Picador's Books of the Year 2016
The Picador team share their favourite books from the past year.
Paul Baggaley, Picador Publisher
I loved Olivia Laing's The Lonely City - reminiscent of the writing of the genius WG Sebald, this memoir and exploration of a city and its artists was the perfect companion to our own fictional evocation in Megan Bradbury's Everyone is Watching.
And like so many I was overwhelmed by the originality and range of Maggie Nelson's writing: the disquieting lyricism of Bluets
, the intense sexuality of The Argonauts,
and the dark examination of violence of The Red Parts.
Francesca Main, Editorial Director
I've loved many novels this year but the one that's left the deepest impression is Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, which transforms the metaphor of the title into a heart-stopping reality and tells the story of a slave girl's desperate bid for freedom. I found it ingenious, devastating, eye-opening and electrifying; impossible to put down and impossible to forget.
In non-fiction, I found Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air
a beautiful and profoundly moving memoir, so brave and truthful and unexpectedly life-affirming for a book about looking death in the eye.
Ravi Mirchandani, Associate Publisher
Tana French's In The Woods. 50 pages in, I was rather reminded why I don't often read crime fiction; it was somehow all too familiar a set-up to seem terribly interesting.
50 pages after that - and for the rest of the book - I found myself wishing i read more 'literary' fiction that was as excellent, both gripping and insightful, not so much about the killer, as about the relationships among the cops and the family of the murdered girl. First-class debut; I'm now on to the later ones to see if they are, as I'm told, even better!
In non-fiction this year, what seems to have become this year's obvious choice is also, for me, the only choice: Christopher de Hamel's Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts. It's not simply that the book looks so beautiful, but that de Hamel also writes so brilliantly, enthusiastically and infectiously about the manuscripts themselves; I'm not surprised the average review on Amazon is 4.9...
Sophie Jonathan, Senior Editor
I finally read Atul Gawande's Being Mortal this summer. Oh my, it is stunning. Moving, thoughtful, beautifully written and both uplifting and energising. I can't count the number of conversations I've had that have revolved around its themes and issues - it felt like something I needed to read, but my goodness I loved the experience.
It's impossible to single out my favourite novel I read in 2016 so I'll do a hardback and a paperback. Jessie Burton's The Muse
blew me away with its drama, passion, intrigue and artistry. I think I might love it even better than The Miniaturist
by Andrew Michael Hurley was my surprise book love of the year. I devoured it and thought it absolutely brilliant - perfectly plotted, dark, clever. A pleasure all round.
Kris Doyle, Senior Commissioning Editor
I realise I'm slightly late to this party, but Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Quartet was the best fiction I read this year. Exceptional on place and politics across decades; astonishingly perspicacious about friendship, from school days to old age; moving, gripping and original. I can't recommend them more wholeheartedly, and suggest you gulp them down contiguously, as I did, in greedy delight.
In his new book, Homo Deus
, Yuval Noah Harari ranges across science, history, philosophy and more to offer a ruthlessly intelligent look at humanity's possible future. Harari is seemingly omnicompetent; will he prove omniscient? Let's hope not!
Kish Widyaratna, Editorial Assistant
Set during the closing days of the horrors of the Sri Lankan civil war in the north of the island, Anuk Arudpragasm’s beautiful debut, The Story of Brief Marriage, tells the story of two young people thrown together by their perilous circumstances, learning to feel as people again as the fighting closes in around them. Hypnotic in its detail, this devastatingly moving novel bears unflinching witness to the lives of those caught up in a conflict now much forgotten by the wider world.
I adored reading Second-hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich, a staggering oral history from the 2015 Nobel laureate, in gathering together the voices of ordinary Russians in all their emotion and idiosyncrasy, she captures a vivid, shifting portrait of the Russian nation at the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of Putin. As 2016 closes out with the knowledge that Russia may have worked to ensure a Trump victory in the US elections it feels ever more necessary to get to know our neighbours.
My favourite poetry collection this year was Look by Solmaz Sharif, an urgent debut exploring the personal and political costs of the contemporary US-led wars in the Middle East and the insidious nature of language itself in lyric and lexicon. In its insight, elegance and power it delivers a reading experience similar to Claudia Rankine's landmark collection Citizen.
Tom Noble, Social Media Manager
I know it was first published in the UK last year, but like many people I was first alerted to The Vegetarian
by Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith) when it won the Man Booker International Prize 2016. And what a deserving winner – it's a shocking, unsettling read that's unlike anything I've ever read before.
No Picnic on Mount Kenya
by Felice Benuzzi. Kenya, 1943, and three Italian POWs sneak out from their camp and attempt to scale the nearby Mount Kenya, the second-highest mountain in Africa. They do it with barely any rations, homemade equipment and the map that's printed on the side of an Oxo tin. And then they sneak back in to camp again. Sounds impossible, but this brilliant account of their incredible effort shows the power of the human spirit.
Sophie Painter, Content & Communities Editor
I hadn’t come across Kent Haruf until I was encouraged by just about everyone to read his beautiful final novel, Our Souls at Night, within my first few days of working for Picador. I’d been seriously missing out; I’ve never encountered anything so deceptively simple, graceful and humane. I’ve now made it my mission to hunt down everything in his backlist.
This Is London by Ben Judah was the book that made the greatest impression on me this year. As dramatic, shocking and engrossing as any fiction, seeing the city I call home through the eyes of its beggars, bankers, gangsters, carers and sex workers really brought home how narrow your own experience can be and how many different versions of the city exist simultaneously.
Find out more about the Picador team here.