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The Rail's Best Books of 2017

In times of terror and turmoil and change, our stories tell us more about ourselves than policies or presidents or predators—our stories tell us how we endured those moments, those figures, those monsters. 

Of all the story forms the most political is literature. For it travels in the stealthiest of vessels: books. Unlike screens and stages, the human imagination, once word-encountered, never again reads a sentence the same way twice. Repeated readings become recursive events, subversive actions that deepen or even change meaning. Books offer us the alchemy of infinite interpretation.

So this year particularly, 2017, a year of policies, presidents, and predators, I celebrate words and their many stealthy vessels. Far, far, far too many to be reduced to a top 5. I chose my top 25 of the three main genres: poetry, nonfiction, and fiction. I chose books from small, independent presses, those houses we so desperately need and are so lucky to have. I chose from lesser-known authors, in some cases, the untweeted-about, the unawarded, the uncelebrated, the unincluded, the unagented. I chose novellas and chapbooks and limited runs from presses that may not be here next year. I chose those books from this past year that, in my opinion, best teach us how we will live, how we will love, how we will struggle, how we will endure.

They are listed in alphabetical order, and those I was able to assign for coverage in The Brooklyn Rail I have linked. The others I offer to you to search out for yourself, to purchase, to read, to support, to share.

Best 25 POETRY Books of 2017

  1. ADVANCES IN EMBROIDERY: Poems, with Translations from Mahmoud Darwish, By Ahmad Al-Ashqar 
  2. CALLING A WOLF A WOLF, Kaveh Akbar
  3. BYE-BYE LAND, By: Christian Barter
  4. BEFORE THE DROUGHT, by Margo Berdeshevsky
  5. HALF-LIGHT: Collected Poems 1965–2016, by Frank Bidart
  6. LET'S NOT LIVE ON EARTH, by Sarah Blake
  7. SECOND NATURE, by Patricia L. Carlin
  8. BARBIE CHANG, by Victoria Chang
  9. WHEN I GROW UP I WANT TO BE A LIST OF FURTHER POSSIBILITIES, by Chen Chen
  10. BONE, by Yrsa Daley-Ward
  11. TROPHIC CASCADE, by Camille T. Dungy.
  12. THE JANUARY CHILDREN, by Safia Elhillo
  13. GATES & FIELDS, by Jennifer Firestone
  14. SKY COUNTRY, by: Christine Kitano
  15. I AM FLYING INTO MYSELF: Selected Poems: 1960–2014, by Bill Knott, ed. Thomas Lux
  16. THESE DAYS OF CANDY, by Manuel Paul Lopez
  17. IN THE LANGUAGE OF MY CAPTOR, Shane McCrae
  18. DEVOTIONS: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, by Mary Oliver
  19. THERE ARE MORE BEAUTIFUL THINGS THAN BEYONCE, by Morgan Parker
  20. ON IMAGINATION (Quarternote Chapbook Series), by Mary Ruefle
  21. LESSONS ON EXPULSION, by Erika L. Sánchez
  22. DON'T CALL US DEAD, by Danez Smith
  23. THE TREMBLING ANSWERS, Craig Morgan Teicher
  24. AFTERLAND, by Mai Der Vang
  25. WHERE THE TIME GOES, by Gale Renee Walden

  

Best 25 NONFICTION Books of 2017

  1. CHINA LAKE: A Journey into the Contradicted Heart of a Global Climate Catastrophe, by Barret Baumgart
  2. THE BEST WE COULD DO: An Illustrated Memoir, By Thi Bui
  3. CORNELL '77: The Music, the Myth, and the Magnificence of the Grateful Dead’s Concert at Barton Hall, by Peter Conners
  4. JE SUIS L'AUTRE: Essays & Interrogations, by Kristina Marie Darling
  5. WHY I'M NO LONGER TALKING TO WHITE PEOPLE ABOUT RACE, By Reni Eddo-Lodge
  6. THE DEATH AND LIFE OF THE GREAT LAKES, by Dan Egan
  7. THE DOUBLES, by Scott Esposito
  8. DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR: Why Writing Well Matters, by Harold Evans
  9. ABANDON ME, by Melissa Febos
  10. WORLD WITHOUT MIND: The Existential Threat Of Big Tech, By Franklin Foer
  11. SHIRLEY JACKSON: A Rather Haunted Life, by Ruth Franklin
  12. HUNGER, by Roxane Gay
  13. SUNSHINE STATE: Essays, By Sarah Gerard
  14. KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON: The Osage Murders And The Birth Of The FBI, By David Grann
  15. KNOWING KNOTT: Essays on an American Poet, Steve Huff Ed.
  16. QUESTION LIKE A FACE, by Christine Hume and Jeff Clark
  17. LITERARY WITCHES: A Celebration Of Magical Women Writers, By Taisia Kitaiskaia, illustrated by Katy Horan
  18. AFTER KATHY ACKER, by Chris Kraus
  19. TELL ME HOW IT ENDS: An Essay In 40 Questions, By Valeria Luiselli
  20. DRAFT NO. 4: On The Writing Process, By John McPhee
  21. AFTER THE ECLIPSE: A Mother's Murder, a Daughter's Search, by Sarah Perry
  22. THE MOTHER OF ALL QUESTIONS, By Rebecca Solnit
  23. THE BLOOD OF EMMETT TILL, By Timothy B. Tyson
  24. AMONG THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, by Inara Verzemnieks
  25. THE SHOW THAT NEVER ENDS: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock, by David Weigel

  

Best 25 FICTION books of 2017

  1. THE POWER, Naomi Alderman
  2. THE HUNGER SAINT: A Novella, by Olivia Kate Cerrone
  3. SO MANY OLYMPIC EXERTIONS, Anelise Chen
  4. AMERICAN WAR: A Novel, By Omar El Akkad
  5. FUTURE HOME OF THE LIVING GOD: A Novel, by Louise Erdrich
  6. THE GYPSY MOTH SUMMER: A Novel, byJulia Fierro
  7. THE ILIAC CREST, by Cristina Rivera Garza
  8. THE EPIPHANY MACHINE: A Novel, by David Burr Gerrard
  9.  THE GARGOYLE HUNTERS, by John Freeman Gill
  10. BAD DREAMS AND OTHER STORIES, by Tessa Hadley
  11. EXIT WEST, by Mohsin Hamid
  12. A SEPARATION, by Katie Kitamura
  13. THE LEAVERS, by Lisa Ko
  14. STRANGER, FATHER, BELOVED, by Taylor Larsen
  15. PACHINKO, by Min Jin Lee
  16. DEAR CYBORGS, by Eugene Lim
  17. HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES: Stories, by Carmen Maria Machado
  18. THE NINTH HOUR: A Novel, by Alice McDermott
  19. MY HEART HEMMED IN, by Marie NDiaye
  20. LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, by Celeste Ng
  21. THE STANDARD GRAND, by Jay Baron Nicorvo
  22. HERITAGE OF SMOKE, by Josip Novakovich
  23. REFRIGERATED MUSIC FOR A GLEAMING WOMAN, by Aimee Parkison
  24. WAIT TILL YOU SEE ME DANCE, by Deb Olin Unferth
  25. SOUR HEART: Stories, by Jenny Zhang

Contributor

Joseph Salvatore

Joseph Salvatore is the author of the story collection To Assume A Pleasing Shape (BOA Editions, 2011). He is the Books Editor at The Brooklyn Rail and a frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review. He is an associate professor of writing and literature at The New School, in New York City, where he founded the literary journal LIT. He lives in Queens.  www.josephsalvatore.com  @jasalvatore

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