Best Books of 2017
This week, we’ve had each of our critics post a summary on the Run Spot Run blog of the three best books they read this year. It’s always an interesting exercise for a group as small as ours: while we try to cover all sorts of genres and present a diverse take on what’s being published, we can only read so much in a year. Not such a bad thing, though: this allows our best-of list to be a little more personal, a little less predictable, and hopefully, a little more relatable.
Here are our selections for the best books of 2017.
Autumn by Ali Smith (Pantheon)
Ali Smith’s Autumn is a tremendously good and timely novel and one that should have knocked George Saunders’s incredible (but let’s face it, pretty weird) Lincoln in the Bardo from the Man Booker Prize’s top slot. Autumn tells the story of an art-history buff named Elisabeth and her lifelong friendship with her elderly neighbor Daniel, and together they delve into some poignant-but-forgotten threads of contemporary culture. It’s a stunning meditation on memory and modernity, reconciling loss in our contemporary age of excess. This a perfect novel for the post-Trump, post-Brexit era, a time when history is developing faster than it can be canonized. A full review can be read here.
On Trails by Robert Moore (Simon & Schuster)
The first thing you’ll notice about On Trails is its cover, a minimalist rendering of a path through mountains. From the book’s title, you’ll assume Robert Moor to be another Cheryl Strayed or Bill Bryson, rehashing his own walk in the woods. Moor no doubt has read these authors and walked their footsteps, but the scope of On Trails far surpasses recounting his five-month trek on the Appalachian Trail, though that experience is what catalyzed this book. Moor’s narrative branches widely through myriad disciplines to uncover the very nature of trails. From ancient Precambrian trail-blazers to learning how the algorithms of ants inform the functions of our driverless cars, Moor delivers a fascinating and meandering exploration. An environmental journalist informed by the works of Muir and Chatwin, Moor’s endless curiosity and artful prose combine to make On Trails a compelling literary adventure. A full review can be read here.
South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby (Picador)
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. A full review can be read here.
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash (William Morrow)
A single white female and the sole support for four children, Ella May Wiggins is immersed in a poverty which offers no respite. Yet, remarkably for someone in 1929 Gastonia, North Carolina, she realizes that the black citizens with whom she lives in Stumptown, a ramshackle ghetto for blacks, and with whom she works in American Mill #2, are no different from her. Poverty, she says. “We got that in common.” In The Last Ballad, Cash adroitly shapes the life of one courageous woman to lay bare the conflict between rapacious business owners and their powerless workers. Cash reminds readers how little has changed over the past century, and the story provides relatable lessons for today’s toxic political and cultural mores. The writing is superb and the sense of place and situation coincide to create a powerful and thought-provoking, yet entertaining story. A full review can be read here.
Monograph by Chris Ware (Rizzoli)
Perhaps the most visually stunning books of the year, Chris Ware’s Monograph is an oversized, beautifully produced retrospective of Ware’s exquisite work in comics. Author of Jimmy Corrigan, Building Stories, and the Acme Novelty Library serial, Ware has inspired a generation of rising comics enthusiasts and Monograph shows the ambition, artistry, and critical theory behind these major achievements. This book is particularly special because because of its text, which is penned entirely by Ware. Charmingly self-deprecating and at times mind-expandingly brilliant, Monograph is a must for fans of the genre. A full review can be read here.
Happy holidays to all, and thank you for reading. We will be back in January for another great year.