Here are some of the books we enjoyed the most in 2017. Were there others that created more excitement? Well, sure. But we’ve never tried to make these best of the year round ups popularity contests. Rather, we are highlighting the subjective nature of reading and the enjoyment of the written word, while also celebrating this very subjectivity.
Reading is good. There is no argument for this. Not only that, reading is good for you
. Join us, then, while we take a fast look at some of the books we liked best in 2017. If you have your own picks, make sure you let us know where they are. Meanwhile, here are some of the things that got pulled far from the stacks because we just loved them so much.
My Secret Life with Anaïs Nin
by Tristine Rainer
For decades, author and educator Tristine Rainer was the keeper of her mentor Anaïs Nin’s secrets. Rainer met Nin in 1962 when she herself was just 18. Dazzled instantly by the fabulous Nin and given entry to the legendary underground literary worlds of New York and L.A., we watch Rainer come of age under the sparkling tutelage of the legendary author. Rainer was not unmarked by the experience, and became an expert of memoir and diary writing, in part thanks to Nin. And she writes beautifully of a golden time and a glowing figure in literary history.
A Brief History
Who Ever Lived
The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes
by Adam Rutherford
All of the secrets of our humanity are in our genes. Each of us carries the history of humankind in our DNA. As he did with his first book, 2014’s Creation: How Science Is Reinventing Life Itself, science writer and broadcaster Adam Rutherford skillfully shares scientific fact with a storyteller’s eye for the richest details at the right moments. Rutherford helps us look back at where we came from and also into the future of humankind and what current developments might mean for us as a species.
by Jessica Keener
A bit of history, a bit of a mystery and a startlingly human story, Jessica Keener’s Strangers in Budapest is a gorgeous taste of the new old world, post-Communist Hungary and the secrets it had been keeping. Unsurprisingly, the author lived in Budapest at one point, and this feels like the Budapest she observed there in the 1990s; rapidly moving to a point of self-understanding. Lyrical and lovely, Strangers in Budapest is a memorable and haunting read.
Books for Children
by Nick Lake
Children born and raised on a space station and though their very special upbringing has prepared them for every possible emergency they might encounter in space, have they been properly prepared for life on the Earth they’ve never visited. Author Nick Lake approaches Satellite with a sharp lyricism. Aside from being interesting and thought-provoking, Satellite is a starkly beautiful book.
Vivid Recipes From the Heart of Los Angeles
by Josef Centeno and Betty Hallock
This is the first cookbook from the celebrated Los Angeles chef/owner of Bäco Mercat, Bacoshop, Bar Amá, Orsa & Winston, Ledlow, and P.Y.T. Informed by his own multicultural heritage and a passion for both great cookbooks and meaningful flavors, Centeno delivers a great book, reflective of all of the things in food that delight him. “As much as I aspired to cook like a chef in a Michelin three-star restaurant,” Centeno writes in an introduction, “I also wanted to cook like an Andalusian rancher, a fishmonger in Niigata, and a grandmother from Tbilisi — maybe all rolled into one!” Bäco reflects all of that. The food here is fresh, rich, flavorful, innovative… and surprisingly easy to pull off. Bäco is so innovative, we are predicting it will be fresh for many years.
Art & Culture
The Girl in
Three Generations of Comedy,
Culture, and Feminism
by Anna Fields
There have been moments, in 2017, when it would have been tempting to just shove our collective heads back into the sand. So many idols, we found, had feet of something even ickier than clay. The Girl in the Show was published and certainly written long before #MeToo started echoing through Hollywood, bringing with it the end of several previously untouchable careers. The Girl in the Show isn’t about that. It looks at how feminism and comedy have grown together, giving women an ever-stronger voice and presence in a difficult field. And yet — as 2017 has shown — there’s still a long way to go.
Rise of the
The Science, Ethics, and
Risks of De-Extinction
by Britt Wray
What if extinction wasn’t the end? What if it leads sharply and directly and in various ways to new beginnings? Scientist and journalist Britt Wray looks at the science of de-extinction from all angles and comes out in favor of this growing field, despite some of the challenges and dangers. In a nutshell, Wray engagingly tells us to remember the lessons of Jurassic Park, but not to forget the science. Some of it wasn’t as far off as it seemed.
A Journey of Reconciliation
by Monique Gray Smith
Monique Gray Smith writes with authority and compassion about the impact that the Residential School system had on Canada’s coming of age. This is not a comfortable topic for readers of any age, never mind kids, yet Gray Smith stands up and tackles a timely and deeply personal topic and does it in simple language that anyone can understand.
“You might wonder how this could happen in our country. Well, a lot of it had to do with systemic racism.” And so on. How does a country heal? Well, maybe it begins here.
A Visual Journey
Into the Heart of the Woods
by Robert Llewellyn and Joan Maloof
The Living Forest: A Visual Journey Into the Heart of the Woods is one of those rare books that hits on all cylinders. Through the wonderful photos by journeyman photographer Robert Llewellyn, the book is a visual study on the forest and how it grows. High art that is beautiful and informative. Author Joan Maloof is a writer, scientist and the founder and director of the non-profit Old-Growth Forest network. While that explains how she got it all right, it doesn’t account for the distinctly lyrical nature of the prose of this book. Grand in size, complete in scope, The Living Forest reaches beyond mere coffee table book. This is a complete celebration of the forest and a reminder on how important it is to preserve it.
by David Osborne
The Coming is among the most virtuous historical novels ever. Author David Osborne is a writer’s writer. Author and co-author of five important works of non-fiction, contributor to The Atlantic, the New York Times, Harper’s and others, The Coming is a close and sometimes uncomfortable visit to the American West, at a time the relationship with Native Americans and the whites who would soon commandeer their land first began. We are there between We are west of the Rockies near what is now Idaho and Washington State, beginning in 1805 with the Lewis and Clark expedition that ultimately brought war, disease and genocide to the Nez Perce tribe who had, for generations, made their home there. The book leads us to 1877, when non-treaty bands waged a terrible war against the US Army. Tragic, beautifully and chillingly well told, the accuracy here is beautiful. And yet, it breaks our heart.
Son of a
by Eden Robinson
Readers who loved 2000’s Monkey Beach might have been disappointed at the depth of Eden Robinson’s output, but not the quality. Son of a Trickster is the third novel for this author, and it’s stunning. This is part one in what may grow to be a trilogy and was a finalist for the Giller Prize. A coming of age novel, Robinson approaches some decidedly unfunny material with her signature intelligence and dark wit.
Art & Culture
of Harry Potter
The Spellbinding Science Behind
the Magic, Gadgets, Potions, and More!
by Mark Brake and Jon Chase
The complete abandon with which readers and viewers took Harry Potter completely to heart can have one wondering: is author J.K. Rowling a wizard herself? Just think: To all of the other addons we’ve seen, now we have authors wondering — and even explaining — the possible facts behind the colorful fiction that has brought Harry Potter such an enduring audience. In The Science of Harry Potter, for-real science guys Mark Brake and Jon Chase look at every factor, from potions to moon phases, to see what might be the whispers of truth behind all of those fascinating creations. Lots of fun here for all ages.
What Unites Us:
Reflections on Patriotism
by Dan Rather & Elliot Kirschner
“I find myself thinking deeply about what it means to love America, as I surely do,” Dan Rather writes in What Unites Us, his quietly passionate and reasoned look at what it means to be American. Over a career that has thus far spanned six decades, Rather sometimes feels like the last man standing in a profession that is, if not dying, than at least tragically compromised. His is a wise voice worth listening to as well as reading. Part of this reasonableness will have come from a lifetime ringside seat. He’s seen a lot come and go over this many years now taps what he’s learned on the journey to help us assess what we’re seeing. A reasoned and well-loved voice looking back over where we have been in order to move confidently forward.
A Guide to the Cosmos
by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw
The secrets of the universe are really hard to understand. String theory. The inflationary multiverse. And the beginnings of our universe. Physicists Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw do more than boil these big concepts down. They open doors to let the layman right in, offering us not only understanding, but hope. “Cosmology is surely the most audacious branch of science,” the authors tell us early on. Then they not only show us why, they share the excitement and passion of their convictions.
Art & Culture
A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything
by Lydia Kong & Nate Pedersen
“What won’t we try in our quest for perfect health, beauty, and the fountain of youth?” Indeed! Quackery rounds up the best of the worst of things humans have done to themselves (and others) through the ages to make themselves better. Morphine for crying babies; tobacco smoke enemas; lobotomies… so much more. It’s all here in a stylishly designed and humorously written guide to not cure what ails you.
Art & Culture
(Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)
by John Waters
In 2015, actor, director, screenwriter, author, journalist, visual artist, and art collector, John Waters gave a brilliantly on point speech to the graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design. Basically, he told them to make trouble. “Today may be the end of your juvenile delinquency,” he said at one point, “but it should also be the first day of your new adult disobedience.” The speech was about the burdens and triumphs of working in the creative fields. Here illustrated by “slightly demented” line drawings by Eric Hanson, Waters’ ground-breaking speech gets to live on.
The Rap Sheet
As in other years, our sister publication, The Rap Sheet
, kept laser vision on action in the world of crime fiction. Here’s a link
to several articles where Rap Sheet contributors commented on the books they liked best in 2017.