all of my 2017 book recommendations

All year long, I’ve made a weekly book recommendation when kicking off the weekend open thread. These aren’t work-related books; they’re just books I love and think everyone else should read. Sometimes they’re books that I’m in the middle of reading, and other times they’re just long-standing favorites.

Here’s the complete list of what I’ve recommended this year (maybe in time for holiday gift-shopping!). I’ve bolded my favorites of the favorites.

A Woman of Independent Means, by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey.  The entire life of one woman, told through her letters to other people as she grows up and raises a family. I recently re-read this for the first time since I was a teenager, and realized that I had missed much of the humor the first time around. It’s good.

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, by Joshua Foer. This is a super cool guide to strange and surprising places around the world.

A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. This book will wreck you, and it will be one of the best things you’ve ever read. It’s about trauma and life afterwards, and the power and limitations of friendship and love. It kept me up way too late, way too many nights, it broke my heart, and I am considering starting it all over again.

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners, by Therese Oneill. This is all the stuff no one has ever told you about living in the Victorian era, including what your underwear was like (disturbing!), how bathing worked, the raw meat you will tie to your face while you sleep to fight wrinkles, and much more.

The Mothers, by Brit Bennett. Mothers of all types, a love triangle, and choices that may or may not be the right ones.

The Last Message Received, by Emily Trunko. It’s a collection of real-life final messages that people sent to others before break-ups, deaths, and other separations. It’s pretty heartbreaking … but it will also make you look at the messages you write differently.

The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, the story of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage to his first wife, told through her eyes. Ultimately they both annoyed me, but it was an enjoyable journey.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. It’s a British comedy of manners, but it’s more too. (I recommended the author’s The Summer Before the War last year too, and this one is just as good.)

The Vacationers, by Emma Straub. I loved this book. Emma Straub does family dysfunction well.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson. A decidedly un-glamorous governess accidentally becomes the personal assistant to a nightclub singer. It’s a delight.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily Danforth.  Curtis Sittenfeld (who is also excellent!) described this as “if Holden Caulfield had been a gay girl from Montana, this is the story he might have told,” and that seems right.

Other-Wordly: words both strange and lovely from around the world, by Yee-Lum Mak — in which you will learn words from more than a dozen languages that describe emotions and situations that are hard top capture, such as the Japanese tsundoku (buying books and not reading them; letting them pile up unread on shelves or floors or nightstands”) and the Swedish smultronställe (a “personal idyll free from stress or sadness,” which translates literally as “place of wild strawberries”). If you love language, you’ll love this book.

The Arrangement, by Sarah Dunn. A couple gives each other six months off from monogamy, and things go differently than expected.

All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai. Tom Barren is the first person to travel back in time — where he promptly messes up history, which means that when he travels back to the present time, everything is different. In fact, it’s the world as we know it today, but for Tom, who comes from a techno-utopia, it’s primitive and barbaric. This book will blow your mind a little bit.

The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton, who’s the author of this realllllly good article in the New York Times, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.” This book in many ways is the continuation of that article, but as a novel about a marriage. It’s amazing.

The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. A woman made of clay and a man made of fire are marooned in 19th century New York. Surprising things happen. (I recommended this a couple of years ago when I first read it, but I’ve been re-reading it and it’s just as good the second time.)

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson, which looks at what happens to people after an internet mob goes after them (e.g., Justine Sacco, Jonah Lehrer, etc.). Really interesting.

Shrill, by Lindy West. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. I thought it might be … you know, shrill. I ended up loving it and loving Lindy. Her writing about her dad, in particular, is beautiful.

Scrappy Little Nobody, by Anna Kendrick. She is smart and funny and a pleasure to hang out with as you read.

The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene du Bois. A retired teacher is shipwrecked on Krakatoa, where he discovers a tiny, hidden, and very rich society of 20 families who spend their time on cooking and inventions, which sounds weird but it’s awesome. This is my favorite kids’ book, and I still love it to this day.

The Painted Veil, by Somerset Maugham. The rather shallow Kitty Fane cheats on her husband, who then takes her to a cholera-infected region of China, where … things happen.

Standard Deviation, by Katherine Heiny. As a middle-aged married person, I find that I increasingly love novels about middle-aged married people.

Extraordinary Adventures, by Daniel Wallace. Closed-off, lonely Edsel Bronfman wins a free weekend at a beach resort for a couple, and sets out to reinvent himself.

The Heirs, by Susan Rieger. A family drama with money and scandals that everyone is surprisingly chill about. One review I saw called it a modern day Edith Wharton, and that seems right.

The Humans, by Matt Haig. An alien comes to earth with a mission, sure that he knows what humans are like. He is wrong.

A House Among the Trees, by Julia Glass. I love everything she writes, and this is no exception. It’s about the death of a famous children’s book author (modeled to some degree on Maurice Sendak) and the emotional legacy he leaves to the people he was close to.

Do Not Become Alarmed, by Maile Meloy. Four children will disappear on a cruise, and you will stay up all night to find out what happens.

The Boy Who Loved Too Much: A True Story of Pathological Friendliness, by Jennifer Latson. I read this after reading this fascinating write-up in NYMag about Williams syndrome, also known as “cocktail party syndrome,” which makes people incredibly outgoing, extroverted, and trusting (as well as causing intellectual disabilities, physical problems, and musical and story-telling talents).

The Windfall, by Diksha Basu. If Jane Austen were writing in modern-day India, it would maybe be this.

Constance Harding’s (Rather) Startling Year, by Ceri Radford. Extremely funny.

The Birthday Party: A Memoir of Survival, by Stanley N. Alpert. A fascinating story by a federal prosecutor of what happened after he was kidnapped off the street — and later, how he went after his captors.

The Misfortune of Marion Palm, by Emily Culliton. A Brooklyn mom goes on the run after embezzling from her kids’ school.

Happenstance, by Carol Shields. Another one about middle-aged married people, and it’s great. It’s basically two novellas: the first one from the wife’s perspective, and the second one from the husband’s.

A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle. A charming and funny account of a year spent living in rural France. Much pastis is drunk.

Sourdough, by Robin Sloan. This is by the author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which is also excellent. This one has a very unusual sourdough starter, robots, and culinary intrigue.

Oh the Glory of It All, by Sean Wilsey, a memoir about money, excess, family, and an evil stepmother.

4 3 2 1, by Paul Auster. This is four stories in one — all starting with the birth of the same person, but they then diverge into separate narrations of the paths his life might take. All four stories are told in parallel — Chapter 1 is divided into 1.1. 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4, and so forth with each chapter. It’s a very long book, and since I hate it when a good book ends, I’m enjoying knowing that I’ll still be reading this a month from now and possibly forever.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. I can’t tell you how much I loved this book. It starts out deeply funny and then it turns into something you didn’t expect. This is one of my favorite books this year.

The Impossible Fortress, by Jason Rekulak. A 1980s coming of age story involving computer games, petty theft, and an obsession with Vanna White.

Rabbit Cake, by Annie Hartnett. An 11-year-old tries to move forward after the death of her mom. It’s not as dark as it sounds; it’s often charming and funny.

The Wife, by Meg Wolitzer. The wife of a famous, and philandering, novelist contemplates their marriage.

Free Food for Millionaires, by Min Jin Lee. The daughter of Korean immigrants tries to figure out her life in New York. It’s long and sprawling and engrossing. One review I saw called it a modern-day Middlemarch, which seems right to me.

Sellevision, by Augusten Burroughs. A good book to read post-Black-Friday, it’s a send-up of a fictional home shopping network.

History of Wolves, by Emily Fridlund. I originally wasn’t going to read this because the title made me think it was some sort of modern Call of the Wild, but it’s actually about an isolated teenager’s relationship with a family who move in nearby and it’s quite good.

Prince Charles, by Sally Bedell Smith. This is the newest biography of Prince Charles and it’s fascinating and will make you more sympathetic to Charles than you probably were before.

A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick. I don’t know how to feel about this book, but it did totally engross me and was alternately beautiful and deeply disturbing.

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee. It’s a four-generation saga of a Korean family living in Japan. Someone here recommended this and it’s fantastic.

Mortified: Love Is a Battlefield, by David Nadelberg. I’m obsessed with the Mortified podcast (based on the Mortified stage show where people read their real-life diaries and letters from adolescence, and believe me, the name fits), and this is a book with more of the same. I’ve recommended their first book in the past as well, and their entire empire is delightful.

And if you’re looking for more, here are my lists of book recommendations from 2016 and from 2015.

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{ 114 comments… read them below }

  1. Elizabeth H.*

    I’m sure I said this on the respective post, but I am so happy that you included The Twenty-One Balloons. This made the hugest impression on me. I think about it so much! I think I might read Free Food For Millionaires next.

      1. Elizabeth H.*

        I actually read it first as a kid – sorry for not being clear! But I’ve reread it at least once when I was older. I love going back to kids’ books. I worked in a bookstore for a long time, so I was always up on the latest children’s and YA books and had them at my fingertips. It’s much harder to find out about great children’s books without being in that environment every day and I miss it. The funny thing is that I’ve observed in the past few years, library children’s and YA sections have become more and more separate and it’s hard for adults to access them. I was at the library at 8pm the other night, went to get a YA book and was quite taken aback to find that the room was completely closed as of 7pm, 2 hours earlier than the library hours.

  2. Middle School Teacher*

    I also liked Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I thought it would be like a female The Rosie Project and it’s so so not.

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      I read 6-10 books a month (sometimes more) but I seldom recommend books because it’s so personal for people. That said, I’ve been recommending Eleanor Oliphant to everyone. I loved it and I think there is something for most people who enjoy reading.

      1. Jesca*

        I read that many too! And I can never ever remember their titles! I do remember the ones that I find very good, so I am not sure if I had read this one. I think I might. This and twenty-one balloons as I have been wanting to read that one.

    2. Margali*

      If any of you like audiobooks, the Audible version of this book is wonderful. The narrator does an excellent job.

      1. with a twist*

        Agreed. I listened to it on Audible after seeing Alison’s recommendation, and I loved it so much!

      2. Kate in Scotland*

        It’s also currently being serialised on BBC Radio 4 (look for Book at Bedtime, I’m pretty sure it isn’t geographically restricted).

    3. a_born_tryer*

      A little late to this comment section, but had so say this – Thank you Allison for introducing me to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Reading it now, and like other commenters here, loving it:) . Also, thank you for mentioning the Mortified podcast…hadn’t heard of it also, always on the hunt for new good ones.

  3. RJGM*

    I missed the post where you recommended Free Food for Millionaires! I recently read Min Jin Lee’s new book Pachinko, which took awhile to hook me but totally did. I’ve been recommending it to everyone. (I also met Min Jin Lee shortly after reading the book, and she is the sweetest person ever.)

    1. chocolate lover*

      Pachinko is on my to-read list! I bought the Kindle version when it was on sale. I’ve heard it’s awesome.

    2. Julianne*

      I really liked Pachinko too, but I haven’t read Free Food for Millionaires yet.

      I also read and enjoyed Lisa Ko’s The Leavers this year, which is also about immigrants (Chinese, in this case) in New York. Might be worth picking up if that’s the kind of story you’re looking for!

  4. justsomeone*

    If you liked the Jinni and the Golem, and otherwise enjoy fantasy, S.A. Chakraborty’s The City of Brass is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

    1. Caledonian Crow*

      I came to the comments to say the same thing! I’m halfway through The City of Brass and completely enamored with it.

  5. AVP*

    I read A Woman of Independent Means based on the rec here and LOVED it. Funny and uplifting and sort of horrifying. I read it around the same time that I read Sally Mann’s autobiography and thought they weirdly went well together.

    I’m halfway through A Little Life and I got so pre-heartbroken I put it down and am scared to pick it back up.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        It only stops getting worse when it ends. I enjoyed it a lot (well, enjoyed seems the wrong word — I found it engaging and well-written and am glad I read it and also EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE) but it is brutal.

      2. GarlicMicrowaver*

        I love tragedies, but… HUGE DISCLAIMER. This is excessive, almost to the point of being hard to believe.. Yet, I cannot put it down. I have 300 pages left to go. I don’t know whether to be frightened, curious, hopeful or everything all at once.

      3. Someone else*

        Someone asked me what this book was about when I was reading it and I told them I was so glad all I knew going in was that it would wreck me (from you noting that in this post), but that basically…think of the most horrible thing you might think of that could happen to a character. Then think of the next six most horrible things. All of that will happen and probably be worse than whatever things you thought of.

        But I couldn’t stop thinking about this book the whole time I read it. I’m still thinking about it and it’s been a few weeks now. It’s so raw and real and true when it gets inside its characters’ heads.

      4. Louella*

        Yes, I just read A Little Life based on your recommendation and I couldn’t put it down, even though it’s 720 pages and I could barely read at times through my tears. Soooooo good. So wrecking!

  6. limenotapple*

    Oh my I loved Eleanor Oliphant soooooo much. Might be one of my favorites from the year too. I don’t want to drop any spoilers, but it was so refreshing to see a book about a woman that had a payoff other than romance. Simply charming in every way.

      1. limenotapple*

        I thought so, but I know there were people who never quite liked it. She is an unlikable character at first, and I don’t think that helped, either, but I personally thought the payoff was worth sticking with it.

        1. selina kyle*

          I didn’t mind her so much as the pacing of the book at first – I only got a little into it but it just felt slow. I think I’ll try it again over the holidays, thank you :)

      2. Muriel Heslop*

        A friend of mine had a hard time getting into it but she switched to the audio version (Scottish accents!) and absolutely loved it. If you are at all interested, I encourage you to try again – it’s really good.

  7. Me2*

    Alison, I love the fact that you’re a re-reader. Helene Hanff, the author of the charming 84 Charing Cross Road, mentions in her writing that some people read many books and she reads one book over and over. I also love re-reading my childhood favorites which include The Twenty-One Balloons. If you enjoyed that you might like The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill.

    1. Jesca*

      Ya know, I agree with Helene Hanff. I re-read a lot too. For instance, I will read Jane Eyre like once every year or two. The reason is that there is so much in those characters that really makes you contemplate the complexity of personalities and what exactly does it mean to be a little hypocritical?

      1. Margali*

        Jesca, I too re-read Jane Eyre regularly. A few years ago I read Jane Slayre, which was much fun — Jane Eyre with vampires! I don’t normally like those kind of mash-ups, but there are tons of in-jokes for Eyre fans. Don’t miss the book club guide questions at the end!

    2. Margali*

      I loved The Pushcart War as a kid, and ended up reading it to my kids as their bedtime story some years ago.

      1. Tess McGill*

        The Pushcart War was my favorite book as a child! It was read aloud to me in the 5th grade (1978). Years later, when my son was 4, I found an old first edition at a book sale and quickly bought it. Fast forward to my son’s 4th grade year (2007) and I was asked to come read it aloud in his class, which I did over a period of weeks. Fast forward again to 2017 and my son spent his summer working as a camp counselor. He was required to bring a small “library” of books for all ages, and each night he would read aloud to the kids (different age group each week for 8 weeks). He begged me to let him take my old copy, and I did. He read it to the 8-10 year old campers every night for a week and they loved. I love how much that book is loved by others.

        1. Rumpled Writer*

          I loved both The Twenty-One Balloons and The Pushcart War as a kid and have revisited both as an adult. Some years ago, my bf and I went to the truly terrible wedding of one of his colleagues (it was so terrible that we were unforgivably rude and left during dinner) that had one moment of salvation: two of the guests were Jean Merrill (author of The Pushcart War) and her partner of 50ish years, Ronni Solbert who turned out to be old friends of the groom’s mother. We met them early on in the day, and I had a fabulous time chatting with them. When Jean told me that she’d written The Pushcart War, I squealed. It was such an unexpected treat to meet them both and made going to the terrible wedding worthwhile, at least until dinner. I was sad to hear that she died 5 or 6 years ago.

          1. Tess McGill*

            What a great story! I’m so envious! I, too, was sad when I learned of Jean Merrill’s death. Ronni Solbert is still alive. I recently looked up her address and I’m tempted to write a fan letter, but what do I even say? I feel like such a dork attempting to express how much I loved that book. ;)

    3. Former Employee*

      The movies version of “84 Charing Cross Road” was delightful.

      Fun Fact: Benjamin Marks, one of the owners of Marks & Co, had a son named Leo who became a cryptographer who was in charge of the British codes office during WWII.

  8. LadyKelvin*

    I just wanted to add for the non-fiction history lovers out there: Storm Before the Storm by Mike Duncan. One of the best history books I’ve read. He’s got a great storytelling-narrative-voice and it never once felt dry and non-fiction-y. Its about the period of Roman history before the fall of the Republic, so basically the years before the ascension of Caesar and Pompeii. He also reads the audiobook, and as a very successful podcaster, his reading is excellent.

  9. Ell*

    I’ve been meaning to read A Little Life for almost a year, and finally had time this week. I have about a hundred pages left. It’s amazing and beautiful but it’s also shattered me into tiny pieces everyday this week. I also loved Shrill and Lindy West in general.

    Eleanor Oliphant is next on my list, thanks!

  10. selina kyle*

    I love the film of Miss Pettigrew so I’ll have to add that to my “to read” list!
    It’s a YA book but “Lies We Tell Ourselves” by Robin Talley is amazing and deals with racism & homophobia very well. It’s a super charming book and if you liked “Cameron Post”, I think “Lies” is another good read.

  11. Emily S.*

    So glad to see Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day on here! It was my favorite of all the books I’ve read this year — I recommended it to lots of friends. Total classic!

  12. Emi.*

    Dear Alison,

    Is it unprofessional to come into work red-eyed and sniffy because I was reading a sad book on the bus?

    1. Soupspoon McGee*

      I was once late to a lab because I’d been listening to a heartbreaking podcast and I was sniffling in the car. I told my prof about it; she gave it a listen and excused my lateness while wiping her eyes.

  13. ginkgo*

    I don’t know how I missed the Other-Wordly recommendation the first time around – I worked on that book as a managing editor! (I’m no longer in publishing, but I miss it!) I’ve worked on NYT bestsellers and Amazon Best Books of the Year, etc, but it’s somehow just as thrilling to see one of “my” books pop up on AAM. :)

    (I was also just thinking about that book because one of the words in it is “komorebi,” or “sunlight filtered through the leaves of trees” in Japanese. I’m learning Japanese and started playing Animal Crossing in Japanese for practice, and there’s a “Komorebi Plaza” in the game and it kind of delights me to know that such an exquisite-sounding word is actually rather pedestrian and ordinary.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s interesting — I don’t think of myself as reading a wide variety of genres! I think I tend to stick to literary-ish fiction, although it’s true this list has a few outliers thrown in as well. I know a lot of people here like sci-fi and fantasy and I’ve only rarely been able to get into those, which has always annoyed me as it seems like there are so many books with cool premises that I could otherwise be reading!

      1. Dankar*

        If you’re interested in reading some fantasy that also deals with middle-aged married people, I suggest “Dragonsbane” by Barbara Hambly. The other books in the series are–dare I say it–bad, but the first is incredibly mature and thoughtful. It’s as much about feeling like you’ve sacrificed your career for your family as it is about the dragon slaying.

        I also thought you suggested “A Gypsy Moth Summer” this year, which I picked up and loved, but perhaps that was another site I follow..?

      2. HannahS*

        You know, if you liked The Golem and the Jinni, you might enjoy the work of Guy Gavriel Kay. His work takes place in meticulously researched analogues of real places, and while magic appears, it’s much more along the lines of things that are quietly and mysteriously occult or magic realism, rather than, like, spells and incantations. I loved Sailing to Sarantium (fake-Byzantine empire, the main story is about a mosaic maker hired to the big city, and gets tangled up with religious and political upheaval) and Under Heaven (fake-Tang dynasty China, the main stories about an old-at-heart soldier hired to, I think escort someone somewhere, a woman on a journey to fake-Mongolia to meet the husband she’s been told to marry, and another woman who gets tangled up at court). He’s written other stuff too, but those two books are my favourite.

        1. StellaM*

          Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay is one f my all-time favourites. I haven’t read Under Heaven yet but it’s on the list.

      3. Greengirl*

        I really appreciate your list because I fall into the sci-fi and fantasy crowd and rarely read literary books. Your list has been a great way to expand my reading horizons. I look forward to this round-up all year!

        If you are looking to try science fiction/fantasy writers who are more literary, I would recommend Jo Walton and Susan Palwick.

      4. Cracked Light*

        If you want to get into sci fi and you mostly like lit fic, I’d like to recommend everything by Octavia E Butler, because everything she writes is amazing, and also everything by Nnedi Okorafor, especially The Book of Phoenix.

        If you like history plus humour plus relationships, then there’s a lot of SFF/alternate history/fantasy books. (Personally, I prefer the books written by women with female main characters, because some of the male authors seem to think alt history or fantasy worlds are an excuse to be -ist without consequences, and my life is too short for that.)

        I really liked Patricia C Wrede’s Mairelon books, or her Dragons series, or her books with Caroline Stevermer, Sorcery and Cecelia/The Grand Tour (sort of regency romance/napoleonic wars, but with magic? And written in epistolary style.)

        1. justsomeone*

          You might want to check out the Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone, Cracked Light. His stuff is alternate earth-ish, but he writes women, people of color and varying gender and sexuality SO WELL. His women are believable and feel real. Unlike Andy Weir – his female protag in Artemis was so bad it was insulting.

  14. K.*

    A Little Life was one of the best books I read last year … and I will likely never read it again. It’s excellent and engrossing, but it gets very, very dark. Very.

    I second The Mothers. Are we recommending other books? If so, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi is phenomenal.

    1. LouG*

      I was sobbing by the end of Little Life. Still, I loved it and could not put it down. It’s a hard book to recommend to other people though…

      1. K.*

        I had a couple of people tell me they did NOT want to read it after they looked it up when I recommended it. Verbatim, my best friend’s husband said “HARD pass.”

  15. Jim*

    I second the recommendation for “All Our Wrong Todays.” I read it back in April, and I’m still mildly obsessed with it. It’s technically sci-fi, but I don’t think you have to be a big sci-fi fan to enjoy it, maybe just someone who’s familiar with “The Jetsons” and “Back to the Future.” (There are a couple of discussions in the book of how time travel would actually work, but it’s probably safe to let your eyes glaze over when you get to those parts.)

  16. Margali*

    If you are someone who experienced abuse growing up, I would be cautious about reading A Little Life. I read it for book club, and we had a great discussion, but I spent most of the book thinking, “Oh, I REALLY hope my friend L NEVER picks this up.”

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Thanks for the heads up, although personally I’m okay with reading about trauma – what I really need warning about are books about loving parents. They’re the ones that upset me.

  17. beanie beans*

    Yay book recommendations!

    Also, WOW if that’s just the list of the ones you recommend, your total list of all the books you read in a year must be huge! Impressive!

  18. StellaM*

    Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is delightful. The film (with Frances McDormand, Amy Adams, Lee Pace, and Ciaran Hinds) is also fantastic.

    And I am always happy to see people talking about A Woman of Independent Means. A long-time favourite of mine.

  19. NotThatGardner*

    i have to say, i’m on my second listening of the audiobook of “shrill” and lindy does the reading herself and it adds SUCH an amazing layer to that book that i almost exclusively recommend people listen to it when they are physically able instead of reading it.

  20. Aaron*

    Atlas Obscura has become a very popular coffee table book for me! Looooove it, though I wish I had it before some of my international vacations this year.

    One of the most compelling books I read this year was Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg. I went in thinking it was a business book, but it really isn’t. As a man who lost both my mom and only brother in the same year, in my mid-20s, it resonated deeply with me.

  21. Pam*

    Try books by Mary Lasswell. She has a series, named after the first book, Suds in Your Eye, about three little old ladies, starting in the late 1930’s who drink beer, have a good time, and make people happy.

  22. XK*

    I’m surprised you enjoyed “A Woman of Independent Means” as much as you did. Granted, I have re-read it several times, and I find I enjoy it less each time. It’s like I try to find why it’s good, but instead find more disappointment. I’d be interested if you have the same experience eventually – granted, it would be a very long time to find out!

    1. Former Employee*

      I never read the book. Try watching the miniseries with Sally Field. It was made in the 1990’s. I’m a big Sally Field fan and tend to like almost anything that features her.

      Totally off topic, but a cable channel I get has been re-running the “ER” series and I saw some of the episodes where Sally Field plays Maura Tierney’s bi-polar mother, Maggie. Well worth a second look.

  23. Dolly Curtright*

    Love book recommendations!!! Here is one of mine- Code Name Verity. WW2, French resistance, women spies.

  24. Erin*

    Thank you for recommending So You’ve Been Publically Shamed, I saw it for the first time here and listened to it on audio. So good.

    For books I read this year, I’d like to recommend The Chemist. By the same author as Twilight, but good God you’d never know. It’s just everything I’d expect from a solid story.

    1. PlainJane*

      I listened to So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and found some of it good but a lot of it annoying. The author spent too much time on some examples, though others were fascinating. I’ll second the recommendation for The Chemist. Great, great story. It warrants a family warning: as in, warn your family that you will ignore them until you’ve finished it.

  25. purpleparrots*

    Every year when you post this list, I open up my public library web site and start a “20?? AAM Reading List.” I have three years worth now and I remove books as I read them. You have excellent taste and I look forward to these so much!

  26. Amber Rose*

    It’s not a new book by any means, but if you like literary fiction and satire/comedy, I recommend Happiness(TM) by Will Ferguson. The premise is pretty simple: what if there was a self help book that actually worked? Like, reading it would actually make you rich, and happy, and lose weight/quit smoking, etc.

    The results are amazing.

    I actually recommend all his writing, most of which is non-fiction and almost all of which makes me laugh until I can’t breathe. He’s one of my top five favorite authors. I typically only read fantasy, but my aunt gave me I Was a Teenage Katima-victim years ago and I’ve been hooked since.

  27. Deirdre*

    The Humans. I have read that book at least four times. My favorite quote. “To be a human is to state the obvious. Repeatedly. Over and over, until the end of time.”

    I paid full price for this book and don’t regret one penny of it.

  28. beans*

    A Little Life is soooo good and soooo devastating. It kept me up late too. I was totally hooked on it. To the point that one day while riding the metro, standing and reading this book, I fainted. I’ve never fainted before in my life. I was at a particularly rough part of the book and was so absorbed by it that I didn’t realize I had locked my knees and was reducing circulation to my head! (At least I think that is what was happening. Some combination of locked knees + motion sickness + Yanagihara = fainting spell.) Totally recommend the book tho, maybe just sit down to read it. Also her Instagram is beautiful.

  29. Rachel Green*

    Thanks for sharing these book recommendations! Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was one of my favorites this year, too! A couple of my recommendations would be:

    1. Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. This one came up in the comments section here, about a person having trouble making it work on time because of sleep issues. I have recommended this to everyone I know and I just think the information is just really important and interesting.
    2. Trials of the Earth by Mary Mann Hamilton. This is the autobiography of a woman who lived in the Mississippi Delta in the late 1800’s. It will make you appreciate heat/AC and running water.

  30. Cuddles Chatterji*

    It’s long and has been around for a while, but I read A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth this year and looooved it. A Dickensian cast of characters set in India a few years after Partition–sign me the heck up. My hardback copy is 1300+ pages, but darn if I couldn’t have 1300 more pages about the lives of all the fascinating characters…

    1. Kate in Scotland*

      I am so sad there isn’t an unabridged audio version of A Suitable Boy. I love it so much, but I have problems with my vision and have switched entirely to audiobooks now.

  31. socrescentfresh*

    I just finished the audiobook of So You’ve Been Publicly shamed and highly recommend it, as long as you like Jon Ronson’s voice (it’s not for everyone but I adore it). Granted, you miss out on the few photos in the book, but his inflection in some of the stories is priceless. Like the chapter where he goes to a film set for, ah, adult videos. His utterly dry delivery made the audiobook an instant favorite.

  32. Matilda Jeffries*

    Thank you so much for doing this list every year! I think you and I have very similar taste in reading materials. :)

    Some of my favourites, from this year and previous:

    Jane Steele, by Lindsay Faye (which I thought was an AAM rec as well, but I can’t seem to find it.) A “gothic retelling of Jane Eyre,” which includes the delightful line “Reader, I murdered him.”

    The Weird Sisters, by Eleanor Brown. Three adult sisters return to live with their parents for various reasons. This book is all about their relationships with each other, and their parents, and with books.

    Alison, if you like Carol Shields and books about middle aged married people, you might like Small Ceremonies as well.

    Finally for fans of magical realism: A Tale For The Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki; and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, by Helen Oyeymi (actually everything by Helen Oyeymi, but this is the one I’ve read most recently.)

  33. Wendy Darling*

    I liked 2/3 of 4, 3, 2, 1 and then I kind of decided that I hated the main character, and having to spend 300 more pages with him became unpleasant. I just really did NOT like him as a person. He was a very well-written person I couldn’t stand, but the entire book is totally centered around him and his thoughts and feelings so when I got sick of his nonsense there was nowhere to hide.

  34. Zhu*

    Super eclectic list! Love it. I found myself bookmarking a dozen of your picks.

    As someone constantly looking for new books with an open mind, may I suggest you to start writing book descriptions? You’re REALLY good at it and this is hard (been querying… :-()

  35. karen*

    This list was so timely — it’s my turn to pick the next bookclub book and I realized I didn’t have anything lined up!

    I also loved A Little Life. I devoured it in three days (I went to work!) and just absolutely loved it even though it was emotionally devastating. I often feel weird recommending it to people since I cried so much!

  36. Bruce A Wayne*

    Looking down the 2017 list I became aware I purchased four books this year. And Alison is four for four. I enjoyed them all.

  37. Julianne*

    Just a few recommendations of my own: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.

  38. Kali*

    I loved Eleanor Oliphant, apart from that one twist at the end.


    I thought I was reading about someone getting away from a narcissistic parent, and then it turned into someone dealing with their own…hallucinations, I guess? Both could work; it was the bait and switch that I felt really weakened the plot there.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      ** More spoilers **

      I think that’s what was so powerful about it — it was about the power that trauma can have on us, and how it can control us in ways that are so compelling that we don’t necessarily see the role it’s playing in our lives until we escape it.

      I loved it, but I can see how it could be off-putting if you were expecting something else!

  39. Laura*

    Thanks so much for always posting book recommendations!

    My favorites this year were:
    Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
    Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (This is a perfect book club book because there’s so much to talk about. I read it on my own, but convinced my book club to read it next month so I can discuss it with people.)
    Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (There’s a bit of magical realism that you have to go along with. I found this to be an interesting take on refugees. This author has a unique writing style that I really like. I loved another book by him that I read a few years ago also – How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.)
    The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood (This book gave me warm fuzzy feelings. Anyone who liked the Storied Life of AJ Fikry should read this book. It has a similar level of charm.)
    A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (I laughed out loud and cried, sometimes in the same paragraph.)
    Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (If you like family dramas, you’ll like this one.)
    The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (A YA book, but great for adults too. This has been referred to as the black lives matter book, but it’s so much more than that. It’s also a story of figuring out where you belong and how you fit in the world.)
    Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston (Another YA book, this time about a girl dealing with the aftermath of being raped. It’s far more uplifting than Life After Life, though.)
    Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman (An interesting commentary on the different ways American society judges women, told through the lens of how different famous women are considered to be too “something”. While I didn’t agree with the author 100%, I found it to be a very interesting, well-researched, and well-written book that made me think and examine my own biases.)

    1. Greengirl*

      I loved Exit, Pursued by a Bear! I listened to the audiobook which was also quite excellent. For Hsakespeare nerds, it’s a retelling of The Winter’s Tale where Hermione is a teenaged cheerleader.

  40. Former Employee*

    Older books to consider:

    Heartburn by Nora Ephron
    This is Water by David Foster Wallace (It’s a commencement address he gave at Kenyon College so it’s very short)
    Lovingkindness by Anne Roiphe
    Troublemaker by Leah Remini
    The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
    Never Change by Elizabeth Berg
    Life Drawing by Robin Black

    And if you are an Anna Kendrick fan and haven’t seen “The Accountant”, I recommend it, but it’s pretty violent. It stars Ben Affleck, but Anna Kendrick’s part is pretty substantial. It also features J.K. Simmons, John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor and Jean Smart.

  41. Alexandra Lynch*

    The “Unmentionables” book wasn’t very good unless what you’re wanting is a look at the past where you can scream with laughter and horror at those weird people. She freaked out about crotchless underwear. Let me tell you, when you have fifteen yards of fabric wrapped round you from waist to ankle, you will bless being able to just hike your skirts up, sit down, and let fly, not fuss with trying to get your underwear down. And that was why it was done that way. Corsets are a lovely thing for people with back trouble or large breasts. Sure, some women tightlaced. Some women wear six inch heels, modernly, and stay so thin their periods stop. It doesn’t mean either heeled shoes or diets are necessarily harmful to everyone. I really didn’t like her tone.

    You do better to read “How To Be A Victorian” by Ruth Goodman.

  42. Wren*

    I read The Birthday Party, and Rabbit Cake.

    Birthday Party is quite a story and a great read, but I found it a dated. I can’t imagine that if it were written today that the role of race would be handled (or really barely handled) the way it was.

    I loved Rabbit Cake! It’s been years since I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (and it’s time for a re-read, since I just saw the stage play and it was flat out *amazing* Really outstanding production design,) but it reminded me of it in that the protagonist has a very different approach to the world, even if in this case she isn’t an autistic teen, but an 11 year old child with a very different mind and breadth of experience from your average adult.

    4 3 2 1 sounds, in premise, a lot like Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life (I have not read it yet, but I’ve read her Jackson Brodie series.)

  43. BarkusOrlyus*

    A Little Life should have some sort of disclaimer. I actually had to throw it in the trash. It’s not a bad book at all but DEFINITELY not one that is suitable for a person with severe depression

  44. LSP*

    I recommend “Turtles All the Way Down” by John Green. It’s a YA novel, but beautifully done and gives excellent insight into what it is to live with an “invisible” illness (in this case OCD).

  45. Lori Summers*

    I have a NY resolution to read at least two books a month and I’m using this post as a jumping-off point. I just finished “Do Not Become Alarmed” in two sittings and I’m about to start “Eleanor Oliphant.”

    I’m an author myself and I used to work at Borders, so I have lots of book recommendations. Some of them are pretty common ones. A quick sampling off the top of my head:

    “Shadow of the Wind” by Carl Ruiz Zafon
    “As the Crow Flies” by Anne-Marie MacDonald
    “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell (this is one of the best books I’ve ever read)
    “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt
    “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan
    “Pattern Recognition” by William Gibson
    “Lamb” by Christopher Moore (this one will have you crying with laughter)

    But the book I hand-sold the most copies of as a bookseller was a little, obscure book called “Ella Minnow Pea” by Mark Dunn. You can read it in one sitting and at the climactic moment, I literally jumped off the couch and leapt around the living room.

    The premise: the inhabitants of an independent island nation have as their patron saint native son Nevin Nollop, who invented the pangrammatic sentence “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” This sentence is written on tiles at the town center by Nollop’s statue – but one night one of the tiles falls. The council decides that it’s a Sign from Nollop that they are not to use that letter anymore, and forbid it in writing or speech.

    And then another letter falls. And another.

    The best part? The book is EPISTOLARY, written in the form of letters between the island’s inhabitants, which means that the author must obey the same letter restrictions as the characters. The letters grow progressively more tortured as more and more letters are forbidden. To prove to the council that Nollop was not divine and that these fallen letters are not signs from on high, the citizens begin a grassroots project to devise another sentence that uses all 26 letters, but is shorter than Nollop’s.

    The book is a love letter to all those who love language and writing, a condemnation of the power of fundamentalism, and a truly creative exercise.

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