One of the strangest parts of this extremely strange year for me was that for roughly six weeks, between the end of September and the aftermath of the election, I was completely unable to read a book for pleasure. Instead of losing myself in another world, or in someone else’s brain, which is the reason I usually read, I kept groping for my phone to check the news. There was too much happening and too much to be anxious about. It felt irresponsible to abandon the real world even for an hour or two. I could miss something important. (Individual at-bats during the World Series qualified.)

Then, of course, there was the aftermath of the election. I read a lot of romance novels and a few mysteries because with those, for the most part, you know everything will be OK in the end. I also did some rereading, because I already knew what would happen and therefore couldn’t be surprised.

Comfort is one reason to read. But we also read to explore new places and ideas and face the unexpected. It’s the closest most of us come to having regular adventures. Before I lost my powers of concentration, I was enjoying the new books that appeared in 2016, and so, it appears, did the Reader‘s reviewers.

The one thing that redeems the last four months is the small comfort that someone (or many someones) somewhere is collecting material for what is sure to be a killer Great American Novel about the events of the past year.

But we won’t get to read that for quite a while. In the meantime, here’s a list of books that surprised and enlightened and delighted Reader reviewers in 2016:


Obsolescence: An Architectural History by Daniel M. Abramson (Chicago)

Beverly by Nick Drnaso (Drawn & Quarterly)
Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form by Hilary Chute (Belknap)

A Change of Heart by Sonali Dev (Kensington)
Chicago by Brian Doyle (Thomas Dunne)
One Day’s Tale by Lois Barliant (Austin Lamp Press)
The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie (Penguin)
What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell (FSG)

Amaro: The Spirited World of Bittersweet, Herbal Liqueurs by Brad Thomas Parsons (Ten Speed Press)
First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson (Basic)

The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood by Belle Boggs (Graywolf)

Dirty Waters: Confessions of Chicago’s Last Harbor Boss by R.J. Nelson (Chicago)
Hold Still by Sally Mann (Back Bay Books)
Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know About Life I Learned From Watching 80s Movies by Jason Diamond (William Morrow)
Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout by Laura Jane Grace with Dan Ozzi (Hachette)
Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North by Blair Braverman (Ecco)

Madonnaland, and Other Detours Into Fame and Fandom by Aline Simone (University of Texas Press)
Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap by Ben Westhoff (Hachette)
The Record Store of the Mind by Josh Rosenthal (Tompkins Square Books)
Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements by Bob Mehr (Da Capo)

Politics and Society
Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives by Gary Younge (Nation Books)
City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp by Ben Rawlence (Picador)
Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row by Forrest Stuart (Chicago)
Exoneree Diaries: The Fight for Innocence, Independence, and Identity
by Alison Flowers (Haymarket)
Future Sex: A New Kind of Free Love by Emily Witt (FSG)
Listen Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People? by Thomas Frank (Metropolitan)
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West (Hachette)
The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation by Natalie Y. Moore (St. Martin’s)
We Were Feminists Once by Andi Zeisler (Public Affairs)

The Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking by Brooke Borel (Chicago)

Grace Without God: The Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging in a Secular Age by Katherine Ozment (Harper Wave)

TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time by Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz (Grand Central)
Two Weeks in the Midday Sun: A Cannes Notebook by Roger Ebert (Chicago)