LJ Best Books 2017

It's time again for LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry and literature, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles.   SEE WHO MADE THE LIST

Best Books 2015: Poetry

ReaganBetts, Reginald Dwayne. Bastards of the Reagan Era. Four Way. (Stahlecker Selections). ISBN 9781935536659. pap. $15.95. POETRY
From juvenile defender in adult prison to award-winning poet to Yale law student, Betts has had an extraordinary life. And this arresting new collection reveals an extraordinary writer. Elegiac in tone, it tracks his life and that of so many other African American men: “awed by blood/ lost in the black of all that is awful: think crack and aluminum.” And, yes, we think. (LJ 11/15/15)

Brown, Nickole. Fanny Says. BOA Editions. ISBN 9781938160578. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781938160585. POETRY
In fluid, propulsive vernacular that spills from poem to poem, at once in-your-face, luscious, and exact (what an amazing ear for the spoken word), Brown offers an indelible portrait of the loving, tough-talking, backwoods Fanny—her “grandmother/ who didn’t ask for power but took it/ in bright, full, fuck-it-all bloom.” Better than fiction. (LJ 4/1/15)

Burnside, John. Black Cat Bone. Graywolf. ISBN 9781555977146. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781555979041. POETRY
Award-winning Scottish poet/novelist Burnside is finally making his American debut, and it’s a pity we had to wait so long. In lush, startling, sometimes archaic language (“Cumbersome bodies, shrouded in gunsmoke and cyan”) and often spinning fabulist stories, Burnside shows that we’re defined more by what we want than by what we get. (LJ 7/15)

Herrera, Juan Felipe. Notes on the Assemblage. City Lights. ISBN 9780872867109. $19.95; pap. ISBN 9780872866973. $16.95. POETRY
Herrera here proves why he is our 21st (and first Latino) U.S. Poet Laureate. He’s able gracefully to combine his fierce social consciousness (“5 minute jury/ April 15, 1916 Waco, Texas shackled & dragged— lynched/ you live on// Trayvon Martin face down”) with a sense of life’s grace and visually acute imagery (“paint me the flying coat color of flame & tutti-frutti”). (LJ 9/1/15)

Komunyakaa, Yusef. The Emperor of Water Clocks: Poems. Farrar. ISBN 9780374147839. $23. POETRY
In quietly magnificent language, Pulitzer Prize winner Komunyakaa treads through history by showing us the individual, adopting various personae ranging from Cleopatra and Ulysses’s half-brother to a court jester, 19th-century whalers, and modern-day protesters. The scope is grand, the tone personal, precise, and illuminating. When you read, you are there. (LJ 10/1/15)

Limón, Ada. Bright Dead Things: Poems. Milkweed. ISBN 9781571314710. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781571319258. POETRY
In “How To Triumph Like a Girl,” which opens this big, bold, open-hearted collection, Limón says, “Don’t you want to tug my shirt and see/ the huge beating genius machine/ that thinks, no, it knows,/ it’s going to come in first.” Triumph she does; even as she recounts deeply felt loss, Limón remains vibrant. (LJ 6/1/15)

Stanford, Frank. What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford. Copper Canyon. ISBN 9781556594687. $40. POETRY
Stanford was a legend even before his death in 1978 (Ellen Gilchrist once proclaimed, “To know Frank then…was to see how Jesus got his followers”), yet contemporary readers haven’t had easy access to his remarkable poetry. We can therefore be grateful to the publisher for distilling his ten books and multitudinous unpublished poems into one breathtaking, wildly lyrical, down-to-the-soil-and-up-to-the-moon work. (LJ 3/1/15)

Sze-Lorrain, Fiona. The Ruined Elegance. Princeton Univ. ISBN 9780691167695. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781400873432. POETRY
“I want to honor/ the invisible. I’ll use the fog to see white peaches.” So says French poet, translator, and zheng harpist Sze-Lorrain (who writes in English), and in a prodigious spill of images she connects us to both the lost past—the “ruined elegance” of emperors, buried books, and disfigured chapels—and the often invisible today: imprisonment, torture, and atrocity. Meditative and live-wire. (LJ 11/15/15)

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Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.