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 Media 2017: Audiobooks

The best audiobooks of 2017 are performed by talented narrators whose readings will provide listeners with new perspectives and transport them to new worlds. Short-format works stood out this year; the list is packed with short stories, essays, letters, and a collection of decades-old, still fascinating true crime columns.


fiction

Adiga, Aravind. Selection Day. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9781508226505.
Read by Sartaj Garewal.

Narrator Garewal’s energy couldn’t be more rousingly infectious as he voices Adiga’s unforgettable characters. Raised in a Mumbai slum, the two Kumar brothers are destined to become cricket champions by the sheer will of their training-obsessed father. Garewal’s spirited presentation is an unflagging delight, enhancing an already breathtaking narrative with even more gusto and charm. (LJ 5/15/17)

Arimah, Lesley Nneka. What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky.
Books on Tape. ISBN 9781524751456. Read by Adjoa Andoh.

Arimah’s debut collection comprises a dozen surprising, affecting stories. Andoh sublimely intensifies the author’s delicious prose with a spectacular performance as she effortlessly modulates her voice, picking up genders and generations, cadences and accents for the next scene, the next story. (LJ 11/15/17)

Chang, Jade. The Wangs vs. the World. Recorded Bks. ISBN 9781501932014.
Read by Nancy Wu.

In Chang’s wonderfully offbeat debut novel, bad business decisions, coupled with the Great Recession of 2007–09, force the now penniless Charles Wang out on a cross-country journey with his family. An engaging portrait gradually emerges as the chapters alternate among the protagonists’ perspectives; the accomplished Wu deftly handles all the wacky twists and turns. (LJ 2/15/17)

Hadley, Tessa. Bad Dreams and Other Stories. Blackstone. ISBN 9781538415689.
Read by Emma Gregory.

Gregory, with her impressive range of Anglo­phone accents—differentiated by age, region, country—is the ideal conduit for these ten exquisite stories. Loss of innocence looms large in many of the pieces, and uncomfortable revelations (or their denial) plague characters throughout. Hadley nimbly captures everyday moments and with masterly agility shows them to be pivotal, course-changing, and life-transforming. (LJ 11/1/17)

Ko, Lisa. The Leavers. HighBridge. ISBN 9781681685083. Read by Emily Woo Zeller.
Ko’s stellar debut novel examines the far-reaching repercussions of the choices made by Polly, an undocumented immigrant from China, for the sake of her son, Deming, later renamed Daniel by his adoptive white parents. The pain of abandonment that pervades every aspect of Daniel’s life and Polly’s confidence that she has always acted in his best interests make their individual and shared experiences all the more compelling. Narrator Zeller ably voices Ko’s characters and imagery-laden prose. (LJ 7/17)

Lee, Min Jin. Pachinko. Hachette Audio. ISBN 9781478967439. Read by Allison Hiroto.
Narrator Hiroto brings a subtle, down-to-earth realism to the story of Sunja, an unmarried young ­Korean woman who becomes pregnant by a wealthy married man. She marries a frail minister and moves with him to Osaka, Japan, in the 1930s, leaving her mother in a Korea that had been annexed by Japan in 1910. How this couple survive in a country that views Koreans as a barely tolerated under­class makes for an enthralling saga. (LJ 9/15/17)

Lively, Penelope. The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories.
Recorded Bks. ISBN 9781501940354. Read by Davina Porter.

Lively delivers much joy in this poignant collection of 15 stories that explore relationships, memory, and history in wonderfully varied settings. Porter’s elegant and measured delivery is a perfect match; Lively’s striking, often sparse prose demands a deliberate pace. Porter’s ability to present Lively’s wonderfully shifty points of view gracefully helps listeners stay on track. (LJ 10/15/17)

Saunders, George. Lincoln in the Bardo. Books on Tape. ISBN 9780553397598.
Read by a full cast.

This first novel from the acclaimed short story writer takes place over the course of one night in 1862. Though the Lincolns’ son Willie has been laid to rest, his spirit lingers in the cemetery where his father pays a final visit. Featuring 166 narrators, including Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, Megan Mullally, and Keegan-Michael Key, as well as the author himself, the audio presentation brings a chorus of voices to raucous, guilty, fearful, and complicated life. (LJ 4/15/17)

Tinti, Hannah. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley. Brilliance. ISBN 9781423385370. Read by Elizabeth Wiley.
Twelve-year-old Louise “Loo” Hawley knows her loving yet tough father, Samuel, has 12 bullet wounds but not how he got them—something listeners find out in intermittent chapters that recount each fascinating, fraught tale. Wiley’s nuanced narration perfectly suits the suspenseful story. (LJ 5/1/17)

Upadhyay, Samrat. Mad Country. HighBridge. ISBN 9781681684192. Read by Vikas Adam.
Adam’s remarkably chameleonic range proves ideal for Upadhyay’s latest superb collection, set mostly in Nepal. Exceptionally gifted with accents, Adam is effortlessly convincing as a disappointed father, a female inmate, a resigned protester, and the many others who populate these eight stories, which piercingly explore politics, racism, family dysfunction, cultural chaos, even tourism. (LJ 10/15/17)


nonfiction

Alexie, Sherman. You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me. Hachette Audio.
ISBN 9781478912811. Read by the author.

With his uniquely sing-songy cadence, almost-chuckles, and uncontainable tears, Alexie gives a raw, superb performance. No one else could have narrated the stories of his difficult youth, his lifesaving education, and his struggles between familial obligation and leaving the res. His mother’s 2015 death prompted Alexie to examine their complicated relationship. Through poems, vignettes, and memories, Alexie delivers a book both “healing and wounding.” (LJ 9/15/17)

Clinton, Hillary Rodham. What Happened. S. & S. Audio. ISBN 9781508239758.
Read by the author.

In addition to breaking down the events surrounding the 2016 presidential election, Clinton here takes the opportunity to expound on her ideas on energy, civil rights, and health care, among other topics; their inclusion turns the book into a starter map for future discussion of progressive ideas. Clinton speaks with passion about women’s rights and recounts personal moments; this is the book at its best. (LJ 11/1/17)

Gay, Roxane. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. HarperAudio. ISBN 9780062470256.
Read by the author.

For such a vulnerable, raw memoir, no one but the author could voice the unimaginable revelations, brutal truths, and profound knowledge contained here. The daughter of Haitian immigrants who was raised upper-middle-class, Gay was smart, privileged, loved, and thin—until she wasn’t: “[M]y life is split in two…. Before I gained weight. After I gained weight. Before I was raped. After I was raped.” (LJ 9/1/17)

Ghobash, Omar Saif. Letters to a Young Muslim. Macmillan Audio. ISBN 9781427287724. Read by the author.
As the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Russia (Ghobash’s father was Arab, his mother Russian), Ghobash records from a uniquely broad perspective about being Muslim in a post-9/11 world. His ­Oxford-educated British accent lends further gravitas for American ears. Although Ghobash’s letters are written to his sons, he speaks to a larger audience: “I want my sons’ generation of Muslims to realize that they have the right to think and decide what is right and what is wrong….” (LJ 7/17)

Moore, Kate. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women. HighBridge. ISBN 9781681684215. Read by Angela Brazil.
In the early decades of the 20th century, young women found well-paying jobs painting watches and dials with a luminous substance made from radium, which ultimately poisoned them. Moore presents a powerful narrative of the girls’ illnesses and their struggles to seek compensation from employers who knowingly hid data on radiation sickness. Moore’s text is riveting, and the narration by Brazil is of the highest quality. (LJ 7/17)

Noah, Trevor. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood. Brilliance.
ISBN 9781531865030. Read by the author.

Born during apartheid to a Swiss-German father and black Xhosa mother, Noah shares stories from his formative years, providing insight into the culture and history of South Africa, with violence, racism, and poverty all being part of his complex narrative. Noah is a talented performer, and language is such an important part of his story that it should be listened to in his own voice in order to be truly appreciated. (LJ 3/15/17)

Petersen, Anne Helen. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign
of the Unruly Woman.
Books on Tape. ISBN 9781524776527. Read by the author.

According to Petersen, unruly behavior is anything outside the “boundaries of what constitutes acceptable ‘feminine’ behavior.” She examines the “unruliness” of ten celebrities, emphasizing how “unruliness…feels…more necessary than ever.” She can sound like your best friend disclosing revelatory secrets as she shares not-to-be-ignored salient truths. (LJ 9/15/17)

Shire, Warsan. Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth. Books on Tape.
ISBN 9781524774264. Read by the author.

The strength, lyricism, and devastating honesty of these poems are brought home much more clearly in the audio version than in the chapbook—and that is saying a great deal. Shire’s poetic ground is fertile and varied, examining such issues as class and race, the daily experience of women’s lives, and the struggles of voiceless and disenfranchised members of society. Through her reading, we are truly able to hear her stunning voice. (LJ 7/17)

Trillin, Calvin. Killings. Books on Tape. ISBN 9781524779627. Read by Robert Fass.
Originally written as columns for The New Yorker magazine, Trillin’s stories of killings provide great perspective into particular places throughout our country. From a cameraman in eastern Kentucky to feuding neighbors in ­Virginia to a church secretary’s husband in Iowa, the stories reveal lives cut short for reasons that seem clear in hindsight. Listeners should savor each piece as it is relayed in Fass’s superb narration. (LJ 9/15/17)

Tyson, Neil DeGrasse. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. Blackstone.
ISBN 9781538408018. Read by the author.

Tyson brings his conversational and educational style to audio with this latest collection of essays. The topics covered are meant to be an introduction to and overview of astrophysics, including the latest discoveries, with examples that will assist in the comprehension of difficult concepts. Tyson’s enthusiasm and excitement for the subject are infectious. (LJ 11/1/17)

This article was published in Library Journal's January 1, 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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