Thursday, 28 December 2017

End of 2017 Book Lists

'Tis the season for the lists of the "Best Books of 2017" to be released by various media outlets. As a general rule, the lists contain books I haven't read and in some cases haven't heard of, so it is an opportunity to be introduced to new titles and authors. At the end of each year I compile my own list of what I enjoyed this year and my plans for the year ahead in reading. Before I share my own 'Best of' let's look at what others have to say...

Last Christmas I treated myself a subscription to the New York Times, and its section on books has provided me with much inspiration throughout the year.

The New York Times has two lists of recommended reads: the 10 best and the 100 notable books. The shorter lists contains fiction from Booker prize nominees Autumn by Ali Smith, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, along with Naomi Alderman's The Power, Min Jin Lee's Pachinko, Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing. For non-fiction it cites Richard O Prum's The Evolution of Beauty, Ron Chernow's Grant, James Formean Jr's Locking Up Our Own, Patricia Lockwood's Priestdaddy, and Prairie Fires, Caroline Fraser's biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Well, I have read exactly none of these books!

I thought I might do better on the longer list, but alas no. The fiction side contains lots that I want to read: Rachel Cusk's Transit, Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach, George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo, John Banville's Mrs Osmond, and Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout. Of the fifty non-fiction titles I have only read Hillary Rodham Clinton's What Happened.

The Guardian invited publishers to nominate their favourite books of the year. Unsurprisingly, George Saunders makes the list, as does Sebastian Barry's Days Without End, Jon McGregor's Reservoir 13, and Maggie O'Farrell's I Am, I Am, I Am. Of the listed titles, I want to read Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere and have read Jane Harper's magnificent debut The Dry.
Esquire magazine named 50 Best Books of 2017. Among the titles that made the cut which interest me are: Jesmyn Ward's Sing, Unburied, Sing; Hanif Abdurraqib's They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us; Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach; Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere; Samantha Irby's We Are Never Meeting In Real Life.
The Boston Globe's list of The Best Books of 2017, contains a diverse mix of books. Of those listed, the ones which appeal to me are: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie; House of Names by Colm Toibin; The novels by George Saunders, Naomi Alderman, Jesmyn Ward, Mohsin Hamid, Arundhati Roy, and Min Jin Lee are among the Globe's best. Again, the only one I read off this list is Hillary Rodham Clinton's What Happened.

NPR's Book Concierge compiled a treasure trove - a massive list with a diverse range of titles. The non-fiction list includes: Scaachi Koul's essays One Day We'll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter; Ariel Levy's memoir The Rules Do Not Apply; David Sedaris' diaries Theft by Finding; Angela Nagle's Kill All Normies; Reni Eddo-Lodge's Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race; Rebecca Solnit's The Mother of All Questions; and Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib's They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us. Loads of great books here!

NPR's fiction list features familiar names: Hamid, Toibin, Ward, Roy, Ali Smith, Saunders and Strout. Other titles include Philip Pullman's The Book of Dust, Gail Honeyman's Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine; and Mike McCormack's Solar Bones.

Slate's Book Review writers Laura Miller and Katy Waldman each identified 10 books worth reading. Laura Miller's list includes Ali Smith's Autumn, Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach, Hari Kunzru's White Tears, and a number of non-fiction titles. Katy Waldman's lists always appeal to me more. Of the ones she has listed, I am attracted to Sally Rooney's Conversations with Friends, Philip Pullman's The Book of Dust, and the novels by Saunders and Egan.

Time magazine names 10 works of fiction including Danzy Senna's New People, Sebastian Barry's Days Without End, Rachel Cusk's Transit, and novels by Ward, Saunders, Hamid, Egan. Time's non-fiction list includes Ariel Levy's memoir, Roxane Gay's Hunger, Ta-Nahisi Coates We Were Eight Years in Power, and Hillary Rodham Clinton's What Happened.
Many of the lists contain predictable titles, but a few have hidden gems that I would not have heard of otherwise. After my exploration of these "Best Of" lists I have whittled it down to a handful of titles I would like to read in 2018, including:
  • Exit West by Mohsin Hamid 
  • Sung, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • Conversation with Friends by Sally Rooney
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Sanders
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
  • The Power by Naomi Alderman
  • Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
  • They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib
  • We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby
  • The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman

So it's off to the library for me!

Notes on 'A Novel'
Finally, I am perplexed by the number of books I have come across on these lists which are subtitled 'A Novel'. What's that about? I could understand if it was part of a series like 'A Hercule Poirot Novel' or 'A Stephanie Plum novel' but not just 'A Novel'.

Is it done to help the reader find works of fiction? Is it to help shop keepers know which section to place the book in? Is it to ensure the reader knows that it is an invented tale? I reckon it is a either pretentious ('I am literature') or laziness (for those who don't read the back cover). Just saying...