Reading list

The Penguin team pick their favourite books of 2016

2016 has been a year of brilliant debuts from newcomers and triumphant returns from established literary greats. Here, we choose some of the titles that have really excited us (so far…)


Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff’s rich and vivid narrative chronicles the lives of Lotto and Mathilde, a young pair who meet and marry in a whirlwind. This is not a tale of romance, however, as with each chapter Groff dissipates the rose-tinted mist around their marriage to reveal secrets, treachery and the effects of human impulse. The development of the protagonists in this book is most striking, and Groff’s brilliant wordsmithery carries this from start to finish.

Chosen by Miranda Freeman, Digital


When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Neurosurgeon, literature lover, philosophical thinker, terminal cancer patient. Paul Kalanithi’s unique view of life is only afforded by his deeply tragic circumstances. On the brink of qualifying as one of America’s most promising neurosurgeons, he’s diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. This isn’t a maudlin read: it brims with life as he shifts from doctor to patient, from learning his life’s craft to learning to die. His words are incredibly intimate, illuminating and linger beyond the last page. 

Chosen by Caroline Maddison, Marketing


The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick

If you enjoy stories about love and family, specifically in a star-filled, ghost-inhabited universe, then this is the book for you. The Comet Seekers follows Roisin who dedicates her life to understanding the universe, and François who is haunted by the ghosts of her ancestors, and as we travel between their stories we delve into the feelings of loss and love that drive both of them. It’s both gripping and poignant, and if you're a fan of books like The Time Traveler’s Wife and One Day then you’ll love this. 

Chosen by Sarah McKenna, Digital


Autumn by Ali Smith

Ali Smith is brilliant. As always, her writing is accessible without scrimping on intelligence and I found this story particularly moving. 

Chosen by Bex Dawkins, Campaigns


Bit Rot by Douglas Coupland

A fantastic collection of mostly new, but some older, short stories and essays from one of the most interesting and imaginative authors around.

Chosen by Adrian Cecil, Video


Nina Is Not Ok by Shappi Khorsandi

This is the gritty story of teenager Nina’s struggle with alcoholism, which began after something terrible happened to her during a night that she can’t quite piece together. This honest coming-of-age story is accompanied by excellent (and often hilarious) teenage dialogue. Nina Is Not OK is heartfelt and real, a story of friendship and family, but also of heartbreak and desperation. It’s one that you won’t be able to put down and be careful not to miss your stop on your way to school or work.

Chosen by Sanne Vliegenthart, Marketing


Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali

Madonna in a Fur Coat – a slip of a book set in decadent 1920s Berlin – explores the secret inner life of a middle-aged man who proves that people aren’t always what they seem. Filled with young love, yearning and melancholy, it won’t take longer than an afternoon to read, and though short, this beautiful book will leave a lasting impression. Although Madonna in a Fur Coat is a Turkish classic that has remained at the top of their bestseller chart in recent years, this is its first translation into English. As with Paul Kalanithi’s astonishing book, When Breath Becomes Air, this book will leave you thinking about it long after you finish reading.

Chosen by Indira Birnie, Marketing


The Girls by Emma Cline

This is the kind of book that takes you under, drags you along with its current and spits you back out again, leaving you dazed and uncertain – much like Evie herself. Set under the blazing sun of 1960s California, Evie Boyd is lonely, listless and bored, until she sees The Girls, and her mundane life takes a dark and unsettling turn. The writing is extraordinary and the story tackles the simmering notions of obsession and desire with masterful clarity. It’s a book that lodges itself firmly in the memory, and makes Emma Cline an author to watch. 

Chosen by Claire Davis, Marketing


Fen by Daisy Johnson

As anybody who reads short story collections will know, it’s difficult to find one in which you love every single story – usually only a couple really stand out. Fen is exceptional in the way that each and every strange and twisting story is a delight. Dark and magical, Johnson’s stories tell of girls transforming into eels and foxes harbouring the souls of the dead – and they’re completely believable. It’s magic without whimsy: these stories bite back, making them all the more delicious.

Chosen by Savannah McGowan, Marketing