by Beth Cronk, Litchfield head librarian
‘Tis the season for lists of the best books of the year. There are more lists to come, but enough of them have been published to give me some idea of what the consensus is. Honestly, there’s never consensus, because what makes a book the best? It’s different for different people. All the same, if what you’re looking for is a really well-written book, here are some ideas about where to start looking.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders won this year’s Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious awards in literature. It is also on many best-of-2017 lists: Time Magazine, Library Journal, Kirkus, the Washington Post, Amazon, and BookPage so far. This is Saunders’ first novel; he is well-known as a short-story and essay writer. Be warned that it’s written in a very unusual style, but reviewers say if you can get past that, this imagining of Lincoln and his son Willie after Willie’s death is moving, heartbreaking, and surprisingly funny.
BookPage is the book review magazine we have at the front desk, by the way. It’s paid for by the Friends of the Litchfield Library, and it’s very popular among people looking for something new to read.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward is on best-of lists in Time, Publishers’ Weekly, Washington Post, and BookPage. It won the 2017 National Book Award for Fiction, Ward’s second novel to win that honor. This road novel tells the story of Jojo, a mixed race thirteen-year-old boy, who travels through Mississippi with his mother when his father is released from prison. With themes of family, fatherhood, and ghosts, this is both a timeless and timely novel about the South.
White Tears by Hari Kunzru is on 2017’s best book lists published by Time, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus. Two recent college graduates become obsessed with sound recordings and music, and they fake a vintage blues recording, making up a musician they pretend to have discovered. The story takes a left turn when one of the young men is beaten into a coma and the other sets out with his sister to find out if the imaginary musician is a real person. Not a typical mystery or time-travel story, this is a complicated reflection on race and cultural appropriation, described by some as a ghost story.
The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott is on Time Magazine’s, Library Journal’s, and Kirkus’ best of the year lists. McDermott won the National Book Award in 1998 for Charming Billy. The Ninth Hour is a portrait of an Irish Catholic family in early twentieth-century Brooklyn. A young Irish immigrant has been fired from his job at the subway, and he commits suicide by starting a fire in his tenement. An aging nun helps his pregnant widow, and the child and the neighborhood nuns become the center of the story. A story about kindness, faith, and the lasting effects of suicide on a family, reviewers say the book makes the reader feel like they’re in the room with the characters.
Other books that have been showing up on multiple best-book lists include Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie, and Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood. Most of these are in the Litchfield Library collection, and all of them are available to order in Pioneerland Library System.