2016 is coming to an end and, as is their tradition, The Guardian UK has asked some of the globe’s top writers to pick their favorite books of the year. It is a rich and interesting list. Among those naming their favorites are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who picked Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s memoir Birth of Dream Weaver, Taiye Selasi who chose Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun and Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, and Teju Cole who picked Anne Carson’s and Ishion Hutchinson’s respective poetry collections Float and House of Lords and Commons.
Cole himself has his essay collection Known and Strange Things chosen by both Amit Chaudhuri and Lauren Elkin; Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers is picked by Jessie Burton; Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing is picked by Damian Barr; and Petinah Gappah has her short story collection Rotten Row and her novel The Book of Memory selected respectively by Helen Simpson and Paula Hawkins.
Read what they have to say about their chosen books below.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie:
I particularly loved three beautiful books of non-fiction this year: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Birth of a Dream Weaver (Harvill Secker), exquisite in its honesty and truth and resilience, and a necessary chronicle from one of the greatest writers of our time. Tash Aw’s The Face(Restless), so wise and so well done, made me wish it were much longer than it is. And Hisham Matar’s The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between (Viking), which moved me to tears and taught me about love and home.
I absolutely adored Zadie Smith’s Swing Time (Hamish Hamilton). Fairly perfect as far as literary novels go. Alejandro Zambra’s Multiple Choice (Granta) is, to my mind, the best of what experimental fiction can be. And Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun (Cassava Republic Press) introduced me to one of my favourite literary characters ever. Dr Morayo Da Silva is a new best friend.
Alex Webb’s shadow-dazed photographs are unmistakable. La Calle (Thames & Hudson) is his love song to the streets of Mexico. Anne Carson’s newest book of poems, Float (Jonathan Cape), is not exactly new, not a single book, mostly not poems. In 23 slender chapbooks, she pinpoints the collision of oracle and anachronism. Ishion Hutchinson’s House of Lords and Commons (Macmillan) was the best new collection of poems I read this year. His imagistic fluency equals his moral imagination. For Christmas, I would like Jameel Jaffer’s The Drone Memos (The New Press), a nice counterweight to the hosannas ushering Obama from office.
In The Book of Memory (Faber), the sole woman on death row in a Zimbabwean prison reflects on family, guilt and redemption. Petina Gappah’s first novel is a witty and tender account of a life in a country undergoing momentous change.
From this year’s new books, Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things(Faber) made me reflect on the provenance of the sensibility contained in its pages: a possible world history of modernism of which we have only a skewed understanding, leaving out, as it does, Africa and India.
My favourite novel was Imbolo Mbue’s bittersweet yet buoyant Behold the Dreamers(Random House), told through the eyes of a Cameroonian couple newly arrived in New York, as their fates tangle with those of their white Upper East Side employers.
Teju Cole hits it out of the park over and over in Known and Strange Things, his essay collection on photography, travel, race and being. I know I’ll be rereading and engaging with the ideas here for years to come.
Two top new short-story collections: Petina Gappah’s Rotten Row (Faber) does for Harare now what Dickens did for Victorian London, with lethal comic relish and rage.
Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing (Viking), published in the UK next January, follows the descendants of slaves and slavers from 17th-century Ghana to the US of Black Lives Matter. Encompassing events major and minor, but skilfully skipping the civil war, it humanises big issues by giving us unforgettable characters. It could not be more relevant or needed.