What is happening in our world? Who is doing what? what is going on now? These are questions that will be answered. Enjoy.
50 Best Books of 2017
Whether you prefer your reading sexy and satirical, political and polarizing, or simply amusing, the year’s best releases are guaranteed to hit the spot by providing some much-needed escapism, while challenging the status quo and sparking timely conversation. The best books of 2017 have guided us through this messy year with the opportunity to see the world beyond our close confines, allow us to learn more deeply about the human experience, or simply offer valuable entertainment. We live in exhausting times—why not escape for a bit with a book?
The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen
Winner of the 2017 National Book Award in Non-Fiction, Gessen’s latest juggernaut of a book about her native homeland of Russia examines Vladimir Putin’s rogue mafia state. In her previous acclaimed biography of Putin, Man Without a Face, she targeted the leader of the totalitarian regime. Now she shifts perspective and focuses on the lives of seven characters affected by political crackdown of 2012. Gessen, herself, was forced to move to America during this time. (As an aside, when Gessen was the editor of Vokrug Sveta, a popular-science magazine, she was fired for refusing to send a reporter to cover Putin’s hang-glider flight with endangered Siberian cranes. Shortly afterward, she received a phone call from a man claiming to be Putin requesting an in-person meeting at the Kremlin. The caller was indeed Putin, and she took the meeting.) All this is to say: There is no better person to help us understand the complexities of the Russian story, and how it’s shaping world politics and American democracy.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
In her second National Award-winning novel, Ward returns to the fictional town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, where her 2011 National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones was set pre-Hurricane Katrina. This time, Ward’s lyrical story revolves around 13-year-old Jojo and his baby sister, Kayla, who live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop. When Jojo and Kayla’s mom, the drug-addicted Leonie, finds out that their white father is being released from Parchman Farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, she embarks on a road trip with her children to collect him. What begins as an attempt to reunite one family ends as an allegory for so much more—the legacy of slavery and poverty in the rural South, the impact of the opioid crisis, and more.
Artemis by Andy Weir
The author of the smash-hit The Martian, adapted into the Oscar-nominated blockbuster movie, returns to outer space—this time swapping Mars for the Moon as the setting for this near-future heist saga. Artemis, named after the first inhabited city on the moon and humanity’s first colony of the Solar System, is home to Jazz Bashara, a shady small-time smuggler, and the unlikely heroine of the novel. When Jazz decides to seize an irresistible (and criminal) opportunity, she is unwittingly catapulted in a conspiracy that threatens more than she could have ever imagined.
They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib
“It is one thing to be good at what you do, and it is another thing to be good and bold enough to have fun while doing it,” says Adburraqib about the optimism of Chance the Rapper’s music in his vivid collection of essays. I’m not sure if Abdurraqib had fun writing these poignant and important essays—which weave from Springsteen’s American dream and the sex-obsessed lyrics of The Weeknd to pointed eulogies for Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, and other black lives lost to police brutality—but he sure is good at what he does. And in granting us access to his mind, Abdurraqib offers a perspective that connects music, art, and memory, with the political realities of our time.
Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak
When Peri Nalbantoglu is attacked on the streets of Istanbul one morning after a routine stop at Starbucks with her daughter, she mentions nothing to her bourgeois friends at a dinner party later that night. The attack sparks Peri to recall her Oxford University days, her infatuation with a controversial religious studies Professor, and her friendship with Shirin, an atheist Iranian, and Mona, a devout Egyptian Muslim. Shafak deftly explores feminism, religious extremism, and the politics of her native Turkey while flashing between the sumptuous dinner party and Peri’s college days—all while keeping the sweeping saga compelling and alive.
Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner
From the creative genius behind Mad Men comes a chilling novel about the multitudes of the human psyche. Weiner introduces us to two disparate worlds: privileged Upper East Side Manhattan where Mark and Karen Breakstone live with their beautiful daughter Heather; and the world of former felon, now construction worker, Bobby from poverty stricken Harrison, New Jersey. From the outset, we sense that Heather and Bobby’s paths are destined to cross—and they certainly do—with sinister and surprising consequences.
The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity by Esther Perel
If the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives, as Belgium-born Psychotherapist Perel believes, what happens when infidelity catapults a couple into full-blown crisis mode? Perel’s work explores this underlying question. Her 2006 book Mating in Captivity, her two TED talks (viewed close to 20 million times), and recent podcast Where Should We Begin, all urge us to examine the cultural frameworks that forge our romantic expectations. In her opinion, confronting and unearthing the why behind an affair with honesty and courage, can steer a relationship back from brink—possibly towards a place of erotic rediscovery.
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
It’s easy to assume that the mystique and vibrancy of New York is created on the island of Manhattan itself, albeit with its clash of Wall Street bankers, lanky fashion models, grungy college students, and struggling journalists (to name a few of the characters that strut its streets)—all of whom Egan has explored in her previous work. In Manhattan Beach, her first novel since the 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit From the Goon Squad, she explores New York’s maritime history from the Depression era through WWII—replete with daring divers, salty sailors, body-sinking stevedores—proving that it’s the glistening ocean and often murky waterways surrounding Manhattan that hold some of the city’s most defining stories.
The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks
Very few people have an asteroid named in their honor, but very few people have contributed to the understanding of science, medicine, philosophy, and psychology the way the late Oliver Sacks did. In The River of Consciousness, we get glimpse of what he was working on up to his death. He examines the fallibility of memory, the nature of creativity, the still monumental insights of Charles Darwin, and more—all with his characteristic sensitivity and spirit of optimism.
We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This is Coates’s first book after his bracing letter to his son, Between the World and Me. It’s a collection of his pieces written for The Atlantic during Obama’s presidency. The new introductions to each essay add poignant context to his already electric writing, especially in the wake of the election of President Trump. One particularly interesting essay concerns Coates’s time in Paris. Following in James Baldwin’s footsteps, Coates sought an escape and respite from American racism in France, only to be confronted by a different, just-as-ugly version there. No matter what you think of Coates’s sometimes controversial arguments, his standing as one of America’s foremost intellectuals cannot be denied.
Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years by David Litt
Remember when Presidents spoke in complete sentences instead of unhinged tweets? Former Obama speechwriter David Litt reflects on a time when fact-checking was an integral part of Whitehouse protocol, climate change was acknowledged as a real thing, and presidents not only turned up to the White House Correspondents’ Dinners—they also performed comic skits with Keegan-Michael Key. In this candid memoir, Litt brings us inside Obamaworld, recalling the electrifying moment he discovered Obama and how he arrived at the White House at 24 years-old (one of the youngest White House speechwriters in history) to eventually become Obama’s go-to comedy writer. We get an inside look into politics as it was under the former administration, and we discover why Litt believes the legacy of Barack Obama will prevail long after the age of Donald Trump.
Stephen Colbert’s Midnight Confessions by Stephen Colbert and The Staff of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Based on the popular segment from The Late Show in which Stephen Colbert reenacts his most beloved Catholic tradition—confession—this illustrated collection of Midnight Confessions reveals more of his most shameful secrets. (What’s his favorite thing to binge watch? Alcohol entering his own mouth.) True to Colbert form, this book is witty, clever, and fun. And just in case he ever asks if he can pet your dog, say no. He’s only asking because the men’s room was out of hand towels.
Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss
From the bestselling author of The History of Love comes a moving and mesmerizing story about two New Yorkers on a search for meaning. Recently divorced 68-year-old attorney Jules Epstein is giving away most of his money in a quest to free himself of possessions. With the last of it, he decides to travel to Israel to honor his deceased parents. Simultaneously, novelist Nicole, well-known for her authentic Jewish characters, leaves her family in Brooklyn and heads to Tel Aviv to write and analyze her failing marriage from afar. What unfolds in Israel irrevocably alters both of their lives and unlocks a little of life’s mysteries along the way.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
In the small progressive town of Shaker Heights in Cleveland, Ohio, residents are proud of the community they’ve built. It’s a place where no one sees race, neighbors care for one another, and everyone abides by the rules. But when a childless couple decide to adopt a Chinese-American baby left at a fire station, everyone—particularly self-appointed town watchdog Elana Richardson and single-mother Mia Warren—seems to have conflicting opinions about what’s best for the child. Just like Ng did in her haunting debut novel Everything I Never Told You, she once again weaves race and identity in America into what is also a captivating tale about the nature of secrets and family.
The Golden House by Salman Rushdie
Rushdie’s provocative new novel opens on the historic eve of Barack Obama’s election. Secretive billionaire Nero Golden and his three sons have recently moved into an exclusive Greenwich Village community where they meet a budding filmmaker René, the novel’s narrator. René quickly decides that the Goldens are the perfect subject for a mockumentary style film, and this premise enables him to become fully immersed in the family’s fraught ecosystem. When the Trump-like presidential candidate Gary “Green” Gwynplaine, who calls himself the Joker, enters the story, things become shockingly familiar. What follows is a riveting and timely examination of American politics and values.
Things That Happened Before the Earthquake by Chiara Barzini
When 15-year-old Eugenia’s family is cast as the face of Italian SPAM (yes, the canned meat), her father, Ettore, decides that the logical next step is to hit up his one contact in Hollywood—the guy who wrote the Phil Collins song “Run to Paradise.” And so the family moves from Rome to post-riot, early ’90s Los Angeles—specifically to the less-than-idyllic San Fernando Valley. Eugenia’s parents quickly begin work on a low-budget psychological horror film (complete with Johnny Depp cameo). Against this wild backdrop, Eugenia begins her own cultural (and sexual) awakening—one that takes her from skipping high school classes to counter-culture Topanga Canyon, the Mojave Desert, and beyond. This hypnotizing and audacious first novel is inspired by Barzini’s own teenage years in L.A., and the unusual details are like nothing captured in fiction before.
Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta
U R MY MILF! Send me a naked pic!! Divorced mother Eve Fletcher has never, ever, received a text like this before. Could it be from one of her son Brendan’s friends? What exactly is a MILF anyway? A quick Google search catapults Eve into a seemingly endless world of porn; a week later, she’s watched more Milfateria than she’d care to admit. Eve’s porn discovery prompts her to push the boundaries in real life with both cringe-worthy and exhilarating consequences. Perrotta, author of the hits Election, Little Children, and The Leftovers, once again delivers a riveting story about the longing for human connection and the inherent complications that arise when we challenge the status quo.
New People by Danzy Senna
Maria and Khalil are the seemingly perfect couple; they’re both the same shade of beige, they live in a small, culturally-elite apartment in Brooklyn, and they’ve been cast in a film, New People, about biracial relationships. Any yet, for Maria, the thought of a stranger, a poet she’s barely uttered three words to, transports her to a secret, happy place. And, while she should be in the library working on her dissertation about the Jonestown Massacre, she’s compelled to walk around the poet’s neighborhood, albeit it with haunting consequences. Senna’s thriller-like novel is a stirring exploration of race and identity, and, a propulsive look at a fantasy playing out before one’s eyes.
Autumn by Karl Ove Knausgaard
The author of the six-volume sensation My Struggle comes an autobiographical quartet based on four seasons. Addressed to his unborn daughter, Autumn is like an encyclopedia of everyday things, which Knausgaard suggests are rather extraordinary on closer inspection. He zooms in on subjects and objects like apples, fingers, and petrol, and less everyday things (depending on who you are and where you live) like badgers, bee keeping, and Flaubert. Knausgaard is polarizing, and Autumn will surely stoke the fire for naysayers. Regardless, reading this book, that’s also punctuated with illustrations by Vanessa Baird, will make you slow down, take a moment, and recall your childlike wonder.
Eastman Was Here by Alex Gilvarry
“Happiness is a warm phallus. I’ve always thought so,” declares Gilvarry’s protagonist, Allan Eastman, at a cocktail reception in Ho Chi Minh City in 1973. Let this inappropriate, egotistical, (very funny) hyperbole be an indication of what’s in store in this satirical novel about the type of macho public intellectual, journalist, and cultural critic that one hopes is a relic of the past. Thankfully, Eastman meets his match in two fascinating women: his second wife Penny, who is leaving him because she claims Eastman has fallen out of love with her, and Anne Channing, a brave and principled war correspondent who challenges his misogynist views about women and women writers. Inspired by the early biography of Norman Mailer (before he stabbed his second wife), Eastman Was Here is the book Mailer might have written had he taken an assignment for the International Herald during the wind down of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang
The first book from Lena Dunham’s Lenny imprint at Random House crackles with vivid and vital stories of newly arrived Chinese Americans adjusting to New York life. Like Zhang herself, many of her characters arrive in the US from Shanghai as young children, and are confronted with an alien language and parents struggling to bridge the cultural divide. In one story, a young girl devotes her lonely afternoons to concocting ways she can sacrifice as much as her parents did to get to America. In another, set in China during the Cultural Revolution in 1966, gangs of vigilante teens roam the streets enforcing the regime’s toxic dehumanizing rules, actions that haunt the characters decades later, even after they’ve escaped across the globe. These stories are as fresh and lively as they are illuminating.
What We Lose by Zinzi Clemons
How does place define us and the ones we love? For Clemmons’s protagonist Thandi, the yearly visits to Johannesburg, South Africa, her mother’s birthplace, help shape and confuse her sense of self. Why do people, including much of her South African extended family, insist that she be categorized by the color of her skin? On one level, Clemmons subtly examines the way identity is shaped by location and cultural norms, while on another, she reflects on what it means to lose the person you love most. As Thandi grapples with her mother’s passing, we are invited to ask ourselves how we want to live and why.
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
When her fiancé skips out for another woman, Ruth tentatively accepts her mother’s invitation to move back home. But when her father Howard, a revered history professor suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, flings his pants (and most of the rest of his wardrobe) into the Christmas-lit trees lining their street, Ruth begins to realize this homecoming isn’t going to be what she expected. As incongruous as it sounds, this is a very funny story of love, family ties, and dementia that manages genuine tenderness while being odd and unpredictable in all the best ways.
Moving Kings by Joshua Cohen
David King, self-described Republican Jew, is the owner of Moving Kings, a moving company that increasingly specializes in evicting people from the not-yet-gentrified corners of New York’s tristate area. When his distant cousin Yoav and his friend Uri come to NYC from Israel after completing their compulsory military service, he offers them jobs they’ll be perfect for—throwing out delinquent tenants. But just as they are adjusting to civilian life, they are eerily thrust into a situation fueled by revenge that’s reminiscent of the war zone they left behind.
Grace by Paul Lynch
This sweeping story casts us back to 19th-century Ireland. The Great Famine—that would go on to wipe out a million people—is imminent. A widow, with four children and another on the way, casts her eldest daughter Grace out of the house to find work—but not before she’s cut off Grace’s hair and dressed her up in men’s clothing for her own protection. Grace’s is accompanied by her rambunctious younger brother Colly, who’s snuck away to be with her—but not for long. What follows is an epic tale of endurance, which in Lynch’s deft hands is harrowing and simultaneously starkly beautiful.
The Destroyers by Christopher Bollen
Ever wanted to fall into a wealthy friend’s life because it would simply solve everything? In this Talented Mr. Ripley-esque thriller, you’ll get transported to the remote and dazzling Greek island of Patmos where Europe’s glitzy jet set cavort all summer long. When Ian Bledsoe flees New York after the death of his father, he reunites with his childhood best friend Charlie Konstantinou—who, Ian hopes, has riches to spare. Like most things that seem too good to be true, however, there ends up being a sinister twist that shatters his escapist fantasies.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
Roy’s first novel, The God of Small Things, set in her homeland of India, was published in 1997 and became a global sensation. It traced the lives of Estha and Rahel, seven-year-old twins whose lives are changed one fateful day in 1969. In her second novel, released 20 years later, Roy turns her lens outward to examine India’s rich but violent history and the catastrophic lingering effects of Partition. Told largely through the eyes of Anjum, born a hermaphrodite, the novel weaves the personal and the political with powerful results.
The Answers by Catherine Lacey
Mary Parsons, a former Southern Christian survivalist turned NYC travel agency accounts manager, desperately needs cash fast to treat her baffling chronic pain, so she answers a high-paying Craigslist ad to partake in famous (but super lonely) actor Kurt Sky’s so-called Girlfriend Experiment. Kurt’s hope? That an array of women playing “girlfriend” roles will him in land him the ‘perfect relationship. Sound weird and surreal? It is. It’s also a hypnotic read about how people are not always what they seem.
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
Horowitz is a master of the mystery genre; he created two popular mystery series for the BBC, Foyle’sWar and MidsomerMurders, he’s penned two Sherlock Holmes novels, and the best-selling Alex Rider series. Now, he returns to the setting of some his most beloved tales, the quaint English village, with a twist-laden whodunit set within the publishing world. There’s a book within the book, also called Magpie Murders, penned by a fictional mystery writer, and it’s filled with clues (if you can spot them) from the very first page.
The Windfall by Diksha Basu
This cross-cultural comedy of manners set between India and America is all about the complex (and very humorous) antics of a family whose patriarch, Mr. Jha, is intent on moving up in the world. He’s glad to have left behind the petty goings-on of their previous community in New Delhi—whisperings about who might have stolen the attractive young widow’s yoga pants are exactly the type of nonsense he’s hoping to avoid in their posh new neighborhood. Though money doesn’t necessarily buy the Jha’s happiness, it delivers readers plenty of laughs and more. Soon it’ll come to the screen because Paramount and Anonymous Content (known for likes of TheKnick & TrueDetective) are developing it into a TV series.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
Often it feels like the phrase “laugh-out-loud” is tossed around willy-nilly when describing a comical book—rarely does the work deliver on the promise. Not so in Irby’s wackadoodle, raw, and relatable book of essays, which is guaranteed to make you LOL for real. Irby amassed a cult following with her Bitches Gotta Eat blog, which she wrote while she was working full time at an animal hospital, and her memoir, Meaty, is in TV development by Jessi Klein, head writer for Inside Amy Schumer, and Broad City co-creator/star Abbi Jacobson. Now, in her book of essays, Irby shares her hilarious application to be a contestant on The Bachelorette, the life lessons she learned from her 14 years at the animal hospital, and what she’s willing to do for love. (Purchasing and assembling equipment of the sexual kind with some Barbie-scented latex accoutrement gives you a taste of what’s to come.)
The Dinner Party and Other Stories by Joshua Ferris
Observational and piercing, Ferris’s short stories expose how fraught and emotionally explosive the search for connection with other human beings can be. The memorable titular story caused a stir when it was first published in The New Yorker—the smug yuppie couple at its core was so vividly and realistically rendered that most New Yorkers feared that the story was based on them. Now, with the addition of his other stories, Ferris reveals his keen ability to render the intimate minutia of thought and feeling that’s exchanged within a relationship, the nonsensical randomness of interacting with strangers, and the appealing fantasy of stepping into someone else’s life.
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
Japanese literary legend Haruki Murakami questions the current state of masculinity in his new collection of short stories. Murakami’s men grapple with the universal existential loneliness of being human, but their fears and anxieties are exacerbated even more by their emotional disconnection from the women in their lives. Murakami’s easily-embarrassed stoic men are most comfortable retreating from messy one-on-one confrontations. Reading this book might make you want to shake these characters and say, “Wake up! It’s better to risk being hurt than remain alienated from those you love.” But, perhaps that’s the point—we can learn from their mistakes.
Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
The third installment of Kwan’s satirical CrazyRich (Asians) trilogy returns us to the zany and irresistible world of Singapore’s old-moneyed ultra-rich. The antics of the glitzy and glamorous Young clan—who jet (on private jets) from London to Paris to Shanghai and beyond—are made even more enthralling because Kwan insists that nothing is made up in his books. This means that plastic surgeons for pet fish really do exist! It’s fun facts and snippets like these from a world rarely portrayed in mainstream culture that make all of Kwan’s books a voyeuristic pleasure to read. Soon though, everyone will know a lot more about the outrageous lifestyles of Asia’s rich and famous when the film based on Kwan’s first book, Crazy Rich Asians, hits the big screen.
The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian by W. Kamau Bell
W. Kamau Bell never shies away from difficult and awkward questions and situations. On his Emmy-nominated hit show United Shades of America, Bell interviewed white nationalist Richard Spencer and met with KKK members in a controversial exploration of race in America. Bell brings this kind of unexpected and impactful storytelling to his book that’s part comedic memoir, part social commentary, to interrogate today’s most pressing issues. From struggling to find his voice as a black nerd who was also regularly mistaken for a basketball player to his views on interracial marriage, Bell’s perspective is fresh, funny, and always illuminating.
Startup by Doree Shafrir
The “manifesting” and “crushing it” in Shafrir’s savvy and satirical novel about startup culture will have you grinning and groaning in recognition at the antics of her tech-obsessed cast of characters. Techie bro Mack McAllister, founder of the mindfulness app TakeOff, is nervous about his second round of funding; journalist Katya Pasternack is on the lookout for the next viral story sensation; and Sabrina Chloe Blum, mother of two and TakeOff’s unlikely social media manager, is trying to get a handle on what TWF and LOL mean. When some secret and salacious info goes public, each has to work out the cost of being Internet famous. Startup is obviously written by someone on the inside: Shafrir has written for Wired and is the senior culture writer at BuzzFeed News, and her skill at capturing the world of crack-of-dawn juice-fueled raves before work and debaucherous SXSW pilgrimages, while exposing our collective obsession with technology, is a much-needed reflection on our time.
Marlena by Julie Buntin
“Primal” is one way to describe Buntin’s shockingly-good debut novel, Marlena, which recalls the ill-fated and all-consuming year-long friendship between 15-year-old Cat and her 17-year-old neighbor Marlena. The story takes place in Northern Michigan, where Buntin grew up, and evokes the “catastrophic dreariness” of the tail end of winter—there’s no skiing for these kids, whose families live off food stamps. Instead, it’s drinking mom’s boxed wine, numbing-out with pills, happening upon meth labs in the woods, and negotiating advances from men they both love and fear. The crux of the story, though, is the intensity of Cat and Marlena’s bond and how certain friendships can contort our lives and shape who be become.
The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch
With her post-apocalyptic reimagining of Joan of Arc in The Book of Joan, Yuknavitch proves that she can make futuristic fiction as radical, raw, and inventive as her realist works. The novel opens in 2049. The privileged ruling classes have fled the now radio-active “dying ball of dirt” Earth and have regrouped on a floating station known as CIEL, ruled by Empire Leader Jean de Men, who defeated the young rebel Joan in an earlier battle. Our narrator and heroine—if we can call her that since she is mostly without gender—Christine Pizan is the wife of the soon to be executed Trinculo Forsythe, who created CIEL. Pizan has burned Joan’s story into her skin—it’s the very story we are reading, and it’s how we come to learn about Joan’s life. Memorable and alarming, this book will force you to think hard about the ecological issues threatening the survival of our planet, the fluidity of gender and sexuality, and the sinister ramifications of political theatrics.
American War by Omar El Akkad
This dystopian debut novel imagines epic civilizational shifts. American War imagines a United States (albeit increasingly underwater), divided by The Second American Civil War of 2074-2093. The conflict starts when the President attempts to introduce the Sustainable Future Act, designed to prohibit the use of fossil fuels anywhere in the United States in response to climate change. The southern states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and South Carolina want none of it (much of California, Nevada, Arizona, and West Texas have already separated from the Union and are controlled by Mexican forces). Biological terrorism and warfare complicate matters even more. Amid this tumultuous backdrop is El Akkad’s protagonist, young resilient nature-loving “Sarat” or Sarah, whose journey through this future world, humanizes what would be otherwise a scary and unrelenting place.
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Pulitzer-winning Strout explores (and exposes) the lives of a cast of characters living in a small Illinois town, the town where the namesake-protagonist of her previous novel My Name Is Lucy Barton grew up. Lucy’s memoir is now for sale in the local bookstore and as some of the townspeople devour it, they are confronted with the abuse they suspected went on in Lucy and her sibling’s home but long ignored. This may sound gloomy, however in Strout’s deft hands it’s transformed into a poignant examination of the complexity of human nature—and the beauty of the writing will make you involuntarily gasp.
The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
A self-described professional explorer, Levy likens the exhilaration of orienting herself amongst new people and new surroundings to the euphoric early weeks with a new lover—think heightened senses and heady in-the-moment intensity. She’s crisscrossed the globe in search of these unique experiences as a staff writer for The New Yorker since 2008, and now turns her interrogative eye on herself. What results is profound, and lasting. Growing out of an essay called “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” Rules Do Not Apply reveals what happens when nature decides to smash the plans you’ve made, and derail what you thought was your life.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
“In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her.” This opening sentence sets the scene for this swiftly told love story between Nadia and Saeed, whose relationship is pressurized and contorted by war. In this unnamed city, suspended somewhere between the past, the present, and the future, text messages and one hour of daily internet connection link Nadia and Saeed with the world beyond a home that is disintegrating day by day. First the rich flee, then communication halts, and as the violence escalates they must decide how and when to escape their crumbling homeland. This timely novel brings the frightening reality of war outside your window up close and makes it deeply personal.
Celine by Peter Heller
Though born in New York City, Peter Heller has turned himself into an inveterate adventurer, eco-pirate, and surfer whose life and work has been defined by the remote parts of the globe he’s explored. In his new detective novel Celine, he returns (momentarily) to the place of his childhood, with a story inspired by the life of his own remarkable mother, a stylish and rule-breaking private eye. Celine wrestles with themes of family, loss and privilege—and when a photographer’s mauled body shows up in Yellowstone National Park, a cold trail gets warmer and a daughter’s need for the truth ratchets up the suspense.
Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco
How does a fastidious IGA check-out chick and public school kid from upstate New York, with no connections and no Ivy League education, end up a few feet from the Oval Office, working as the youngest-ever woman to be deputy chief of staff for the president of the United States? Mastromonaco shares the memories and mishaps that shaped her journey, from desperately trying (and failing) to get a job in politics after college to finding herself joking with Obama about his penchant for black mock turtlenecks. This relatable memoir is packed with juicy on-the-road stories and crisis management advice, and presents a strong case for embracing a sense of humor in the face of humbling setbacks.
The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn
Ever fantasize about “opening up” your relationship or marriage? If so, you can live vicariously through another couple’s experiences in Dunn’s comedic novel before you give it a whirl yourself. When Lucy and Owen’s friends reveal that they’re giving open marriage a shot at a boozy dinner party, Lucy shudders at the thought. Still, she can see the appeal of indulging in some no questions asked rendezvous’ in the city—just for six months, as an experiment, of course. What could go possibly wrong? This funny and relatable tale from the writer who crafted many of the mishap-laden stories on Murphy Brown and Spin City delivers the perfect escapist read in these angsty political times.
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The multi-talented Nguyen knows what it means to inhabit a life radically shaped by history. In 1975, he and his family came to The United States as refugees in the wake of the Vietnam War. His debut novel, The Sympathizer, winner of last year’s Pulitzer Prize, revisited the conflict that changed the trajectory of his life and inserted a much-needed Vietnamese perspective to the largely American-driven narrative. In The Refugees, a collection of stories 20 years in the making, he gives voice to the Vietnamese communities in Southern California (where he grew up) and to those living in the country he fled, acknowledging that the ghosts of war reverberate for generations.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Saunders, the master of strangeness, celebrated for his quirky, sharp and humorous short stories, shares his first novel with the world and it does not disappoint. When Saunders discovered that a grief-stricken Abraham Lincoln repeatedly visited his 11-year-old son’s crypt in the days following his death in February 1862, he couldn’t get the image of the grieving father out of his mind. What results is a playful and poignant supernatural wonder of a novel. Unfolding over the one night Lincoln inhabits the “bardo,” the transitional place between life and death according to Tibetan tradition, Lincoln is surrounded by ghosts past and present. These ghosts are sexy, rude, naughty, haughty and shocking. (The 166-member, start-studded cast of the audio book might give you a hint of what’s in store: Julianne Moore, Susan Sarandon, Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, Carrie Brownstein, Miranda July, Lena Dunham, Jeffrey Tambor, Don Cheadle, Patrick Wilson, and Ben Stiller all lend their voices to the recording.)
Abandon Me by Melissa Febos
Anyone who has read Febos’s memoir Whip Smart—about her four years working as a professional dominatrix at a midtown Manhattan “dungeon” while in grad school—knows that her work explores boundaries as deftly as it defies categorization. In this new collection of essays, she once again obliterates convention with her erotically charged and intellectually astute recollections of family, relationships and the search for identity. In Abandon Me, Febos interrogates what it means to be the product of an aloof sea captain and a psychotherapist, how the mysteries of her childhood shaped her, and how pain, addiction, and the need for human connection forged in her such deep desires and longings.
Running by Cara Hoffman
In the 1980s, teenager Cara Hoffman ditched college and took off for Europe, occasionally sleeping in train stations and stowing away in Venetian water taxis. Just as her funds were running dangerously low, she heard about a place she could crash and earn a small commission working as a “runner” in Greece—that is, walking the length of trains and luring in unsuspecting tourists to the seedy hotels in the red-light district of Athens. Running, the novel inspired by these experiences, explores the dark, alluring intersections between love and survival. When Hoffman’s three young protagonists unwittingly become involved in an act of terrorism, the bonds they’ve formed are irreversibly fractured and each must deal with the cost.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Thirty years in the making, Lee’s sweeping, multi-generational novel is set in 1900s Asia and is informed by stories she heard about legal and social discrimination against Koreans in Japan, a history largely denied and erased. This story kicks off with an unplanned pregnancy and the promise of a less shameful life in Japan and evolves into addictive family saga packed with forbidden love, the search for belonging, and triumph against the odds.
Angela Ledgerwood is the host of Lit Up, a podcast about books, writers, and all things literary.