2017 was a year of newness and transition: new puppy, new city, new home, new writing project, new countries traveled, new job, new routine. What remained constant throughout all the change were the books: how they continued to inform and inspire, how they illuminated truths and gave voice to interior worlds, how often they broke and then stitched back together my heart. Books were my comfort, the place I returned when life felt too out of control. Though I had less bandwidth to write about every book listed below, I am so happy to celebrate my favorites of 2017 with this annual list. I was also delighted to notice after putting it together that all books on the list are written by women, many of whom I’ve been fortunate to meet and know.
FAVORITE NOVEL (TIE):
I was hooked by Marlena from its first line: “Tell me what you can’t forget, and I’ll tell you who you are.” Buntin’s debut novel toggles between a teenage and an adult Cat. It’s a story of friendship and how we are shaped, of how we destroy ourselves and how some of us survive. I fell in love with Buntin’s language, Marlena’s tragic destiny and Cat’s powerful observations about the world.
“Whenever I hear the word danger, I see Marlena and me staring into the mouth of that U-Haul in the winter hour between twilight and dark. Two girls full of plans, fifteen and seventeen years old in the middle of nowhere. Stop, I want to tell us. Stay right where you are, together. Don’t move. But we will. We always do. The clock’s already running.”
Though I loved so many novels this year, I was sure Marlena would be my sole favorite. Until Chemistry landed in my lap and there was no way to not recognize its brilliance and its impact on me. A slim, fragmented narrative (a style I admit is currently my favorite), it hovers just below the explosive point of compounding pressures, with a melancholic voice that I recognized and adored. My heart was still aching long after I read its final words.
“An atom is mostly made up of empty space. If you remove the empty space from every atom, the entire world’s human population could fit inside a sugar cube.”
The first book I have ever finished, then immediately returned to page one to read again, Hourglass is an exquisite, spare memoir that covers time, marriage and memory. The arc of the book, in which Shapiro explores the “problems of duration” (a Wendell Berry phrase) and comes to understand that part of forming yourself alongside another means passing the “I’ll take care of it” (a Shapiro phrase) back and forth as necessary, becomes the plot. Shapiro’s prose is at its finest here, and the short, lyrical passages that make up Hourglass move delicately through time and are among the most memorable of any I’ve read.
“Years vanish. Months collapse. Time is like a tall building made of playing cards. It seems orderly until a strong gust of wind comes along and blows the whole thing skyward. Imagine it: an entire deck of cards soaring like a flock of birds.”
THE REST OF THE BEST
What We Lose-Zinzi Clemmons
The Child Finder-Rene Denfield
Mikhail And Margarita-Julie Lekstrom Himes
Goodbye, Vitamin-Rachel Khong
The Leavers-Lisa Ko
The Twelve Lives Of Samuel Hawley-Hannah Tinti
The Art of Misdiagnosis-Gayle Brandeis
Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs-Beth Ann Fennelly
Morningstar: Growing Up With Books-Ann Hood
I Am The One Who Got Away-Andrea Jarrell
Imagine Wanting Only This-Kristen Radtke
The Bright Hour-Nina Riggs
300 Arguments: Essays-Sarah Manguso
The Wrong Way to Save Your Life-Megan Stieltsra
Turf: Stories-Elizabeth Crane
Her Body And Other Parties-Carmen Maria Machado
Kiss Me Someone-Karen Shepard
Here’s to a calmer 2018, and many wonderful hours of reading for us all.