28 books to read in 2017
We're only in the first month of the new year, but this much is already clear: There are a lot of good books coming our way. From nonfiction that aims to understand how we got here to beachy page-turners that will help you make your escape (even on a staycation), let The Week be your guide for what books to read in 2017.
1. Idaho, by Emily Ruskovich (Jan. 3)
Like the first baby born after midnight on New Year's Day, Idaho was celebrated as the first major fiction debut of the year. Emily Ruskovich, though, is no novice at the craft, having received the O. Henry Prize in 2015 for her short story, "Owl." In Idaho, Ruskovich writes about the northern panhandle of her native state, even when that means exploring the landscapes of different characters' memories and secrets. Darkness is around every corner: Wade's memory is going and Ann, his wife, is struggling to understand what happened to his first wife, Jenny. "[Idaho's] language is an enchantment," raves author Leslie Jamison, "its vision brutal and sublime."
2. Homesick for Another World, by Ottessa Moshfegh (Jan. 17)
Ottessa Moshfegh beamed onto the literary scene in 2015 with her debut novel, Eileen, an odd little book cut from the same cloth as Shirley Jackson. Moshfegh does not lose her eeriness in Homesick for Another World, her first collection of short stories. Some of the pieces, like "The Weirdos" (which opens with the brilliant first clause: "On our first date, he bought me a taco") and "The Beach Boy," are easy to find online, having been previously published in places like The Paris Review and The New Yorker. But to read the full 14 is to "[examine] characters and situations too weird to be real and too real to be fiction," Publishers Weekly writes in its glowing review of the collection. Plus, the cover! It alone justifies blowing that Amazon gift card you got over the holidays.
3. Portrait of the Alcoholic, by Kaveh Akbar (Jan. 27)
It is impossible not to fall in love with Kaveh Akbar. Born in Tehran, Iran, and now a resident of Florida, Akbar is one of contemporary poetry's leading advocates; his name even means "poetry." Akbar's poems are quiet ferocities, spiritual and dark, swirling and tender. In Portrait of the Alcoholic, his first chapbook, Akbar hinges on a series of anchors like "Portrait of the Alcoholic with Craving" and "Portrait of the Alcoholic Floating in Space with Severed Umbilicus." If you like what you read, keep your eyes peeled for his full-length debut, Calling a Wolf a Wolf, which will be out in 2018. But as a starting point, begin with "Despite My Efforts Even My Prayers Have Turned into Threats," in which Akbar writes "...my sins/were practically devotional:/two peaches stolen from/a bodega, which were so sweet/I savored even the bits I flossed/out my teeth."
4. How to Murder Your Life, by Cat Marnell (Jan. 31)
You might recognize the name of New York's "hottest mess" from the headlines of the New York Daily News' venerable gossip pages. "The Hunter S. Thompson of the beauty beat," Cat Marnell climbed through NYLON, Teen Vogue, Glamour, Lucky, and xoJane before self-destructing in a most public — and jealousy-inducing — fashion. Written with a healthy dose of humor, Marnell's memoir takes you from her time at prep school to days of pill-popping, nightclubs, mental hospitals, and Condé Nast. "At times Marnell seemed so hellbent on doom that I began to wonder if hers wasn't entirely an act," a New York Times writer mused at the height of the Marnell drama, in 2012. But that is for you to decide.
Also noteworthy in January: Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay (Jan. 3); Letters to a Young Muslim, by Omar Saif Ghobash; Human Acts, by Han Kang (Jan. 17); Transit, by Rachel Cusk (Jan. 17); World, Chase Me Down, by Andrew Hilleman (Jan. 24).
5. All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers, by Alana Massey (Feb. 7)
You might have already read Alana Massey and not known it. She is the author of the "Being Winona In A World Made for Gwyneths," an explosive BuzzFeed essay that landed her a literary agent in less than 24 hours, or perhaps you've read "Against Chill," a takedown of the titular "garbage virtue that will destroy the species." In All the Lives I Want, Massey bridges the gap from Sylvia Plath to Amber Rose, and all the high- and lowbrow female celebrities in between with her deeply contemporary voice and sense of humor. "These women — often the subjects of great scrutiny by celebrity magazines — prompt the author to ponder, with wit and keen self-reflection, what our feelings about them reveal about us," Kirkus Review writes.
6. The Refugees, by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Feb. 7)
The last time Viet Thanh Nguyen wrote a book, it won the Pulitzer Prize, so the anticipation over this collection of short stories is obvious. While fictional, its title is pointed: "Many people have characterized my novel, The Sympathizer, as an immigrant story, and me as an immigrant," Nguyen wrote at The New York Times last year. "No. My novel is a war story and I am not an immigrant. I am a refugee who, like many others, has never ceased being a refugee in some corner of my mind." Nguyen draws on his own lived experience here to describe the Vietnamese communities of California and the ghosts — of all kinds — that haunt them.
7. Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town, by Brian Alexander (Feb. 14)
Did Donald Trump's election make you wonder how on Earth we got here? Glass House might help answer that question. Journalist Brian Alexander examines his hometown of Lancaster, Ohio, which was broadcast to the world in 1947 when Forbes proclaimed, "This is America." The town was devastated when the local industry — glassmaking — was hit by financial upheaval in the 1980s. "Through research and interviews with dozens of Lancaster residents, Alexander paints a picture of a town that's typical of many formerly thriving communities across America," Publishers Weekly writes. "This is a particularly timely read for our tumultuous and divisive era."
8. Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders (Feb. 14)
If you buy one book this year, you could do worse than George Saunders' first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. Saunders' strange worlds and characters have, for decades, existed only in short form, earning him The National Book Award, The O. Henry, The Folio Prize, and a MacArthur Fellowship. This is no short story, though: Set during the Civil War, the book, about President Lincoln's son, runs 368 pages. It is not exactly a historical novel — Saunders' just-so-slightly-unreal worlds are the most intriguing thing about his work. But the truth here is the good, raw, honest, gritty kind that attracts us to fiction in the first place.
Also noteworthy in February: Panchinko, by Min Jun Lee (Feb. 7); Autumn, by Ali Smith (Feb. 7); Six Four, by Hideo Yokoyama (Feb. 7); Shadowbahn, by Steve Erickson (Feb. 14); There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, by Morgan Parker (Feb. 14).
9. South and West: From a Notebook, by Joan Didion (March 7)
It's a new book by Joan Didion, what more do you want? This slim volume holds two never-before-seen excerpts of the legendary writer's notebooks — one follows a road trip Didion took in 1970 with her husband through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and the other, in California, briefly records the start of her assignment to cover the Patty Hearst trial of 1976. It's "an almost spectral text haunted by a past that never seems distant," Kirkus Review writes. Go on, might as well order it now.
10. The Night Ocean, by Paul La Farge (March 7)
Another contender for best book cover of the year, Paul La Farge's The Night Ocean is as maddeningly intriguing on the inside as it is on the out. It is 1934, and Marina Willett's husband has disappeared: "I say disappeared, because I don't believe he's dead, although that would be the reasonable conclusion," she tells the reader. Before he vanished, Charlie Willett had fallen into an obsession with the legendary horror writer H. P. Lovecraft — or rather, Lovecraft's sexuality. Throughout, the novel wobbles between richly researched historical fact (in the acknowledgements, La Farge thanks the daughter of Phantagraph editor Donald Wollheim for letting him "copy a sheaf of unpublished letters from H. P. Lovecraft") and brilliantly imagined fiction. It will escape no reader that The Night Ocean is itself a work of passion, wordsmithery, and obsession — a kind of story within a story, if you will, of the sort that Lovecraft would have, well, loved.
11. The Idiot, by Elif Batuman (March 14)
New Yorker staff writer Elif Batuman makes her fictional debut with "a semi-autobiographical novel that I decided to call The Idiot," as she put it to LitHub. "I'm hoping I don't run into copyright problems." (Her last book, a work of nonfiction, was called The Possessed — Russian literature fans will see the pattern). The Idiot follows 18-year-old Turkish-American Selin in the fall of 1995, where she is settling into Harvard, befriending a Serbian named Svetlana, and emailing an older math major named Ivan, who is living in Hungry. Emailing! It's still new and baffling to Selin, as are many of the complexities of the world at large. Yes, this is "coming of age," but it's also entirely self-aware and a charming treat.
12. Vicious Circle, by C. J. Box (March 21)
Having written one Joe Pickett book a year since 2001, C. J. Box arrives at #17 in the series with Vicious Circle. For those unfamiliar with the books, the titular hero is "a stand-up Wyoming game warden and all-around good guy," though he certainly has a knack for attracting trouble. If you're unfamiliar with the characters and their backgrounds, you'll want to do some catching up; Vicious Circle finds Pickett's past hunting him down. But don't let the 16 books behind this one deter you: "If you're not currently reading Box's Joe Pickett series, start. Seriously, this is one of the finest fiction franchises in print today, and a must-read for the fans of thrillers or crime novels," one fan raved, and he isn't alone in that opinion, either. Start here.
Also noteworthy in March: All Grown Up, by Jami Attenberg (March 7); Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid (March 7); White Tears, by Hari Kunzru (March 14); The Rules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy (March 14); Sorry to Disrupt the Peace, by Patty Yumi Cottrell (March 17).
13. Sunshine State, by Sarah Gerard (April 11)
Blink and you could have missed Sarah Gerard's Binary Star, a mighty wisp of a book that made NPR, Vanity Fair, BuzzFeed, and Flavorwire's lists of the best books of 2015 (not to mention getting a Los Angeles Times Book Prize nod as a finalist). With Sunshine State, Gerard moves from her indie publisher to Harper Perennial, and from the novel form to essays. What stays the same, though, is her voice — as conversational, blunt, and honest as an intimate discussion with a lover or close friend. A bonus that sets her apart from your regular run-of-the-mill memoirist: She isn't afraid to do the heavy lifting of research and investigative journalism. Here, her focus is, as the title suggests, Florida, and everything the Gulf Coast comes with: addiction, homelessness, religion, seabirds. If you look at it right, it's so much bigger than that, too.
14. Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me, by Stacey May Fowles (April 18)
It's becoming more and more commonplace to hear about writers getting book deals based off of their Tinyletter newsletters, and no one is more deserving than Stacey May Fowles, whose Baseball Life Advice book comes out right after MLB's opening day. Fowles' newsletter of the same name is already over 60 installments, and has long gotten at the very heart of what we love about the frustration, grief, and exaltation that comes with being a baseball fan (photos of the players' adorable animal companions are an additional perk). What is particularly special about Fowles' writing is that it gets at a core shared by new fans and old; "What is it about a man hitting a small white ball with a slim wooden bat out of a park that's so beautiful?" she asks. Blending the personal — struggles with PTSD, the heartbreak and splendor of being a Toronto Blue Jays fan, the irritating dismissal of being a female baseball-goer — and the universal, this is a must-own for anyone who loves the sport.
15. Imagine Wanting Only This, by Kristen Radtke (April 18)
Kristen Radtke has caught the attention of the right kinds of people with her debut graphic novel, Imagine Only Wanting This. Places that have been abandoned by memory and the people who once called them home fascinate Radtke, who travels from the Midwest to Iceland to the Philippines to New York City in this cross-genre nonfiction work. It's worlds more than a travelogue, though — it's also a journey through grief, memory, and family. If the fact that it's illustrated turns you off, resist: Radtke's grayscale art, combined with her MFA in nonfiction from the University of Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program, makes Imagine Always Wanting This "a fantastic example of the graphic novel's possibilities as a literary medium," according to Library Journal.
16. Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer (April 25)
This has nothing to do with that "Bourne." Southern Reach trilogy author Jeff VanderMeer earned "mid-six-figures" for this stand-alone novel that takes place in a littered, dystopian future inhabited by scavenging humans, a giant bear named Mord, and, of course, Borne — a creature that is not obviously plant or animal. "Borne lay softly humming to itself, the half-closed aperture at the top like a constantly dilating mouth, the spirals of flesh contracting, then expanding. 'It' had not yet become 'he,' VanderMeer writes in an excerpt of the novel you can read now at Entertainment Weekly. Paramount has already acquired the rights to make Borne into a movie.
Also noteworthy in April: What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky, by Lesley Nneka Arimah (April 4); Marlena, by Julie Buntin (April 4); Too Much and Not the Mood, by Durga Chew-Bose (April 11); The Book of Joan, by Lidia Yuknavitch (April 18); Anything Is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout (April 25).
17. Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins (May 2)
Loved The Girl on the Train? Into the Water is just as dark, psychological, and maddening as its predecessor. In this novel, a single mother turns up dead in a river in small-town Northern England just weeks after a teenage girl was discovered to have suffered the same terrible fate. Left behind is a 15-year-old daughter, a sister, and the muddy overlap of memory. "Just as The Girl on the Train explored voyeurism and self-perception, so does Into the Water interrogate the deceitfulness of memory and all the dangerous ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present and future," publisher Sarah McGrath told The New York Times.
18. One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, by Scaachi Koul (May 2)
A frontrunner for the best title of the year, Scaachi Koul brings her sharp, irreverent voice to her debut collection of essays about growing up as the daughter of Indian immigrants in Canada. If you follow Koul on Twitter, you already have an idea of how hilarious this can be. If you've read her BuzzFeed essays, including this one on her "stupid name," you know how achingly beautiful her writing can be, too. Koul is one of the writers I most look forward to reading in print in the coming years: It's about time readers get to highlight, circle, and scribble marginalia beside her words. Trust me; you're going to want to.
19. Woman No. 17, by Edan Lepucki (May 9)
Edan Lepucki was the "it" girl of 2014 with her post-apocalyptic novel, California. She very well might repeat her success this spring with a Hollywood noir about the electric bonds between women, Woman No. 17. "In Edan Lepucki's hands, the philosophical is transformed into a page turner; I don't know how she does it," raves Rich & Pretty author Rumaan Alam. Oh, and there's reportedly a lot of sex; this one is a safe bet for beach season.
20. Men Without Women, by Haruki Murakami (May 9)
Haruki Murakami could publish his grocery list and it would attract hoards of fans. Thankfully for us, Men Without Women is a little longer, and more interesting, than that. Murakami's first fiction since Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Men Without Women sees the Japanese cult favorite return to the short story form with seven tales. The collection's title, of course, is stolen directly from Ernest Hemingway's 1927 short story collection about bullfighting, death, and manhood — add some more cats, ennui, and Beatles to this 2016 version from across the Pacific, and you have the new Murakami. You can read almost half the collection now in The New Yorker, with "Scheherazade," "Yesterday," and "Kino."
Also noteworthy in May: This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare, by Gabourey Sidibe (May 1); Priestdaddy, by Patricia Lockwood (May 2); House of Names, by Colm Tóibín (May 9); Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977–2002), by David Sedaris (May 30); Isadora, by Amelia Gray.
21. The Gypsy Moth Summer, by Julia Fierro (June 6)
This huge, buzzing novel tells the story of Avalon Island, cloaked in a gypsy moth invasion that adds a layer of mystery, darkness, and suffocation to a boiling summer romance. Leslie Day Marshall returns home to live in Avalon's grandest estate, "The Castle," raising the eyebrows and gossip of islanders who look upon her African-American husband and their children with disapproval. "My favorite characters are always the most difficult, "Julia Fierro told The Writer. "They are liars and cheats, narcissists and phobics, obsessives and gluttons. They are all those words some readers use to dismiss a character — flawed, unlikable, and irredeemable. It is for these same reasons that I love my difficult characters. The cracks in character/virtue are the tunnel through which I squeeze."
22. Hunger, by Roxane Gay (June 13)
Hunger was actually spotlighted in last year's roundup of the best books to read, but the highly anticipated memoir was ultimately pushed back an entire year. Gay admitted that part of the reason for the delay was because "the book was scary and stressful to write so I procrastinated A LOT," but promised it "will be worth the wait." Gay published the wildly successful essay collection Bad Feminist in 2014, and is once again brutally honest with herself in this book about self-care and the struggles of being "wildly undisciplined" with her body. "This is not a book about triumph," Gay warns. "I started this book fat, and I'm finishing it fat ... This isn't a book about successful weight loss."
23. Blind Spot, by Teju Cole (June 27)
In the years since Teju Cole memorably turned the eyes of a flâneur on New York City, he became — appropriately — a photography critic for The New York Times Magazine. The problem with Cole, though, is once you get a taste of his writing, you can quickly (and hungrily) burn through what's available. Thankfully, Blind Spot will indulge the senses by combining both of Cole's loves in this 150-page full-color collection of Cole's photos, accompanied by his prose. "The places [Teju Cole] can go, you feel, are just about limitless," The New York Times has said. Here, in the vein of Anne Carson, Claudia Rankine, and Susan Sontag, he proves it.
24. You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, by Sherman Alexie (June 13)
Sherman Alexie's name is deservedly tied to his classic young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, but he is also an accomplished poet and essayist. In his memoir, due out this summer, Alexie migrates from prose to line to photograph in response to his mother's death at the age of 78. Naturally, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me contains 78 poems and 78 essays describing a childhood on an Indian reservation with alcoholic parents, including his beloved, difficult, and complicated mother.
Also noteworthy in May: Stephen Florida, by Gabe Habash (June 6); The Black Elfstone, by Terry Brooks (June 13); Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell, by David Yaffe (June 13); Our Little Racket, by Angelica Baker (June 20); The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter, by Theodora Goss (June 20).
July and beyond
25. A Catalog of Birds, by Laura Harrington (July)
After winning the 2008 Kleban Award for "most promising librettist in American Musical Theatre," Laura Harrington sat down to write... a novel. The result was 2011's Alice Bliss, a small-town coming-of-age story set during the Iraq War. In A Catalog of Birds, Harrington once again returns to small-town America, but this time to the tumultuous 1970s and the Vietnam War. Billy Flynn is the lone survivor when his helicopter is shot down and his sister, Nell, and Billy's best friend try to save him from the lingering trauma. "You know the Flynns," wrote author Juliette Fay. "They're that family down the street — or perhaps your own family — imperfect, loving, loyal, angry, secretive, stubborn, barely making ends meet, church-going but not always believing, each carrying burdens they can never quite put down."
26. Sour Heart, by Jenny Zhang (August)
I have been obsessed with Jenny Zhang ever since I learned about her in late 2015, and even then I was late to the party. Zhang can do just about anything: Answer teen girls' questions about beauty in Rookie, win National Magazine Awards for her essays, or publish fiction in Lena Dunham's newsletter, Lenny Letter. On that later point, her debut collection of short stories was the first book acquired by the new Lenny publishing imprint and it "explores issues of adolescence, immigration, and family through the voices of several Chinese American girls growing up in New York City." This will be an it-book to read when it comes out in late summer.
Summer Brennan wrote a beautifully reported book about the feud between environmentalists and oyster farmers in the coastal towns north of San Francisco in 2015, but these days she might be better known for leading the "resistance" against Donald Trump on Twitter and on her podcast, The FourFiftyOne. Brennan, as it turns out, also recently wrote a book about high heels for Bloomsbury's fantastic Object Lessons series, and it will be coming out in September. While no one can ever seem to agree if high heels are feminist or not, Brennan is sure to have an informed and richly researched opinion on the topic. Expect it not to be clear cut, though: "Will $700 high heels hate my feet less (even though I found them 'slightly worn' for $70)?" she tweeted last summer. "Time [and] the streets of Paris will tell."
28. Endurance, by Scott Kelly (November)
Astronaut Scott Kelly spent a year living in outer space, and his memoir will describe his utterly alien life — from being away from the people he loves to the claustrophobia of being in a tin can floating through the cosmos. In one particularly distressing episode, Kelly's twin brother's wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in a failed assassination plot just two months into Kelly's mission. Kelly also looks ahead to the next steps humanity will take in space — chiefly, a journey to Mars. November is still a long ways off, but Kelly's memoir is sure to be worth the wait.