The 30 Best Books of 2017 (So Far)

Books Lists Best Of 2017
Share Tweet Submit Pin

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 4.07.05 PM.png

1bbhomesickworld150.jpg Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh

A great deal of (digital) ink has been spilled comparing Ottessa Moshfegh to Flannery O’Connor, but Moshfegh’s short story collection establishes a firm connection to “horror-adjacent” writers Angela Carter and Shirley Jackson. Like Carter, Moshfegh finds near-infinite literary possibilities in the world of fluids and bodily flaws, from colostomy bags to sagging private parts to foul teeth. And like Jackson, Moshfegh’s characters are often young people on paths toward self-inflicted destruction—or at least continued unhappiness, for happy endings are all but nonexistent here. Moshfegh’s skill lies in her ability to present horrid people without judgment. She isn’t here to moralize, but to deliver enough dark humor that we can almost understand where the nastiness comes from. Almost. —Steve Foxe

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 4.07.05 PM.png

1bbmurderlife150.jpg How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell

Press surrounding Cat Marnell’s book deal was dripping with venom. Yellow headlines blared—even a publication as august as The Atlantic couldn’t resist running the headline, “Cat Marnell’s Book Deal Could Buy a Lot of Drugs.” The entire saga was laced with hatred, because although Marnell was achieving media success directly because of her sickness, she was not afflicted with something relatable like cancer. Her main condition, the least pitied of all pathologies, is addiction. Yet Marnell’s memoir is wonderful. Her voice is her single greatest asset—a pure stylist who can tackle both beauty tips and the savage electricity of a life on amphetamine. How to Murder Your Life turns the addict, trucked with so many gallows watchers’ outrages, into her own fully-formed person. —B. David Zarley

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 4.07.05 PM.png

1bbcomealone.jpg I Was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet

As a national security correspondent for the Washington Post, Souad Mekhennet puts herself into situations most people couldn’t imagine. Since 2001, she has provided comprehensive on-the-ground reporting from the frontlines of extremism, interviewing terrorist leaders and their victims to understand what drives them. In I Was Told To Come Alone, she combines memoir with in-depth stories about her reporting to create a complex portrait of identity, conflict and ideology. Mekhennet balances objectivity with understanding, revealing what causes people to accept extremist ideologies—and highlighting the necessity of universal understanding in the face of overwhelming hate. —Bridey Heing

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 4.07.05 PM.png

1bblincolnbardo150.jpg Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

After decades of brilliant work in the brief yarn vein, George Saunders has released his first novel. Set in 1862, Lincoln in the Bardo features the 16th President and a Washington graveyard full of ghosts—including the president’s recently departed son, Willie Lincoln. Saunders’ host of voices provides us with a chance to see what lies on the doorstep of the beyond, and it’s a humdinger; spectral psychology is alternatively denial and dismemberment of the things of this world. By turns moving and hilarious, Lincoln in the Bardo proves there is life after death—and more than short stories in the splendid Saunders. —Jason Rhode

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 4.07.05 PM.png

1bbluckyones150.jpg The Lucky Ones by Julianne Pachico

By turns surreal, confounding, terrifying and improbably funny, The Lucky Ones explores Colombia’s specter of guerilla violence through a few young women’s adventures. While the characters’ common history as boarding school students provides a loose framework for the novel’s interlocking stories, The Lucky Ones presents a view of the conflict that is endlessly fascinating, but more prism than lens. Its perpetual perch on the edge of disaster leaves the reader in a state of dread, but Julianne Pachico creates a palpable anguish with a light touch, a combination that makes this astounding first novel as irresistible as it is unnerving. —Steve Nathans-Kelly

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 4.07.05 PM.png

1bbnotesbanana150.jpg Notes on a Banana by David Leite

The James Beard Award-winning food writer’s memoir is about being Portuguese, gay and in love with food. But it is first and foremost about being bipolar. David Leite’s work belongs in the great Canon Of Mental Illness, a rending portrait of a bipolar sufferer’s parabolic life—with an extra emphasis on mania, the less understood phase of the disease. It’s Leite’s deft portrayal of mania, written with the celerity and buzzing hagiography that are hallmarks of the condition, that gives Notes On A Banana its chimerical quality: equal parts memoir, case study and, for those who suffer along with Leite, both signal and solace. —B. David Zarley

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 4.07.05 PM.png

1bbnovelcentury150.jpg The Novel of the Century by David Bellos

Not everybody loved Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, Les Misérables, when it was first published in 1862. As David Bellos writes in The Novel of the Century, opinions varied widely: Flaubert and Baudelaire loathed it, but Confederate soldiers christened themselves “Lee’s Miserables.” Bellos shows that Hugo’s giant tome, le Léviathan of French literature, was huge in every way: in its scope (the totality of the 19th century), physical volume (over a thousand pages) and morals (Hugo aimed at nothing less than the salvation of humanity, France and, incidentally, himself). Everything you ever wanted to know about the classic is included, making this the definitive book about “the novel of the century.” —Jason Rhode

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 4.07.05 PM.png

1bbotisredding.jpg Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life by Jonathan Gould

Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music posited that 1960s Southern Soul brought the races together not only in front of radios and concert stages, but in the studios where integrated bands prefigured post-racial America. The best soul music books since have shredded Guralnick’s thesis, recognizing that the same inequalities that plagued the country framed the lives of Southern soul artists and the musicians who supported them. Jonathan Gould’s Otis Redding doesn’t so much practice revisionist history as simply get a complex story right, capturing the too-short life and career of the immortal Otis Redding with unerring perceptiveness, precision and cultural context. In short, Gould delivers the first biography to do Redding justice. —Steve Nathans-Kelly

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 4.07.05 PM.png

1bbpachinko.jpg Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

In her much anticipated second novel, Min Jin Lee traces a Korean family across four generations as they search for home. Pachinko follows its cast across the globe, capturing the zeitgeist of major historical periods like Japanese colonial rule, World War II, the Korean War and the AIDS crisis by demonstrating how global events become personal struggles. Casting history as a backdrop for narratives of resilience and loss, Lee’s novel explores immigrants’ mechanisms of internalized oppression and the fraught position of being a “well-behaved” member of a maligned group. The result is a timely narrative about striving for a better life while being resigned to a second-class status. —Christine An

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 4.07.05 PM.png

1bbpriestdaddy.jpg Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood had an unorthodox childhood. As the child of a Catholic priest, she grew up as an anomaly in the faith, but that detail is only the tip of the bizarre Midwestern upbringing Lockwood recounts in her memoir. Her parents are hilarious and strange, her siblings unique and loud, and Lockwood herself is just as mischievous as her Twitter presence would suggest. But Priestdaddy is more than just a series of anecdotes. The book is filthy, moving and complex, with Lockwood not shying away from reflecting on the darker areas of the faith in which she grew up. —Bridey Heing

Recently in Books