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2017 has not been the greatest year so far for new books, at least, not for me. Nevertheless, there are quite a few books that stand out to me as being worth the read. Here are the best frontlist books I’ve read so far:
1. We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
We Were the Lucky Ones is a multi-generational saga about a Polish Jewish family’s fight for survival during World War II. It is very closely based on the author’s family and their experiences, which makes it all the more compelling. In fact, Hunter didn’t even change most of the names. It’s a deeply moving, beautifully written story. If you read only one frontlist title this year, choose this one!
2. The New Odyssey by Patrick Kingsley
Patrick Kingsley traveled to seventeen countries and interviewed refugees, smugglers, coast guard officials, politicians, and citizens in his position as the Guardian’s first ever migrant correspondent. The New Odyssey is the result of all that hands-on research. It provides both a panoramic overview of the refugee crisis and offers an eyewitness account of the deeply personal journey of Hashem al-Souki, a Syrian refugee on a quest to reach Sweden so that he can apply for reunification with his wife and three children. This is the #1 book I recommend if you want to learn more about the refugee crisis.
3. The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
The Stranger in the Woods documents what is known about the life of Christopher Knight, who, at the age of twenty, drove into the Maine woods and did not emerge until nearly three decades later. During his life as a hermit, he regularly broke into nearby cottages to steal food, clothing, and other essentials. He survived brutal winters without heat or fire of any kind. In eloquent prose, Finkel recounts his meetings with the North Pond Hermit and explores the history and science that may help explain why certain people choose to leave society for a life of solitude.
4. The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston
This book chronicles a 2012 expedition to the densely jungled Honduran interior to unearth the remains of La Ciudad Blanda–the White City, also known as The Lost City of the Monkey God, the heart of a lost civilization. In this account, Douglas Preston infuses a classic archaeological adventure story with fascinating facts about the history of Honduras, the new technology that was used to find the lost city, and an incurable disease that many of the expedition’s crew unwittingly brought home with them. The Lost City of the Monkey God is engaging, suspenseful, and educational in equal measure.
5. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Adichie’s sophomore feminist manifesto is formatted as a letter to a friend who wrote ask her how she could “empower her daughter to become a strong, independent woman.” Adichie’s reply addresses practical matters, like playing with gendered toys, as well as idealogical points, like the myth that women are better suited to cooking and other household duties. Adichie’s style is concise and eloquently forceful. This is a book you’ll want to buy multiple copies of to give to the mothers in your life.The Best Books of 2017 (So Far)Click To Tweet
6. Books for Living by Will Schwalbe
Books for Living is a collection of essays on the books that have shaped the author’s life in subtle and profound ways. “Throughout, Schwalbe focuses on the way certain books help us honor those we’ve loved and lost, and also figure out how to live each day more fully.” This is a wonderful, thoughtful, life-giving book that any book lover will enjoy. I highly recommend the audiobook version, read by Jeff Harding.
7. The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit
In this follow-up to Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit “offers indispensable commentary on women who refuse to be silenced, misogynistic violence, the fragile masculinity of the literary canon, the gender binary, the recent history of rape jokes, and much more.” While the essays, many previously published as standalone pieces, overlap at points, they offer many scathing insights and ample food for thought. Solnit is also a wonderful writer, which doesn’t hurt.
8. The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
The Marsh King’s Daughter tells the story of a Helena Pelletier, born to a frightened teenage girl and her captor/rapist. Helena spent the first dozen years of her life isolated in the wilderness of Michigan’s marshy Upper Peninsula. She didn’t understand her situation growing up; all she knew is that her father could sometimes be cruel but also taught her how to track, hunt, and survive in the harsh environment. Fifteen years later, Helena’s father escapes from prison and disappears into the marsh where Helena was raised. She knows the police have no chance of tracking him down, so she goes herself, in search of a reckoning that’s been a long time coming. Helena is a unique character–tough, unsentimental, logical to a fault, and uninterested in social mores. Dionne does a wonderful job of exploring Helena’s conflicting feelings about her father, making this both psychological suspense and a true character piece.
9. Cannibalism by Bill Schutt
Cannibalism is such a sensationalized taboo in Western culture that we rarely stop to question what its place is in the natural world. In this book, Bill Schutt demystifies cannibalism and explains its biological significance in various species. Why do some fish mothers eat their own offspring? Why do mating and cannibalism sometimes go hand-in-hand? And what are we to think of people who eat other people when starvation drives them to desperate measures? All these questions and more are answered in this fascinating book.
10. Protestants by Alec Ryrie
This history of the Protestant religion is not comprehensive but Ryrie provides fascinating insights into the cultural, political, economic, and theological environments that led to some of Protestantism’s biggest moments in history. It explores the Reformation and the birth of Calvinism, explains Protestants’ role in defending and abolishing both slavery and apartheid, and gives a broad overview of how the church has grown in South Africa, South Korea, and China, among other things. This doorstop tome can be a bit dry at times but its keen analysis on this subject is unparalleled as far as I know.
What are the best books you’ve read so far this year?