vonnegut and his scientist brother Bernard. Reading about some of the experiments taking place at the GE labs in the 1950s, much of Kurt’s stories seem to be nonfiction after all. Very interesting to learn about the enormous support for scientific experimentation going on at some of the major corporations in the United States after World War II.
Eye of the Sixties by Judith E. Stein: Richard Bellamy was an original character, even by the very high standards of the art world in 1960s New York. A brilliant young man with a great eye for artists, and absolutely no head for business, he was far more interested in talking with artists and looking at their work than he was in keeping regular business hours or actually selling anything. Bellamy was the first to show Mark di Suvero, Claes Oldenburg, and Donald Judd, along with many others. Great story of a very important era of modern art.
The Glamour of Strangeness by Jamie James: Tales of six expatriates, and the ways they reinvented themselves in their chosen countries. Painters, writers, and a film maker, each looking for a place to lead a freer life, creatively and often sexually as well. Great travel writing, as most of these people made their journeys before the age of jet travel, when the world was a much larger place. Also quite interesting to learn about all of these artists (only one, Gauguin, was familiar to me). Jonathan Lippincott
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Earlier this year I went to Penrith, England, for the football (as one does?). The train journey north through the suburbs of London and the sprawling megastation at Preston opens unto another world through Lancaster. It cuts through the Pennines, rolls along the verdant hillsides dotted white with sheep. From a distance, it is a remarkably calm and beautiful site. I set about researching how to buy a sheep farm in the area, but the Wi-Fi was slow. After reading James Rebanks’s The Shepherd’s Life, I fear I’m not cut out for the task. In his loving descriptions of this fading way of life, Rebanks opens up the harsh realities of this stunning world. It’s a wonderful book.
Grief Is the Thing with Feathers was first pitched to me as a “silly little fable.” Or that is the way I remember Max Porter describing it to me. One could say it is an apt assessment, but in his modesty, he’s left out the bit where it is a stark, beautiful, and even sometimes comic meditation on grief and family. He plays with form in ways that feel genuine rather than forced. Graywolf’s edition is gorgeous. This also led me back to Ted Hughes, but not Crow as might be the obvious leap. Rather I revisited The Iron Giant, his wonderful children’s book. It feels right for now.
The book that entertained me the most and will be plucked from my shelf a fair bit over the holiday season came a bit from left field. Nick Offerman, most notable for being married to actress Megan Mullally, is a part-time shop monkey. His book, Good Clean Fun, is one of the more attention-grabbing woodworking books I’ve come across. How many other woodworking titles have a section on beard virility, grill recipes, and shop fashion? Aside from the jokes, and there are many, Offerman is serious and knowledgeable about his craft (and profiles of his woodworking heroes is a wonderful addition). There are projects for a variety of levels, but mostly for the casual woodworker rather than someone seeking to brush up on their Greene and Greene style. But in how many woodworking books are you going to come across a kazoo as a project? That’s right, a kazoo. Christmas presents for the family sorted. Now, off to Santa’s workshop. Devon Mazzone
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I think my favorite book this year—the one I keep coming back to in the last few weeks—is Jeff Chang’s We Gon’ Be Alright. Maybe it’s just the title that I’m clinging to like a security blanket. The stakes have been raised since he chose that title, obviously, but the issues remain, and as long as people as smart and engaged as Chang stay feisty and loud, well, maybe the title’s still appropriate. Fiction-wise, Dexter Palmer’s Version Control impressed me the most—for a book about time travel, it was less fizzy and sheer fun as a reading experience than I had anticipated—but so smart and moving and ultimately so worthwhile. Also, time travel might have special appeal right now—which wasn’t meant as an excuse to bring up James Gleick’s Time Travel, but I was glad to have him around to wrestle with it this fall. Finally, I never feel especially qualified to express opinions about poetry, and maybe shouldn’t start now, but I thought Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds and Ishion Hutchinson’s House of Lords and Commons were both obviously extraordinary.
But having spent so many sentences touting other people’s books, I feel compelled to note that I think Warren Ellis’s Normal combines the fizzy, thrilling reading experience with just the right bracing worldview for our moment (the book’s hashtag is #abyssgaze), but I might be too close to be trusted on that one. Sean McDonald
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I did a lot of time traveling this year, likely in an attempt to pretend I wasn’t living through the harrowing year of 2016. Back to Moscow by Guillermo Erades was a transporting experience—I studied abroad in Moscow during college, at the same university as the protagonist (and the author), and through his gorgeously evocative vignettes, I found myself once again freezing in a Stalinist-era lecture hall struggling to grasp verbs of motion, propping up the bar at expat den of iniquity Propaganda, and wandering Moscow’s bulvars during the kind of dreamy autumn and summer I have only ever found there.
Emma Jane Unsworth’s Animals, which I swallowed whole within forty-eight hours, utterly winded me. There are scenes that will haunt me forever in the best possible way. I’ve never read something more unabashedly faithful to the hideousness, haziness, and sexiness of one’s twenties, of intense female friendship, and post-collegiate navigation of life on earth.
Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter majorly lived up to the hype for me, as a fellow survivor of New York City fine dining’s service industry. It was excruciatingly familiar, with rose-tinted nostalgia that is never saccharine, always acknowledging the inherent unhealthiness and unsustainable ecosystem that is shift drinks, vampiric waking hours, and questionable late-night decisions.
Jonathan Lee’s High Dive was also fantastic, and so deserving of its many plaudits. Naoise McGee
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Lian Hearn’s Shikanoko series. Alex Merto
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A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin: I’ve been evangelizing for this book so hard—at last count, I’ve convinced at least three friends to read it. Berlin writes with such a glorious precision of language, and her stories are strange and terse and sad.
Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard: I read this whole book while suspended some feet above the East River on a packed Q train and then I cried until I got to work.
Correspondence Between the Stone Haulers by Jack Agüeros: Agüeros was a Nuyorican poet who lived in East Harlem throughout his life, and this book is primarily poems that speak to the immigrant experience. However, my favorite poem in the collection, “Marcel, Age 5,” has these lines: “Papi, / I am the cat of you / You are the cat of me.” Perfect. Alejandra Oliva
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The year’s greatest and most necessary work of creative nonfiction is of course Beyoncé’s Lemonade, but limiting myself strictly to books I’d say Brian Blanchfield’s genre-traversing essay collection, Proxies, is my favorite. Relying only on his own imperfect memory, Blanchfield untangles various seemingly mundane subjects (owls, tumbleweed) until he uncovers surprising sources of intimacy and vulnerability therein. He fact-checks his own misremembered anecdotes and quotations in the book’s epilogue, “Correction.” One of the most humbling books I’ve read, and a refreshing antidote to consensus Wiki-knowledge in the year of “post-truth.”
Reading and rereading Renee Gladman’s Calamities reminds me of an episode from Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, in which an exasperated writing teacher furiously scrawls “WHERE ARE WE IN TIME AND SPACE?” all over the margins of her students’ stories. Opening each of the book’s short sections (essays? prose poems? stories? autobiographical vignettes?) with the phrase “I began the day . . .,” Gladman offers a series of unexpectedly profound answers to that deceptively simple question.
At the launch event for his debut collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Ocean Vuong signed my copy, and probably everyone’s, with this pithy message: “Thank you for being.” Even when his poems express feelings of rage and grief and despair, or when they look closely at scenes of violence and cruelty, Vuong radiates a spirit of kindness and generosity that fills me with gratitude—for his poetry and for his being here. Steven Pfau
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Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, and Holy Cow by David Duchovny kept me the greatest company during my daily commute to and from work in the city. Lacey captures the beautifully brutal (and brutally honest) inner workings of the individual. Her voice is unlike anything I’ve ever read and yet, her effortless tiptoes between the familiar and the foreign almost always tricked me into thinking my mind had been overheard and transcribed. I rediscovered my love for long letters through the form of Robinson’s novel, although it goes without saying I have not been privy to one as eloquent, or as personal. The steady pace of Gilead speaks to the Iowa town of the same name—and had a way of nestling me in its nostalgic slowness, even as I clung to a handhold on an overcrowded PATH train. Holy Cow is one of the few books that have made me laugh out loud during the early mornings and not mind the stares, or the double takes that come with reading a book with a cartoon cow standing upright on its jacket cover. Angelica Roman
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I read Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry this year (undeniably propelled by some romantic notion of connecting to my native Texas), and, I have to say, I was hesitant, as it’s eight hundred pages about a cattle drive. But then I cracked it open, and I fell entirely and wildly into it: the Texas Rangers’ bone-deep nostalgia, the wild array of characters on horseback, the love and hunger for adventure that drives the whole thing, even as the sun sets on the plains, and on an era. It’s humorous, and moving, and so great that, like I did, you might find yourself going through those eight hundred pages faster than lightning.
I also finally read Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Song of Solomon, which thoroughly transfixed me with their stories and storytelling. Though distinct, both are haunting, mythic, concerned with the indictments of the past and the magic of story creation. I’ll be reading again and again. And again.
Newer stuff . . . I read Kelly Luce’s Pull Me Under, which grabbed me at the first page and intrigued me with Japan, and Mike Roberts’s Cannibals in Love, which thrums with a poignantly familiar voice and made me laugh out loud. I loved April Ayers Lawson’s Virgin and Other Stories, grippingly tense in its exploration of barred and tainted desire, and in its distinctly Southern subversion of custom. I cannot forget that girl sneaking away from her piano lessons to the upstairs bedroom . . . And, last one I’ll mention: Anna Raverat’s Lover comes out in January, and while I’m neither married nor a mom, the subtle and thoughtful story of a woman making, breaking, and remaking her path through life resonated quite a bit. Kate Sanford
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I read a lot of exceptional nonfiction (Dreamland, Evicted, The New Jim Crow, NeuroTribes, All the Single Ladies) this year that I’ll continue to recommend widely as riveting and essential works, but my favorite book—the one I find myself picking off my shelf again and again—was Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter. It’s an utterly perfect book from our friends at Graywolf.
I also loved learning about Simone Weil’s letter campaign for clandestine work in Jeffrey Mehlman’s Émigré New York (she requested “precise instructions and a mission—preferably a dangerous one”), reading Jessa Crispin’s The Dead Ladies Project, and being inspired by forthcoming books by Lauren Elkin and Durga Chew-Bose to pick up Virginia Woolf’s Collected Essays again. All of those were colored by my reading of Writing a Woman’s Life by Carolyn Heilbrun, another favorite.
And for exceeding expectations in a year that has continually redefined rock bottom, George Saunders’s forthcoming novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, deserves a mention. Sarah Scire
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My favorite books of the year, hands down, were Elena Ferrante’s four Neapolitan novels, read while I was on vacation last February. I was amazed by how I could hardly put them down or download the next one quickly enough. And another vacation read (different vacation—they were both short—this one you can guess where) was John Julius Norwich’s magnificent Venice. It doesn’t get any better. I also appreciated spending time with Robert McFarlane’s Landmarks and Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. Can I throw two upcoming FSG books into the mix which knocked me out? J. D. Daniels’s The Correspondence and Edouard Louis’s The End of Eddy. Man, can they write. Jeff Seroy
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By Gaslight by Steven Price: What a treat! Over seven hundred pages of pure reading pleasure and surprise. I didn’t want it to end. Boy, can Price write.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Here’s another author who makes writing look easy. She also asks hard questions of her reader. I had been meaning to read Americanah ever since Adichie’s dynamic acceptance speech at the NBCCs.
The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida: An enticing premise and perfect delivery. Also, a nod here to book festivals. I’d read a number of great reviews of this book but I’m not sure I would have picked it up if I hadn’t seen Vida at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Festivals continue to be great ways to discover new writers and books. Lottchen Shivers
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Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter. Ileene Smith
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One of my favorite books published this year is John Kaag’s American Philosophy: A Love Story (FSG), which reinterprets the legacy of William James and his circle in consistently surprising and even moving ways.
Among the best older books I read was The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788–1800 by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKittrick (Oxford, 1993), a dense and deep investigation into American politics in the years after the Constitution was adopted, enlivened by masterful portraits of Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison’s minds, and a skeptical ironic intelligence. It is a salutary reminder that our constitutional order emerged through accident, crisis, infighting, and more than a little political comedy, as well as the combat of brilliant and often farsighted ideas. I also savored Andrei Bely’s Petersburg, which I read in the Maguire and Malmstad translation—a fascinating blend of the classic Russian novel with symbolism, theosophy, modernist disjunction, and an abundance of fog and rain. Alex Star
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I don’t know about absolute favorites, but the book I most wanted to give other people—and least wanted to finish—was The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson, about a little girl and her grandmother and the island where they spend their summers, off the coast of Finland. (Right behind that would be Sybille Bedford’s A Legacy, a multi-generational novel about a family of rich German Jews and decayed aristocrats in the years before World War One.) The book I most enjoyed rereading was Anne Hollander’s Seeing Through Clothes, a history of the nude in Western art. The best present I got was a Portuguese classic, The Crime of Father Amaro, by Jose Maria Eça de Queirós (try to imagine a Trollope novel but Catholic and with lots of sex). My favorite book that I’d been meaning to read for years was Moll Flanders, proof that the experimental novel existed before there was any other kind. Right now I’m in the middle of the most addictive book I’ve read this year: The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis, all about FSG’s own Daniel Kahneman and his friendship with Amos Tversky. It is that rare thing, a nonfiction book that I had just been wishing someone would write. Lorin Stein
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I read Jill Lepore’s New York Burning back in January or February, but it’s stayed with me. It’s early American history written a bit like a detective story, made all the more fascinating because Lepore is so up-front about the challenges she faced as a researcher and the methods she used to piece together her story. I also had fun reading Stendhal’s The Red and the Black (verdict: much stranger than expected) and I continue to get an embarrassing amount of pleasure from a bunch of ongoing comic book series . . . Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, East of West by Jonathan Hickman, and Marjorie Liu’s Monstress top that list. Stephen Weil
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Garth Greenwell’s debut novel, What Belongs to You, stayed with me for a long time after reading. We are given the point of view of the unnamed narrator, but it was the character of Mitko that I kept thinking about. In a conversation with Hanya Yanagihara, Garth explained, “Mitko is the one person in the book who has a full name. A name is an investment.” I’d have to agree.
In the 2015 FSG roundup, I mentioned my love for Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment and how I wanted to read all of the Neapolitan novels in 2016. And rest assured, I read them, adored them, and forced members of my family to read them, too. I’m excited to begin Frantumaglia next.
I also really loved Adelle Waldman’s The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., which was recommended to me by someone who would often commiserate about the horrors of dating. To say it resonated with me is an understatement. Rachel Weinick
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I read The Complete Patrick Melrose Novels at the beginning of the year, having been handed a copy when I first started working at FSG. I began the first one thinking I’d finish it, read something else, and then come back to the next one—spacing them out over a longer period of time. By the time I finished book one, Never Mind, I knew that plan wasn’t going to hold up. I read them all back-to-back, loving the mixture of elegance and malice in a world that felt like an evil mirror-universe of P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories. Robert Wicks
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The House of Hidden Mothers by Meera Syal; Senior Moments by Willard Spiegelman; Aftermath; The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera; In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje; Yes Please by Amy Poehler; Bossy Pants by Tina Fey; Heartburn; and A Passage to India. Sarahmay Wilkinson
What FSG books are you looking forward to giving this year?
I’ve already given one FSG book as a gift this year, and it was very well received: Miles Hyman’s graphic adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” It went to a friend who loves both Shirley Jackson and graphic novels. My wife, who ranks We Have Always Lived in the Castle among a small number of perfect novels, will be getting Jackson’s The Lottery and Other Stories. I’m looking forward to giving my dad Guilty Thing, Frances Wilson’s biography of Thomas De Quincey. And if it would pub in time, I’d get my mother Six Four. But it won’t, so I can’t, so I still need to figure out what to get her. Scott Auerbach
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I can’t wait to give Jeremiah Tower’s Table Manners to lots of etiquette-minded aunts and uncles. It’s just so delightful.
I’ll also be sharing Avid Reader with the many readers back home. Robert Gottlieb’s memoirs of his life in literature are engrossing, and anyone who receives it will love this behind-the-scenes peek at great books of the twentieth century. Norma Barksdale
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Joe Jackson’s Black Elk, for my mom, who will enjoy reading about a fascinating historical figure with a complex relationship with the Catholic Church.
Jonathan Balcombe’s What a Fish Knows, for my friend who is an animal lover and keen to learn about how other species think and behave.
Williard Spiegelman’s Senior Moments, for an old classmate who, though a few decades shy of senior citizenhood, loves expertly wrought essays informed by a lifetime of reading. Scott Borchert
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From the FSG bookshelf, I’ve been giving out copies of Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith. The jacket is startlingly beautiful, and every page is packed with intellectual surprises. If your friends spend a lot of time daydreaming about what it’s like to be a cephalopod with tentacles that are packed with neurons, this is the perfect gift. Eric Chinski
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Edward St. Aubyn’s The Complete Patrick Melrose Novels to obtuse family members, to junkies, to obtuse family members who are junkies.
Michael Clune’s Gamelife to those friends I forced to sit and watch me play the entirety of Ultima VI circa 1991.
Frances Wilson’s Guilty Thing: A Life of Thomas De Quincey. See St. Aubyn, above, though replace “family members” with “old classmates.” Jeremy Davies
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At the holidays, I’m usually the lone English major at a dinner table of neuroscientists and psychologists. In families like this, Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness really comes in handy. Brian Gittis
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Douglas Smith – Rasputin
Jamaica Kincaid – Lucy
Greg Jackson – Prodigals
Luc Sante – Low Life
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I’m giving Bernadette Murphy’s Van Gogh’s Ear to a friend in California who loves art and visits the Impressionist galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art every time he comes to New York.
My mother is a lifelong avid reader and wants to read Bob Gottlieb’s memoir Avid Reader. She has read a lot of the books he talks about, and she’s interested in publishing because of me. Debra Helfand
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I’m giving The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick to several of my favorite women who love New York.
The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith is calling out for several seriously devoted fiction readers, particularly those who loved Euphoria or Rules of Civility.
I have Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal marked down for a young writer in the midst of writing her first novel.
I’m planning to introduce a former Potterhead and current Dr. Who fanatic to Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.
For a poetry lover who raved about Bluets, I’m sending over Maureen McLane’s My Poets, which I only recently discovered and which is just an astonishing creation that gives and gives and gives. Jenna Johnson
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I’m keen to deliver a few copies of Mike Roberts’s Cannibals in Love to friends. Suddenly this book about living through the unstable years of an uncertain presidency feels hugely relevant.
I’m very excited about Rachel Cusk’s next book, Transit, and will be giving it to everyone who loves a shrewd, articulate guide to the world.
And André Aciman’s Enigma Variations is an unfathomable excavation of desire that I’ll be handing out to everyone who has a heart. John Knight
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Between Meals: One my favorites on the FSG/North Point backlist, Between Meals recounts A. J. Liebling’s early days in Paris, in part the absolutely epic meals that he enjoyed while living there. The menus read like they should be serving a dozen people at least, though usually it’s just Liebling and a friend at the table. Romantic and nostalgic in the most charming way, his leisurely days in Paris are tremendously appealing.
Eye of the Sixties: A great story by Judith E. Stein of one of the very interesting characters in the NYC art scene of the 1960s, for anyone interested in that era of work, and the remarkable creative community in the city at that time.
Now I Sit Me Down: Something for the design fans (and furniture builders) on your list. Witold Rybczynski’s history of chairs, along with his illustrations, is a very entertaining read.
The Glamour of Strangeness: A wide-ranging collection of journeys by artists and writers, all expatriates in search of different opportunities in their travels abroad. For travelers, armchair and otherwise, fans of Paul Bowles, and others. Jonathan Lippincott
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This probably speaks to my own laziness as a gift-giver or my utter inability to pass up a self-serving opportunity, but I think FSG Originals has a few perfect gift packs this season—they’re paperbacks, so you can buy more than one! For anyone who’s ever said the word Japan, Lian Hearn’s Tale of Shikanoko quartet is lavish and drop-dead gorgeous, inside and out. And somehow, Jace Clayton’s Uproot + Geoff Manaugh’s Burglar’s Guide to the City + Warren Ellis’s Normal feels like a perfect little package for that person who already crashed her drone and lost enough wireless headphones that you’re not going down that route again. And for those who just need a hardcover in their stocking, Sjón’s slim little masterpiece Moonstone will slip right in and not disappoint anyone—it’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, but even people who just look at the cover will be dazzled. Sean McDonald
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Greg Jackson’s Prodigals, to everyone—I think at this point I should add “Greg Jackson Evangelist” to my resume.
Love for Sale by David Hajdu will go to my dad, to further the encyclopedic pop music knowledge that enables him to forever retain the upper hand in Trivial Pursuit’s Arts & Leisure category.
Douglas Smith’s Rasputin will go to my small but mighty crew of Russian history nerds. Naoise McGee
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Since I started designing the covers for Lian Hearn’s The Tale Shikanoko and after they came out, I’ve been recommending these nonstop to all my friends, and I will continue to do so. They’ve been too much fun to put down. Alex Merto
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My little sister is about to graduate from college, and her two career choices right now are Peace Corps or National Park Service, so obviously, she’ll be getting Terry Tempest Williams’s The Hour of Land.
My mom mostly reads biographies of people from the 1800s back, preferably by British academics (I know), so I’m going to try to stretch her boundaries a little with Marilynne Robinson’s The Givenness of Things.
My boyfriend loves philosophy, so he’s getting John Kaag’s American Philosophy: A Love Story, which has both American philosophy and a love story in it. Fitting. Alejandra Oliva
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Since I’ve already given everyone I know Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am:
I’ll be giving Ishion Hutchinson’s House of Lords and Commons and Eleanor Chai’s Standing Water to my poetry-loving mom.
I’ll be giving Thomas L. Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late and George Packer’s The Unwinding to my news junkie dad, who—like many of us—is still trying to make sense of the election.
I’ll be giving Morning, Paramin, featuring poems by Derek Walcott alongside paintings by Peter Doig, and Terry Tempest Williams’s timely ode to our national parks, The Hour of Land, to my uncles, who love books that are both beautifully designed and brilliantly written (and have a living room big enough for a coffee table).
I’ll be giving Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Other Minds to my boyfriend, who loves octopuses almost as much as I do.
I’ll be giving Patrice Nganang’s Mount Pleasant to a friend who loves sweeping magical realist epics from across the globe.
I’ll be giving Adam Phillips’s Unforbidden Pleasures and Frances Wilson’s Guilty Thing, two different but equally thrilling studies of our unruly imaginations, to a friend training to be a psychologist.
In preparation for Marianne Moore’s big year—we’ll be releasing the first authoritative anthology of her poems as they were originally published next spring—I’ll be giving everyone our reissued edition of her breakthrough collection, Observations, which still sounds fresh and startling nearly a century later.
I’ll be giving Christopher Logue’s War Music: An Account of Homer’s Iliad and Seamus Heaney’s Aeneid Book VI to all my fellow classics nerds.
I’ll be giving A Ted Hughes Bestiary, edited by Alice Oswald, to everyone who loved Max Porter’s Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, inspired loosely by the avian poems in Hughes’s Crow.
And I’d consider giving everyone a copy of Kristin Dombek’s The Selfishness of Others, but I’d rather keep it for myself. Steven Pfau
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Bill Loehfelm’s Maureen Coughlin series for my older brother, who moved to New Orleans this year and loves a good crime thriller.
Terry Tempest Williams’s beautiful book, The Hour of Land, for two park lovers I know: my brother’s girlfriend, who works for a big park conservancy in Memphis, and my cousin, a state secretary of natural resources.
Gerri Hirshey’s Not Pretty Enough must go to one of my college best friends, a religious reader of Cosmo.
For my mother, who is one hell of a party-thrower and the preeminent resource for intuiting how to do things the way they should be done, Jeremiah Tower’s Table Manners. (And maybe for my nineteen-year-old brother, though for entirely different reasons.)
For my childhood neighbors, a family thoroughly in love with Broadway, Jack Viertel’s The Secret Life of the American Musical. And for their youngest daughter, whom I used to hear tap dancing in the garage next door for hours on end, Brian Seibert’s What the Eye Hears. Kate Sanford
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I’m wrapping up The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal, The Sellout by Paul Beatty, and a pair of knockout debuts (Standing Water by Eleanor Chai and Prodigals by Greg Jackson). From our backlist, I’ll be giving Sylvia, by Leonard Michaels, to my friends living and loving in NYC.
Keeping a few copies of A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler on hand seems smart. A sweeping, immensely moving story of one man’s life in just 150 pages, it’s one of those rare books that you could give to almost anyone. (And I love the jacket art.)
If I hadn’t already given The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith to everyone in April, I’d be tying a bow on a few copies of that NYT bestseller as well. That novel pleased a lot of readers in my family, including my notoriously picky grandmother. Sarah Scire
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Table Manners by Jeremiah Tower: Everyone can use a brush up and a reminder that being a good guest gets you ahead—and invited back. Also great section on “techniquette.”
Give Us the Ballot by Ari Berman: Essential history of the Voting Rights Act and all the people—past presidents and people currently in power in Washington—who have been bent on ending it since the day it was enacted.
By Gaslight by Steven Price and Black Water by Louise Doughty: For my mystery and history readers.
Now I Sit Me Down by Witold Rybczynski: Polymath Rybczynski offers a tour of the history of the chair—and everything that goes with it. For my architect sister and also friends who like to roam around in history, art, and design.
A House Full of Daughters by Juliet Nicolson: For my Anglophile father and my two sisters and sister-in-law. Fascinating story of seven generations of women in Nicolson’s family, including her grandmother Vita Sackville-West. The heart breaker is Nicolson’s discoveries about her unhappy mother. Lottchen Shivers
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Gift books: Paul Muldoon, Selected Poems 1968–2014; Derek Walcott/Peter Doig, Morning, Paramin; Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds; Sunil Khilnani, Incarnations; Paul Beatty, The Sellout Alex Star
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I’m not sure if it is with pleasure or sadness that George Packer’s brilliant, incisive The Unwinding returns to my holiday gift-giving list this year. It was a pleasure to work with Packer in 2013 and I thought we were awake to the challenges we faced then but—okay, eyes are WIDE open now. It must go on the list alongside Matthew Desmond’s Evicted and Ari Berman’s Give Us the Ballot. I swear I read some new books this year—Rachel Cusk’s Transit should be the first purchase of the new year with your holiday gift cards. Paul Beatty’s The Sellout is also back on the list, permanently. Cannot wait to see what he does next. C. E. Morgan’s astonishing The Sport of Kings is bold and brilliant in its complexity; we need a voice like hers now more than ever. Sarita Varma
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Jace Clayton’s Uproot would make a great present for anyone interested in music, technology, globalization . . . Anyone interested in anything, really. I’m planning to gift it pretty heavily. I’m also looking at Douglas Smith’s Rasputin for my father. Steve Weil
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Everyone who has a damn sense of humor is getting Paul Beatty’s The Sellout. (Obviously.)
I’ll be giving my dad, who passed on to me his obsession with music, Ben Ratliff’s Every Song Ever and David Hajdu’s Love for Sale.
All of the Parks & Rec fans, hiker friends, and nature lovers in my life will be receiving Terry Tempest Williams’s The Hour of Land, an especially important book to read as we celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service. Rachel Weinick
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I have a friend who I know is going to love Lian Hearn’s Tale of Shikanoko books. There’s something fun about giving a complete set of books as opposed to just one. Robert Wicks
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Frances Wilson’s Guilty Thing: To my brother who bought me Confessions of an Opium Eater for my fourteenth birthday
Bernadette Murphy’s Van Gogh’s Ear: To my mum who has always loved Van Gogh’s work
Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Other Minds: To my friend studying marine biology
David Hajdu’s Love For Sale: To a singer/songwriter friend
Robert Seethaler’s A Whole Life: To everyone Sarahmay Wilkinson
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I will be giving away LOTS of copies of Table Manners by Jeremiah Tower. I also plan to give away A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin, Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce, and Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal. Caroline Zavakos
Sarah Scire works at FSG. You can find her online @skeery.
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