Truthfully, I didn’t read as many books as I’d hoped to in 2017, so this list is far from conclusive (for that, you’ll need to check out the TV and Film lists, which really might include everything made in 2017), but here are some books you may want to check out…
10. “My Favorite Thing is Monsters”…A huge year for illustrated books, as proven by this, “Boundless” and “Everyone’s a Alienb When UR a Alienb Too.”
9. “The Party” by Robyn Harding…A disastrous sweet-sixteen party is the jumping off point for a kaledoscopic work that is sympathetic to even its most distasteful characters.
8. “The Arrangement” by Sarah Dunne…A couple decides to try an open marriage for six months, but, of course, things don’t go according to their carefully laid out rules. A wide-open, humanistic work that manages to go by briskly just on the strength of its characters.
7. “All Our Wrong Todays” by Elan Mastai…A time-traveller from a utopian “future” messes up the past so that it looks like our own, dysfunctional 2017. Mastai has a talent for making wonky science-fiction seem deeply personal, and the book has passages of such hope it’s contagious.
6. “Afterlife” by Marcus Sakey…Sakey so skillfully blends fantasy (or is it Sci-Fi?), thriller, and romance that you might stop to wonder how he’s doing it. One of the most fully realized and fresh worlds in recent memory, and a work that left such an impression, I’m still thinking about it six months later. [Right after the Vegas shooting, I flash-backed to the villain of this book, for just one example.]
5. “Do Not Be Alarmed” by Maile Meloy…A cruise excursion goes dangerously wrong for the characters in Meloy’s well-rounded, character-driven thriller. It’s a page-turner that honestly got better the more I thought about it.
4. “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid…One of the rare critically-beloved books that you’ll probably like to. It’s a tale of Syrian refugees able to pass through magically “doors” that take them into other countries, but not necessarily happier ones. A slim, quick read that will still stay with you for a long time after finishing it. If I didn’t truly love or have a personal connection to my top three picks, it’s easy for me to see this being the “Best Book of 2017.”
The Best Political Book of 2017: “The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics” by Mark Lilla…A scathing, but well-reasoned, immaculately outlined book that few liberals may read, but will be glad they did. Lilla details exactly where the Democratic Party began to go off the rails (starting with the fantastic thirty year period from FDR to LBJ where Democrats had unprecedented power) and–more importantly–why they did. Lilla makes the case that the Libertarian-minded, individualism-run-amok you find in post-Reagan conservatives and the identity politics that encourages people to look inward rather than outward are really just flip sides of the same coin: a fascination with the self over civic duty. By following how Democrats went from the union hall to the college campus, he underlines how the party’s messaging shifted in a way that mothballed big projects and promoted symbols over substance.
The Best Novel of 2017: “The Animators” by Kayla Rae Whitaker…Two artists from the rural South meet at a liberal arts college where they feel out of place, and form a professional partnership that finds unexpected success. That may be the broad outline of Whitaker’s fantastic book, but it’s a full exploration of female friendships, the demands required for artistic success, and especially achieving success in a world where most people aren’t like you. [To say that the protagonists “don’t fit in” in the world of art class, hip New York scenes, and Hollywood-run TV/Film projects is putting it mildly.] At a young age, Whitaker is capturing something so deeply personal, you’ll feel like this book is written as a secret between you. And there’s a shocking twist towards the 2/3rds mark that feels so character-driven, you’ll be surprised you didn’t see it coming sooner.
The Best Non-Fiction Book of 2017: “American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land” by Monica Hesse…Hesse’s book about hundreds of fires in rural Virginia is both allegory about the vanishing rural America and a deeply felt love story of two people who start off ridiculous but only get sadder and more human the deeper we dig. Hesse’s work has less in common with the true crime thriller genre than a novelistic portrait of a ghost town and its colorful residents. She so skillfully slides between quirky romance, intriguing mystery, laugh-out-loud comedy, and character-driven drama, I couldn’t put it down.