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The Best Books I Read in 2016

JR. counts down the best books he read in 2016.

I was shocked when I looked back on 2016 to find that I read almost exclusively fiction. Maybe that shouldn’t be such a surprise since, for my forthcoming book Empathy for the Devil, I am writing fiction for the first time. But here is my list of my favorite books I read this year – nearly all of which are from 2015 or 2016.

10. Morning Star (Red Rising #3)

If you haven’t read the Red Rising trilogy, you’re missing probably the single best YA trilogy out there. It’s science fiction, and to say more than that would spoil a truly enjoyable journey. Suffice to say, most of these trilogies peter out by the third book (I’m looking at you, Mockingjay and Allegiant), but Morning Star continues to raise the stakes established in the first two books, and manages to deliver a climax that is at once epic, satisfying and seemingly-effortless.

9. Silence and Beauty by Makoto Fujimura

Makoto Fujimura is one of the premier working artists right now. In this book, he engages the novel Silence by Shusaku Endo, giving us a powerful meditation on the nature and purpose of art. It’s a beautiful, layered book that offers much missing from contemporary Evangelical discourse.

Be sure to catch the StoryMen interview with Mako on our 150th SILENCE episode in January!

8. End of Watch by Stephen King

King knows how to wrap-up a trilogy. Though End of Watch was easily my least favorite of the three books in the Bill Hodges trilogy, it’s still fantastic. King gives the characters you’ve fallen in love with over the past three books a proper send-off by pitting them against one who is sure to end up as one of King’s most memorable villains.

7. Seveneves by Neil Stephenson

In the near future, the moon blows up and humanity has 2 years before the Earth is rendered unihabitable. On your mark, get set, GO! Stephenson is a hard sci-fi author, so everything in this book feels like it could happen. The first two-thirds look at how humanity tries to survive. The last third jumps forward 5,000 years to look at the civilizations that emerge from the fallout. Fun, fast-paced science-fiction that’s a unique blend of near- and far-future.

6. Grace of Kings by Ken Liu

Fantasy that is set not in a vaguely medieval European context, but instead a vaguely medieval Asian context. It’s a big, crazy, awesome story and I am about to dive into the sequel, released at the end of 2016. If you enjoy fantasy, you will love this book.

5. Underground Airlines by Ben Winters

I am a not-so-secret fan of alternate history, and this is a thriller set in a world where the US never fought the Civil War. In this alternate 2016, four US states still employ legal slavery. The main character is a runaway slave apprehended by the US Marshals who now hunts other runaways in exchange for his (relative) freedom. What’s truly

Listen to the StoryMen interview with author Ben Winters!

4. Silence by Shusaku Endo

You’ve probably seen the trailer for the film adaptation in wide-release early next year. You may not know that Scorsese has been wanting to adapt this novel since he made The Last Temptation of Christ. The book focuses on the persecution of Catholic Christians in medieval Japan, and there’s a reason it became an international bestseller. This book haunts you.

Watch for the StoryMen 150th Episode on January 6. It’s all about this book!

3. Dietland by Sarai Walker

Issue books are strikingly difficult to do – they tend to be preachy, and the fiction often feels forced into service of the message. Not so with Dietland, a story about a large woman named Plumb, who’s all set to get lap band surgery. Until she gets caught up in a world of gender terrorism, insider fashion and uh… well you should really see for yourself. Dietland is a takedown of the male gaze that challenges us to consider how we live in a world that continually objectifies women. Oh, and long live Jennifer!

Watch for the In All Things Charity interview with author Sarai Walker in January!

2. Strong and Weak by Andy Crouch

Strong and Weak is essentially Andy’s sort-of-sequel to Playing God, which remains one of the most important books I’ve ever read. He further develops several of the ideas from Playing God, making them more accessible and useful. It’s a great little book that’s well-worth your time.

Listen to the StoryMen interviews with Andy on Playing God and Strong and Weak.

1. Moonglow and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

When I read most authors, I have one of two reactions. I either think, “Wow. I’m a better writer than this,” or “Oh, I see how they’re doing that.” I prefer the latter, as it makes me a better writer, and it’s enjoyable. But when I read Michael Chabon, his books feel like a miracle descended directly from heaven, whole and complete. I find myself transfixed by his sentences, by his paragraphs, by his pure and simple genius as a writer. Kavalier and Clay came out at the turn of the century and I only now got around to reading it (it’s amazing). Moonglow is his newest. It’s a sort of fictionalized account of his grandfather’s memoirs and it’s staggering, beautiful and brilliant.

Honorable Mention

I’m still in the middle of several books right now that will prove to be chart-toppers as well. Here they are:

Muslim Cool by Su’ad Abdul Khabeer How is Muslim identity constructed in America? How does it intersect with Black identity, and what does hip hop have to do with it all? (watch for Su’ad’s interview on StoryMen early next year!)

The Day the Revolution Began by N. T. Wright A fresh, accessible examination of what happened on the Cross.

Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower by Tom Krattenmaker Why does someone who doesn’t believe Jesus is God care what he has to say? (watch for Tom on the StoryMen early next year!)

Fellowship of Differents by Scott McKnight Homogenized Churches aren’t really churches.

YOUR TURN: What were the best books you read this year?

By JR. Forasteros

JR. lives in Dallas, TX with his wife Amanda. In addition to exploring the wonders that are the Lone Star state, JR. is the teaching pastor at Catalyst Community Church, a writer and blogger. His book, Empathy for the Devil, is available from InterVarsity Press. He's haunted by the Batman, who is in turn haunted by the myth of redemptive violence.