The 30 Best Books of 2017 (So Far)

Books Lists Best Of 2017
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1bbquietthaw.png Quiet Until the Thaw by Alexandra Fuller

In the same way that Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated film 13th shows that slavery was never abolished (but was merely amended to create mass incarceration), Quiet Until the Thaw shows that genocide against the Native American is an ongoing, white American legacy. Alexandra Fuller relays her characters’ devastating realities, yet she creates a story that is ultimately concerned with the deeply personal experiences of those fighting against an entire nation of powerful men bent on their destruction. Fuller argues in the presentation of her Lakota Oglala Sioux characters that White America has wreaked havoc, but it has not been entirely successful. As long as there are surviving members of these tribes—people passing on stories like the ones she tells here—there exists a legacy that cannot be cut down. Quiet Until the Thaw offers up a distinctive view of America, even as it suggests a new understanding of how great American novels can be written. —Shannon M. Houston

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1bbriverofkings.jpg The River of Kings by Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown’s The River of Kings is an almost impossibly vivid novel, rendering Georgia’s Altamaha River and the woods that surround it with spellbinding intensity. Brown’s book recounts two Altamaha River adventures in parallel: the modern-day journey of the fractious Loggins brothers to scatter their hard-ass shrimper father’s ashes, and a fictionalized recasting of the French encounter with Timucuan natives at Fort Caroline in the 1560s. Like Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx, Brown possesses rare and wild gifts, writing with an arresting precision and unremitting intensity that can keep a reader’s jaw clenched for books at a time. —Steve Nathans-Kelly

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1bbseparation150.jpg A Separation by Katie Kitamura

Katie Kitamura’s new book is a novel-length meditation on what it means to belong to someone else—and then, suddenly, to not. The unnamed narrator has recently separated from her husband of five years, Christopher, but the information isn’t public yet. It’s a private wound that begs to be explored. But when Christopher goes missing in Greece, it’s the narrator who must search for him—despite questioning if she even has the right to find him. Gorgeous, lyrical and provocative, A Separation asks challenging questions about the nature of coming together and breaking apart. —Swapna Krishna

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1bbsevenhusbands.jpg The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel is a gripping story following Evelyn Hugo, a legendary Cuban American actress haunted by secrets. And when Evelyn agrees to exclusively reveal her secrets to Monique Grant, a magazine reporter who’s low on the totem pole, everyone is shocked. Why did Evelyn choose Monique? It’s hard to believe that Evelyn is fictional, as she leaps off the page with style, grace and an unbelievable amount of pluck. You’ll pick up Reid’s book expecting to breeze through it, and you’ll be blown away instead. —Swapna Krishna

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1bbsomuchthingstosay.jpg So Much Things to Say by Roger Steffens

In this fine oral history, Bob Marley is considered as a prophet ought to be: from every side. Was he a dyed-in-the-wool original, or a carefully cultivated bridge between true reggae and mainstream pop? Was he a man whose beliefs led to his early death, or the first among the faithful to show the world how to die for a cause? Who does he belong to, save all of us—and if that’s true, what claim can a single time and place have on him? The genius of Roger Steffens’ book is to have everyone else tell the story. Marley’s voice may have sung, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery,” but the “Redemption Song” can only be sung by a chorus. All of us carry the harmony, and Steffens shows the way. —Jason Rhode

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1bbthingswelost150.jpg Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez

Mariana Enríquez’s first short story collection to appear in English is part of a wild and weird wave of contemporary Latin American fiction reaching American readers this year. (Enríquez’s translator, Megan McDowell, can claim a significant amount of credit for that happy fact—she’s translated some of the past few years’ most exciting books.) The stories in Things We Lost in the Fire unfold in unexpected ways, tending to descend into horror while remaining very, very funny along the way. Enríquez successfully transforms the banal routines of middle-class life into a terrifying grotesquerie, all while threading a faint whiff of punk rock delivery throughout. —Lucas Iberico Lozada

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1bbthethirst.jpg The Thirst by Jo Nesbø

Oslo detective Harry Hole will debut on the big screen (in the form of Michael Fassbender) in October’s The Snowman, but the character’s first 2017 appearance is in The Thirst. The 11th Hole novel sets the unconventional, alcoholic, insubordinate and compulsive antihero detective against the most sadistic killer Jo Nesbø has conjured yet. Nesbø is a master of style, balancing action and tension in a plot haunted by a demonic tattoo and ritualistic blood drinking. In Nesbø’s consistently excellent Hole series, The Thirst may well be the pinnacle. —Eric Swedlund

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1bbtwelvelives150.jpg The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

In the nine years since her debut novel, The Good Thief, was published, Hannah Tinti has crafted another masterpiece. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley explores a captivating father-daughter relationship, weaving the pair’s saga through two narrative timelines. The first follows a young girl named Loo as she comes of age in a small Massachusetts town. The second reveals her father’s past through 12 stories chronicling the events that led to his 12 bullet wounds. The result is a fascinating literary thriller, with Tinti building the tension as both timelines count down to the final gunshot. —Frannie Jackson

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1bbuniversalharvester150.jpg Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

The second novel from The Mountain Goats’ frontman delivers an unsettling journey to the late-1990s era of video rental stores and dial-up Internet, a recent past that feels strange enough to carry this edgy mystery. In small-town Iowa, a twenty-something video clerk sets out in search of answers after discovering that someone has been splicing homemade footage into the store’s VHS tapes. With John Darnielle’s inimitable voice driving a narrative that’s both sad and frightening, Universal Harvester explores loss, grief, resiliency and the never-ending search for human connection. —Eric Swedlund

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1bbwakinggods150.jpg Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

Countless authors have answered the question, “What if we’re not alone in the universe?” But Sylvain Neuvel’s response sets him apart. His Themis Files series, launched in 2016 with Sleeping Giants and continued this year with Waking Gods, begins with a deceptively simple premise: a child discovers a giant metallic hand buried in South Dakota. What follows is a global hunt for the artifact’s significance, relayed through interviews conducted by an unnamed man (who quickly becomes a favorite character) and peppered with transcripts, journal entries and other forms of media. Sleeping Giants may have debuted his thrilling saga, but Waking Gods proves that Neuvel’s scope is more daring than readers could have imagined. —Frannie Jackson

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