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Find more Booklist Editors' Choice
The Adult Books editors have selected the following titles as representative of the year’s outstanding books for public library collections. Our scope has been intentionally broad, and we have attempted to find books that combine literary and intellectual merit with popular appeal.
Arts & Literature
Every Word Is a Bird We Teach to Sing: Encounters with the Mysteries and Meanings of Language. By Daniel Tammet. Little, Brown, $27 (9780316353052).
A fascinating collection of essays by a high-functioning autistic savant, recording encounters along unconventional linguistic byways, from the history of Esperanto to Iceland’s Person’s Names Committee.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. By Roxane Gay. Harper, $25.99 (9780062362599).
In her electrifyingly candid memoir, the story of Gay’s body is, understandably, linked to the story of her life; she tells both, and plumbs discussions about victims of sexual violence and people whose bodies don’t adhere to the ideal of thinness. (Top of the List winner—Adult Nonfiction)
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. By Sherman Alexie. Little, Brown, $28 (9780316270755).
Alexie, consummate, funny, and unnerving, presents a profoundly candid and courageous memoir, a union of prose and poetry, in which he pays tribute to his late Spokane Indian mother and reveals hard facts about reservation life.
Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life. By Robert Dallek. Viking, $40 (9780525427902).
Dallek succeeds at the daunting task of producing a comprehensive one-volume biography of FDR, presenting the abundance of information in a flowing and highly readable narrative.
Grant. By Ron Chernow. Penguin, $40 (9781594204876).
In his beautifully written portrait of Grant, Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer Chernow presents the general and president as a modest, dutiful, skilled, and long-underappreciated leader of dogged determination and moral courage.
Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughan. By Elaine M. Hayes. Ecco, $27.99 (9780062364685).
Hayes elucidates with expertise and finesse the precise nature of Sarah Vaughan’s artistic genius and repeated rising from the ashes in this deeply illuminating and unforgettable biography of a true American master.
Geography & Travel
Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World. By Suzy Hansen. Farrar, $26 (9780374280048).
Hansen, an American journalist living in Turkey, combines personal observation with geopolitical history lessons in making her winning argument that Americans are overdue in examining their country’s imperial identity.
Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II. By Liza Mundy. Hachette, $28 (9780316352550).
Mundy salvages an essential but neglected piece of American WWII history as she portrays the bright, clever, and independent young women whose uncanny code-breaking skills saved lives and altered the course of the war.
The Dawn of Detroit. By Tiya Miles. New Press, $27.95 (9781620972311).
Miles’ thorough account of the founding and rise of Detroit integrates U.S. history, admirable and ugly, to offer a more holistic understanding of the country and present the reality of slavery’s foundational role in the “City of the Straits.”
The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. By Masha Gessen. Riverhead, $28 (9781594634536).
Gessen’s impassioned account of the relentless destruction of aspirations for democracy under Putin, and descent into a new totalitarianism, is a timely reminder of the fragility and preciousness of all institutions of freedom.
The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea. By Jack E. Davis. Norton/Liveright, $28.95 (9780871408662).
Davis’ perceptive historical survey of America’s Gulf Coast from the 1500s to the present accents the region’s nexus between nature and civilization and features environmental revelations and many colorful characters.
The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria. By Alia Malek. Nation, $27.99 (9781568585321).
Malek’s powerful memoir beautifully captures the history of several generations of her Syrian family as well as the author’s experience living in her grandmother’s apartment and reporting from Damascus during the ongoing war.
Killers of the Flower Moon. By David Grann. Doubleday, $29.95 (9780385534246).
Grann’s painstaking research and narrative style captivate in this riveting reckoning of a devastating yet largely overlooked episode in U.S. history: the serial murders of members of Oklahoma’s Osage Indian Nation in the 1920s.
The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South. By John T. Edge. Penguin, $28 (9781594206559).
Edge’s necessary history attributes Southern cuisine’s roots to the region’s twin scourges of poverty and racism and credits the leading virtues of Southern cooking to the many African Americans whose contributions have been either ignored or outright suppressed.
Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking: The Royal Marriages That Shaped Europe. By Deborah Cadbury. PublicAffairs, $27 (9781610398466).
Cadbury provides enough material for seven gripping miniseries as she tells the darkly glittering story of Queen Victoria’s efforts to ensure European peace by engineering royal marriages for her 42 grandchildren.
Thunder in the Mountains: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard, and the Nez Perce War. By Daniel J. Sharfstein. Norton, $29.95 (9780393239416).
Sharftstein’s unique approach to one of the most moving and saddest sagas in American history pairs the Nez Perce leader Chief Joseph with army officer Oliver Otis Howard, who became both an admirer and nemesis of Joseph.
Collected Poems. By Galway Kinnell. HMH, $35 (9780544875210).
Kinnell pursued the ultimates—God, immortality, fellowship—as he wrote about family and friends, nature, lovemaking, and place, and his power of imaginative re-creation and cognitive scope make him seem to speak for everyone.
Don’t Call Us Dead. By Danez Smith. Graywolf, $16 (9781555977856).
Part indelible elegy, part glorious love song to “those brown folks who make / up the nation of my heart,” Smith’s powerhouse collection is lush with luminous imagery, slick rhythms, and shrewd pop-culture allusions.
The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America. By Frances Fitzgerald. Simon & Schuster, $35 (9781439131336).
Fitzgerald’s capacious history of American Evangelical Protestantism ranges across the various Evangelical denominations while illuminating the doctrines that unite them. A complex and fascinating epic.
Science & Technology
American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World. By David Baron. Norton/Liveright, $27.95 (9781631490163).
Baron tracks three scientists, including Thomas Edison, who set out to use the total solar eclipse of 1878 as a springboard to success. Riveting popular science.
The Death and Life of the Great Lakes. By Dan Egan. Norton, $27.95 (9780393246438).
Egan’s in-depth investigation into the devastation of the once pristine and thriving Great Lakes, which hold 20 percent of the earth’s fresh water, is powerful testimony to the dire consequences of our abuse of crucial natural resources.
Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery. By Scott Kelly. Knopf, $29.95 (9781524731595).
Astronaut Kelly offers a vivid account of his preparations for a year in space and his experiences aboard the International Space Station.
Exoplanets: Diamond Worlds, Super Earth, Pulsar Planets, and the New Search for Life beyond Our Solar System. By Michael Summers and James Trefil. Smithsonian, $29.95 (9781588345943).
Astonishing revelations about the creation and properties of planets outside Earth’s solar system are vividly and concisely illuminated by astrophysicists Summers and Trefil.
Planet of Microbes: The Perils and Potential of Earth’s Essential Life Forms. By Ted Anton. Univ. of Chicago, $25 (9780226353944).
Strange and amazing facts abound as science writer Anton focuses in on the teeming, diverse realm of microbes, the legions of minuscule but mighty creatures who are crucial to our bodies and our planet.
American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land. By Monica Hesse. Norton/Liveright, $26.95 (9781631490514).
Hesse’s thrilling true-crime chronicle of the arsonist who plagued a county on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, burning down more than 80 buildings over several months, benefits from the author’s extensive interviews and thoughtful analyses.
An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back. By Elisabeth Rosenthal. Penguin, $28 (9781594206757).
In this commanding, in-depth analysis, Rosenthal makes a compelling case against the hospital and pharmaceutical executives behind the “money chase” that is corrupting and undermining our health-care system.
Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News. By Kevin Young. Graywolf, $30 (9781555977917).
Award-winning poet, scholar, and writer Young examines the roots of American fraud––from séances to reality TV and “fake news”—illuminates its ties to racial anxieties, and presents a rogue’s gallery.
Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A. By Danielle Allen. Norton/Liveright, $24.95 (9781631493119).
Allen’s searching elegy for her cousin, murdered at 29 after serving more than a decade in prison, incorporates the gathering storms of the criminal-justice system and L.A.’s gang-related and racial turmoil for a searing must-read.
Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America. By Nancy MacLean. Viking, $30 (9781101980965).
MacLean’s precise examination of the right-wing’s rise to power offers clear explanation of the roots of the deconstructionist forces that now occupy Congress, the White House, and the courts.
The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. By Daniel Ellsberg. Bloomsbury, $30 (9781608196708).
In this gripping and unnerving chronicle, Ellsberg entwines affecting personal revelations with an alarming exposé detailing the federal government’s perilously inadequate control of the nuclear arsenal, which endangers all life on earth.
I Can’t Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street. By Matt Taibbi. Spiegel & Grau, $28 (9780812988840).
In this riveting retelling of how African American Eric Garner, arrested for selling cigarettes, was killed after an NYPD cop administered a choke hold, Taibbi excoriates the racist system that makes such abuse possible.
I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey behind the Lines of Jihad. By Souad Mekhennet. Holt, $30 (9781627798976).
In her powerfully enlightening memoir, Mekhennet, a German Muslim journalist of Moroccan and Turkish descent, recounts the myriad challenges she faced while covering conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa.
No One Cares about Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America. By Ron Powers. Hachette, $28 (9780316341172).
Powers shares his family’s struggles as two sons suffer from schizophrenia; covers the history, legislation, pharmacology, and science of schizophrenia; and reminds us how apathetic and cruel society can be when it comes to mental illness.
Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century. By Jessica Bruder. Norton, $26.95 (9780393249316).
What Upton Sinclair did for stockyard workers, Bruder does for older migrant workers in this visceral report on people who travel the country seeking short-term jobs, from picking beets to stocking shelves at Amazon warehouses.
The Radium Girls. By Kate Moore. Sourcebooks, $26.99 (9781492649359).
Moore’s timely, readable book celebrates the women who suffered horrific radium poisoning while working for the Radium Luminous Materials Corporation, then fought to improve labor laws and scientific knowledge.
The SAGE Encyclopedia of War: Social Science Perspectives. Ed. by Paul Joseph. Sage, $650 (9781483359892).
Focusing on the social-science perspectives, the nearly 700 entries cover the balance of power, the military-industrial complex, and the ecological causes of war.
True South: Henry Hampton and Eyes on the Prize, the Landmark Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement. By Jon Else. Viking, $30 (9781101980934).
Else presents a hard-driving and dramatic history of the making of Eyes on the Prize, the pioneering 1987 television documentary series about the civil rights movement, and vividly portrays the series’ visionary producer, Henry Hampton.
4 3 2 1. By Paul Auster. Holt, $32 (9781627794466).
In this virtuoso opus, Auster offers variations on the life of Archie Ferguson, born in Newark to Jewish immigrants: four captivating inquiries into self, circumstance, creativity, and life.
After the Bloom. By Leslie Shimotakahara. Dundurn, $22.99 (9781459737433).
A daughter searches for her vanished mother in Shimotakahara’s compelling and unflinching historical novel, which scrutinizes the shattering cultural effects of the WWII internment of Japanese Americans.
The Blue Hour. By Laura Pritchett. Counterpoint, $25 (9781619028487).
Pritchett finds the core of humanity in a close-knit mountain community as she portrays incandescent characters who learn that sustenance is only possible through compassion and camaraderie.
Dark at the Crossing. By Elliot Ackerman. Knopf, $25.95 (9781101947371).
In this somber investigation of the folly of war and the failure of idealism, Ackerman follows Iraqi American Harris, who is determined to fight with the Free Army in Syria, even if means aligning himself with ISIS.
Days without End. By Sebastian Barry. Viking, $26 (9780525427360).
In a beautifully realized voice that is a tour de force of style and atmosphere, Irish immigrant Thomas McNulty tells the heartrending story of his love for John Cole and their lives together as soldiers, first in the West and later in the Civil War. An epic romance.
Exit West. By Mohsin Hamid. Riverhead, $26 (9780735212176).
Lovers Nadia and Saeed flee an embattled city and find themselves in a whirlpool of refugees from around the world in Hamid’s spellbinding, metaphorically rich novel.
The Force. By Don Winslow. Morrow, $27.99 (9780062664419).
Winslow’s career-defining masterpiece about an elite task force within the NYPD looks both at what cops do right and wrong with clear-eyed realism and passionate humanity.
Fresh Complaint. By Jeffrey Eugenides. Farrar, $27 (9780374203061).
Eugenides gifts his first short story collection with trademark wit and precise descriptions as his characters hatch plans to restore their unfairly sapped potential and deal with the results.
Future Home of the Living God. By Louise Erdrich. Harper, $28.99 (9780062694058).
Young Cedar Hawk Songmaker is pregnant and imperiled in Erdrich’s masterful dystopian novel, a feverish cautionary tale rife with insights into the endless repercussions of the Native American genocide and the ongoing war against women’s rights.
Gather the Daughters. By Jennie Melamed. Little, Brown, $26 (9780316463652).
Four rebellious daughters threaten the order of a postapocalyptic fundamentalist society, the dreadful details of which are revealed slowly and masterfully in this horrifying debut.
The Golden House. By Salman Rushdie. Random, $28.99 (9780399592805).
An aspiring filmmaker becomes entranced by a mysterious billionaire and his adult sons in Rushdie’s commanding, headlines-stoked, yet timeless tragedy of ill-gotten wealth and sinister power, ambition and revenge, “radical untruth” and chaos.
Huck Out West. By Robert Coover. Norton, $26.95 (9780393608441).
Coover brilliantly envisions what comes next when Huckleberry Finn lights out for the territories. This picaresque tale is both a dynamiting of America’s cherished myth of westward expansion and a surprisingly affecting imagining of its two most beloved literary boys as adults.
Human Acts. By Han Kang. Hogarth, $21 (9781101906729).
Told in interconnected stories and the author’s poetic language, Kang’s second novel is a jarring and gripping portrayal of the 1980 Gwangju, South Korea, demonstrations.
Lincoln in the Bardo. By George Saunders. Random, $28 (9780812995343).
Catalyzed by President Lincoln’s grief over the death of his son, Willie, Saunders’ boldly imagined novel takes place in the cemetery, where the dead tell their, by turns, ribald and tragic stories, which illuminate the conflicts underlying the Civil War.
A Line Made by Walking. By Sara Baume. Harcourt, $25 (9780544716957).
Baume’s second novel, about a young artist in search of inspiration, is a study in contrasts: high art against natural beauty, a mechanical turbine against the rustic Irish landscape, inner turmoil against outward appearances.
Manhattan Beach. By Jennifer Egan. Scribner, $28 (9781476716732).
A struggling family, a spirited and courageous young woman with a passion for the sea, New York gangsters, the Brooklyn Naval Yard during WWII, a dramatic shipwreck—Egan’s propulsive and profound page-turner will transport and transform readers. (Top of the List winner—Adult Fiction)
Marlena. By Julie Buntin. Holt, $26 (9781627797641).
A woman looks back on a harrowing year and a life-changing friendship in Buntin’s thoughtful and piercing debut, which also explores memory, addiction, and storytelling.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. By Arundhati Roy. Knopf, $28.95 (9781524733155).
Roy’s gorgeously rendered saga of the turmoil in present-day India and Kashmir, stoked by potent social critique and caustic humor, brims with intriguing characters facing terror and absurdity, treachery and wonder, tyranny and love.
My Absolute Darling. By Gabriel Tallent. Riverhead, $27 (9780735211179).
This shocking story of sexual abuse brings to life 14-year-old Turtle, who endures horrors at the hands of her father but finds meaning in the gorgeously evoked natural world outside of Mendocino, California.
A Natural. By Ross Raisin. Random, $27 (9780525508779).
Raisin’s transporting and acutely observed novel about a gay British soccer player captures both the world of professional soccer and the stifling pressure on the hero and his lover to hide their relationship.
The Ninth Hour. By Alice McDermott. Farrar, $26 (9780374280147).
In McDermott’s enveloping, emotionally intricate, witty, and suspenseful drama, a young pregnant widow is taken in by nuns in early twentieth-century Brooklyn, launching an exquisite inquiry into women’s lives, faith, sacrifice, and passion.
No One Can Pronounce My Name. By Rakesh Satyal. Picador, $26 (9781250112118).
Through the unlikely friendship between a married empty nester and a grieving department-store employee, Satyal’s humorous and heart-wrenching second novel explores identity, sexuality, family, immigrant life, and Indian and American cultures.
The Possessions. By Sara Flannery Murphy. Harper, $26.99 (9780062458322).
In Murphy’s immersive, sf-tinged debut, Edie, a “body” at the Elysian Society who channels deceased loved ones thanks to a drug known as the “lotus,” gets involved with Patrick, who hopes to make contact with his late wife.
The Power. By Naomi Alderman. Little, Brown, $26 (9780316547611).
Alderman’s engagingly provocative speculative novel pivots on a question: What if women, including teenagers, suddenly possessed an electrical charge that they could control and use as a weapon?
The Refugees. By Viet Thanh Nguyen. Grove, $24 (9780801289356).
Nguyen’s collection of intimate and piercing stories about Vietnamese refugees in the U.S. incisively grapples with war and exile, the assault on identity and the resilience of the self, and the fragility and preciousness of memories.
Savage Country. By Robert Olmstead. Algonquin, $26.95 (9781616204129).
A Magnificent Seven–like band of misfits undertakes a seemingly suicidal buffalo hunt in Olmstead’s brutal but beautiful take on the tragic ambiguity at the heart of the Old West.
Some Rise by Sin. By Philip Caputo. Holt, $28 (9781627794749).
Caputo brings a reporter’s eye and a novelist’s heart to this powerful story of a Franciscan friar in a small Sonoran town who is caught in the cross fire between a drug lord and a priest-hating army captain.
Strange Weather: Four Short Novels. By Joe Hill. Morrow, $27.99 (9780062663115).
A chilling collection for complicated times includes reflections on a Polaroid-filled summer, an impassioned response to the Sandy Hook tragedy, a sinister fairy tale about a macabre cloud world, and an apocalyptic shower of nails.
The Women in the Castle. By Jessica Shattuck. Morrow, $26.99 (9780062563668).
A potent, fluently written tale of the endurance and survival of the widows and children of Nazi resisters struggling through the last harrowing days of the war and, later, adjusting to new, postwar realities.
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