When I sat down to write on 2016’s most anticipated books, I figured I would have perhaps a dozen to tell you about — that it’d be a pretty compact list with a few solid highlights. Over about a month, I jotted down the titles I was excited about, and then took notes on what other people couldn’t stop talking about, too. By the time I hit the keyboard to write this post, I had 31 books on my list. Thirty-one. And that was only through July releases — and only fiction. WHAT?
If you thought 2015 was an embarrassment of riches, 2016 stands to blow it out of the water. I truly can’t believe some stuff that’s in the pipe from debut authors and known names alike. I mean, even freakin’ Don DeLilllo has a new book on the way. It’s called Zero K, and I’m telling you now that you should probably make room during your May to read it.
So, how did I choose what’s on this list, since I almost threw in the towel and resulted to randomly pitching darts? I picked the stuff that has me most excited — yes, the perks of having the floor — to dive into their pages, and what that I think you’ll love most, too. Of course, here’s my hearty disclaimer that there’s plenty that doesn’t appear here that’s going to make a huge splash in 2016, too. But with that said, consider my money down that this won’t be the last time you’ll hear of many of the titles below.
1. Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt (Jan 5; HMH)
Mr. Splitfoot is going to be a wild ride. If you're all about magical realists like Kelly Link, this is one title you'll need to pick up, because Samantha Hunt's third novel takes the banal and rockets it into the fantastic (and the fantastically wonderful). I don't want to divulge too much about this one because I'd rather you read it yourself, but I will say that if you love dual narrative structures or complicated timelines, this is an especially good pick for your must-read list.
2. Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of A Fist by Sunil Yapa (Jan 12; Lee Boudreaux)
If the title alone doesn't strike you on this one, I'm not sure what will. The energy and sheer humanity of Sunil Yapa's debut will grab you, wrap you in, and won't let you go — and that's just the start of why you're going to love this. Seven characters narrate this charged book, which centers on a protest. It's so layered, you'll finish this wondering how Yapa pulled off what he did.
3. The Queen Of The Night by Alexander Chee (Feb 2; HMH)
If I had to point to one book on this list to be the single most anticipated, it might be The Queen Of The Night. A long time in the making, Alexander Chee's 550-plus page second novel follows a legendary soprano and her relationship to a mysterious original role that could be her shot at stardom, or her complete undoing. Chee's hand is always masterful, but the elegance of Queen is nearly haunting. Make the time to be engulfed by this story, trust me.
4. The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal (Feb 9; Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Books in translation don't always get the love they deserve, but I'm hoping that The Heart makes its way to the top of your TBR pile. Originally written in French and translated to English for 2016, this slim, heady book made my own heart both stop and swell at the same time when I got an early copy of it. In stunning prose that cuts like a scalpel, it takes place over 24 hours, following a heart transplant. It's mesmerizing and cutting, and I've simply never read anything like it. I bet you'll feel the same way.
5. Ways To Disappear by Idra Novey (Feb 9; Little, Brown)
Idra Novey is also a published poet, and it shows in the insightful language of Ways To Disappear, which centers on a famous Brazilian writer who seems to have disappeared. Novey's brilliant sentences are only one reason to look forward to this wonderful novel, which is already gathering tons of big-name fans. Count me among those excited about it.
6. Wreck And Order by Hannah Tennant-Moore (Feb 9; Hogarth)
If you've been lost in the weeds of your own life (hi, me too), you just might identify with Elsie, the floating twentysomething at the beating heart of Wreck And Order. Sex, spirituality, wanting the wrong things, why people are like that — there's so much in Hannah Tennant-Moore's acutely observed debut that'll make you feel like someone gets it.
7. Why We Came To The City by Kristopher Jansma (Feb 16; Viking)
With its crackling humor and insight, Kris Jansma’s debut, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, was a totally underrated book. His second novel, Why We Came To The City, which follows a group of twentysomething New York friends and what happens to their lives after a tragedy strikes, is poised to make Jansma a name you know. It’s lively and elegant, and I promise that you’re going to love it.
8. A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin (Feb 16; Random House)
Let's shoot straight: Ethan Canin is brilliant. So, it’d make sense that he’d write about a genius in his new book A Doubter’s Almanac, which follows math superstar Milo and the life that his unusual talent gives him. Anything from Canin should always be hotly anticipated, but there's something about this one that has me extra-excited — its plot is primed for Canin to play with psychology and character in a way that could really be remarkable. Excuse me while I go tackle it.
9. Tender by Belinda McKeon (Feb 16; Lee Boudreaux)
Tender made quite a splash when it was first published in Ireland — and there's a great chance it'll make the same waves when it's released here. Tender is about a friendship between a woman and a man who meet in Dublin in the late '90s. This insanely beautiful novel digs deep uncovering so much truth below the surface, however... and if you do cry, don't say I didn't warn you.
10. 13 Ways Of Looking At A Fat Girl by Mona Awad (Feb 23; Penguin)
Mona Awad writes exactly what you’re thinking, and that’s one of the many reasons you’re going to love her debut about the overweight, obsessively dieting Lizzie March. 13 Ways, which puts a lens to body image and every issue touching it, announces her as a writer with real insight not only to the mind, but also to the heart.
11. What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi (Mar 8; Riverhead)
Helen Oyeyemi wrote a new book — really, do I need to say more? The author of 2014’s Boy, Snow, Bird and 2011’s Mr. Fox returns with a collection of intertwined stories all constructed around the concept of keys. What could that mean? Well, knowing the author, she’ll take the concept both super-literally and totally off-the-wall metaphorically — I suppose we’ll just have to read to find out, won’t we?
12. Shelter by Jung Yun (Mar 15; Picador)
If you want high stakes and suspense, you've found your book (I mean, just look at that cover). Jung Yun writes about family and identity and the tight bond between them — especially when circumstances change in startling ways. Yun knows how to evoke with powerful command of language and pacing, and Shelter will get your heart beating for sure.
13. Hold Still by Lynn Steger Strong (Mar 21; Norton)
Here's a book that you'll want to read in one sitting — not that you'll have a choice, because Hold Still will grip you like the undertow. Heartbreaking and moving, Lynn Steger Strong's debut tells the story of good intentions gone horribly wrong, and examines the depths of family love. Strong is a force: her characters are fully alive, and her moments leap from the page. You're going to love this.
14. The Assistants by Camille Perri (May 3; Putnam)
Camille Perri's The Assistants is going to be a lot of fun — especially for anyone who's been stuck at the bottom of the ladder for way too long. It has humor, wry observations about the working world, but most of all a smart irresistibility to it, which is what you'd expect from Perri, who's been working in the literary world for years.
15. The After Party by Anton DiSclafani (May 17; Riverhead)
Anyone who read the impossibly beautiful Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls already has The After Party pre-ordered. If that's not you, however, all you'll need to know about this novel to get excited is that it's all about the 1950s Texas social scene, which means lots of glamour and gossip. It's also about female friendship, which has me excited, especially with DiSclafani's talent for rendering compelling and unforgettable women.
16. Rich And Pretty by Rumaan Alam (Jun 7; Ecco)
I've been thrilled watching the excitement swell around this book. We've all felt what it's like when a friendship from childhood changes as you both crawl into your adult lives — that's the story at the heart of Rumaan Alam's Rich And Pretty. This novel astutely and honestly captures all of those feelings we all have but can't quite articulate during our twenties and thirties, especially with regard to our friends.
17. When Watched by Leopoldine Core (Jul 5; Penguin)
Leopoldine Core is one of those writers who's going to sneak up on you... and bam! Her name will be everywhere. This story collection, centered in New York City, may be what'll launch her. I don't quite know what to expect from When Watched to be honest — but perhaps that's the most exciting part.
I’m walking away now before I double the size of this list. Really. (But I do happen to be on Twitter if you’re dying to talk 2016, just in case.) What a way to ring in a new year, though, no?