The Best Books of 2017 (So Far)

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This list has been updated to include releases through September.

Much ink has been spilled this spring about Americans’ thirst for dystopian fiction, stories that tell us how bad things can get. There have been a few good books along those lines, especially Zachary Mason’s Void Star. We should be glad that so far the literature of 2017 is nothing like our polarized politics. It’s multivalent, eclectic, and impossible to predict.

An Odyssey by Daniel Mendelsohn
After the author’s father turned 81, he asked to sit in on his son’s class on Homer and later the pair set off on a themed cruise tracing the possible path of Odysseus’s journey. Mendelsohn’s account is a poignant and funny memoir as well as a stirring work of literary criticism. The book is an education.

The Collected Essays of Elizabeth Hardwick
Hardwick changed the face of popular American literary criticism with her broadside on the state of book reviewing in 1959, and for half a century she continued to set the standard in her wide-ranging essays, puncturing stale myths and refining our idea of what constitutes genius.

Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh
The characters in this story collection are at the ends of their ropes and out of their dirty minds — just the right state for that epiphany we’ve all been waiting for.

The Idiot by Elif Batuman
What 18-year-old college freshman isn’t a total dumb-dumb and how much worse was it for the teens who showed up in the mid-1990s when email was a new thing and its modes of humiliation weren’t yet codified? In her first novel, Batuman, author of The Possessed, plumbs the depths, to great comic effect.

The Invention of Angela Carter by Edmund Gordon
Angela Carter changed Anglophone literature, reviving the gothic style and pioneering magic realism, before she died much too soon in 1992 at age 51. Gordon’s biography renders the author an unforgettable character in her own right.

Moving Kings by Joshua Cohen
Fresh from the IDF, the Israeli immigrants in this novel go to work for a Jersey moving company that displaces people in and around the tri-state area, sometimes voluntarily, sometimes otherwise. In an era that prizes likability, Cohen takes his gentrification novel to ugly places in prose that’s always high-end.

Notes on a Foreign Country by Suzy Hansen
When the New Jersey–born Suzy Hansen, a veteran reporter for the New York Observer and The New York Times Magazine, moved to Istanbul ten years ago she soon discovered the country where she’d grown up wasn’t the America the rest of the world knew: an imperial power that in many places has been anything but benign. Her book is an awakening to the idea that “our American dreams have come at the expense of a million other destinies.”

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
A poet’s memoir of coming home as a 20-something refugee from the hipster archipelago to the reactionary heartland, Priestdaddy is the rare book that veers from hilarious to heartbreaking and back from page to page.

The Schooldays of Jesus by J. M. Coetzee
The second volume in the Nobel laureate’s projected trilogy about refugees bereft of their memories in a strange Spanish-speaking land, Schooldays is an education in Dostoevsky, Bach, and Plato that delivers the pleasures of a thriller.

So Much Blue by Percival Everett
Three plots from the life of a cynical and disabused painter intertwine in this elegant and haunting novel that moves from Rhode Island to Paris to El Salvador and through meditations on war, love, family, and art.

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang
These stories of Chinese immigrant families in New York, told through the eyes of their precocious and prickly daughters, boil over with pain, love, and bittersweet laughter. Zhang at her best is a virtuoso of the sinuous sentence, veering with acrobatic ease between the registers of innocence and experience.

South and West by Joan Didion
Two of Didion’s 1970s magazine assignments — to write about the Gulf Coast and the Patty Hearst trial — never took flight, but the notes for those projects collected here are both fascinating historical documents and revealing glimpses at a great writer’s methods.

Void Star by Zachary Mason
A vision of the future replete with drones, artificial intelligence, rising seas, and a desertified corn belt, Mason’s novel is the year’s most cerebral and chilling dystopia.

Wait Till You See Me Dance by Deb Olin Unferth
Worth it for the title story alone, Unferth’s collection certifies her as a virtuoso minimalist and an heir to Diane Williams and Lydia Davis.

White Tears by Hari Kunzru
What starts as story of music and friendship moves into the tricky territory of cultural appropriation before becoming a ghost story about the shames of American history.

The 15 Best Books of 2017 (So Far)