Here are the best books I read or listened to in 2017 (out of a total of 42).
- #1 Overall – Stay with Me, by Ayobami Adebayo. Gorgeous novel: delicious prose, constant surprises, deep emotion.
- Most Fun Overall – Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood. Delightful update of an old tale of prison and revenge. Advice: Review the plot of Shakespeare’s The Tempest before reading (for example, on Wikipedia). (My review. And in case you want another economist’s endorsement, here’s Tyler Cowen’s.)
- Most darkly funny – and Mrs. Doctor, by Julie Iromuanya. This book will make you groan, cringe, and shudder as the protagonist goes to increasingly precarious lengths to maintain his pretense of success in America after emigrating from Nigeria. (My review at Brittle Paper.)
- Most uncomfortably funny – A Horse Walks into a Bar, by David Grossman (translated by Jessica Cohen). “Magnificently comic and sucker-punch-tragic excursion into brilliance.” -Gary Shteyngart in the New York Times.
- Most frightening as a parent and a husband – The Dinner, by Herman Koch. Serious questions about inheritability of character and responsibility to our children versus others, all wrapped up in a thriller.
- Most eerie – Fever Dream, by Samanta Shweblin (translated by Megan McDowell). “This powerful and at times deeply sinister tale is anything but straightforward.” -Hannah Beckerman in The Guardian
- Awesomely craziest audiobook – Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders. Audiobook incorporates 166 different voice actors, several recognizable. Wild ride. Won this year’s Man Booker Prize.
- Best botany-themed – The Seed Thief, by Jacqui L’Ange. A botanist travels from South Africa to Brazil “to infiltrate a religious sect and find some seeds.” Excitement and botany ensue. (My review.)
- Indonesia, Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation, by Elisabeth Pisani. This is a mix of history and culture and travel memoir, but it was a great introduction to a country I knew little about. (My review.)
- The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, by Glen Weldon. I enjoy comics, and I’m interested in the history of characters. So I love that Weldon has read every Batman comic ever and watched every movie and cartoon and TV show and can boil it all down. I’ve been listening to Weldon for years on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast and so enjoyed listening to him read the audiobook.
- Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay. Astute essays on living life as an obese woman in America. Powerful and traumatic. (My review.)
- The Black Penguin, by Andrew Evans. Dual memoir of growing up gay and Mormon, and of taking buses from Washington, D.C., to southern Chile, en route to Antarctica. (My review.)
Best Economics and Social Science
- Experimental Conversations: Perspectives on Randomized Trials in Development Economics, by Tim Ogden. This collection provides great insight into many of the great minds of those producing and using development economics in our time. (My review.)
- Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This short book had lots of useful, provocative ideas on how to instill gender inequality in my children. (My review.)
- Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport. I listened to this twice. I still don’t manage focused work very well, but Newport makes a great case for the value of undistracted time for generating serious ideas.
- Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, by Krista Tippett. Over many years, Tippett has interviewed activists and poets and spiritual leaders and philosophers for her radio program. Here she distills some of what she’s learned. The audiobook uses excerpts from the radio program; it’s great.
Best Graphic Novel
- Marvel (Volume 6): Civil War II, by Wilson and Miyazawa. This isn’t the best of the Ms. Marvel books (and I recommend all of them), but even so, it endearing and thought-provoking around the price we are willing to pay for safety, as well as family and friendship.
Best Children’s and Young Adult
- Finn Family Moomintroll, by Tove Jansson (translated by Elizabeth Portch). On a trip to Finland, I asked what books every adult in Finland has read (more or less). The series of Moomin children’s books were one of the first responses. I read this to my seven-year-old daughter. Imagine Winnie the Pooh, but with magic and more randomness. Deeply creative. (My review.) I also really enjoyed the first volume of Moomin comics, Moomin Book 1: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip.
- Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor. Imagine Harry Potter set in Nigeria with an awesome female albino protagonist. Once it got moving, I couldn’t put it down. Neither could my teenage son.
- I Will Always Write Back, by Ganda, Alifirenka, and Welch. These letters from a boy in Zambia and a girl in the USA provide a demonstration of what child sponsorship programs can sometimes do. (See some evidence on them here.) Also provides a child-accessible characterization of poverty in a Zambian urban slum.
- I finally read the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I loved the exploration of alternate histories in a world of which I’ve grown very fond. I read Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to my sons. Both remain delightful. And I re-listened to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Despite a few slow parts (fine when listening at double speed), it has one of the best villains in the series. Great fun.
What did I get wrong? What did you read and love?
I also read a number of books of religious history or religious thought. You can read about my favorites among those here.