Slavery. Racism. Urbanism. Disease. While 2016 may not have been a banner year for liberal democracy in the world at large, it should definitely go down as a woke time in book publishing.
For dedicated bibliophiles, the low thrum of literary FOMO that bubbles up around May has by mid-December evolved into a full-fledged panic. Every week brings a new “best books of the year” list, each one littered with titles you haven’t even heard of, let alone read. Any nascent new-year confidence is supplanted by fears of intellectual inadequacy or—unthinkable in this age of success micro-steps and wellness lifehacks—unproductiveness.
Take a breath; I’ve got you covered. By combining 36 different qualitative “best books” lists by everyone from the New York Times to The Telegraph to a smattering of celebrities (full list of lists here), I’ve created the Ultimate Authoritative Unimpeachable Top 20 Books of 2016. Here they are:
The 2016 Top 20 offers up nice variety—13 fiction books, seven nonfiction; 12 female authors, eight male; 12 white authors, eight diverse. But more pronounced is the timeliness of the list’s recurring themes. All of the top four books are focused in some way on race, and two explicitly on slavery. Two of the books in the Top 20 are about Russia, and one is about America’s disaffected white working class. Two touch on health and disease, and another explores being transgender. Even the lighter fare—like The Girls, a breezy thriller that earned its 27-year-old author a $2 million advance—has gravity: Emma Cline’s debut is a riff on the women involved in the 1969 Charles Manson murders.
While it’s tempting to close out a year like 2016 with a bottle of whiskey and a Seinfeld marathon, reading is a valuable way to process complex issues—more valuable than, say, than ranting at your Trump-loving relatives on Facebook. Books reduce stress, boost empathy, and improve family relationships. They’re even linked to a longer lifespan.
So pour a glass of wine, put on your slippers, and throw another log on the fire…or tell Alexa to turn up the heat or whatever. Snag something from the Unimpeachable Top 20 and let the words wash over you; let them drown out the talking heads, the chyrons, the fake news, the mansplaining, and the tweetstorms. Because if you can’t take the leap of giving yourself the perfect gift this holiday season—complete and utter solitude—at least you can take a micro-step.
Republished from Quartz with permission.