The best books of 2017

Michael Silverblatt’s favorite books of the year (in no particular order). Read the Bookworm’s list of books to restore your faith in humanity, here. 

Shadowbahn by Steve Erickson  (Dutton/Penguin)

A novel that astonishes immediately with the shock of its opening image; the Twin Towers appear on a freeway in the badlands. No, they’re not a mirage. The resurrection causes all of recent American history to be re-imagined.

To my way of thinking, Steve Erickson is one of America’s six, no five greatest living novelists (William H. Gass died earlier this month) and this is one of his wildest and most daring books. The young protagonists learn more about what we once dreamed for America and how we manifested those dreams in our popular music. A visionary novel about the end of the American dream.

After Kathy Acker:  A Literary Biography by Chris Kraus (semiotext(e)/ Native Agents)

This is an extraordinary book about the development of a modern writer. Kathy Acker brought the avant-garde novel to a new level of feminist intensity—and Chris Kraus brings her radically perceptive eye to Acker’s stylistics as well as to her sexuality. I found the book brilliant.

The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington (Dorothy, a publishing project)

These eerie, surreal stories are brought together for the first time in a single volume by this adventurous young press. Carrington is a bonafide surrealist, (she was close to Max Ernst) and author of works that are dazzlingly strange.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Random House)

George Saunders (Photo: Alex Pieros)

This is the finest American novel I’ve read in many years. It’s about the events after the death of Abraham Lincoln’s beloved son, Willie. George Saunders takes the incredible risk of following Willie into the realm between life and death, what Buddhists call the Bardo. This novel attempts to imagine the afterlife — its last third is one of the triumphs of American fiction of any time, not just of this year.

Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig (Grove Press)

I was afraid to begin this novel; I know nothing about Burma (Myanmar is its name today). While the book is set in Burma, its real subjects are love and beauty over generations. I was knocked out by the ambition and accomplishment of Charmaine Craig’s novel. And, yes, there is a beauty pageant and you will meet Miss Burma.

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende (Atria)

I was honored and delighted to have Isabel Allende visit us at KCRW’s studios recently — she brings a tenderness and vivacity with her that are also the hallmarks of this new novel.  The title comes from the famous quote from Albert Camus, “In the midst of winter I found there was within me an invincible summer.”  If you need to find your invincible summer try this book. It’s a new direction for Allende: it’s suspenseful, takes place mostly in Brooklyn, and it takes care to thaw the frozen heart.

New People by Danzy Senna (Riverhead Books)

This biracial novel is funny and startling, moving us into the new age of racial fluidity with an aplomb that makes it look easy. It’s not easy; it’s profound.

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li (Random House)

A moving, disturbing memoir of this writer’s struggle with suicidal depression. Her book helped me through a period of grief and mourning. What more can you ask from a work of literature?

There are Things More Beautiful than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker (Tin House Books)

You might think the title says it all, but this book of poetry is more than its title. It’s quirky, electric, funny and arrogant. The fight a gifted black woman wages in the age of celebrity is fought in the pages of Morgan Parker’s powerful work.

Lowly by Alan Felsenthal (Ugly Duckling Presse)

I am still recovering from the honor of having this poet’s first book of poems dedicated to me.  It’s a search for permanent values in the emptied-out world, a book in which the life of this young poet is seen as an outgrowth of his spiritual and philosophical development.  Lowly would be an achievement at any point in a poet’s career, as a first book it’s nearly unthinkable.

The Essential W. S. Merwin Copper Canyon Press

W. S. Merwin’s editor, Michael Wiegers, made this exquisite selection for the great poet’s 90th Birthday. This handy book is a great gift for everyone. What can we say about Merwin? Ethereal, mysterious, hard-headed, protective of the earth and its occupants.  At this time of year, don’t let this book pass you by.

The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington (Dorothy, a publishing project)

These eerie, surreal stories are brought together for the first time in a single volume by this adventurous young press. Carrington is a bonafide surrealist, (she was close to Max Ernst) and author of works that are dazzlingly strange.