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 2013: Memoir

By Therese Purcell Nielsen & Erin Shea

Brosh, Allie. Hyperbole and a Half. Touchstone. ISBN 9781451666175. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9781451666182.

This illustrated memoir features 50 percent never-before-seen stories from Brosch’s popular blog of the same name. She writes about dogs, hot sauce, cake, and more in quirky, self-deprecating fashion. Her two-part blog post “Adventures in Depression,” which went viral in 2011, is included.—ES




Deraniyagala, Sonali. Wave. Knopf. ISBN 9780307962690. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780307962706.

While vacationing with her family in Sri Lanka in 2004, Deraniyagala lost her husband, two sons, and her parents in the devastating tsunami. Though physically small in size, her memoir tells the story of a loss so big it begs the question: How can a person bounce back?—ES




Henderson, Artis. Unremarried Widow. S. & S. ISBN 9781451649284. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781451649307.

The facts of Henderson’s early widowhood—Iraq, a helicopter, a crash—echo those of a long-ago plane crash that widowed her own mother. The exquisite moment of realization that Henderson will someday be the old woman carrying a photo of the young boy she loved and lost is just one gorgeous moment in this clear-eyed look at loss and resilience throughout the course of a life.—TPN




Parravani, Christa. Her. Holt. ISBN 9780805096538. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780805096545.

The author’s attempt to write her dead twin, Cara, “back to life” after a drug overdose at the age of 28 succeeds in illuminating not only Cara’s life but her own. The realities of living when half of you lies dead in the ground are not pretty, but Parravani never resorts to cliché when describing her own journey back from the edges of grief and danger.—TPN




Scarboro, Elizabeth. My Foreign Cities. Norton. ISBN 9780871403384. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780871407016.

It’s difficult to imagine one’s own mortality at age 17. But when Scarboro meets her future husband, Stephen, who is living with cystic fibrosis, the threat of death follows them to San Francisco, Boulder, CO, and Boston. Scarboro’s portrayal of her late husband’s sense of humor and eccentricities will cause readers to fall in love with him, too.—ES





Schaap, Rosie. Drinking with Men. Riverhead. ISBN 9781594487118. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101603123.

Schaap measures out her life in beer and shot glasses in this beautifully composed coming-of-age narrative in a setting more often reserved for men: bars. This is a detailed and genuine portrait of the watering holes (and their regulars) where Schaap sought comfort, knowledge, and community throughout her life, and, as on the best nights, the stories just seem to tell themselves.—TPN




Slater, Lauren. Playing House: Notes of a Reluctant Mother. Beacon. ISBN 9780807001738. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780807001745.

Slater weaves together a series of essays demonstrating that even the unprepared and initially unwilling may create a family life that does not go up in flames (except when fire actually does break out, in which case a redemptive moment can be seized). A marked lack of vanity permeates the author’s intensely personal yet universally resonant pieces, which cover everything from the indignities of a makeover to a wrenching decision to have an abortion.—TPN




Sotomayor, Sonia. My Beloved World. Knopf. ISBN 9780307594884. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307962164.

By the first Hispanic justice to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, Sotomayor’s coming-of-age memoir begins with her troubled childhood in New York’s Bronx projects. With indefatigable determination, she succeeds against all odds and goes on to become valedictorian of her high school class and attend Princeton University. Her story is a prime example of the positive effects of affirmative action in the 1970s.—ES




St. Germain, Justin. Son of a Gun. Random. ISBN 9781400068623. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780345538741.

Part true crime story, part grief memoir, St. Germain’s title returns to Tombstone, AZ, in an effort to piece together the meager facts surrounding his mother’s murder years before at the hands of her fifth husband.—ES






Wesolowska, Monica. Holding Silvan: A Brief Life. Hawthorne. ISBN 9780986000713. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9780986000720.

Graceful and precise in tone, Wesolowska’s chronicle of the 38-day life of her severely brain-injured son, Silvan, never veers into bathos territory even during a discussion of what constitutes a “good death” for an infant. She tells this brutal story beautifully and convinces us that 38 days of love can be a lifetime.—TPN





Yousafzai, Malala with Christina Lamb. I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316322409. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316322416.

At age 15, while riding the bus home from school in Pakistan, Yousafzai was shot in the head by a Talib. After a miraculous recovery, the youngest nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize has penned a memoir that tells of growing up in Pakistan advocating for women’s right to education in a war-torn society.—ES