Last Tuesday, we brought you our favorite nonfiction books from the past year. Next week, we’re going to post our favorite children’s books from the experts in Oz. (Don’t forget to share with us your personal favorites; see below). But today, we’re going to share our favorites in the glamour category: fiction. These books made us laugh, cry, and helped us connect more deeply with the world around, like all great stories do. Without further ado, here are each of our staff’s favorite fiction books of the year:
- John Evans, bookstore owner – Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin
- Kelly, general manager – The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
- Austen, operations manager – Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
It was with wonder and awe that I read Lincoln in the Bardo. With his first novel, George Saunders subverts the structural integrity of the form nearly to collapse, but apparently, he can dance en pointe. Mr. Saunders was able to transmute the most somber subject into something both wildly entertaining and profound. This is a malformed and superb piece of art.
- Lisa, first editions manager – Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin
Mark Helprin gave his first book to his friend and well-known writer John Cheever with the hope that he would write a favorable review. When Cheever rejected the book and wrote a review for another writer, Helprin described the rejection as a “double lightning bolt of anger and shame.” And so his first book, Dove of the East, has no blurbs on the dust jacket, just a photo of Mark Helprin on the back of the dust jacket looking rather melancholy. To this day, Helprin writes no reviews or blurbs for other writers, he does not long for prizes, and he occupies himself with a large life beyond writing his best-selling novels. He shared in the Paris Review that it was “Flaubert who said something like ‘live like a bourgeois so you can write like a wildman.’” Though others continue to blurb, I will not blurb Mark Helprin’s Paris in the Present Tense. Just read it and live wild.
- Hillary, front desk manager – History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
From the very beginning of History of Wolves, I could literally feel the anticipation building. I just knew something was going to happen, yet the shock factor was still there when it did. This is a eloquently written debut novel with a fascinating story. Emily Fridlund has a masterful way with words, no doubt, her writing is beautiful.
- Clara, Oz manager – The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead
Why is The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine my favorite fiction book this year? In publishing, it is not too rare for a well-known author’s work to be found and published posthumously. However, in the case of this book, Phil and Erin Stead managed to take sixteen pages of notes from a bedtime story that Mark Twain told his daughters, and turn it into a true literary masterpiece over a century later. Phil holds a conversation with the ghost of Mark Twain (which is hilarious) and Erin’s illustrations are airy and lovely, as always. They truly breathe life into the story. So what’s the right age for this book? I’d say somewhere from 6 to 96. There are a handful of times where I walk out of the store, a book under my arm, and race home to read it. Not only did I do that, but I felt somehow as if I was reading a lost masterpiece of children’s literature. There’s only one time I’ve had that experience, and it was with The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine.
- Abbie, fiction supervisor – The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon
The Confusion of Languages is about two military wives who aren’t too fond of each other but have to band together to navigate life in Jordan. It’s a beautiful, well-written story about how kindness, friendship, and otherness translate between cultures.
- Guy, First Editions Club supervisor – Dinner at the Center of the Earth by Nathan Englander
Dinner at the Center of the Earth gave me the chance to look closely at something, all at once individual and global, and to work backwards and forwards through its history. This is a wild, prismatic spy novel full of strange facets and wonderfully flawed characters. It’s fractured and beautiful and just what you need to puzzle over.
- Andrew, blog supervisor – Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith
Desperation Road is a stunning second novel by Michael Farris Smith. It’s long, elegant sentences bring urgency and dignity to two desperate citizens, a drifter with her daughter and an ex-con, living on the margins in south Mississippi. It tells the story of the tragedy that binds them together, and the hope that can bring them forward.
- Pat, bookseller – Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Exit West is a short book packed with big ideas. It’s the story of day to day survival in a mid-Eastern country where love and hope bloom in the midst of bombs exploding at any and every corner.
- Ellen, bookseller – The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
The Heart’s Invisible Furies is the story of the life of Cyril Avery, from conception to end of life. Cyril comes roaring into the world in Ireland during the year of 1946. He is alive during the heyday of the IRA and the height of bigotry and intolerance for homosexuals in Ireland, so he therefore is forced to hide his homosexuality for years. His story takes us to Amsterdam and all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City. Fact: Cyril has many hardships in his life. However, this book is not some unending sob story due to the fact that it is balanced with wonderful humor. This is a novel of redemption and it just couldn’t have been a better story. (I fear for the immortal soul of the person who does not love this book.)
- Katie, bookseller – Human Acts by Han Kang
Kang’s second book published in English, Human Acts tells the story of the Gwanju uprising that occurred in South Korea in the 1980’s. This is one of the most beautiful, most powerful books I have read this year.
- Jamie, bookseller – Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Nothing I read this year matched Sing, Unburied, Sing‘s lyric beauty. The characters are compelling and believable, and Ward’s prose is perfect.
- Aimee, bookseller – Celine by Peter Heller
Of all the books I read this year, Celine has stuck with me the best. The writing style and the plot itself contribute to what I now call one of my all time favorite books. Celine is the woman I want to be when I’m in my 60s.
- Hunter, bookseller – American War by Omar El Akkad
- Trianne, bookseller – Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides
Fresh Complaint is a collection of short stories that is both practical and profound, capturing the lovely details of every day life while examining the underlying existential questions.
- Taylor, bookseller – Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar
- Julia, bookseller – The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas
- Abigail, bookseller – The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
- Dorian, bookseller – Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Reading Sing, Unburied, Sing was like the shadow of Toni Morrison’s younger self snuck up behind me and gave me something else to think about. Jesmyn Ward is an inspired voice sounding at a time when it is most needed.
- Erica, Oz bookseller – Caraval by Stephanie Garber
- Diane, Oz bookseller – The Explorer by Katherine Rundell
Did you enjoy our recommendations? We hope so–but we want to hear from you, dear readers! Tell us your favorite fiction, nonfiction, or children’s books published in 2017. Reach out to us on social media, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or come visit us at the store! All we need is your name and your favorite book of 2017, and a brief description like the ones above and a picture of your book if you wish. We will be dedicating a post next week to our the customers and community of Lemuria. Here’s to a happy new year, full of more great books!