Oakland Public Library Staff’s Favorite Books of 2016

OPL staff look back on their favorite books of 2016.

As it draws to a close, some have declared 2016 the worst year ever. Whether or not we all agree with that sentiment, we can look back fondly on at least one thing: the books! Here are some of our favorite books from the past twelve months.

Please share your favorite books of 2016 in the comments.

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
An evocative tale of growing up and the role best friends play during that time.  The Brooklyn of the 1970s is a perfectly rendered additional character. 
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Helen, Librarian, Main

Desert Boys by Chris McCormick
A collection of linked stories revolve around Daley “Kush” Kushner, a young man growing up in a small desert town in California’s Antelope Valley. Daley struggles with being secretly (or not so secretly) gay, being tender hearted in a world of tough guys, and wanting to move away and create a new life while he remains frustratingly tethered to his birthplace. This book is packed with amazingly sharp observations, beautiful human connections, humor and heartbreak. 
Recommended for: Adults, Teens
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Dessert First by Dean Gloster      
In most families, there's one person who's best at keeping things together in times of trouble. If you're a teenager, and you feel like that person is you, it's hard - especially when the trouble is way out of your league to fix. Dessert First has a few similarities to The Fault in Our Stars, but I found Dessert First more believable and a better book on many levels.     
Recommended for: Teens           
Recommended by: Ann Daniels, Families for Literacy Coordinator, Second Start - Main  

Dreaming On the Edge: Poets and Book Artists in California by Alastair M. Johnston
In an exquisitely illustrated survey, Johnston's vivid and erudite discussion of the poets and book artists of California provides a grand tour of art on the Pacific Coast in the modern era. This book is fascinating and beautifully illustrated.
Recommended for: Adults            
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis
Page by page, a plant grows as sharply-dressed insects speculate -- in their own language -- about what it might be. Each spread shows the same space as it incrementally changes over the seasons, and the bugs investigate, build a treehouse, and face danger from a swooping bird. Careful readers will notice lesser dramas, too: a caterpillar does his thing, a stick bug is barely noticeable until a many-eyed spider steps on its head, a mushroom grows. Kids (and adults) will love decoding the bugs' strange, silly language. The style is distinctly Ellis’: the gouache and ink illustrations will be familiar to fans of her work as artist-in-residence for the Decemberists. Kindergartners and everyone on up will get the most out of the book, especially repeat readings.         
Recommended for: Children, Families
Recommended by: Mary, Children's Librarian, Elmhurst Branch 

Every Man A Menace by Patrick Hoffman
Fast paced crime novel about the international drug trade, much of which takes place in the Bay Area.  The pace doesn't detract from the reader seeing the humanity of the many characters.  Tense and thrilling.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Brian Boies, Librarian II, TeenZone   

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
This book is showing up on many “Best Of 2016” lists and for good reason. The author, a Harvard professor and MacArthur Genius grant recipient, spent time living in the rough parts of Milwaukee, getting to know landlords and the tenants who cycle through their often dilapidated properties. Occupants struggle to keep their housing when any unexpected expense means the rent doesn’t get paid. Eviction court does not provide or require legal representation, and once marked by an eviction history, options for decent housing become scarce.  Personal stories make this book read more like a novel, but the truth in Evicted will change how you think about “home” forever.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults           
Recommended by: Christine, Librarian, Main     

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston
I didn't know what to think of this book when I opened it.... and it surprised me over and over again. Hermione is a cheerleader -- not your stereotypical social butterfly shaking pom-poms, but a serious elite athlete -- and as she and her squad are training for the final competition, someone spikes her drink, brutally attacks her, and leaves her on the shore of the lake at cheer camp. Suddenly she's the topic of everyone's gossip. How does she come back from this and start to plan her future again? With the help of her parents, her best friend, her teammates, universal healthcare, and a really good (though unconventional) therapist. This is a survival story, a phoenix story, not just a teen issue book. Highly recommended even if you don't get the Shakespeare reference in the title.      
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Remy, Teen Librarian, Eastmont       

The Explosion of Deferred Dreams: Musical Renaissance and Social Revolution in San Francisco, 1965-1975
by Mat Callahan
Much has been published lately about the uprisings of the 1960s. Callahan's book stands alone. He experienced the period he writes about first hand as a rock musician (The Looters, Wild Bouquet, etc.), singer-songwriter, music theorist, member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe and leftist social activist. This has helped to inform his brilliant analysis of the moment in history when San Francisco Bay Area was the world's primary center of innovation in popular music and locus of a worldwide cultural revolution.
Recommended for: Adults            
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Faithful by Alice Hoffman
Beautiful story of loss and mourning that left me feeling hopeful. For regular Hoffman readers, there isn't any supernatural elements in this book (but I found I didn't need them for this story).
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Rebekah Randle, Library Aide, Lakeview

The Golden Age by Joan London
In 1950’s Perth, Australia, Frank is a 13-year-old Jewish refugee from Hungary who is wise beyond his years. He’s a poet, and he’s also a polio survivor struggling with his new disability. His life is changed when he finds a home at a convalescent hospital for juvenile polio survivors called the Golden Age, where he experiences his first love. Tender and bittersweet and filled with vivid characters, this book intertwines sorrow and longing with hope.
Recommended for: Adults, Teens
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
I immediately wanted to re-read this book! Solid contemporary romance about enemies that are forced to work together and come to realize that hating someone is disturbingly similar to loving someone.
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Rebekah Randle, Library Aide, Lakeview

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
In alternating chapters, Homegoing follows the descendants of two branches of a Ghanaian family from the 18th century to today. This is a story of vast sweep, through continents and centuries, touching the slave trade, colonization, tribal warfare, captivity, marriage within and without one's own kind, American racism and black pride, homophobia, and much more. But it's not a big book, and it isn't written as an epic - it's just a story of people, one chapter per person, one chapter at a time, until you are surrounded and overwhelmed and buoyed up as though by the ocean the characters cross and fear and love.            
Recommended for: Teens, Adults           
Recommended by: Ann Daniels, Families for Literacy Coordinator, Second Start - Main  

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
Not a novel for the faint-hearted. Imagine Me Gone tells, through five distinct voices, the story of a family devastated by two generations of crippling depression and anxiety. Raw and urgent.
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Kathleen DiGiovanni, Senior Librarian, Main Library 

The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz
Combining adventure, medieval history, religion and scatological humor, this amazing quest tale features three children crossing 13th century France. Multiple voices give rise to well-written characters and a complex narrative but that complexity never overwhelms. A fabulous read!
Recommended for: Children
Recommended by: Helen, Children's Librarian, Main Children's Room    

LaRose by Louise Erdrich
Landreaux, hunting a deer, accidentally kills his neighbor’s son.  How the two families survive and are changed by this horrific event makes magnificent storytelling in Erdrich’s hand.  Landreaux’s own son, LaRose, is the centerpiece of the story, which is told from many perspectives, current and past.  Erdrich’s narrative wanders unevenly through different character’s history but always with vividness, surprise, and humor,  in a story of revenge and forgiveness, and of the interplay of an individual’s and a family’s transformation.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Nina Lindsay, Supervising Librarian for Children’s Services

Listen, Liberal, or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? by Thomas Frank
Explains how the Democratic party become the party of the Meritocracy movement or the professional classes and in turn lost its old FDR New Deal base or what is now called the "White Working Class". This book more or less predicted the election of a demagogue like Donald Trump who tapped into the anger, frustration and resentment the "White Working Class" has against the professional elite class.
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Paul Schiesser, Branch Manager, Rockridge 

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
In this challenging and rewarding book, the author considers the role loneliness and isolation, whether imposed from without or self-assumed, in the creation of art. Laing discusses the lives and works of Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Klaus Nomi, and David Wojnarowicz, among others.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Kathleen DiGiovanni, Senior Librarian, Main Library 

The Mexican Flyboy by Alfredo Vea Jr.  
With locations from San Quentin to the Central Valley to the Mexican/Texas borderlands, this book combines magical realism and a story about how sometimes in order to save someone, you have to save yourself. It's a quick read and the figures encountered along the way are all easily identifiable, even without needing a Google search.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Lina, Delivery                            

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
A group of World War II refugees thrown together by chance are making their way to the ships that will offer them freedom from the aftermath of the war. First, however, they must get through East Prussia without getting killed or imprisoned by the Red Army or Nazis. A not-often-heard side of World War II of the civilians left behind after the war’s end, Salt to the Sea is based on the true tragedy of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the greatest maritime disaster in history. Intricately plotted and told in alternating viewpoints by complex characters hiding secrets from each other and from themselves, this is a story both heartbreaking and heartwarming.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Sally Engelfried, Children's Librarian, Montclair Branch        

Scratch a Thief & House of Evil, two thrillers by John Trinian (aka Zekial Marko)
The author was an integral part of a circle of Bohemians who in the mid-1960s frequented Juanita's, a saloon operated by its colorful namesake on the converted ferry, Charles Van Damme, docked on the Sausalito waterfront. He would later land in Hollywood, as Zekial Marko, to produce some of the period's most compelling television scripts as episodes of "The Rockford Files," "Mission: Impossible," and "Kolchak: The Night Stalker." In these two reprinted thrillers, first published in 1961 & 1962 respectively, Trinian (a pen name) uses the backdrop of San Francisco in those years to display the unique imagination that helped him succeed in Hollywood.
Recommended for: Adults            
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
In an era when a reckless attachment to not ruffling any feathers has turned the country's leadership over to corrupt oligarchs tied to actively xenophobic, racist, sexist, ableist, antisemitic, queerphobic, Islamophobic, transphobic, nationalist individuals and organizations, Ms. West's willingness to raise her voice and speak truth to power, feathers be d*mned, is both refreshing and necessary. This book focuses for the most part on issues related to Ms. West's experiences with sexism, misogyny, and fatphobia, and it opens the door to the rest of her body of thoughtful, politically engaged work as a writer and activist. 
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Janine deManda, TPT Library Assistant, Main - Children's & GovDocs    

          

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet 
Melissa Sweet's collage artwork on nearly every page form a perfect complement to her clearly-written biography, which gives enticing back-story information to E.B. White's most popular children's books, and inspiring scenes of the life of a writer.  Adults who read his books aloud to their children will enjoy reading this one aloud as well. Ample quotes from his stories, letters, and articles are set in old-typewriter font and dated for clarity. Photos, ephemera, and watercolor illustrations are combined for a dynamic and appealing presentation.
Recommended for: Children, Adults, Families
Recommended by: Erica S., Children's Librarian, Rockridge Branch           

Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America by Charles Russo  
Not only a brief look into the life of Bruce Lee, but also insight into the historical background on how martial arts was spread in the United States.  The author, Charles Russo, a local San Francisco writer, delves deep into the history of martial arts in San Francisco and Oakland, and how one of its most famous cultural icons, helped spread its influence around the world.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Liza Ly, PT Librarian I               

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas
LOVED IT. Smart, interesting take on Sherlock that tackles the reality of being a woman in that era.
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Rebekah Randle, Library Aide, Lakeview

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel
A cat walks through the world with its whiskers, ears and paws. Different animals all see the cat: a child sees a friendly face, a bee sees a pixillated creature, a flea sees a forest of hair, a mouse sees enormous claws and teeth, a bird sees a back way below - and what does the cat see? Gorgeous illustrations, a funny idea that little kids will love, and deeper underlying food for thought: what makes different viewers see the same thing in completely different ways?         
Recommended for: Children     
Recommended by: Ann Daniels, Families for Literacy Coordinator, Second Start - Main  

Today Will Be Different  by Maria Semple             
Semple excels at taking "a day in the life" of her character, Eleanor Flood, and unraveling a whole lifetime (as well as her sanity) in the course of that day. How does a writer so skillfully encapsulate a marriage, career in television, mother-son relationship, and the bond of sisters, through the interior thoughts of the narrator? Through risk-taking, soul-baring, side-aching writing. I like how deeply buried secrets belonging to the narrator are secrets to us readers as well, until they are not secrets anymore. I enjoy the surprises throughout the novel, and you just have to trust Semple is taking you somewhere interesting. It is perhaps not as consistently laugh out loud funny as the previous novel, (Where'd You Go Bernadette)— because there is ultimately much sadness in the story she creates in collage-like fashion. However, it is also dependably quirky, supremely honest, and a great satire of modern life. I enjoyed the additional surprise element of the graphic illustrations -- it wouldn't be the same book without these 'found objects.' Have you kept something from your past life that you wish you could work into a collage, a song, or a novel? Writers will also laugh out loud that she procrastinated for eight years on her next creation, apparently oblivious that her agent and editor had been sloughed off due to the great publishing conglomeration debacle of this century. One by one, all day long, all things fall away, all illusions fall away, not just her book deal. The book could be called, Where'd you go, life?
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Emily Odza, Librarian, Your friendly neighborhood branch (various locations)              

To the Brink: True Story of the First Human-Powered Circumnavigation of the Earth by Jason Lewis
In this, the long-awaited conclusion to the author's epic documentation of his journey to become the first person ever to have circled the planet using only the power of his own body, Lewis lands his pedal boat, Moksha, in Cairns, Australia after crossing the Pacific Ocean. From there he crosses the Australian continent, heading back to England via the Himalayas, the troubled lands on the African shore of the Red Sea, the Holy Land then across Europe. The book concludes the three volume chronicle of his journey (following Dark Waters of 2012 and The Seed Buried Deep of 2014) that began at the Greenwich meridian and concludes there after his daring and treacherous westward circumnavigation of the earth, walking, rowing, pedaling and even swimming. Lewis captures all the wonder, terror and loneliness that faced him in a gripping and captivating style.   
Recommended for: Teens, Adults           
Recommended by: Steven Lavoie, Branch Manager, Temescal Branch   

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a young slave who flees the violence and terror of her Georgia plantation via a system of literal, not metaphorical, subterranean steam trains. It’s a suspenseful and inventive page turner that takes an unflinching look at the horrors of American slavery and other brutal injustices that formed the foundation of our nation. Whitehead is one of our country’s great literary talents and it came as no surprise that this book won this year's National Book Award for Fiction.
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library

Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung
People have always treated seventh-grader Chloe Cho like she’s from outer space, just because she’s the only Asian American in her school.  When a new teacher, Ms. Lee, becomes the second Korean American, assigns a project to explore family history, and starts asking pressing questions, Chloe begins to realize there is much more to her parents’ immigration story than she ever imagined.  Mike Jung, an Oakland author, delivers a hilarious and provocative story about identity and friendship.
Recommended for: Children, Teens
Recommended by: Nina Lindsay, Supervising Librarian for Children’s Services

We Gon' Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation by Jeff Chang
An incredibly timely and important book that contextualizes the racial and class tensions we recently witnessed and experienced in the presidential campaign this year. Chang discusses how white Americans' feelings of displacement in our multiracial American society has fueled so many of our public policies around housing, policing, education, public speech, and equity. He asserts that we've avoided the necessary discourses we need to have to attain true equality. For people (particularly local folks) interested in how things got the way they are, this book is a must-read.
Recommended for: Adults         
Recommended by: Dorothy Lazard, Librarian, Oakland History Room

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Paul Kalanithi was a brilliant young doctor and researcher in the Bay Area when he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. This slim volume is his story in his own words, finished by his widow after his death. This book is especially recommended for anyone dealing with the illness or death of someone in their family or anyone they love.
Recommended for: Teens, Adults           
Recommended by: Ann Daniels, Families for Literacy Coordinator, Second Start-Main     

Comments

What do you think?

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.