Today’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Best Books of 2017. I know I’m a big geek, but I love making end-of-year Best-Of lists. Here are my favorite books read this year; they may not have been published this year, although most are pretty recent.
I always appreciate a book that helps me understand a different place or group of people, and a lot of the books on my Top Ten list do just that. I didn’t deliberately pick diverse authors for my Top Ten, but I’m glad it comes out that way. Half are authors of color, and three are either set in countries other than the U.S. or are about immigrants from other countries.
- The Power by Naomi Alderman: This book won the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction award in 2017. It’s a story that had particular resonance in a year filled with accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault, a year where women seem particularly vulnerable but at the same time stronger than ever. It’s a story that turns gender and power on their heads, and it’s one I find myself thinking about almost daily.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: This book is also one that I think about regularly. This is Thomas’ first book, and it’s brilliant. I think good YA novels must be really hard to write. You can’t talk down to teenagers, and yet YA writers so often do. This book covers so many difficult and heartbreaking issues, and really put me into the head of teenage narrator Starr, making me realize how little I really understand about race and violence.
- Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout: I’m fairly new to Strout but she keeps coming out with amazing books. Her writing about family and relationships and personal struggle is just beautiful, and she creates characters that feel very real. This is a book like Olive Kitteredge, a group of loosely related short stories about people who interact in a small town.
- Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue: I loved this book about a family from Cameroon who come to the U.S. and struggle to become citizens, for at least two reasons. The first is the complexity of the characters and the interaction between the two families. The second is how it portrays the challenges in becoming a U.S. citizen (in case anyone thinks it’s easy). In a year when illegal immigrants are being rounded up and blamed for everything that’s wrong in this country, this book felt particularly important (I also recommend The Leavers).
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: This is Gyasi’s first novel, about seven generations of a family that begins in Africa with two sisters and follows several centuries in Africa and the U.S. It’s about slavery and history and how one generation impacts the next. The scope of this book is impressive, but so are the individual stories within.
- Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood: One of my favorite Atwood books, I love how she intertwines The Tempest with a modern-day theater director and his work teaching inmates of a juvenile detention facility about Shakespeare and theater. There are so many layers in this book. It not only gave me a better understanding of The Tempest, it was a pleasure to read.
- News of the World by Paulette Jiles: I loved everything about this book about an older man traveling the American West in the late 1800s, reading newspapers to people in small towns. He takes on the job of delivering a young girl back to her family after she’d spent years with the Kiowa tribe. It’s a beautiful book, moving but also understated and thoughtful.
- Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: It’s been a while since I read this (January) but I felt it was a really powerful story about family relationships. There was a lot I could identify with in this book, and the characters felt very real to me.
- We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates: I read a lot of great nonfiction this year, and it’s really difficult to compare fiction and nonfiction in a Best Books list. But this one rose to the top because Coates is a powerful writer, and his subject is so timely and important. This book really made me think, and question the way I see things as a white person.
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: I also read a lot of great memoirs this year, but I include this one in the Top Ten because Noah writes about his childhood with so much humor and feeling, and because it illuminates for me a place and subject I know little about: apartheid in South Africa.
I always end up with a few honorable mentions, and here they are:
1984 by George Orwell: An incredibly powerful book about the power of government to change our perceptions and stifle our thought. And it’s terribly relevant this year.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen: This is the Pulitzer Prize-winning story of a Vietnamese man who is a spy working for the government but spying for the Viet Cong. We’ve been watching the Vietnam miniseries by Ken Burns, and how little I know about Vietnam is shocking. This book made me realize how we in the U.S. have only looked at the Vietnam War through the eyes of Americans and what it cost us as a country, not what the Vietnamese themselves experienced.
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue: I love most of her books and this one was no exception. There’s so much going on in this seemingly straightforward book about a girl who seems to be a religious miracle in rural Ireland because she’s not eating. Her family and village want to prove their daughter is a miracle so they bring in an outside observer to certify that a miracle is actually happening.
A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab: Not the sort of book that usually makes my Best Of list, this book just blows other fantasy series away for me. I loved the characters, the world-building, and the story. This book made me want to do nothing else but sit and read.