2016 Reading List Council Genre Selections

The selections for the 2016 Reading List, an annual list for adult readers of the best in eight different fiction genres, were announced January 9 at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Boston.

The eight genres covered by the list are adrenaline, fantasy, historical fiction, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction and women’s fiction. The winners are chosen by the Reading List Council of twelve expert readers’ advisory and collection development librarians.

Their choices in the fantasy, horror, and science fiction categories are —


Winner:  Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Del Rey, an imprint of Ballantine Books.

In this enchanted old-world fable, villagers threatened by a blighted magical wood allow the resident wizard to take one daughter into servitude for 10 years. When he chooses klutzy Agnieszka, she faces an unexpected future and confronts the dangers of a wider political world and the roots of magical corruption.

Short List

  • The Aeronaut’s Windlass: The Cinder Spires by Jim Butcher. Roc, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. Tor Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers.
  • The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth: Book One by N. K. Jemisin. Orbit, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company.
  • Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. Ace Books, an imprint of The Berkley Publishing Group.


Winner:  The Fifth House of the Heart: A Novel by Ben Tripp. Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster.

Flamboyant antiques dealer Asmodeus “Sax” Saxon-Tang made his fortune by accidentally killing a vampire with a horde of treasure. To protect the only person he loves, his niece, he’s forced to return to old Europe to assemble an eccentric team of vampire hunters in this gory, witty caper.

Short List

  • A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. William Morrow, a division of HarperCollins.
  • Little Girls by Ronald Malfi. Kensington Publishing Corp.
  • The Silence by Tim Lebbon. Titan Books.
  • When We Were Animals: a Novel by Joshua Gaylord. Mulholland Books, a division of Little, Brown and Company.

Science Fiction

Winner:  Golden Son by Pierce Brown. Del Rey, an imprint of Ballantine Books.

Insurgent Darrow inveigled his way into high Gold society in 2014’s Red Rising. In this dramatic, high octane follow-up, conflicting loyalties and his own ambitions lure Darrow into an untenable web of deceptions. Bolstered by new alliances, Darrow battles to overthrow corrupt lunar leadership and bring freedom to Mars.

Short List

  • Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong. Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan Publishers.
  • Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. William Morrow, a division of HarperCollins.
  • Slow Bullets by Alastair Reynolds. Tachyon.
  • The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi. Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House.

Closing note: An author whose name is familiar to sf/f/h fans also had a work on the Historical Fiction shortlist — Paradise Sky by Joe R. Lansdale.

[Thanks to Alan Ziebarth for the story.]

30 thoughts on “2016 Reading List Council Genre Selections

  1. Good for Jim Butcher.

    I read “The Aeronaut’s Windlass” and didn’t think it was that good. And I am a big Jim Butcher fan. It looks like other people think differently and Jim got some recognition.

    I am curious how “Golden Son” does in the Hugos. This was the winner at the Goodreads Awards SF Category as well. But I don’t see much buzz about it in Hugo circles. Chaos Horizons left it off their Hugo predictions.

  2. I find it interesting that a list chosen by twelve librarians is so similar to the Goodreads list. I guess that whatever the committee uses to judge the taste of the general public, what they’re likely to enjoy, agrees with that mass voting. I wonder if Goodreads factored into their decisions at all.

  3. Whereas the Nebula Awards are not the taste of the general public, it’s the taste of SFWA authors (or ones who are interested in nominating for the award). And the Hugo Awards are the taste of the kind of people who would join Worldcon and nominate. I am that kind of person, therefore I generally find those award shortlists more interesting than any “general” list.

  4. One of the straw-men the puppies advance is that WorldCom claims to speak for all SFF fandom. They don’t. They speak for the members of WorldCom and the awards represent the Fans judgment. I like that.

    To be sure I find both sets of awards interesting and I do like to compare them. But I don’t think they should be similar necessarily.

  5. If this is for adult readers, why “Golden Son”? It’s YA, at least the first one was. Maybe it’s NA now? But it sure feels YA. Better than “Seveneves”, “Slow Bullets”, “Aeronaut’s”, I guess.

  6. And another one of their SF shortlist just won in a YA category. In the same meeting.

    What gives, ALA?!


  7. lurkertype – Red Rising was reviewed in the the adult sf/f sections of the major review journals we librarians use. I agree that it had a YA feel and it definitely works as a crossover book, but it was marketed and reviewed as adult. My best guess is that the decision was made (somewhat, anyway) based on the way the characters would age up through the series. Once we get to Golden Son, the protagonist is 18, iirc.

    Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits won an Alex Award, which is for adult books that will appeal to teens, so it’s perfectly normal that it could be on both lists. I realize how it could be confusing, though, since the Alex awards are associated with the Youth Media Awards.

  8. Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little: …adrenaline?

    From what I could tell, seemed to be thrillers without a fantasy element. I only saw the term for the first time in the award press release. If anyone has a better handle on what “adrenaline” books are, I hope they’ll share.

  9. My understanding is that Adrenaline includes thriller, suspense, and some adventure. It can include romantic suspense. These books tend to be fast-paced page-turners. I’ll admit that, to me, it seems like a mishmash category, but people use it.

  10. I always like seeing lists, and it’s interesting to see what the ALA comes up with; I’ve never heard of this “reading list council” stuff. And hey, “Adrenaline” is a genre?! O . . . kay.

    I rolled my eyes a bit at this: “twelve expert readers” Are these board-certified expert readers? 😉 What the heck is an “expert reader” anyway?!

    @Vasha: I was wondering what criteria they used; absent any explanation, I thought it was just what these “expert readers” liked best – not that they were trying to guess what the general public would enjoy. Where did you read that’s what they’re doing? That’s definitely a very different thing to try to select for; it would explain this list better than what I thought.

    @lurkertype: I thought the “Red Rising” series was YA, too, so I was surprised to see it here. In fact, I ignored the free copy I got (in the World Fantasy book bag, IIRC) since I’m usually not into YA, but got several YA books in that bag.* But looking at the categories and some quotes (not review quotes) on Amazon, it appears it’s supposed to be all-ages-with-a-YA-hook or something.

    ETA: Ninja’d by the more knowledgeable @k8.

    Anyway, I don’t know if the general “adult reader” public tends to like YA-crossover (which this basically sounds like) or not.

    * OMG I should just send those to my niece the reader! I thought of that at the time, then got skittish (“she asked for X, so why send her Y”). I should just send them.

  11. I do feel it’s a bit odd to go purely by age-of-protaganist, like okay, the first book’s YA but then the guy gets older and it’s no longer YA? So that makes it a crossover or whatever? Very weird IMHO. But then, I’m not a book marketer, and these are more marketing categories than not, it seems.

  12. @Kendall – I think you missed part of the info when you wrote: “I rolled my eyes a bit at this: “twelve expert readers” Are these board-certified expert readers? ? What the heck is an “expert reader” anyway?!”

    They are experts in Reader’s Advisory. The press release states that The winners were selected by the Reading List Council whose members include twelve expert readers’ advisory and collection development librarians”. Reader’s Advisory is a specific aspect of reference services. RUSA, the division that puts out these lists, represents librarians in reference services (including reader’s advisory) and collection development. Matching people with books has, historically, been an important part of public librarianship in the United States.

    I could go into more detail, but I think I’m probably done explaining my profession for the night. It’s been a long day.

  13. If my previous comment came off as cranky, I apologize. The aftermath of the Youth Media Awards this year (and last year) has been exhausting. In a trend that will sound familiar to many around here, there’s a certain set of people complaining that the winners this year and last are proof that, to paraphrase several commenters on kidlit blogs and Facebook groups, diversity is trumping quality. They are wrong, but if you say that they simply accuse you of having an agenda.

    I do have an agenda. It’s to promote good books, regardless of who creates them. But, that’s not what they mean, obviously.

  14. @k8: Thanks, greatly appreciated! FWIW, I didn’t miss it; I just didn’t parse it correctly. Also: I believe I touched a nerve. Apologies for the snark! It came from misreading that line, not negativity towards librarians. Librarians are groovy.

    – – –

    For some other day, or perhaps for some other librarian here: So as @Vasha said, then, are these books the Council believes folks will like? Not what the Coucil feels are the best books?

    The page title says “best in genre fiction for adult readers” and later it says “an annual best-of list,” which seem pretty clearly “what we feel is best.” But the RUSA stuff makes me wonder if the phrasing is misleading and @Vasha’s correct. It’s always good to know the purpose of a list/how it’s selected, so I’m curious . . . but due to my misreading of that one line, I’m not sure I trust what seems clear to me today. 😉

  15. Eh, my annoyance at the kidlit stuff is spilling over into other areas. I work in Adult and Children’s Services, where I manage our Children’s collection, so it hits close to home. Seriously. Last year was post-YMA backlash over diversity, the various puppies, and now back to post-YMA backlash over diversity.


    According to RUSA, “Established in 2007 by the CODES section of RUSA, The Reading List seeks to highlight outstanding genre fiction that merit special attention by general adult readers and the librarians who work with them.”

    So, “special attention.” As someone who does collection development (primarily speculative fiction and a significant chunk of nonfiction) and RA in adult services, I take the lists as guides. These are things we probably want – or should at least consider – for our collection if we don’t already have them. As a medium-size library at the lower end of the population range, our budget is such that we can miss books that turn out to be popular with readers (and, of course, every community is different), so I do use it to consider titles we might miss within my selection areas. It also gives us ideas about which books are getting good word of mouth among readers.

    In terms of RA – I can’t read everything. In terms of adult books, romance is a particularly weak area for me, so I do look at that list each year to take note of titles and authors our patrons might like. I sometimes also use the lists as guides for my own work-related reading. Alas, I often need to read things that aren’t in my preferred genres. So, I’ll probably read a book or two from that romance list as well as the most recent RITA winner. I usually don’t read bios, so I’m currently reading The Notorious RBG and just finished M. T. Anderson’s book on Shostakovich and the siege on Leningrad, Symphony For The City Of The Dead, which was thoroughly enjoyable when I wasn’t cursing Stalin.

    The lists are useful. They aren’t the be-all-end-all, but they’re useful. I use the Notable Books lists in much the same way.

  16. k8: Thanks for the explanations and please get a good night’s sleep.

    Kendall: I too got a free copy of “Red Rising” (at that year’s Westercon — man, they must have given out a TON of those nationwide) and it was definitely boy’s YA.

  17. Lurkertype,

    Goodreads Choice Awards also listed Golden Son as SF and not YA. If I look at how people shelve it, 300 readers did shelve it as YA but most did not. There seems to be some question about the category. Is it the publisher that makes the final call on the genre?

    For awards, I guess it doesn’t matter unless there is a separate award for YA.

  18. No help from the author. I found an interview:

    GR: How would you describe your writing style?

    PB: I want my writing style to be something that is accessible, and that’s what’s so interesting about this book being called Young Adult. There’s a lot of discussion among readers: Is this Young Adult or is this not Young Adult? I don’t know. But the thing is that Young Adult is simply a book that is interesting in every chapter. A lot of books aren’t necessarily like that. A lot of my favorite books aren’t necessarily like that, and that requires a great deal of patience, and I don’t know if that patience is in line with the modern way of thinking. I’m always struggling with this: Should I take more time, but then I lose the interest of the reader? How do you balance pacing with content? My editor can always tell when I’m reading a Russian author or anything not written in the last 30 years because my writing all of a sudden becomes very bloated, and there are so many inconsequential conversations, and he’s asking me, “How is this driving the plot? Your reader just stopped reading.”

  19. @Zenu: Interesting quote from Brown – “Young Adult is simply a book that is interesting in every chapter” – that’s a new one on me. I hope every book I read is interesting in every chapter (which isn’t the same IMHO as “every chapter pushes the plot forward). It seems to me YA is a marketing category, but with online classification systems, books can (yay!) be in multple categories, unlike in a bookstore where it’s shelved in one spot.

  20. Re. the horror winner’s blurb, I look forward to the cringe-worthy, stereotype-reinforcing “flamboyant” being dropped in blurbs and descriptions as the obvious “code”-word for “psst he’s gay.” (I Google’d and yup, of course, he’s gay; no idea if he’s actually flamboyant.)

    Anti-gay folks will still realize the book’s not for them, while some of us will roll our eyes and/or get ticked off (or, worse, think “oh great another stereotype in print”), which seems like lose-lose. Maybe it doesn’t bother most GLBT folk or allies (I haven’t done an exhaustive survey), but come on, it’s the 21st century: say he’s gay or don’t say it.

    (It sounds like irrelevant info for such a short blurb, anyway. The longer description on Amazon doesn’t even mention it.)

    Sorry to rant. It was like nails on a chalkboard for me, but I’ve been debating whether to post this. Finally decided to post it – hopefully not a mistake.

  21. @Zenu

    One of the straw-men the puppies advance is that WorldCom claims to speak for all SFF fandom. They don’t. They speak for the members of WorldCom and the awards represent the Fans judgment. I like that.

    Not quite. Over time the line from the non-canines has changed from the Hugos representing the best in SFF to being the reflection of the literature tastes of Worldcon attendees.

    The latter is certainly a more accurate description.


  22. FYI, Naomi Novik is a GoH at Lunacon, March 18-20 at the Hilton Westchester in Rye Brook, NY. (The other GoHs are Robert J. Sawyer, Rick Sternach and filk artists Murder Ballads.)

  23. Over time the line from the non-canines has changed from the Hugos representing the best in SFF to being the reflection of the literature tastes of Worldcon attendees.

    The one does not preclude the other.

  24. The one does not preclude the other.

    Nor does one guarantee the other. I wasn’t suggesting anything either way.


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