2017 has been a fantastic year for fiction and nonfiction alike but the way it works I am always a few years behind(none of these books actually came out this year). I decided to put together a very short list of my favorite books that I actually read in 2017. I settled on three books but could have easily included many more. The books I chose have a common theme — great writing, great story, and a personal connection. They are in the order that I read them.
Nathan Hill came to Des Moines in May 2017 as part of the Des Moines Public Library’s AViD series, a great program that showcases talented authors from across the country. Hill grew up in Iowa and produced a masterpiece in his first novel, The Nix. I was able to meet Hill briefly and tell him how much the book touched me. He was charming and funny as he related his journey to publication and anecdotes from his nationwide book tour. The book is about many things, but the central theme is abandonment and reconciliation — the protagonist’s mother left without explanation when he was in prepubescence, something very similar happened to me when I was of the same age. Hill nailed the story and gave me hope and perspective from the other side of things.
I met Lou Berney at Murder and Mayhem Milwaukee in November. We talked briefly in the lounge about common themes and generational experiences in his book The Long and Faraway Gone. Berney’s novel is part private investigator part amateur sleuth. In the present, the main character, Wyatt, is drawn back to his hometown of Oklahoma City, reluctantly investigating intimidation of an acquaintance at her place of business by unknown rivals. While there, Wyatt is teleported back in time to when he was the lone survivor of a burglary-homicide at the movie theater where he worked. Racked by survivor’s guilt and a need to make sense of the past, the narrative hurtles wonderfully into the present and back again to the past. The flashbacks to the theater are quintessential Generation-X, a time before helicopter parents, school shootings, child abductions and the Internet forever altered the way kids grew up. The movie theater could easily be replaced by the restaurant I washed dishes at in my teens. Fantastic read by an author blurring the lines between genre and literary fiction.
Lauren Groff’s book Fate and Furies is a book I finally pulled off my nightstand TBR pile late in 2017. Before “Cat Person” sent men everywhere into sulking self-examination, Groff might have said: “Hold my beer”. Groff takes an incredibly devastating dive into personal relationships with the little and big lies that are told in order to survive. A generally typical part 1 lulls you into a sense of complete sympathy for Lotto, the husband until part 2 unravels the white-male privilege that has allowed Lotto to succeed when the bumpers and safety nets are revealed by Mathilde, the wife.
2017 has been an incredible year for reading if nothing else(really, nothing I can think of) and I look forward to a happy new year filled with great fiction and nonfiction.