Top 10 Books of 2017

Wednesday, January 3, 2018 - 1:44pm

10. “Mean” by Miriam Gurba

Miriam Gurba’s brilliant memoir is expansive. She weaves together personal narrative, true crime and poetry seamlessly, the disparate parts united by a razor-sharp wit and a stunning richness of feeling. Gurba takes us through her life, reconciling with her complicated identity as a mixed-race, queer, Mexican-American who has survived awful trauma. “Mean” is a force to be reckoned with, as Gurba’s writing cuts clean to the heart, with no attempt to play nice or sugarcoat. It’s one of the most honest books I’ve read in a long time, grappling with what it means to be alive in the face of pain, anger and horrible violence. She confronts her past head-on, armed with a biting sense of humor and a spectacular clarity of purpose. “Mean” is an addictive read, a quick page-turner, but you’ll find it sticks with you long after it’s over, Gurba’s prose taking on the quality of music replaying in your head. It’s a book that makes you empathize, a book that makes its readers think carefully and feel deeply. In other words, it accomplishes the very best of what books can do.

Asif Becher, Daily Book Editor

 

9. “Goodbye, Vitamin” by Rachel Khong

Thirty year-old Ruth’s world is falling apart. Grieving and directionless after her fiancé leaves her for another woman, Ruth quits her job, empties her apartment and moves back in with her parents to work as a caretaker for her father — a college professor who has been unexpectedly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. As his condition worsens, Ruth must contend with old family griefs and grudges that she thought she had escaped long ago, while nursing her own broken heart and trying to choose a direction for her life. Rachel Khong’s portrayal of family chaos is both heartfelt and shockingly funny, written with wit, grace and compassion. Deeply insightful and laugh-out-loud hilarious, Khong tells a late-life coming-of-age story about the impossible complexity of families, the space for humor within sorrow and what it means to be imperfect and to love imperfectly.

Julia Moss, Daily Arts Writer

 

8. “The Idiot” by Elif Batuman

"The Idiot” is a dauntingly large novel, but you forget that once you’re three pages in. Selin’s voice is blunt and sardonic, uncomfortably honest at times and the literary equivalent of a shrug at others. The novel follows her stumbling and stammering through her first college experiences, overwhelmed by interpersonal relationships and existentially bothered by the questions of language that her readings bring up for her. It is perhaps the best explanation I’ve ever read of the bizarre reality of being head over heels for a person in theory, but finding the practice slightly harder than you figured it would — should? — be. The whole book — packed as it is with tangents, whimsy, fully articulated hypotheticals and half-baked theories about love and loss — remains seamless.

Sophia Kaufman, Daily Arts Writer

 

7. “Ill Will” by Dan Chaon

One of this year's crime thriller highlights came in the form of Dan Chaon's latest book, the mind-bending “Ill Will.” A dark cousin to a joyride, “Ill Will” leads the reader through endless twists and turns, from outwardly disturbing events, such as satanic ritual abuse, to interior domestic dramas — like a father watching his son drift apart from him. The book builds upon itself constantly, not only through the intrigue of its own plot, but also upon its characters, and a near palpable sense of dread that mounts as the story progresses. In the end, this sense of dread is where we may find the heart of “Ill Will,” a story that manages to experiment well with form and voice while being a compelling page-turner and staying attentive to its vivid characters throughout.

Laura Dzubay, Daily Arts Writer

 

6. “Column of Fire” by Ken Follett

With his recently released generational saga “Column of Fire,” historical fiction guru Ken Follett brings the latest installment of the Kingsbridge Series to the niche community of Middle Ages-enthusiasts. While Medieval literature is usually associated with dense texts written in convoluted language (think Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”), Follett uses plain but literary language to color the world of Medieval Europe as a vibrant and intricate space full of the same human emotions and experiences as any age. Rife with drama, sex, intrigue, politics and romance, the Kingsbridge books are wholly captivating and impossible to put down. “Column of Fire” brings the classic Kingsbridge elements lovers of the series come to expect, including a focus on labor, religion, and dynamic characterizations, while widening his narrative scope to explore international politics and religious civil war. With a focus on the intricacies of the English Reformation in the 1500s, “Column of Fire” is a classic piece of Follett literature that is suspenseful, fascinating, and endlessly impressive.

Sydney Cohen, Daily Arts Writer

 

5. “They Can’t Kill Us Till They Kill Us” by Hanif Abdurraqib

Hanif Abdurraqib’s collection of essays is a stunning meditation on music, race and death, a book that’s equal parts incisive and heartbreaking. He tackles everything from Carly Rae Jepsen to Serena Williams to his first police stop, writing with grace and thoughtfulness at every turn. Abdurraqib is one of the best music writers working today, and “They Can’t Kill Us Till They Kill Us” is a masterful showcase of not only his abilities, but also the necessity of his voice. His work blends art and politics seamlessly as he parses out the nuances of his experiences as a black man living in America in relation to the music. It’s full of heart, urgency and a sharp perceptive lens into the culture we live in. It truly captures a moment in time, and what it means to live in America in 2017. “They Can’t Kill Us Till They Kill Us” is an important book, and the test of time will prove its lasting impact.

Asif Becher, Daily Book Editor

 

4. “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng

Mr. and Mrs. Richardson and their four children have lived in the small Ohio town of Shaker Heights all their lives, and — with the exception of their rebellious youngest daughter — they typify Shaker Heights’s prosperity, complacency and rule-following spirit. The steady rhythm of their lives is interrupted, however, by the arrival of Mia Warren, an itinerant and mysterious artist, and her teenage daughter, Pearl, and by a custody battle over a white family’s adoption of a Chinese baby that divides the town’s loyalties. Mrs. Richardson’s obsession with the adoption and with investigating Mia’s past leads her down a road of secrecy, love and crushing loss that throws her perfectly organized world into chaos. Celeste Ng’s sophomore novel combines the pace of a thriller with the witty social commentary of a Jane Austen novel. Ng’s small-town epic forces us to ask the larger questions: What are the boundaries of motherhood? How can people with good intentions do horrible things? And is it possible to have progress without a little bit of chaos?  

—Julia Moss, Daily Arts Writer

 

3. “Gather the Daughters” by Jennie Melamed

“Gather the Daughters” is one of the best debut novels I’ve read in the past few years. Perfect for any lovers of current timely and classic favorites — “The Handmaid’s Tale” in particular, and “The Giver” as well — it tells the tale of a world in which women, once they reach a certain age, have one final summer of freedom left before they are to be married off and have children. Except the generation of youth that serves as the focal point of this story are getting restless, and asking questions that the older men in charge of the community would prefer remain unspoken. The future of these girls and their unprecedented rebellion hinges on qualities that are as ferocious as they are delicate: the fierceness of a young girl’s love of freedom, another’s hunger for knowledge and a third’s tragic desire to just get out. It is a heartbreaking story conveyed in gorgeous, often startlingly poetic prose. I can’t remember the last time I sat down and read a book in one sitting without intending to — but “Gather the Daughters” almost requires it.

—Sophia Kaufman, Daily Arts Writer

 

2. “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” by Roxane Gay

“Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” is a thought-provoking, moving and transformational book that challenges the assumptions of physicality and reveals the deeply intimate relationship between psyche and body. Roxane Gay, the incredibly sharp and resonant author of “Bad Feminist” and “Difficult Women,” explores the struggles of being fat in a fat-phobic world, the irrevocably damaging effects of trauma and the dynamics of constructing a reality. Gay’s memoir reads quickly but leaves a lasting impact. With her frank and pointed writing, Gay brings attention to the physicality of everything — the body, food, skin, movement — and forces you to think about the tactility of occupying space. The book is not a story of one woman’s triumph over her demons and finding peace, but is instead a gripping attempt to wrestle the representation of unruly bodies from a prejudiced culture and to reclaim the narrative. Roxane Gay criticizes the hypocrisies of culture that push women to criticize themselves while  affirming her legitimacy as a woman and as a person. “Hunger” is one that sticks with you and forces you to look at the world around you with careful perspective.

—Sydney Cohen, Daily Arts Writer

 

1. “We Were Eight Years in Power” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

For most of us, 2017 was a year synonymous with the beginning of Trump's presidency. Starting in January, we said goodbye to the age of President Obama and hello to the madness that the White House has been ever since, which has arguably done more than anything else to color the course of this year. For this reason, the most important book published in 2017 has been Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy,” a collection of eight essays published over the course of Obama’s eight years of presidency. Coates combines compelling personal narrative with impeccable research to paint a comprehensive picture of American life from all angles — from slavery to politics to entertainment, from the very beginnings of America to its current state. One of the most multifaceted, cohesive and well-researched books of recent years, it is also one of the most significant, especially during a time when history and facts themselves are being questioned.

Laura Dzubay, Daily Arts Writer