Best Books of 2017: Alex’s Picks
Author Ayelet Waldman has endured struggles with neuroses, depression, and chronic pain, so naturally she turned to LSD. A Really Good Day is the nonfiction chronicle of her “microdosing” experiments; every three days she consumes one tenth of the quantity required for a typical trip. While not hallucinatory, the positive effects of this regimen are eye opening, and Waldman is laudably brave to reveal the inner mechanics of her own psyche and personal relationships, demonstrating how they evolve throughout the course of the experiment. Though presented in the form of a daily log, the reading is never tedious as Waldman fantastically integrates anecdotes and mini-essays totally pertinent to the task at hand. Though she’d never claim LSD to be a miracle drug, the benefits are abundant and the book gradually becomes a measured presentation on how responsible use of various drugs has the potential for far more good than harm. Kudos to any high school health teachers brave enough to make this assigned reading. A full review can be read here.
Don DeLillo fans take notice: Alex Gilvarry’s Eastman Was Here is up your alley and then some, but with enough of its own merits to shine. The titular character is an author/journalist in NYC’s early 1970s, but nothing in his resume has quite matched his crowning literary achievement over two decades prior. With his marriage on the brink of collapse, he accepts an opportunity to cover the war in Vietnam, and through the guise of a slightly unreliable narrator we come to understand his questionable degree of courage and integrity. Despite this, he never manages to lose his likability, and though Eastman Was Here isn’t a laugh-fest, it is indeed an intense, darkly funny portrait of a struggle for relevance while resisting one’s baser impulses. A full review can be read here.
The two runners-up are excellent, but South Pole Station wins by a considerable margin. Ashley Shelby’s debut novel follows 30-year-old Cooper (a woman, for the record), who earns a grant to reside at the Antarctic’s only community, populated by scientists, artists, and culinary staff, all of whom get their due attention throughout. When seemingly peripheral characters get their own sections, they never feel like digressions and speak to what a living, breathing world Shelby presents, a beacon of life in the coldest known middle-of-nowhere. Cosmology, climate change, artistry, politics and love are all brilliantly intertwined in the best 2017 entry to make it to my desk. A full review can be read here.