We know it’s a new year, and there’s a whole new crop of books to look forward to, but we want to take a moment to look back at what we read in 2017. What a year it was for books! Together, the readers of Off the Shelf devoured hundreds and hundreds of incredible stories over the past 12 months. You can understand why it was so hard for some of us to pick just one favorite book of the year . . . but we did it. Here are 10 of our absolute, top-notch, best-of-the-year reads. You’ll want to add all of these to Your Shelf.
Critically acclaimed poet Patricia Lockwood grew up the daughter of a practicing Catholic priest—yes, you read that right. Turns out the Catholic Church has a little-known loophole whereby if an ordained, married Lutheran converts he’s allowed to keep his wife and children (for better or worse, as Lockwood’s pages reveal). Detailing her adolescence, discovery of poetry, and nascent feminism in a household at times equally radical and restrained, PRIESTDADDY showcases the best of the writer dubbed “the poet laureate of Twitter.” A brilliant wordsmith with an eye for everyday hilarity, Lockwood surprises with unexpected pathos and heart that moves this book from quirky memoir to a must read. —Elizabeth
Oh, this book. One of my favorite books this year, and one of my favorite books I’ve ever read. A LITTLE LIFE lingers with you; even once you think you’ve moved on something will remind you of a sentence or a character, and draw you back into Hanya Yanagihara’s world. It’s painful, beautiful, dark, and profound. It’s the story of epic friendship, and an unsettling contemplation of abuse and the difficulties of recovery. The prose is rich, the insights are shrewd, and it brought me to tears. —Meagan
I’m not exaggerating at all when I say I cried for 700 pages of this 832-page masterpiece. I have never loved a character more deeply than I love Jude, the main character in this ode to male friendship, who is scarred and broken from an unspeakable trauma. Reading about Jude’s ever-changing relationships with his three best friends from college was one of the best experiences I’ve had as a reader—and certainly as a crier.
If there’s one thing I’m more obsessed with than books, it’s pop culture. Lucky for me, Anne Helen Petersen combined the two in this great collection of essays that evaluates the ways in which the media views—and labels—women in the spotlight who challenge their “ideal.” From Hillary Rodham Clinton (too shrill) and Kim Kardashian (too pregnant) to Serena Williams (too strong) and the Broad City stars (too gross), it’s a wide-ranging and insightful look at modern celebrity. —Julianna
Jamie Ford’s second novel is definitely one of my favorite books from 2017. Beginning with the backdrop of the 1909 World’s Fair, Ford weaves a story of friendship, of the family we create, of love, and of loss. Twelve-year-old Ernest Young, an orphan, is auctioned off to the madam of a high-class brothel, leading to hardship but also his first real family and love. Fifty years later, in a timeline that twists throughout the novel, Ernest cares for his ailing wife, while trying to keep long-buried secrets from his daughters. —Erin
In her stunning follow-up to A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD, Jennifer Egan departs on an entirely different storyline to delve into historical fiction at its finest. Spanning multiple decades, this novel tells the tale of Anna Kerrigan, who witnesses an exchange between her father and a wealthy stranger at his seaside house. Years later, Anna is employed in the Brooklyn Naval Yard and defies the odds by working on the ships in roles that have previously only ever been given to men. With her mind-blowing talent, Egan creates an atmospheric and operatic saga that will make your heart swell and ebb with the waves described so well on the page. The characters have haunted me since I read it, and it is the standout of the year in my heart. —Stu
I experienced A MAN CALLED OVE for the first time this year . . . and also the second, because a few months later I decided to read it over again. It might sound cliché, but this story about a curmudgeonly old man who just wants to end his life—but his pesky, friendly neighbors keep interfering—made me laugh and cry and renewed my faith in humanity. —Sarah Jane
“If you like to laugh AND feel moved AND have your heart applaud wildly for fictional characters, you will certainly fall for the grumpy but lovable Ove (it’s pronounced “Oo-vuh,” if you were wondering).”
Only from the brilliant mind of George Saunders could a bizarre novel of historical fact, supernatural imagination, and overwhelming emotion both convince readers of its authenticity and completely captivate them at the same time. LINCOLN IN THE BARDO is everything beautiful in this world, and everything hopeful in the next. —Chris G.
George Saunders is an acclaimed short story writer of collections THE TENTH OF DECEMBER, PASTORALIA, and more. His first novel, LINCOLN IN THE BARDO, is a mesmerizing blend of historical fact and fiction. It is the story of the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie, told almost entirely through the voices of the spirits in the graveyard where Willie is laid to rest and where Lincoln returns to hold his son’s body. —Erin
Nina Riggs was a poet, a mother of two young boys, a wife, a daughter, and a friend when she was diagnosed with aggressive but treatable breast cancer at 37 years old. Within a year her cancer was terminal. But even though she was dying, she spent her time living. She went to book groups, treatments, and vacations. She accompanied her mother to her mother’s cancer treatments (yes, it’s almost too hard to comprehend), loved her husband and sons, and shopped for the perfect couch. She was wry and funny and wise and compassionate—and her beautiful, uplifting memoir captures all of that. —Wendy
What she said. THE BRIGHT HOUR is one of the most amazing books I have read. The writing is beautiful and honest. I am so thankful to Nina for sharing her story, courage, and strength. I have a view of living—and dying—I had not had before. That’s the best gift a book can give. —Aimee
There’s something magical about reading on the train and spontaneously looking up to see the person next to you enraptured in the same book—and spotting even more people grasping that same book in their hands. Everybody was reading THE HANDMAID’S TALE in 2017. Even though it was originally published more than 30 years ago, it’s as relevant as if it were written today, and it still has the power to incite conversation and bring people together. To me, that’s the definition of a truly great book. I would say this is an essential read for every woman, but that’s not accurate—it’s an essential read for everyone who lives in our world today. —Nikki
This horrifying vision of our society radically overturned by a theocratic revolution has become one of the most powerful and widely read novels of our time. It has endured not only as a literary landmark but also as a scathing satire and dire warning of a possible future that is still chillingly relevant.