Top 20 Books of 2017
Well, another year has gone by, and by the end I was 120 more books closer to my ultimate goal, which I will reach next year. This might be the last top ten for a while as I rethink things next year. This is a good mix of new and old books, and as always, I separate my list by authors I have read before and authors I read for the first time this year.
10. Strange Weather by Joe Hill: After his last underwhelming novel The Fireman, it was nice to see Joe Hill go back to shorter works. It was necessary and it shows in the quality of the four short novels in this collection, which range from grim to hopeful. This was a total joy.
9. Between Them by Richard Ford: I am not too big on the Bascombe novels or Ford in general, but this small yet eviscerating book about his parents hit a nerve and it stung. Very painful, but very wise and eye-opening as well.
8. Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami: Murakami might be my favorite short story writer, and this newly translated collection is proof enough of such a sentiment.
7. Broken River by J. Robert Lennon: One of the many books I read this year that blended terror and drama. Using a risky but successful literary technique, the novel about a fractured family was unexpectedly chilling.
6. You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann: This little novel, easily read in one sitting, is also guaranteed to give you the creeps as it slowly and horrifically folds in on itself in disturbing ways.
5. Thrill Me by Benjamin Percy: A writer whose fiction has never been a big hit with me has surprisingly written my favorite nonfiction book on writing, which is both funny and informative.
4. Ill Will by Dan Chaon: A big novel that travels deep into the hearts of dark men, Chaon’s third novel continues a streak that looks to remain unbroken, telling a bleak Midwestern story ripped from real life that brilliantly shows the fragility of life.
3. Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons: One of the few perfect horror novels. There isn’t a hair out of place in this doorstop of a book filled to the brim with everything good fiction is capable of.
2. The Force by Don Winslow: What he did for the drug war in The Power of the Dog and The Cartel Winslow does for NYC police: relevant, intense and utterly riveting.
1. 4321 by Paul Auster: It has been seven years since Auster put out a novel, and I realized how much I missed him. It is still too early if this 866-page book will be one of the pillars of his career, but this was an event that lived up to the hype.
10. The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel: A true story of a man who successfully did what some of us only dream of doing for a quarter century forces us to look at ourselves and the lives we have built but also how we interact with fellow humans.
9. Chemistry by Weike Wang: The kind of self-assured but humble debut novel that presents drama, pathos and esoteric musings in an inviting and enlightening way.
8. The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson: This novel of racism, violence and hidden secrets feels both like an epic but an intimate one where we come away knowing more about the characters than we may have wished too.
7. The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins: One of the three best books about prison life. It’s look into the hopelessness and humanity of incarceration by someone who will most likely never get out is a melancholic journey into the far corners of American marginalia.
6. Dirty Snow by Georges Simenon: A novel close to 80 years old which still has lasting power. Its story of banal violence easily trumps Camus’ The Stranger. Along with The Killer Inside Me, it’s the best of its kind.
5. Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez: These creepy stories from Argentina filled with ghosts, zombie and demons were the best I read all year, calling to mind writers as varied as Bolano and Ramsey Campbell. I can’t wait to read what she puts out next.
4. Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou: This intriguing and captivating story of boy in Pointe-Noire, Congo whose trajectory from an orphanage to petty crime is ultimately sad and tragic is the best of its kind since Adiga’s The White Tiger.
3. Encircling by Carl Frode Tiller: The absolute antithesis of Knausgard’s ongoing struggle, this novel about identity, projection and human connection took me by total surprise and had me hypnotized. I will be picking up the second book of the proposed trilogy as soon as I can.
2. The World of Tomorrow by Brendan Mathews: The best debut of 2017: big, long, filled with wonder, suspense and the chance of redemption and set in a time when the world could look ahead without cynicism. What’s not to love?
1. I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid: One of the best horror novels I have ever read and one of the saddest. Its switch from creeping dread to unquenchable sadness is among the best tricks I have ever seen in a book. This one is sure to stick with me for a long time.