Best of 2017 – Books
There was some good news for local book lovers this year. Literary bookshop Riffraff opened in Olneyville, and used book stalwart Paper Nautilus successfully relocated after getting kicked out of their Wayland Square home. A bunch authors passed through Providence – Brown University is useful to locals in this regard, and the monthly Point Street Reading Series also helped immensely – while on the geographic periphery there were heaps of events at Savoy Bookshop in Westerly and An Unlikely Story in Plainville.
According to Goodreads I finished 29 books this year, many of which were guided by which authors were appearing locally. (I should mention that for this same reason I started a bunch of other books and never got to the end because I was too busy with deadlines. Sorry Christina Baker Cline, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, etc!)
Here are notes on my favorite titles of the year.
10. Annie Hartnett, Rabbit Cake
Elvis, brainy Alabama animal lover, copes with the sudden loss of her mother, and meanwhile her sister goes off the rails in Providence author Hartnett’s sweet debut.
9. Ottessa Moshfegh, Homesick For Another World
I didn’t love Moshfegh’s first story collection, the follow-up to her acclaimed novel Eileen. (Everyone had too many pimples.) But I read these stories last winter and there are two or thre – the last one, particularly – that I still keep thinking about.
8. Max Winter, Exes
From my Goodreads review: “Surely the most Rhode Islandy novel I’ve ever read, with torn-from-the-headlines plot points ranging from the Streuver Brothers debacle to the Coffee Exchange bathroom camera pervert guy.” Max Winter is to gastrointestinal problems as Ottessa Moshfegh is to pimples.
7. Édouard Louis, The End of Eddy
First published in French a few years ago, this brief and well-regarded autobiographical novel about growing up gay in a bleak northern town didn’t pack the punch I was hoping. I loved it in May and barely remember it now.
6. Leah Carroll, Down City: A Daughter’s Story of Love, Memory, and Murder
Cranston native Leah Carroll had a tumultuous upbringing. Her mother was killed by mob goons when she was a small child, and her father’s body was found twelve years later in a room at the Sportman’s Inn. It’s an interesting story with lots of local flavor.
5. Omar Sakr, These Wild Houses
A brief, elegant collection of poems from a queer Arab Australian.
4. Alana Massey, All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers
Massey is one of my favorite internet people, and her pop culture writing translates very well into book form. (That’s pretty rare, actually.)
3. Constance De Jong, Modern Love
Originally published in installments between 1975 and 1977, De Jong’s swoony postmodern genre hopper got reissued this spring by Ugly Duckling Presse.
2. Patricia Lockwood, Priestdaddy
This memoir by Twitter phenomenon Patricia Lockwood is hilarious and fascinating. Raised in a rectory by an actual Catholic priest, Lockwood approaches religion with an insider’s detachment. (If you liked Lady Bird…)
1. Gabe Habash, Stephen Florida
The novel I wouldn’t shut up about this year features the unraveling of a North Dakota college wrestler. Great writing, creepy plot, and Stephen is a fascinatingly unappealing protagonist.
Sarah Lohman’s Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine technically came out at the tail end of 2016, but I picked the book up after she gave a talk this spring. It’s a well-written book with a lot of fascinating trivia and kooky recipes.
Let’s Pretend It Never Happened
I had very bad luck this year picking out crime novels, but none were as tedious as John Le Carré’s latest, A Legacy of Spies, which was the dreariest thing I’ve trudged through in years. The author wrote on auto-pilot, seemingly relishing the opportunity to explain facts via East German government documents.