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

You Might Also Like… | LJ Notable Books of 2017

After we’ve chosen the Top Ten Best Books of the year, the LJ editors pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start writing about all the other books. Here are our Notables of 2017, titles that didn’t make it to the top ten, or weren’t nominated, or somehow flew under the radar. This is our chance to tell you about even more books we love and think you will too.

Kate DiGirolomo, SELF-e Community Coordinator
Schwab, V.E. A Conjuring of Light. Tor. ISBN 9780765387462. FANTASY
The final installment in Schwab’s “Shades of Magic” trilogy has been my personal favorite book of the year—and the series itself is one that I’ve recommended to readers a hundred times over. All along, Schwab has been spinning an enchanting tale worthy of a spot on the shelf next to Harry Potter, and it all comes to a head here as her superbly written characters fight to stop the darkness overtaking their world. It was certainly a delicate balance between wanting to race through the pages to know how it ends and savoring the experience, knowing it’d be my last traipse through Red London. (LJ Fall Editors’ Picks, 9/1/16)

Bette-Lee Fox, Managing Editor
Bergmann, Emanuel. The Trick. Atria. ISBN 9781501155826. F
Intertwined lives across continents and decades find their way back to each other through the tenaciousness of an 11-year-old boy who thinks an old magician’s spell guaranteeing eternal love will solve the problems that are leading his parents toward divorce. This wonderful debut novel captures exquisite characterizations and a jaw-dropping denouement. “[A] link between the Cohn family and the Great Zabbatini [turns] this novel into a magic trick of its own.” (LJ 9/15/17)

Honeyman, Gail. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. Pamela Dorman: Viking. ISBN 9780735220683. F
Direct to a fault, 29-year-old Scottish clerk Eleanor is aware that her coworkers find her odd, but her strict adherence to her routines, including the weekly calls from her incarcerated mother, keep her grounded. Then she discovers a musician to idolize, a colleague who finds her agreeable, and technology. “Honeyman’s heartbreaking, funny, and irresistible novel brings to life a character so original and pitch-perfect that it is nearly impossible to believe this is a debut.” (LJ 2/15/17)

Liz French, Senior Editor
Bullock, Darryl W. David Bowie Made Me Gay: 100 Years of LGBT Music. Overlook. ISBN 9781468315592. MUSIC/LGBT STUDIES
My favorite nominee for LJ Best Books, Bullock’s comprehensive look at a century of LBGTQ music and musicians is concise, informative, life-affirming, and just damn good reading. Not a tell-all, it nevertheless points out that those who march to a different drumbeat have been here all along, often leading the parade, and we—and the music industry—are all the better for it. Readers can peruse it piecemeal, selecting eras and artists that they’re interested in, but I recommend a whole-read experience. There are info nuggets, historical tidbits, and formerly forgotten performers in these pages, and you’ll definitely want to check out Bullock’s Quietus and Spotify playlists. I can’t wait for the audiobook, which I hope is in the works. (LJ 10/15/17)

Kunzru, Hari. White Tears. Knopf. ISBN 9780451493699. F
I considered nominating this title for a Bestie, but the chord change in the middle of the book, from slacker/hipster narrative to grueling, Jim Crow–era nightmare, was a deal-breaker. Somehow, though, all these months later, I can’t stop thinking about the surreal, haunting second half of Kunzru’s blistering novel of racial appropriation. (LJ 1/1/17)

Lucey, Donna M. Sargent’s Women: Four Lives Behind the Canvas. Norton. fine arts/biog
When interviewers ask authors whom they’d invite to a dream dinner party, I always fantasize about the people I’d invite. The four women skillfully profiled in my top 2017 Fall Editors’ Pick  and nominee for Best Books would comprise quite the guest list. Thanks to Lucey’s extensive research and intimate writing, I’d know just where to seat each of these ladies “behind the canvas.” (LJ 5/15/17)

Barbara Hoffert, Prepub Alert Editor
Grossman, David. A Horse Walks into a Bar. Knopf. tr. from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen. ISBN 9780451493972. F
In this Man Booker International Prize winner, faded stand-up comedian Dov Greenstein delivers a monolog driving ever closer to the bone as he recalls his painful childhood and a week spent bullied at a military camp for youth, where a tragic event transformed his life. Israeli author Grossman’s coruscating work reads not like watching a car wreck but like being in one, making us feel another’s anguish as we recognize the nature of true, transformative disclosure in a too easily tell-it-all world. (LJ 9/15/16)

Hamid, Mohsin. Exit West. Riverhead. ISBN 9780735212176. F
Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, this work uses a touch of magic realism to heighten the tragedy of today’s refugee crisis. Somewhere in the Eastern hemisphere, sweet Saeed and passionate, independent-minded Nadia fall in love. As their city tumbles toward civil war, they escape through a magical door. Readers thus focus not on their transit but on the escalating troubles at home, effectively delivered in a quietly modulated voice, and their Kafkaesque experiences in refugee camps in the West. (LJ 2/1/7)

Mackey, Nathaniel. Late Arcade. New Directions. ISBN 9780811226608. F
Continuing National Book Award–winning poet Mackey’s ongoing American jazz novel, From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, this fantasia is formatted as letters to the mysterious Angel of Dust from N., capturing his band in the very act of creating music. In lapidary, sensuously layered language, Mackey shows what music is, how playing it feels, how its “not-aboutness” parallels that of poetry, and how jazz in particular is at once creation and performance. A unique reading experience for attentive, sophisticated readers.

Wicker, Marcus. Silencer. Houghton Harcourt. ISBN 9781328715548. POETRY
In bold, brash, openhearted poems delivered with satisfying sass, a National Poetry Series winner reflects on simply being while black. A news story about a tied-up dog resonates painfully (“You see human/ interest piece, …I see eclipsed casket), second-guessing your every move becomes second nature (“See, I practice self target practice”), and one poem ends “O Lord, make me me,” which is both caustically funny and emblematic of someone wanting to be himself in a society that makes it so very hard. (LJ 8/17)

Amanda Mastrull, Assistant Editor
Harding, Luke. A Very Expensive Poison: The Assassination of Alexander Litvinenko and Putin’s War with the West. Vintage. ISBN 9781101973998. POLI SCI
A former Russian spy turned British MI6 consultant ends up dead in London from a rare, highly radioactive, expensive poison—it sounds like a spy novel, but as Harding meticulously documents in this fascinating page-turner, it’s true. Harding, a British journalist who’s written extensively on Russia, is aided by the British inquiry into Alexander Litvinenko’s 2006 murder, showing cause that the assassination was approved by Vladimir Putin himself. Along with details on the case, the book, one of my Fall 2016 Editor’s Picks and Best Books 2017 nominations, also includes a wider examination of Russia’s current actions abroad. (LJ 12/2016)

O’Hagan, Andrew. The Secret Life: Three True Stories of the Digital Age. Farrar. ISBN 9780374277918. lit
These three long-form essays by novelist and essayist O’Hagan, which I first delved into when they ran in the London Review of Books, are centered on the larger themes of selfhood, secrecy, and the way we exist online. One of my Fall 2017 Editor’s Picks, the book features the compelling story of O’Hagan’s failed attempt to ghostwrite Julian Assange’s autobiography, his own creation of a false online persona for a dead man, and an examination of the Australian man who claims to be bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto. O’Hagan is a brilliant essayist and I can’t recommend his work enough. (LJ 9/15/17)

Wilda Williams, Fiction Editor
Craig, Charmaine. Miss Burma. Grove. ISBN 9780802126450. F
Craig draws on her remarkable family background to take us on a journey through Burmese political history from 1920s British colonialism to 1960s Burman military rule. Told from the perspective of the persecuted Karen minority, the novel, which focuses on the dramatic experiences of Benny, Khin, and their daughter Louisa, makes for a harrowing, heartbreaking, and timely read. (LJ 2/1/17)

Perry, Sarah. The Essex Serpent. Custom House. ISBN 9780062669490. F
Perry’s award-winning UK best seller was not only my spring pick of 2017 but my favorite book of the year.  A newly widowed Cora Seaborne moves to coastal 1890s Essex where rumors of a rampaging sea-dragon are terrorizing the villagers, much to their vicar’s frustration. The inquisitive Cora sets out to investigate with the minister, discovering in the process a mutual attraction. This highly original novel is both a glorious salute to such gothic classics as Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm and a gimlet-eyed contemporary take on Victorian manners in the style of Sarah Waters. (LJ 4/1/17)

Rooney, Kathleen. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. St. Martin’s. ISBN 9781250113320. F
My second-favorite book of 2017 is this engaging debut based on the life of a pioneering advertising woman. It’s New Year’s Eve 1984, and octogenarian Lilllian Boxfish takes a stroll down memory lane as she revisits the Manhattan spots that played key roles in her remarkable life. (LJ 12/1/16)

 

Share
Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  4. Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media, per our Terms of Use.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind

*