Ah, the world of literature. The best world.
There were a lot of great books in 2017, right? I thought so! Or, perhaps, I just read a lot, which is indeed true. In fact, I think 2017 was the year I read the most books ever in my life. I may be wrong but, either way, I had my eyes and ears on a lot of things. Here’s my take on works that – more or less – came to light last year.
The Movie Is Probably Better: Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman
I battled this book all year, both as research for my own book and in advance of the movie. And? Eh. I didn’t love it and it was so overwritten or, at least, unedited. It should have been a novella! Regardless, I can’t take away how impactful the final few pages were. Worth 200+ pages of pining? No, not at all.
Yes, Greta Gerwig Would Recommend This: The Idiot by Elif Batuman
Batuman’s book on a young and naïve college freshman was quite fun but, really, was an otherworld Greta Gerwig project. It was also one of those books where nothing really happens but the mood and feeling of the book is what sells you.
The “This Isn’t About You” Award: Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli
This quick little exploration of immigration in Trump’s America was nice but, upon closer inspection, reveals itself as a way for the writer to insert their non-problematic immigration story into other people’s very real immigration problems. I was not down with that and I am tired of having allies confuse themselves for victims.
Worse Use Of The Word “Queer”: Modern Love’s “Is There Something Odd About Being Single?”
How furious do I get when straight people try to “be queer”? Very furious. Who OK’d this story, anyway?
Best, Best, Best, Best Debut: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I’ve said this to so many people but Thomas’ first book deserves so many awards for distilling so many difficult concepts – police brutality, racism in America, PTSD, etc. – by way of a young adult stylings. It’s the kind of successful work that can literally be handed to a child or an elderly person and both will understand the issues at hand. Bravo.
Best Gay Book: My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci
A fun, sweet little back-and-forth in time and space.
Most Overhyped: The End Of Eddy by Édouard Louis
You’ve read this coming out story before but, “this time,” it takes place in rural France. It’s nice and sweet and sour but it’s not anything new, sadly. Don’t buy the “He wrote it at 21!” stuff.
Give To A Catholic: Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
This funny memoir was a “Wait, huh?” kind of story but was most remarkable for recovering Catholics like myself trying to see this story “being real.” Thus, I gave it to my mother.
Best Political Writing: Kate Imbach’s “Fairytale Prisoner By Choice”
Most Insane, I: CNN‘s “The FBI Translator Who Went Rogue And Married An ISIS Terrorist”
I can’t believe this is real.
Most Insane, II: New York Times‘ “Inside a Secretive Group Where Women Are Branded”
If I thought that last one wasn’t real, I don’t even know what I think about this one.
Most Delightfully Fucked Up: White Tears by Hari Kunzru
I’ve been hunting for books that make me squirm and consider new highs (and lows) for fuckedupness and Kunzru’s run through American racial issues via music sampling fulfilled that wish. Well written and “fun,” horrifying and intellectual, White Tears is a thrilling must read for lovers of the macabre.
The “More Of The Same” Award: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
Typical VanderMeer, typical dystopian nature sci-fi.
Best Nature Story: Charlotte Mendelson’s “Compost Is Magic”
I love composting. This story spoke to me on so many levels.
Best 2016 Read Enjoyed In 2017: The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Also, the best book about Los Angeles that I’ve ever read.
Best Politics-Meets-Art Story: Columbia Journal Review‘s “11 Images That Show How The Trump Administration Is Failing At Photography”
Most Entertaining / Best Dose Of Escapism: My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
Read the title of that book. How can it not be a hoot and a holler? What was so rewarding about Exorcism was that it was a best friends forever tale bundled within an eighties horror romp akin to an early Sam Raimi film. It’s so fun. It was the type of read you turn to to forget the real horrors of the world (or, at least, to forget about Donald Trump).
Enjoyably Dense: Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders
This was no easy read but it was quite a rewarding read, I must say.
Yeah, Yeah, Yeah: “Cat Person” by Kristen Roupenian
I “get it” but also I’ve “read it” – and I’ve read it and heard it and shared it in much better forms.
Best Writing About Death: Cory Taylor’s Dying
Have not read the book yet but the excerpts I have read crush me.
Best Animal Story: New York Times Magazine‘s “Why Close Encounters With Animals Soothe Us”
Also, some of the best photography of the year too.
Best Book-To-Magazine Crossover: Hanya Yanagihara as T‘s Editor-In-Chief
If I could be anyone in the world right now, it would be Hanya Yanagihara. I wish I could hold her pen and look at the world from her aesthetically adoring, often fucked up point of view. Let me be you, Hanya.
Magazine Of The Year: New York Magazine
Although the magazine is getting progressively less frequent, New York continued pairing excellent coverage of general interest subjects with excellent photography and design. They have taste, really. Moreover, their coverage of national politics was quite stellar.
Newspaper Of The Year: Washington Post
2017 was the year the New York Times fell from grace for me. Who swept in? Washington Post. Not only is their work so incredibly thorough and even but there seems to be little “liberal” bias. As I attempted to “unbubble” myself, the Post has helped usher in a way of looking at America from more than one angle.
Best Nonfiction Book Of The Year: The Vanishing Middle Class by Peter Temin
Everything in Temin’s book is stuff you know. If you’ve watched 13th or read anything about the Occupy Wall Street movement, you will be familiar with much of the issues at hand. Yet, what Temin does with Middle Class is paint an urgent and dire picture of our country that – in some ways – predicted Trump. The book was written and released when our current president was only an idea which makes our reality make so much sense. It’s not just ideological shit storms pushing us in the wrong directions but the thumb of the “rich getting richer” that is ruining us too. This is the type of book you read or gift if you want to truly be “woke” on everyday American politics in 2017.
Book Fiction Book Of The Year: The Power by Naomi Alderman
There were many potential “bests” for 2017. Both White Tears and The Hate U Give could have taken the top title but Alderman’s The Power was such a rich, creative tour of one of the largest subjects in America last year: gender inequality. The book skewers all subjects related to women that have been trending in recent years, from political power to sexual harassment. It’s a book that not only unspools our reality but suggests an alternative, where the tables quickly turn and a new flesh is given. Like White Tears, it’s fucked up and delicious in so many ways. It’s a powerful book and, like Get Out did for horror, The Power does for science fiction. Also: Barack Obama approves. A must read for those wanting creative contemporary commentary.