The 5 Best Books I Read Last Year

December 13 2017
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I am a firm believer that libraries and book stores are my oracles, and the novels on this list have chosen me as much as I’ve chosen them. As I’ve stepped deeper into my second half-century on this planet, the characters in these five novels have met me where I am: whether they took me away completely; helped me sort out the current state of affairs (internally and externally); or led me to reevaluate my history, and future, with a softer eye. Perhaps one of these books is exactly what you need right now, too.

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!
by Jonathan Evison

In our Off the Shelf staff meeting I asked for recommendations for a book in which “nothing too bad happens,” and this was handed to me. True, nothing too bad happens, but the story of 78-year-old Harriet Chance’s journey to Alaska, and into her past, is not frivolous. It’s ripe, contemplative, funny, lovely, sad, and, ultimately, not tied up in a pretty little bow. Jonathan Evison’s unconventional writing style enhances the bittersweet feel of this novel, and you’ll be left empathetically revisiting your own life’s story and foibles.

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This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!
Jonathan Evison

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MENTIONED IN:

My Bridgerton TBR List: 7 Tantalizing Historical Love Stories

By Saimah Haque | April 16, 2021

8 Cathartic Books That Had Us Crying By Chapter One

By Off the Shelf Staff | April 15, 2021

If You Love Kristin Hannah, Read These 6 Books Next

By Heather Waters | April 14, 2021

5 Dynamic Book Club Picks Recommended by Author Tif Marcelo

By Tif Marcelo | April 13, 2021

New in Paperback: 11 Rejuvenating April Reads to Inspire You

By Alice Martin | April 12, 2021

5 Books with Unique Narratives That Play with Format

By Anne Jaconette | April 9, 2021

Close
Giovanni's Room
by James Baldwin

James Baldwin could write about Post-it Notes and make them poetic, such is his gift for nuance, language, and story. Here he writes compellingly from the heartbreaking perspective of an American white man in Paris attempting to outrun his self-loathing and sexuality. This book was controversial when first published in 1956, and is as important now as it was then. Baldwin as always, has his finger firmly on the pulse of place, time, and society’s shortcomings. His writing is beautiful, and I can never get enough.

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Giovanni's Room
James Baldwin

Read a Classic by an Author of Color

Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin’s now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.

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MENTIONED IN:

My Bridgerton TBR List: 7 Tantalizing Historical Love Stories

By Saimah Haque | April 16, 2021

8 Cathartic Books That Had Us Crying By Chapter One

By Off the Shelf Staff | April 15, 2021

If You Love Kristin Hannah, Read These 6 Books Next

By Heather Waters | April 14, 2021

5 Dynamic Book Club Picks Recommended by Author Tif Marcelo

By Tif Marcelo | April 13, 2021

New in Paperback: 11 Rejuvenating April Reads to Inspire You

By Alice Martin | April 12, 2021

5 Books with Unique Narratives That Play with Format

By Anne Jaconette | April 9, 2021

Close
The House at the End of Hope Street
by Menna van Praag

Oh, to find a safe, magical, nurturing haven in this harrowed world; released from the boundaries of ordinary life; where the departed communicate wisely with the living; and you are given breathing room (albeit with an expiration date) from your challenges in order to pull yourself up and start again. Menna van Praag has created that fantastical place in this charming, sweet, at times shadowy novel. I wish it were real.

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The House at the End of Hope Street
Menna van Praag

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MENTIONED IN:

My Bridgerton TBR List: 7 Tantalizing Historical Love Stories

By Saimah Haque | April 16, 2021

8 Cathartic Books That Had Us Crying By Chapter One

By Off the Shelf Staff | April 15, 2021

If You Love Kristin Hannah, Read These 6 Books Next

By Heather Waters | April 14, 2021

5 Dynamic Book Club Picks Recommended by Author Tif Marcelo

By Tif Marcelo | April 13, 2021

New in Paperback: 11 Rejuvenating April Reads to Inspire You

By Alice Martin | April 12, 2021

5 Books with Unique Narratives That Play with Format

By Anne Jaconette | April 9, 2021

Close
The Alienist
by Caleb Carr

I love historical crime fiction, particularly when it takes place in New York City and the plot includes a serial killer, forensics, and descriptions of food—an admittedly rare find. Caleb Carr’s deeply dark, cerebral thriller is akin to a long, rich meal in many courses. Meticulously researched, and soon to be a television series, you’ll want to take your time with this one and savor every bite.

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The Alienist
Caleb Carr

Fast-paced and gripping, infused with a historian's exactitude, The Alienist conjures up the Gilded Age and its untarnished underside: verminous tenements and opulent mansions, corrupt cops and flamboyant gangsters, shining opera houses and seamy gin mills. Here is a New York during an age when questioning society's belief that all killers are born, not made, could have unexpected and mortal consequences.

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MENTIONED IN:

My Bridgerton TBR List: 7 Tantalizing Historical Love Stories

By Saimah Haque | April 16, 2021

8 Cathartic Books That Had Us Crying By Chapter One

By Off the Shelf Staff | April 15, 2021

If You Love Kristin Hannah, Read These 6 Books Next

By Heather Waters | April 14, 2021

5 Dynamic Book Club Picks Recommended by Author Tif Marcelo

By Tif Marcelo | April 13, 2021

New in Paperback: 11 Rejuvenating April Reads to Inspire You

By Alice Martin | April 12, 2021

5 Books with Unique Narratives That Play with Format

By Anne Jaconette | April 9, 2021

Close
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
by Kathleen Rooney

I want to knock on 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish’s door, Bundt cake in hand, and be her friend. A feisty, independent feminist, and wildly successful retired Macy’s advertising copywriter, Lillian’s reflections as she walks the streets of New York City on New Year’s Eve in 1984 will enchant you. Charmingly, there’s a map of her walk in the hardcover edition. Start to finish, this book is plucky and utterly delightful; literary without being high-brow, and warming without a trace of saccharine or sentimentality.

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Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
Kathleen Rooney

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MENTIONED IN:

My Bridgerton TBR List: 7 Tantalizing Historical Love Stories

By Saimah Haque | April 16, 2021

8 Cathartic Books That Had Us Crying By Chapter One

By Off the Shelf Staff | April 15, 2021

If You Love Kristin Hannah, Read These 6 Books Next

By Heather Waters | April 14, 2021

5 Dynamic Book Club Picks Recommended by Author Tif Marcelo

By Tif Marcelo | April 13, 2021

New in Paperback: 11 Rejuvenating April Reads to Inspire You

By Alice Martin | April 12, 2021

5 Books with Unique Narratives That Play with Format

By Anne Jaconette | April 9, 2021

Close

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