Ten books to read from 2017 (part 2 of 6)

Every two months, I’ll wrangle up ten of my favorite books that I’ve come across to recommend to friends and family (plus random internet strangers). These might range from books I think are the “best” to ones that just surprised me to authors I interviewed. You can read about my recommendations from January and February here.

Here are ten from March and April in the order that they were released. 

Literature can explore so much, but sometimes, exploring the realities of life are glorious/horrific/touching/etc enough. Modern stories are often scoffed at by people who care about the canon. These books, ranging from a true story about a hermit in the woods to an exploration into the meaning of life told in the form of a graphic novel all touch on what it means to be human in the modern world.

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel

This non-fiction book explores “The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit.” That hermit is Christopher Knight, who purposefully disappeared into the Maine woods as a 20-year-old in 1986. Finkel tracks the years Knight spent stealing supplies from homes and what the man’s life was life. The majority of the story is based on actual interviews Finkel conducted with Knight after he was finally caught a few years ago.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

When their country is on the brink of war, Nadia and Saeed forge a relationship. It’s friendship, sexual, romantic, and necessary to survive. The country remains nameless because the books – while about politics – is meant to be viewed universally. The struggles these two face mirror a lot of what is currently happening within our global political landscape.

One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel

Read my interview with the author.

An unnamed boy narrates the story about his father’s journey after a divorce. The boy and his older brother have been told countless times how evil their mother is. However, it turns out that the father is an addict and it’s all his fault. That’s the basic premise of Magariel’s debut. However, that doesn’t do the book justice. His novel is written with such heaviness in such a short amount of pages. He doesn’t waste time and though your read can be over in less than a day, the content will stay with you long after.

The Idiot by Elif Batuman

Collegiate coming-of-age stories are hit or miss. They can either drown in cliches or rise above them. Batuman’s novel is able to soar. It touches on so many themes ranging from womanhood to immigration. While the main character of Selin is one of a kind, her story remains universal. We all have that moment that remains influential in our lives and we desperately want to hold onto – or forget – it. Batuman captures that moment.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hanna Tinti

After spending years on the road, raising his daughter in motels, Samuel Hawley decides to settle down to raise Loo, who is now a teenager. Tinti weaves Hawley’s mysterious past with such precise tension that rivals the greatest suspense writers. She uses the character’s twelve bullet wounds as a structural device that keeps fresh throughout the 400 pages and each section is as compelling as the last. There is never a lull, which is an outstanding accomplishment.

American War by Omar El Akkad

This literary speculative fiction is one I keep thinking about over and over. It’s set in 2074-2095 and there’s another American Civil War. A young girl sees the horrors of life and grows up fighting. The steps Sarat takes in life can be viewed as heroic or villainous. This book follows her arc from innocent child to what a human can be turned into during a time of war.

 Marlena by Julie Buntin

When high schooler Cat meets Marlena, her world changes. She experiences a series of firsts thanks to her new friend, but then Marlena ends up dead. This leaves a lasting mark on Cat and the story shifts from that year to decades later. Half of the novel is an ace coming-of-age. The other enlightens readers on what happens after.

No One is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

Read my interview with the author.

The characters’ desires in this novel purposefully echo the ones from F. Scott Fizgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby. The parallels between the two works themes are obvious, but do not go into this thinking it is a retelling. Watts has crafted her own world that stands on rich characters and eloquent prose.

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

It’s mesmerizing what Arimah can do with a seemingly traditional idea and stretch it into something distinct. Stories include a generational tale about ghosts of war, a father’s attempts to protect his daughter, a woman desperate for a child, and more. However, there is much more to these stories than a simple fragmented synopsis. For instance, the mother who wants a child weaves one out of her hair. Get ready to be wowed by these stories.

Imagine Only Wanting This by Kristen Radtke

This graphic novel is based around different moments in a young woman’s life. Radtke’s memoir was never meant to be graphic, but it turned out to be the best way she could explore life and death. She has questions she needs to ask even though there might not be answers. Her work can uplift your or depress you; however, that’s not the point. The point is to think.

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