Library staffers share their best books of 2017
As 2017 comes to a close, with all its turbulence–for better or worse–one thing remains constant: great books of all flavors.
Staff from all across the library share their favorites; read on for LPL’s best books of 2017.
Shirley Braunlich, reader’s services assistant: “The Turtle’s Beating Heart: One Family’s Story of Lenape Survival” by Denise Low is a memoir of deep exploration into the author’s ancestry. Thoughtful personal stories of family are beautifully interlaced with poetic prose and occasional wry humor. References to Lenape (Delaware) Indian landmarks in Lawrence are also noted. Also, “Wildness: Relations of People and Place” is an anthology of essays about human relationships to the natural world, self-determination and holistic environmental sustainability. Among the noteworthy authors included are Robin Wall Kimmerer, Wes Jackson, Vandana Shiva, Rob Dunn, Joel Salatin and Courtney White.
Dan Coleman, collection development librarian: British zoologist Nicola Davies has long been one of my favorite children’s authors, and this year she has outdone herself with “Song of the Wild: A First Book of Animals.” Featuring the richly colored paintings of veteran Czech illustrator Petr Horacek, the book consists of over 50 poems broken up into five thematic sections, revealing wonder after wonder of the animal world. At over 100 pages, with ample room on pages nearly a square foot in size, this book will have a place in children’s lives from their earliest lap-sitting days through the years they are able to read by themselves.
Kate Gramlich, readers’ services assistant: I’m going to throw in what I think is the funniest book of this year: “We Are Never Meeting in Real Life” by essayist and blogger Samantha Irby. What makes this book so good is the unflinching honesty and humor she employs when sharing not only embarrassing moments in her life, but also moments of serious struggle. She does an amazing job of balancing humor and sharp wit with insightful social commentary, and I can’t wait to see what comes next for her.
Eli Hoelscher, reader’s services assistant: It took me a second to fall under Wioletta Greg’s spell in “Swallowing Mercury,” crafted from pastoral scenes and a somewhat confabulated childhood memory of rural life in 1970s communist Poland. As it undulates from grim to fantastic moments, this dreamlike autobiographical novel pulled me in deeper with every stirring vignette; it’s a work that will stay with me for a long, long time.
Polli Kenn, reader’s services coordinator: “Heating and Cooling” by Beth Ann Fennelly: a surprising, stunning, tiny gem of a book. Funny, true and heartbreaking, Fennelly’s concise, perfect prose has a poetic sensibility. You’ll find every word in just the right place in these micro-memoirs of a life, seen from the midway vantage point. Read slowly to savor, then reread several times to remind yourself how perfect this wee book is.
Kimberly Lopez, reader’s services assistant: It’s difficult to choose just one favorite book of 2017, so why not two? “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee impacted me the most. A multi-generational tale of one Korean family living in Japan, this story is enlightening, enraging and emotional. I absolutely fell in love with all of the characters and never wanted to let them go. I honestly don’t see how I can ever forget them. This is easily one of the best historical fiction novels I have ever read. I also adored “The Bear and the Nightingale” by Katherine Arden, a fantasy novel based on Russian folklore. The writing style is absolutely gorgeous, the setting is so atmospheric (equal parts magical and creepy), and the heroine is someone you can really root for.
Sarah Matthews, account services assistant: Long after reading “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid, I find myself thinking of Nadia and Saeed, whose fledgling love affair begins as their country finds itself on the brink of civil war. What struck me the most was the ease of it all. Gunfire and bombings startle at first, but slowly become the new normal. The characters worry as much about holding hands or kissing as they do about newly imposed curfews and checkpoints. It was downright chilling how naturally it all came to be, and yet the story is full of hope and magic and indelible beauty. Picking my favorite of the year was no easy task, but this one really stuck with me in a way that nothing else did.
William Ottens, cataloging and collection development coordinator: “This Book Is Not for You” by Daniel Hoyt: townies, last calls at the Replay, a plot to blow up Wescoe Hall — disregard the title, Lawrence, this book is for you. Maybe it was because of the familiar setting, maybe because it reminded me of the debauchery of my early twenties, or maybe because Dan Hoyt is a gritty but charmingly witty storyteller, but I could not stop reading this one. Short chapters make for an easily digestible but chaotic experience with as much clarity as a hangover. All the pieces eventually come together. And you’d best not read this on a digital device. Let’s just say the protagonist would not approve.
Lauren Taylor, youth services assistant: I am a sucker for a good romance with an excellent meet-cute, and “When Dimple Met Rishi” does not disappoint. Paired together by their parents, the title characters meet outside a Starbucks, where Rishi jokes about being Dimple’s future husband. The catch? Dimple has no idea who he is, throws her hot latte on him and runs away. This book has so much heart and encapsulates the immigrant experience while rolling out a romance worthy of young adult fame.
Jake Vail, information services assistant: Everybody’s favorite cantankerous hermit is the subject of — wait a minute! He wasn’t that cantankerous, and Henry Thoreau was certainly not a hermit! Laura Dassow Walls’ “Henry David Thoreau: A Life” is my choice for 2017 Book of the Year. In easy-to-read yet scholarly fashion, Walls peels back the layers heaped upon “Henerey Thorow” (as he was called) and takes a good look around, providing new cultural and natural context to Thoreau’s life and works. The result is a triumph in un-pigeonholing, a fascinating look at the rapidly changing world that moved around Thoreau and how he came to view it. An easy choice for book of the year, for Henry’s 200th birthday.
Meredith Wiggins, readers’ services assistant: This year, I fell in love with three books that explored human connection in very different ways: “Lincoln in the Bardo,” by George Saunders, which melded historical fiction about a well-known historical figure with ghost stories to gorgeous, devastating effect (my true #1); “Exit West,” by Mohsin Hamid, which used magical realism to speak to the real effects of false boundaries on human lives; and “Anything is Possible,” by Elizabeth Strout, which took us into the life of a town with a famous daughter, examining, in a series of short stories of one chapter each, how her life intersected with that of the other townspeople. Each of these books challenged me, delighted me and moved me to tears.