A Year in Reading: 2017

Over the last 13 years, the Year in Reading has collected the book recommendations and musings of some of the most brilliant readers and writers working today.  Looking at the series over time it becomes an instrument of measurement, not only for tracking the way the site itself has grown and evolved, but for recording the big books of the moment, or the books of yesteryear that readers never tire of discovering anew. It can also capture--in a glancing, kaleidoscopic way--the general mood of the professional reading public.  The 2016 Year in Reading was in some respects pretty grim, as contributors tried to reconcile reading, at its heart an intensely private, personal passion, with the requirements of being human in a world where bad things persist in happening. This year I'd like to focus on the good things. The Year in Reading is my favorite thing we do at this site, and I'm so grateful for the writers who gave generously of their time to participate. I'm grateful for the dedicated readers who navigate here every morning and give the site a reason to live, and for the supporters who are helping us secure the future. This is our 14th year, and 14 years is an eon in Internet Time.  The Millions won't survive the heat death of the universe, but it has already stuck around longer than at least some bad things will. A lot of our 2017 Year in Reading contributors were anxious and tired and read less than they would have liked. The good news is that they still did a lot of excellent, engaged reading. The good news is that there are more exquisite and important things to read than you'll ever read in your lifetime. The good news is that books are still the vehicles for inquiry, revelation, devastation, and joy that they have always been. The names of our 2017 contributors will be unveiled throughout the month as entries are published (starting with our traditional opener from Languagehat’s Stephen Dodson later this morning). Bookmark this post, load up the main pagesubscribe to our RSS feed, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter to make sure you don’t miss an entry — we’ll run three or four per day. And if you look forward to the Year in Reading every year, please consider supporting the site and ensuring this December tradition continues for years to come. -Lydia Kiesling Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now. Stephen Dodson, co-author of Uglier Than a Monkey’s Armpit, proprietor of Languagehat. Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage. Eugene Lim, author of Dear Cyborgs. Edan Lepucki, contributing editor and author of Woman No. 17. Sonya Chung, contributing editor and author of The Loved Ones. Emily St. John Mandel, staff writer and author of Station Eleven. Nick Ripatrazone, contributing editor and author of Ember Days. Garth Risk Hallberg, contributing editor and author of City on Fire. Janet Potter, staff writer. Louise Erdrich, author of LaRose. Ahmed Saadawi, author of Frankenstein in Baghdad. Jesmyn Ward, author of Sing, Unburied, Sing. Jeff VanderMeer, author of Borne. Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Book of Joan. Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You. Carmen Maria Machado, author of Her Body and Other Parties. Kevin Young, author of Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News. Yoko Tawada, author of Memoirs of a Polar Bear. Danzy Senna, author of New People. Jenny Zhang is a poet and writer. Matthew Klam, author of Who Is Rich. Paul Yoon, author of The Mountain. Julie Buntin, author of Marlena. Brandon Taylor, associate editor of Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading and a staff writer at Literary Hub. Hannah Gersen, staff writer and author of Home Field. Matt Seidel, staff writer. Zoë Ruiz, staff writer. Clare Cameron, staff writer and author of The Last Neanderthal. Il’ja Rákoš, staff writer. Ismail Muhammad, staff writer. Thomas Beckwith, staff writer. Michael Pollan, author of Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. Jeff Chang, author of Can't Stop, Won't Stop. Robin Sloan, author of Sourdough. Juan Villoro, author of The Reef. Chiwan Choi, author of The Yellow House. Scaachi Koul, author of One Day We'll All Be Dead And None Of This Will Matter. Gabe Habash, author of Stephen Florida. Ayobami Adebayo, author of Stay with Me. Kaveh Akbar, author of Calling a Wolf a Wolf. Kima Jones, founder of Jack Jones Literary Arts. Vanessa Hua, author of A River of Stars. Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 [millions_ad]

David France Wins the 2017 Baillie Gifford Prize

The Baillie Gifford Prize (previously the Samuel Johnson Prize), which celebrates the best non-fiction writing, awarded the 2017 prize to How to Survive a Plague by David France. How to Survive a Plague chronicles the AIDS epidemic from 1981 to 1996 when there was not an effective treatment for HIV and diagnosis meant almost certain death. A witness account—which revealed the often grueling, heartbreaking work and research done by patients and activists—brings to light the people who helped make HIV survivable. About the book, Sarah Whitley—partner of Baillie Gifford and Chair of its Sponsorship Committee—said: "I am pleased to award the second Baillie Gifford Prize to a book that combines a very important piece of social history, unforgettable to those of us who were young adults in the early 1980s, describes collective action in the face of official intransigence and also outlines the ultimate achievement of controlling a modern plague.” Bonus Links: How to Survive A Plague was featured in Richard Russo‘s 2016 year in reading. The Shortlist announcement which included our own Mark O'Connell.

2017 National Book Award Winners Announced

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The 2017 National Book Award winners were announced tonight in New York City. The big prize for Fiction went to Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. In her review for our site, Nur Nasreen Ibrahim wrote, "All of Ward’s characters in Sing, Unburied, Sing live with trauma." She continues: The dead in Sing, Unburied, Sing are needy because they have no choice. Trauma demands attention, yet that attention brings chaos into the characters’ lives. The act of writing and reading such stories also demands that oppressor and oppressed address their positions in an unjust society. Literature and history occupy the same role, as record-keepers of injustice, and of experiences. In her remarks beginning the awards ceremony, host Cynthia Nixon observed that 15 of the 20 finalists this year were women – the most ever – and when it was all was said and done, that 75% ratio held for the winners as well. For the record, male authors swept last year's awards. The award in the Young People's Literature category went to Robin Benway for Far from the Tree. The Nonfiction award went to Masha Gessen for The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. (Bonus: Our interview with Gessen from last February.) The Poetry award was won by Frank Bidart for Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016, which our own Nick Ripatrazone previewed in his monthly poetry column for our site: A massive book that covers 50 years of words, Bidart’s collected contains enough routes and themes to produce years of reading. His style—capitalized words, italics, shifting speakers, personae, autobiography—result in a modern mythmaker who channels the old masters. A poet finely attuned to the contours of sensuality, he can simultaneously be spare and weighty.   Bonus Links: Earlier in the year we dove into both the Shortlist and the Longlist to share excerpts and reviews where available.

November Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semiannual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around).  Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments! Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich: A new offering from Erdrich on the heels of her National Book Critics Circle Award win for LaRose last year. The new book takes place during an environmental cataclysm—evolution has begun reversing itself, and pregnant women are being rounded up and confined. A pregnant woman who was adopted in infancy from her Ojibwe birth mother returns to her mother’s reservation to pursue her own origin story even while society crumbles around her. (Lydia)   Don’t Save Anything by James Salter: November 2017. I remember hearing Salter read his heartbreaking story “Last Night” to a captivated audience in Newark, N.J., at Rutgers University—it was a moment of shared intimacy that I’ve rarely experienced at a reading. Salter had a presence both on and off the page. Don’t Save Anything collects Salter’s previously uncollected non-fiction; essays that appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, People, and elsewhere. The book’s title comes from a line from one of Salter’s final interviews: “You try to put everything you have in a book. That is, don’t save anything for the next one.” (Nick R.) Mean by Myriam Gurba: In her coming-of-age nonfiction novel about growing up queer and Chicana, Gurba takes on misogyny, racism, homophobia, and classism with cutting humor. Mean will make you LOL and break your heart. Mean has already received advance praise from brilliant, badass feminist writers Jill Soloway, Michelle Tea, and Wendy C. Ortiz. Gurba’s previous book Dahlia Season won the Edmund White Award and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award. (Zoë)   Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News by Kevin Young: An extremely timely book by the polymath poet recently named Poetry Editor of The New Yorker.  Longlisted for the National Book Award, Bunk is a look at the hoax as an American phenomenon, often connected to racism. This has many implications for the present; in a starred review, Library Journal says "the final chapter touches on the current 'post-fact' world and its rejection of expertise, raising important questions about how we can know the truth." (Lydia)   Houses of Ravicka by Renee Gladman: This fall Dorothy Project publishes Houses of Ravicka, the fourth book in Gladman’s series of novels set in the city-state of Ravicka and told in the author’s nimble prose. The books catalog the intricacies of language and architecture and their intersection—something Gladman’s recent Prose Architectures from Wave Press does quite literally. As The Renaissance Society notes, “Gladman approaches language as a space to enter and travel within, and her writing is attuned to the body as it moves through architectures of thought and experience.” In this latest volume, Ravicka’s comptroller tracks the ways the houses in the city-state shift with time. (Anne) The World Goes On by László Krasznahorkai: The Hungarian author has described his style as “fun in hell.” With this, the seventh! New Directions translation of his work, English language hell just got even more fun. A giant with an H2O fixation and a Portuguese child quarry slave on a quest for the surreal are just two of the characters met in this short story collection that examines the practicalities of cultural entropy, and stylistically sacrifices little of the author’s depth, range, and extraordinary stacking of subordinate clauses. These stories should provide the uninitiated with a workable introduction to Krasznahorkai and his formidable oeuvre. (Il’ja) Heather, the Totality by Matthew Weiner: The creator of Mad Men and former writer and producer for The Sopranos applies his screenwriting chops to literary fiction with this debut novel. Set in a privileged milieu in modern-day New York, it’s been described as “a dark fable,” “a collision course,” and, most intriguingly, by Philip Pullman, as a story characterized by an “ice-cold mercilessness reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh.” At 144 pages, this novel apparently cuts to the chase and doesn’t spare any of its characters. (Hannah)   They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib: A collection of essays on music, culture, and personal history from the poet and Year in Reading alum (and MTV News writer, before MTV News made their woeful decision to “pivot to video”). Terrance Hayes writes, “Abdurraqib bridges the bravado and bling of praise with the blood and tears of elegy.” (Lydia)     The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson: This is the first English translation of The Odyssey by a woman, ever, and it kills. Wilson, who is a Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, matched the number of lines in her translation to that of the original text and fit a beautiful but also very readable kind of English to iambic pentameter, creating an Odyssey that is actually fun to read. (Lydia)       Improvement by Joan Silber: A novel featuring cigarette smuggling, single parenting, prison, and rug collectors, the beginning of which was published in Tin House and appears in Best American Short Stories. In a starred review, Kirkus says "There is something so refreshing and genuine about this book." (Lydia)       Wonder Valley by Ivy Pochoda: An L.A. novel about a teenager escaping from his father's commune that a starred Kirkus review calls "an absorbing, finely detailed, nasty California noir." Our own Edan Lepucki says "this novel paints an unforgettable portrait of people who long, above all else, for community and connection."       Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben: Is it a surprise that the debut novel from one of our best-known environmental activists focuses on grassroots resistance? In backwoods Vermont, two radicals use an underground radio show to recruit people interested in seceding from the United States. What follows is a zany, witty, and altogether timely imagination of modern resistors. (Nick M.)      

Colson Whitehead Wins the 2017 Hurston/Wright Literary Fiction Award

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On Friday October 20th the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy awards were held in Washington DC at the Washington Plaza hotel. Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad won for fiction and Kali Nicole Gross won the non fiction award for Hannah Mary Tabbs and the Disembodied Torso: A Tale of Race, Sex, and Violence in America. The debut fiction award went to Damnificados by J.J. Amaworo Wilson and Donika Kelly's Bestiary won the award for poetry. "The Hurston/Wright Legacy Award honors the best in Black literature in the United States and around the globe. Introduced in 2001, the Legacy Award was the first national award presented to Black writers by a national organization of Black writers. " The shortlist and winners are selected by several judges. The Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, received the North Star Award which is given to those with outstanding writing careers and a commitment to helping the writing community.  Rep. John Lewis received the Ella Baker Award which is given to artists and writers who advocate for social justice. Third World press founder Haki Madhubuti won the Madam C.J. Walker Award which honors businesses that have shown exceptional innovation in supporting and sustaining Black literature. For more information you can visit the Hurston/Wright website or follow them on Twitter. There's also a feature on the winners in the Washington Post.

2017’s Literary Geniuses

The winners of this year's MacArthur Fellowship "Genius grant" have been announced. The grant awards $625,000 with “no strings attached” to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” Along with scientists, artists, community leaders, and social justice organizers, there are new geniuses from the literary world. Here are this year's literary fellows: Viet Thanh Nguyen—the cultural critic, scholar, and fiction writer—won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his debut novel, The Sympathizer. In Claire Mussad's 2015 Year in Reading, she described Nguyen's first novel as "rich, surprising, and often darkly funny." Nguyen often writes about the Vietnam War—attempting to portray a more balanced, complete portrait of it and its aftermath—and the way war reverberates in our lives and memory. You can read Nguyen's Year in Reading which included works by Helen Macdonald, Vu Tran, and 2016 MacArthus Genuis Claudia Rankine (he felt "pinned down by the power of [her] language, politics, and vision"). His 2016 nonfiction book, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, was a National Book Award Finalist. His newest book, a collection of short stories called The Refugees, was included in our Great 2017 Book Preview. Jesmyn Ward, novelist, writes extensively about the lives of African Americans in the rural south. Ward's newest novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, is a 2017 National Book Award Finalist for Fiction (her previous novel Salvage the Bones (2011) won the same award).  The novel, which mixes the real and magical in rural Mississippi, follows Jojo—a 13-year-old of mixed race—and his drug addicted mother as they drive to pick his father up from prison. Our review described Ward's newest novel as an exploration of the "legacy of trauma" in a deeply divided society "where the oppressor and the oppressed share a legacy." In an interview with The Millions, Ward said that she is constantly thinking about the intersection of race, violence, the South, and the ways history "bears on the present." She said, "I’m always thinking about how black people survive. How people are marginalized in the South and the way they still survive that oppression." The single playwright among the fellows is Annie Baker, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for "The Flick," which follows three employees at a run-down movie theater in Massachusetts. The foundation describes her work as "exploring the complexities of human behavior and the ways in which language is often inadequate to build true understanding between people." Nikole Hannah-Jones works as a staff writer at The New York Times Magazine where she investigates racial injustice. In 2015, she helped found the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, which seeks to increase investigative opportunities for reporters and editors of color. She writes extensively about segregation and integration, particularly in education, for ProPublicaNPR, and The New York Times Magazine. Her piece, "Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City," is part-memoir, part-reported piece that reveals "school segregation is not an isolated phenomenon but rather a defining factor of most cities across the country."

2017 Baillie Gifford Prize Shortlist Announced

The Baillie Gifford Prize (previously the Samuel Johnson Prize), which celebrates the best of non-fiction writing, announced their shortlist on October 5. The nominees' works explored topics such as Islam, AIDS, immigration, technology, and Jewish history through narrative reporting and/or memoir. This year's shortlist includes the following six titles: The Islamic Enlightenment: The Modern Struggle Between Faith and Reason by Christopher de Bellaigue How to Survive A Plague by David France (Featured in Richard Russo's year in reading) Border: A Journey to The Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova (Listed in the second half of our 2017 Great Book Preview) An Odyssey: A Father, A Son and An Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn (Read our 2012 interview with Mendelsohn) To Be A Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death by Mark O’Connell (An interview with O'Connell, who is one of our staff writers) Belonging: the Story of the Jews, 1492-1900 by Simon Schama  

Kazuo Ishiguro Wins the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature

The 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature and its 9m Swedish krona purse ($1,095,939.52) was awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro in a ceremony broadcast live online. The British author has written seven novels, most recently The Buried Giant, and in 1989 he won the prestigious Man Booker Prize for The Remains of the Day. As of this morning's standings on popular British betting site Ladbrokes, Ishiguro was not in the top-three most likely Nobel laureates, and so his victory comes as a surprise – albeit a much more mild one than last year's left field selection of Bob Dylan. Ishiguro's novels have long been favorites of Millions readers. His name has popped up in many of our Year in Reading entries, and his sixth novel, Never Let Me Go, earned a spot on our 2009 "Best of the Millennium" series. "They say that most novelists end up writing the same book over and over again: a truth which manifests itself differently in the work of different novelists," wrote Elif Batuman. "In the novels of Kazuo Ishiguro, it takes the form of an incredibly elegant formal unity." His work also takes the form of surprise, as noted by Millions editor Lydia Kiesling: It is a great thing to be surprised by a novelist.  ...  The surprise in a large part of Kazuo Ishiguro’s work is that he changes the very quality of the world in some subtle but deeply alarming way; suddenly the sky is a gray shade, your own voice vibrates at a slightly different frequency, and an atonal humming sound wafts on the breeze. The bar for participating in post-Nobel activities was set unbelievably low last year, when surprise winner Bob Dylan went two months before even acknowledging his honor. It's doubtful this year's winner will continue that trend.

2017 National Book Award Finalists Announced

It's officially fall, so that means it's officially book award season, and nothing marks its advent like naming the National Book Award finalists. Winners will be announced in New York City on November 15. The short list is headlined by Jesmyn Ward, whose Sing, Unburied, Sing appeared in two recent essays on our site. Four of the five Fiction finalists made appearances in our indispensable first-half and second-half previews. Here’s a list of the finalists in all four categories with bonus links and excerpts where available: Fiction: Dark at the Crossing by Elliot Ackerman (excerpt) The Leavers by Lisa Ko (excerpt; A Most Anticipated Book) Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (People Without a Home: On Min Jin Lee’s PachinkoA Most Anticipated Book) Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado (A Most Anticipated Book) Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (Literature’s Inherited Trauma: On Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, SingSearching for Complexity: Motherhood in FictionA Most Anticipated Book) Nonfiction: Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar (excerpt) The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald (excerpt) The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen (Surviving Trump: Masha Gessen Wants You to Remember the Future) Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann (excerpt) Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean (Surviving Koch: Nancy MacLean Wants You to Ignore Donald Trump) Poetry: Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 by Frank Bidart (The Poet and the Movie Star: An Evening with Frank Bidart and James Franco) The Book of Endings by Leslie Harrison WHEREAS by Layli Long Soldier (Start With These Five New Books of Poetry) In the Language of My Captor by Shane McCrae Don't Call Us Dead: Poems by Danez Smith (The Nu-Audacity School of Poetry) Young People's Literature: What Girls Are Made Of by Elana K. Arnold Far from the Tree by Robin Benway (excerpt) I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez (excerpt) Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia (excerpt) American Street by Ibi Zoboi (excerpt)