Best Books of 2017

To say 2017 was a strange and divisive year would be putting it mildly. The good news is that the past 12 months saw the publication of several phenomenal books that can appeal to a variety of readers, from your in-laws on the opposite end of the political spectrum to your best friend’s sulky teenager. Whether you’re looking for a last-minute holiday gift or a compelling winter-break read, this list has you covered.

Fiction

Manhattan Beach

Jennifer Egan

best books: "Manhattan Beach"

It’s been six years since Egan’s last novel, Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Visit From the Goon Squad,” was published, but “Manhattan Beach” proves to be well worth the wait. Set in New York during World War II, the book follows Anna Kerrigan as she unravels the mystery of her father’s disappearance. The thrilling plot and Egan’s ability to deep-dive into her characters’ humanity make this a page-turner.

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Jesmyn Ward

best books: "Sing, Unburied, Sing"

Winner of the 2017 National Book Award, this novel takes readers on an epic, horrible road trip: Jojo’s drug-addict mother has packed up her kids and a friend to drive clear across Mississippi to pick up Jojo’s father, who is being released from prison. Lyrical and magical, “Sing, Unburied, Sing” is both literally and figuratively haunting. 

Her Body and Other Parties

Carmen Maria Machado

best books: "Her Body and Other Parties"

Machado’s debut short-story collection is a meditation on the ways women’s bodies are not considered their own. From a story called “The Husband Stitch” to a recasting of each episode of “Law & Order: SVU” that grows increasingly outrageous, “Her Body and Other Parties” is funny, erotic, and violent.

The Hate U Give

Angie Thomas

best books: "The Hate U Give"

Young-adult novels rarely get as much attention as “The Hate U Give” has received this year. After Starr Carter witnesses the murder of her best friend at the hands of a police officer, her world spins completely off its already tenuous axis. Between the topical theme and the deft, poignant writing, it’s not surprising that this novel quickly became a 2017 bestseller.

Nonfiction

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life: Essays

Samantha Irby

best books: "We Are Never Meeting in Real Life"

Evanstonian Samantha Irby first gained recognition for her blog, bitches gotta eat, because of her brutally honest writing that volleys between total hilarity and complete emotional devastation. It’s easy to identify with the struggles that Irby so bravely shares with her audience. As Irby herself states, sometimes you just have to laugh, even when life is a dumpster fire.

City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris

Holly Tucker

best books: "City of Light, City of Poison"

Seventeenth-century Paris was a far cry from the highbrow metropolis of today: filthy and rife with criminals, from common pickpockets to nobles who were constantly poisoning one another for political or romantic gain. Tucker’s meticulous research brings the city to life, and follows the first police chief of Paris as he uncovers a murder plot in the court of Louis XIV.

Vivian Maier: A Photographer’s Life and Afterlife

Pamela Bannos

best books: "Vivian Maier: A Photographer's Life and Afterlife"

Most people have heard the story of Maier by now: reclusive nanny passes away; the belongings in her storage locker are put up for auction; her extraordinary photography, spanning several decades and capturing everyday life in Chicago, is subsequently discovered. Bannos seeks to adjust this narrative (one which Maier had no hand in creating), and sheds light on the men who have benefitted from Maier’s talent.

Love for Sale: Pop Music in America

David Hajdu

best books: "Love for Sale"

A Publishers Weekly pick for best book of 2017, “Love for Sale” is a comprehensive look at the history of pop music. Hajdu, a prominent music critic, reveals how pop music, from the 1800s to today, has done much more than simply create ear worms on the radio; it has helped to shape both political movements and upend social norms.

Cookbooks

Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites

Deb Perelman

cookbook: Smitten Kitchen Every Day

Deb Perelman stands out from the vast sea of food bloggers by being funny and by meticulously testing all of her recipes until they are practically foolproof. In “Every Day,” (which also made Make It Better dining editor Julie Chernoff’s list of 2017’s top cookbooks) Perelman selects the best recipes for a busy lifestyle — no more family food ruts. Her plainspoken language and mouthwatering photos make this a great holiday gift, too, even for kitchen novices.

Unforgettable: The Bold Flavors of Paula Wolfert’s Renegade Life

Emily Kaiser Thelin

best books: "Unforgettable"

Part biography, part cookbook, “Unforgettable” follows the life of Paula Wolfert, an accomplished and award-winning cookbook author who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2013. Thelin traces Wolfert’s Brooklyn upbringing to her extensive travels throughout France and the Mediterranean, and includes some of Paula’s most delicious recipes. Many of the dishes align to her “brain-healthy” diet, which focuses on foods that are thought to boost memory and cognition.

 

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Danielle-McLimoreDanielle McLimore is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has worked in book publishing since 2009. She lives with her husband, two sons, and a very misbehaved dog. She proudly supports the Center for Reproductive Rights.