This year’s best of the backlist list will be shorter than last year’s, partly because I’m raising my standards as to what warrants inclusion and partly because I’m excluding very niche books that few readers are likely to be interested in. These books are the very best of the best. Each comes with my heartiest recommendation.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Complimentary copies of some of the books listed below were provided by the publishers.
5. Rad Women Worldwide by Kate Schatz, Illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl
Rad Women Worldwide is a brightly illustrated collection of short biographies of female artists, athletes, leaders, and scientists who shaped history.
One of the things I love most about this book is that it is truly global. It features women from every continent. There’s even a page dedicated to nameless refugee women. The biographies also span thousands of years, from Enheduanna in the 23rd century BC to Malala Yousafzai in the 21st AD.
Rad Women Worldwide is the perfect gift for all the women in your life–young and old.
4. Girls & Sex by Peggy Orenstein
Girls & Sex is a follow-up to Orenstein’s 2011 book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, which explored girlie-girl culture and its effect on young girls. This book speaks to the unique challenges faced by tween and teen girls navigating their burgeoning sexuality.
The book covers topics such as objectification and self-objectification, double standards, the tricky concept of virginity, college hookup culture, rape culture, sex ed, and the unique struggles of girls who identify as LGBTQ.
Orenstein brooks no quarter. She’s not afraid to challenge old Republican stooges and feminists alike when she believes their views don’t serve young women well, and she backs up her assertions with hard data and sound logic. America would be a much better place for teenage girls if Orenstein were made czar of sex education. Just sayin’.The Best Backlist Book I Read in 2017Click To Tweet
3. Dark Money by Jane Mayer
Dark Money exposes the billionaires behind the rise of the radical right–a shadow network of think tanks, media groups, and private foundations whose sole purpose is to fundamentally alter the American political system.
As shocking and disturbing as this is, I didn’t think a book–any book–about finance (personal, economic, or political) could possibly hold my attention. Well, this 400+ page tome did just that. I consider it a tremendous feat on the part of Ms. Mayer to make shell corporations, tax havens, and other monetary machinations seem interesting.
The facts presented in this book are well-cited, though I suspect that won’t stop some alt-right nut job from coming up with a harebrained conspiracy theory about Mayer being Illuminati and hell-bent on bringing about the destruction of the white race. You know, the usual stuff.
Anyway, it’s an excellent piece of investigative journalism. If you’re planning to purchase it, buy the paperback version. It was released in January 2017 and includes a new preface about the role of dark money in Trump’s victory.
2. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is about Wavy, the young daughter of a drug dealer and his addict wife, and her relationship with Kellan, a hulking but soft-spoken associate of her father’s. The book spans about thirteen years and tracks the evolution of Wavy and Kellan’s relationship through the eyes of multiple narrators.
I recommend this book with a trigger warning: it grapples with pedophilia and includes scenes of a sexual nature involving an adult and a minor. This is a bit of a spoiler, but I think it’s something readers should be aware of before diving in.
The way Greenwood approaches the central relationship of the book has garnered no small degree of controversy. The reactions have ranged from saying it “glamorizes pedophilia” to writing that it’s a “masterful handling of a controversial subject.” Obviously, since it’s on this list, I fall into the latter camp.
I don’t think there’s a wrong response to this book. What you take away from it will depend on how you approach it, and how you approach it will depend on many things I cannot predict.
My takeaway: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is a heartfelt, beautifully written, and nuanced book that, at times, is wildly uncomfortable to read. And that is how it should be.
1. The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston & Mario Spezi
The Monster of Florence is the gripping true story of the still-unsolved case of a serial killer who stalked the moonlit groves of the picturesque Florentine hills, brutally slaughtering loved-up couples parked in their cars throughout the 1980s.
What makes this particular true crime drama unique is that Preston and Spezi themselves were accused of obstructing the investigation–and Spezi was actually imprisoned when police suspected him of the gruesome crimes.
The Monster of Florence is a real page-turner. The case is complex and engrossing from start to finish. It’s also a striking indictment of the Italian justice system–a case of mishandled evidence, false accusations, politics gone wrong, and suppression of the truth.
If you plan to purchase a copy, buy the paperback version, which includes a new afterward on the shocking link between the Monster of Florence investigation and the Amanda Knox case.
What are the best backlist books you read in 2017?