The 10 most important books of 2016 – Los Angeles Times

Books are slow food. It generally takes two years, two hardworking years, to cook up a book from idea to publication. Some writers can go faster — those who publish a book a year (or more) are working at top speed — while others write much more slowly, ruminating and reworking and false-starting for a decade or more. By the time we readers get them, books are self-contained objects, narratives that have evolved outside of the relentless news cycle and Twitter chatter. More than any other medium, books give us deep, rich stories that stand apart from the hubbub.

Except sometimes, that years-long process winds up being right in the center of the conversation. Which brings us to these, the 10 most important books of 2016. No matter when they started or how long they took, they touched on something that was essential this year, and will be essential when we look back at it from 2017 and beyond.

“The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead

Pick your metaphor: Grand slam, EGOT, Royal flush. Whitehead’s novel “The Underground Railroad” — the story of a young woman’s escape from slavery via an imaginary railroad that brings her to different, imperfect versions of America — was a success on every level. Its publication date was moved up by a month so Oprah could pick it for her popular book club; it also won the National Book Award for fiction. Reviewing it for The Times, critic-at-large Rebecca Carroll wrote that the book is “a fiercely salient reckoning of what it means, has meant and continues to mean to be black in America.” Whitehead, who was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2002, told Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” that he was “reluctant to immerse myself” in the history of slavery; it took him 16 years to write.

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