Best of 2017 (New to Me)

I have officially abandoned all sense of decorum in my “best of” lists. Because these books are old. Some of them are really, embarrassingly old. Feel free to mock me for never reading these books prior to 2017. Gripe at me for including them on a year-end list when they weren’t published anywhere in or around 2017. Straight up hate me if you have to. But read. Read everything. And when you find something truly outstanding, pass it along to others. Even if in doing so, you also break all rules of decorum.

Shantaram
by Gregory David Roberts

“It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured.”

So begins this epic, mesmerizing first novel set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. Shantaramis narrated by Lin, an escaped convict with a false passport who flees maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear.

Accompanied by his guide and faithful friend, Prabaker, the two enter Bombay’s hidden society of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries, who seek in this remarkable place what they cannot find elsewhere.

As a hunted man without a home, family, or identity, Lin searches for love and meaning while running a clinic in one of the city’s poorest slums, and serving his apprenticeship in the dark arts of the Bombay mafia. The search leads him to war, prison torture, murder, and a series of enigmatic and bloody betrayals. The keys to unlock the mysteries and intrigues that bind Lin are held by two people. The first is Khader Khan: mafia godfather, criminal-philosopher-saint, and mentor to Lin in the underworld of the Golden City. The second is Karla: elusive, dangerous, and beautiful, whose passions are driven by secrets that torment her and yet give her a terrible power.

Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas—this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart. Based on the life of the author, it is by any measure the debut of an extraordinary voice in literature.

Horrorstor
By Grady Hendrix

A traditional haunted house story in a thoroughly contemporary setting, Horrorstör comes packaged in the form of a glossy mail order catalog, complete with product illustrations, a home delivery order form, and a map of Orsk’s labyrinthine showroom. It’s “a treat for fans of The Evil Dead or Zombieland, complete with affordable solutions for better living.”—Kirkus Reviews.

Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.

To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.

The Son
By Philip Meyer

Part epic of Texas, part classic coming-of-age story, part unflinching examination of the bloody price of power, The Son is a gripping and utterly transporting novel that maps the legacy of violence in the American west with rare emotional acuity, even as it presents an intimate portrait of one family across two centuries.

Eli McCullough is just twelve-years-old when a marauding band of Comanche storm his Texas homestead and brutally murder his mother and sister, taking him as a captive. Despite their torture and cruelty, Eli–against all odds–adapts to life with the Comanche, learning their ways, their language, taking on a new name, finding a place as the adopted son of the chief of the band, and fighting their wars against not only other Indians, but white men, too-complicating his sense of loyalty, his promised vengeance, and his very understanding of self. But when disease, starvation, and westward expansion finally decimate the Comanche, Eli is left alone in a world in which he belongs nowhere, neither white nor Indian, civilized or fully wild.

Deftly interweaving Eli’s story with those of his son, Peter, and his great-granddaughter, JA, The Son deftly explores the legacy of Eli’s ruthlessness, his drive to power, and his life-long status as an outsider, even as the McCullough family rises to become one of the richest in Texas, a ranching-and-oil dynasty of unsurpassed wealth and privilege.

Harrowing, panoramic, and deeply evocative, The Son is a fully realized masterwork in the greatest tradition of the American canon-an unforgettable novel that combines the narrative prowess of Larry McMurtry with the knife edge sharpness of Cormac McCarthy.

Rules of Civility
By Amor Towles

On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker, happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society—where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

With its sparkling depiction of New York’s social strata, its intricate imagery and themes, and its immensely appealing characters, Rules of Civility won the hearts of readers and critics alike.

A Thousand Acres
By Jane Smiley

This powerful twentieth-century reimagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear centers on a wealthy Iowa farmer who decides to divide his farm between his three daughters. When the youngest objects, she is cut out of his will. This sets off a chain of events that brings dark truths to light and explodes long-suppressed emotions. Ambitiously conceived and stunningly written, A Thousand Acres takes on themes of truth, justice, love, and pride—and reveals the beautiful yet treacherous topography of humanity.