100 Notable Books of 2017

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The year’s notable fiction, poetry and nonfiction, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. This list represents books reviewed since Dec. 4, 2016, when we published our previous Notables list.

Fiction & Poetry

AMERICAN WAR by Omar El Akkad
This haunting debut novel imagines the events that lead up to and follow the Second American Civil War at the turn of the 22nd century.

ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE by Elizabeth Strout
This audacious novel is about small-town characters struggling to make sense of past family traumas.

AUTUMN by Ali Smith
Smith’s ingenious novel is about the friendship between a 101-year-old man and a 32-year-old woman in Britain after the Brexit vote.

Hadley serves up the bitter along with the delicious in these 10 stories.

BEAUTIFUL ANIMALS by Lawrence Osborne
On a Greek island, two wealthy young women encounter a handsome Syrian refugee, whom they endeavor to help, with disastrous results.

THE BOOK OF JOAN by Lidia Yuknavitch
In this brilliant novel, Earth, circa 2049, has been devastated by global warming and war.

A BOY IN WINTER by Rachel Seiffert
Seiffert’s intricate novel probes the bonds and betrayals in a Ukrainian town as it succumbs to Hitler.

THE CHANGELING by Victor LaValle
LaValle’s novel, about Apollo Kagwa, a used-book dealer, blends social criticism with horror, while remaining steadfastly literary.

CHRISTMAS DAYS: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days by Jeanette Winterson
A gift book from the British novelist, containing otherworldly and wickedly funny stories.

This funny, perceptive and ambitious work of historical fiction by a Kenyan poet and novelist explores his country’s colonial past.

THE DARK FLOOD RISES by Margaret Drabble
This masterly novel follows its 70-something heroine on a road trip through England.

THE DINNER PARTY: And Other Stories by Joshua Ferris
Anxiety, self-consciousness and humiliation are the default inner states of the characters in these 11 stories.

This novel’s densely woven plot involves an independent-minded widow and the possible haunting presence of a giant serpent.

EXIT WEST by Mohsin Hamid
The new novel by the author of “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” and “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” mixes global unrest with a bit of the fantastic.

FAST by Jorie Graham
Graham created these poems against a backdrop of personal and political trauma — her parents are dying, she is undergoing cancer treatment, the nation is mired in war and ecological crisis.

FIVE-CARAT SOUL by James McBride
In his delightful first story collection, the author of the National Book Award-winning novel “The Good Lord Bird” continues to explore race, masculinity, music and history.

FOREST DARK by Nicole Krauss
Tracing the lives of two Americans in Israel, this restless novel explores the mysteries of disconnection and the divided self.

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
Auster’s book is an epic bildungsroman that presents the reader with four versions of the formative years of a Jewish boy born in Newark in 1947.

FRESH COMPLAINT: Stories by Jeffrey Eugenides
Eugenides’s expert debut collection of short stories is his first book since “The Marriage Plot” in 2011.

What if human beings are neither inevitable nor ultimate? That’s the premise of Erdrich’s fascinating new novel.

GIVING GODHEAD by Dylan Krieger
Seamlessly mixing the religious with the obscene, Krieger’s poetry is inventive and powerful.

HISTORY OF WOLVES by Emily Fridlund
A slow-motion tragedy unfolds in Minnesota’s north woods in Fridlund’s disturbing debut.

HOME FIRE by Kamila Shamsie
A bold retelling of Sophocles’ “Antigone” that follows the lives of three British siblings of Pakistani descent.

The insightful stories in this dark debut collection are about “loneliness, desire, hope and self-awareness.”

A HORSE WALKS INTO A BAR by David Grossman, translated by Jessica Cohen
Grossman’s magnificently funny, sucker-punch-tragic novel about a tormented stand-up comedian combines comic dexterity with Portnoyish detail.

THE IDIOT by Elif Batuman
An innocent, language-intoxicated teenager, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives at Harvard in the ’90s to pursue love and (especially) literature in Batuman’s hefty, gorgeous digressive slab of a novel.

ILL WILL by Dan Chaon
Chaon’s dark, disturbing literary thriller encompasses drug addiction, accusations of satanic abuse and a self-deluding Midwestern psychologist.

A KIND OF FREEDOM by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
This assured first novel shines an unflinching, compassionate light on three generations of a black family in New Orleans.

LESS by Andrew Sean Greer
On the eve of his 50th birthday and a former lover’s wedding, a mediocre novelist takes refuge in literary invitations that enable him to travel around the world.

LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders
In this Man Booker Prize-winning first novel by a master of the short story, Abraham Lincoln visits the grave of his son Willie in 1862, and is surrounded by ghosts in purgatory.

MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan
Egan’s engaging novel tells overlapping stories, but is most fundamentally about a young woman who works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard during World War II.

MRS. OSMOND by John Banville
Banville’s sequel to Henry James’s “Portrait of a Lady” follows Isabel Archer back to Rome and the possible end of her marriage.

MY ABSOLUTE DARLING by Gabriel Tallent
The heroine of this debut novel is Turtle, a 14-year-old who grows up feral in the forests and hills of Northern California.

NEW PEOPLE by Danzy Senna
Senna’s sinister and charming novel, about a married couple who are both biracial, riffs on themes she’s made her own — about what happens when races and cultures mingle in the home, and under the skin.

THE NINTH HOUR by Alice McDermott
In McDermott’s novel, the cause of a young Irish widow and her daughter is taken up by the nuns of a Brooklyn convent.

PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee
This stunning novel chronicling four generations of an ethnic Korean family in Japan is about outsiders and much more.

THE POWER by Naomi Alderman
In this fierce and unsettling novel, the ability to generate a dangerous electrical force from their bodies lets women take control, resulting in a vast, systemic upheaval of gender dynamics across the globe.

THE REFUGEES by Viet Thanh Nguyen
This superb collection of stories concerns men and women displaced from wartime Saigon and (mostly) settled in California.

SELECTION DAY by Aravind Adiga
Adiga’s third novel (he won the Booker Prize in 2008 for “The White Tiger”) is a sharp look at modern India. It revolves around two teenage brothers groomed by their father to be cricket stars.

A SEPARATION by Katie Kitamura
Deceptions pile on deceptions in this coolly unsettling postmodern mystery, in which a British woman travels to a Greek fishing village to search for her estranged husband, who has disappeared.

Ward’s novel, which won the National Book Award, combines aspects of the American road novel and the ghost story with an exploration of the long aftershocks of a hurricane.

SIX FOUR by Hideo Yokoyama, translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies
A former criminal investigator, now working in police media relations, faces angry reporters, the nagging 14-year-old case of a kidnapped girl, and his own teenage daughter’s disappearance.

STAY WITH ME by Ayobami Adebayo
This debut novel is a portrait of a marriage in Nigeria beginning in the politically tumultous 1980s.

THE STONE SKY: The Broken Earth: Book Three by N.K. Jemisin
Jemisin won a Hugo Award for each of the first two novels in her Broken Earth trilogy. In the extraordinary conclusion, a mother and daughter do geologic battle for the fate of the earth.

TIES by Domenico Starnone, translated by Jhumpa Lahiri
The husband of the woman who has been identified as Elena Ferrante offers a powerful novel about a fraying marriage.

TRANSIT by Rachel Cusk
In the second novel of a planned trilogy, Cusk continues the story of Faye, a writer and teacher who is recently divorced and semi-broke.

WAKING LIONS by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, translated by Sondra Silverston
An Israeli doctor in the Negev accidentally hits an Eritrean immigrant, then drives off. The consequences are explored with insight and a thriller’s twists and turns.

WHEREAS by Layli Long Soldier
Long Soldier, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, troubles our consideration of the language we use to carry our personal and national narratives in this moving debut poetry collection.

WHITE TEARS by Hari Kunzru
This complex ghost story about racial privilege, cultural appropriation and the blues is written with Kunzru’s customary eloquence and skill.

WHO IS RICH? by Matthew Klam
The protagonist of this novel, a middle-aged illustrator, is a conflicted adulterer. Klam agilely balances an existentially tragic story line with morbid humor and self-assured prose.


AGE OF ANGER: A History of the Present by Pankaj Mishra
Mishra argues that broad swaths of the globe are reliving the traumas and violent dislocations that accompanied Europe’s transition to modernity in the 18th and 19th centuries.

AMERICAN FIRE: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse
Hesse tells the story of 67 fires set in Virginia during a five-month arson spree, beginning in 2012, and the mystery of why a local auto mechanic was behind them.

ANIMALS STRIKE CURIOUS POSES: Essays by Elena Passarello
Passarello presents biographies of famous animals, from an ancient mummified mammoth to Mr. Ed and Cecil the Lion.

Tyson’s absorbing retelling of the events leading up to the horrific lynching in 1955 includes an admission from Till’s accuser that some of her testimony was false.

BORN A CRIME: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
The host of “The Daily Show” writes about growing up in South Africa under apartheid, and about the country’s rocky transition into the post-apartheid era in the 1990s.

BUNK: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News by Kevin Young
Young’s enthralling and essential history is both exhaustive and unapologetically subjective — not to mention timely. Again and again, he plumbs the undercurrents of a hoax to discover the fearfulness and racism that often lurk inside.

CHURCHILL AND ORWELL: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas E. Ricks
This enjoyable dual biography draws out the common causes of these 20th-century giants: two independent thinkers and opponents of totalitarianism whose influence remains pervasive today.

The landmark American critic surveys everything from the 1968 Democratic convention to the literature of New York City.

Hayes paints a portrait of two “distinct regimes” in America — one for whites, which he calls the Nation; the other for blacks, which he calls the Colony.

THE COLOR OF LAW: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
Going back to the late 19th century, the author uncovers a policy of de jure segregation in virtually every presidential administration.

THE CRISIS OF THE MIDDLE-CLASS CONSTITUTION: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic by Ganesh Sitaraman
Sitaraman argues that the Constitution is premised on the existence of a thriving middle class, and that the current explosion of inequality will destroy it.

THE DAWN WATCH: Joseph Conrad in a Global World by Maya Jasanoff
Conrad explored the frontiers of a globalized world at the turn of the last century. Jasanoff uses Conrad’s novels and his biography to tell the history of that moment, one that mirrors our own.

Climate change, population growth and invasive species are destabilizing the Great Lakes’ wobbly ecosystem, but Egan provides a taut and cautiously hopeful narrative.

DESTINED FOR WAR: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap? by Graham Allison
Allison offers erudite historical case studies that illuminate the pressure toward military confrontation when a rising power challenges a dominant one.

DEVIL’S BARGAIN: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency by Joshua Green
Green’s book is a deeply reported and compulsively readable account of this fateful political partnership.

THE EVANGELICALS: The Struggle to Shape America by Frances FitzGerald
FitzGerald’s fair-minded history focuses on the doctrinal and political issues that have concerned white conservative Protestants since they abandoned their traditional separation from the world and merged with the Republican Party.

THE EVOLUTION OF BEAUTY: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World — and Us by Richard O. Prum
A mild-mannered ornithologist and expert on the evolution of feathers makes an impassioned case for the importance of Darwin’s second theory as his most radical and feminist.

FASTING AND FEASTING: The Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray by Adam Federman
Federman’s biography is the first of this cult food writer.

FLÂNEUSE: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London by Lauren Elkin
Elkin joins memoir and biographies of walking women like Woolf and Sand.

FRIENDS DIVIDED: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson by Gordon S. Wood
Wood traces the long, fraught ties between the second and third presidents, and sides almost reluctantly with Jefferson in their philosophical smack-down.

THE FUTURE IS HISTORY: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia by Masha Gessen
Gessen, a longtime critic of Vladimir Putin, tells the story of modern Russia through the eyes of seven individuals who found that politics was a force none of them could escape; winner of the National Book Award.

GENERATION REVOLUTION: On the Front Line Between Tradition and Change in the Middle East by Rachel Aspden
What happened to Egypt’s revolution? This excellent social history argues that despite their politics, young Egyptians did not reject the conservative mores of family and religion.

THE GLASS UNIVERSE: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel
This book, about the women “computers” whose calculations helped shape observational astronomy, is a highly engaging group portrait.

GRANT by Ron Chernow
Chernow gives us a Grant for our time, recounting not only the victories of the general but also the challenges of a president who fought against the K.K.K.

GREATER GOTHAM: A History of New York City From 1898 to 1919 by Mike Wallace
A vibrant, detailed chronicle of the 20 years that made New York City the place we know today.

THE GULF: The Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis
Davis’s sweeping history of the Gulf of Mexico takes into account colorful nature, idiosyncratic human characters and economic development.

HAMLET GLOBE TO GLOBE: Two Years, 190,000 Miles, 197 Countries, One Play by Dominic Dromgoole
To celebrate the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, London’s Globe Theater performed “Hamlet” all around the world. Dromgoole’s witty account offers insight about the play and its enduring appeal.

HENRY DAVID THOREAU: A Life by Laura Dassow Walls
This new life of Thoreau, in time for his 200th birthday, paints a moving portrait of a brilliant, complex man.

THE HOUSE OF GOVERNMENT: A Saga of the Russian Revolution by Yuri Slezkine
This history describes the lives of Bolsheviks who were swallowed up by their own cause.

THE INVENTION OF ANGELA CARTER: A Biography by Edmund Gordon
This terrific book is the first full-length biography of Carter, whose novels were fantastical, feminist and sexy.

JANESVILLE: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
Goldstein writes about the impact on the small Wisconsin factory city of the title when General Motors closes a plant there.

KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
In the 1920s, the Osage Indians had been driven onto land in Oklahoma that sat on top of immense oil deposits. The oil made the Osage rich, and then members of the nation started turning up murdered.

KRAZY: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White by Michael Tisserand
Who was the man behind “Krazy Kat”? This fascinating biography and guide to the work of the cartoonist, who passed for white, tells the full story.

LENIN: The Man, the Dictator, and the Master of Terror by Victor Sebestyen
Sebestyen has managed to produce a first-rate thriller by detailing the cynicism and murderous ambition of the founder of the Soviet Union.

LETTERMAN: The Last Giant of Late Night by Jason Zinoman
Zinoman’s lively book does impressive triple duty as an acute portrait of stardom, an insightful chronicle of three rambunctious decades of pop-culture evolution, and a very brainy fan’s notes.

LOCKING UP OUR OWN: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr.
A masterly account of how a generation of black elected officials wrestled with crises of violence and drug use by unleashing the brutal power of the criminal justice system on their constituents.

LOOKING FOR “THE STRANGER”: Albert Camus and the Life of a Literary Classic by Alice Kaplan
Impressive research illuminates the context and history of Camus’s classic novel.

THE LOST CITY OF THE MONKEY GOD: A True Story by Douglas Preston
The novelist joins a rugged expedition in search of pre-Columbian ruins in the Honduran rain forest.

NOMADLAND: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder
For three years, Bruder traveled and worked alongside “workampers,” older people, casualties of the Great Recession, who drive around the United States looking for seasonal work.

NOTES ON A FOREIGN COUNTRY: An American Abroad in a Post-American World by Suzy Hansen
Hansen, who moved to Istanbul after 9/11, grapples with her country’s violent role in the world.

PRAIRIE FIRES: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser
This thoroughly researched biography of the “Little House” author perceptively captures Wilder’s extraordinary life and legacy.

PRIESTDADDY: A Memoir by Patricia Lockwood
The poet’s memoir is fueled by a great character: her father, a rare married Catholic priest, a big bear of a man fond of guns, cream liqueurs and pork rinds.

THE SONGS WE KNOW BEST: John Ashbery’s Early Life by Karin Roffman
This first full-fledged biography of the poet is full of rich and fascinating detail.

TENEMENTS, TOWERS & TRASH: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City by Julia Wertz
Wertz has become a cult favorite for her graphic memoirs. Her new book is a departure, focusing on her great love, New York.

TO SIRI WITH LOVE: A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines by Judith Newman
Newman’s tender, boisterous memoir strips the usual zone of privacy to edge into the world her autistic son occupies.

THE UNDOING PROJECT: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis
Lewis profiles the enchanted collaboration between Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, whose groundbreaking work proved just how unreliable our intuition could be.

WE WERE EIGHT YEARS IN POWER: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A selection of Coates’s most influential pieces about race in America from The Atlantic, with subjects including Barack and Michelle Obama, Donald J. Trump, reparations and mass incarceration.

WHAT HAPPENED by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Clinton tells the story of what it was like to run for president of the United States as the first female nominee of a major party.

WORLD WITHOUT MIND: The Existential Threat of Big Tech by Franklin Foer
Foer dons the heavy mantle of cyber-skeptic with this persuasive brief against the big four tech giants who he believes pose a threat to the individual and society.

YOU SAY TO BRICK: The Life of Louis Kahn by Wendy Lesser
This biography covers the best-known works of the architect Louis Kahn as well as his complicated personal life.


Best Sellers: Just in time for the Holidays!

NYT Best Selling Combined Print & EBooks 

  1. DARKER by E. L. James (NEW)

32024902In this second book in her follow-up trilogy, which lets readers experience the original stories from Christian Grey’s perspective, E L James revisits the world of Fifty Shades with a deeper and darker take on the love story that has enthralled millions of readers around the globe. Their scorching, sensual affair ended in heartbreak and recrimination, but Christian Grey cannot get Anastasia Steele out of his mind, or his blood. Determined to win her back, he tries to suppress his darkest desires and his need for complete control, and to love Ana on her own terms. But, even if Christian can overcome all that stands between him and happiness with Ana, can a man so dark and damaged ever hope to keep her?

  1. THE ROOSTER BAR by John Grisham
  2. ORIGIN by Dan Brown
  3. THE MIDNIGHT LINE by Lee Child
  4. THE PEOPLE VS. ALEX CROSS by James Patterson
  6. PAST PERFECT by Danielle Steel (NEW)
  7. END GAME by David Baldacci
  9. HARDCORE TWENTY-FOUR by Janet Evanovich


18 Best Poetry Books to Read Right Now


I‘ve always been envious of poets. For me, poetry is acknowledgment of the primacy of the word as the building block for writing. While those who write in other genres may point to the sentence or even the paragraph as the focus for good writing, poets strip language down to bare words, and then place them together to create rhythm in the ear of the reader. This autumn, a number of outstanding poets are releasing new collections. Here we offer some notes for deciding which poets and poetry books to read as the lengthening nights and cooler temperatures summon the insistent desire to curl up and read.

The cover of the book Blue Laws

Blue Laws

Kevin Young

I first read Kevin Young in the first months after my father died. Young’s collection Book of Hours are poems that mourn the death of his father and celebrate the birth of his son. That juxtaposition of grief and joy spoke to my own sense of loss, and since then, Young’s poetry has been among my favorites.

In Blue Laws, Young has collected poems that span the twenty years between 1995 and 2015. To see this assemblage of work all together is to be astounded by Young’s range. He writes about love and loss on the personal level, but he also has given readers reflections on the blues; on the case of the slave ship, Amistad; and songs for the confederate dead. His Renaissance-man approach to poetry is on full display here.

There are no more saints—
only people with pain
who want someone to blame.
Or praise.
I am one of them, of course.

The cover of the book The Unaccompanied

The Unaccompanied

Simon Armitage

In this latest collection, Simon Armitage turns his attention to the minutia that defines Britishness. Whether it’s rambling around Coniston Water, looking back with nostalgia at the now useless Imperial measurements, or noticing the lone nurse at the busstop on her way to her night shift, The Unaccompanied reads like an old-fashioned curio cabinet.

It would be a mistake, however, to think that this is a mournful book. Flashes of humor and anger surprise the reader, as do the items that fill the writer’s cabinet’s shelves. Britishness is not defined by one’s race or ethnic heritage, but rather by the shared recognition of what is now and what has been. In one of the most powerful poems, Armitage changes how readers may think of single wooden chairs, seeing them as the site where one’s aloneness and difference from others is enacted in too many plain-walled rooms.

Songs about mills and mines and a great war,
about mermaid brides and solid gold hills,
songs from broken hymnbooks and cheesy films.

The cover of the book bone


Yrsa Daley-Ward; Foreword by Kiese Laymon

Yrsa Daley-Ward’s spare writing turns one-sentence poems into razors under a reader’s skin, or provoke a smile or joy. But that economy of words in luminous one-line poems such as “intro” or “revelation” are contrasted with multi-stanza poems such as “some kind of man” in which the history of a relationship, a life, a community are told in the poet’s at once straightforward but subtle voice.

You told me I seemed haunted.
It was 3:00 a.m. and you could still smell
the storm clouds under my skin.

The cover of the book Love in the Last Days

Love in the Last Days

D. Nurkse

How does the warrior take down his armor so that he may make himself vulnerable to love’s wounds? This ambitious work is a retelling of the story of Tristan and Iseult, the lovers whose story is found in the stories of the Celts of Ireland, Brittany, and England. In D. Nurkse’s hands, the eternal story becomes something new: an erotic, sensual masterwork that will move readers.

The poems vary in form. Some read like the epics sung by the bards, others transform words into images that stare back at the reader, while some contain an entire world in four short lines, as he does with “The Grail,” written from the first-person perspective of the object sought for in vain throughout the Middle Ages.

This is powerful yet tender reading.

She whispered my name, but backwards,
since we were not made for each other,
but to be the other’s obstacle,
cherished and loathed like the self.

The cover of the book Poet in Spain

Poet in Spain

Federico García Lorca

It has become impossible to utter the poet Federico García Lorca’s name without remembering his awful fate at the hands of one of Francisco Franco’s fascist Falange gangs: assassinated in 1936 as Spain went to war with itself to try to stop fascism. Many of the poems reference death, and the possibility that he foresaw his fate has long haunted Lorca’s readers. It has never been clear whether Lorca was killed because he was gay or because he was a leftist; in the end, it hardly seems to matter.

But if to read Lorca is at once to be reminded of the power of art, it is also to be reminded of the tremendous talent that Lorca possessed. His love sonnets carry desire in the shape of bodies. To love is a physical act, and Lorca pulls all the senses into his work. His poems about death hint at a future of a forgotten corpse, buried in the dark of night by assassins ashamed of their deeds.

Dawn entangled us in bed
mouths pressing on the icy flow
of endlessly spilling blood

The cover of the book The Rain in Portugal

The Rain in Portugal

Billy Collins

Billy Collins is one of the best-known poets in the United States; a former Poet Laureate, his work frequently appears on the best-seller lists. One of the reasons for his popularity might have something to do with the lighthearted approach he takes toward life. That’s not to say that he doesn’t also write about the long nights of the human soul, but his poems play with language in wry ways that make one smile.

In this latest collection, Collins uses his poetry as commentary on popular items in public consciousness. In addition to his mocking tribute to Keith Richards – renowned for his abilities to survive just about anything – he turns around and mocks himself for his inability to meditate and a student’s insistence on referring to “Mr. Shakespeare.” But Collins also writes of loss. His tribute to his mother, and the poem he read at Seamus Heaney’s memorial service offer comfort to those afflicted by the all-too-human condition of grief.

As long as Keith keeps talking about
the influence of the blues on the Rolling Stones,
the earth will continue to spin merrily
and revolve in a timely manner around the sun.
But if he changes the subject or even pauses
too long, it’s pretty much curtains for us all.

The cover of the book How Lovely the Ruins

How Lovely the Ruins

Spiegel & Grau

Elizabeth Alexander’s anthology is organized around multiple themes that address suffering, both individual and cultural. Here is a book by one of the most important poets writing today that is intended to work as a balm for hard times.

The poems within offer succor for pain brought from the range of human emotions. In a section entitled “The New Patriots,” poems and prose pieces confront deep fears that we are watching the dissolution of the country by offering new definitions of patriotism that are not dependent upon an unwillingness to acknowledge inequality. In “Against Tyranny,” hope is offered in a myriad of pieces that address the pain of knowing that a country is being wrongly governed. But on the individual level, poems are addressed to the grief of personal loss, or the passage of time that brings death nearer.

This collection will make a great reference for those looking for the right words in difficult situations, but will also serve as a repository of great words from some of our best writers.

Please take
this grain of a grain of hope
so that mine won’t shrink.
Please share your fragment
so that yours will grow. –Denise Levertov, “For the New Year, 1981”

The cover of the book Devotions


Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver has been writing her poems of nature, praise, and love for decades. In Devotions, she assembles work that goes back to her first published collection in 1965. For those who are longtime fans, this is an encyclopedia of her best-known work, plus many others that should be better known. For the neophyte, it provides the ultimate introduction to a national treasure.

Oliver’s popularity stems from the resonance that her poems create in readers. Whether speaking of her love for her dogs or her praise songs to the various flora and fauna that surround her New England home, or her encouragement to strike off on a journey of one’s own, Oliver’s talent with the word is as bright as the morning star.

And still, pressed deep into my mind, the river
keeps coming, touching me, passing by on its
long journey, its pale, infallible voice

The cover of the book Voyage of the Sable Venus

Voyage of the Sable Venus

Robin Coste Lewis

This gorgeous work is presented in the form of a triptych: lyric poems and others about the construction of the self bookend the piece in the middle. It is the “Voyage of the Sable Venus.” It may remind readers of the visual art form comprising collages of found objects. In this case, the “found objects” are the “titles, catalog entries, or exhibit descriptions of Western art objects in which a black female figure is present, dating from 38,000 BCE to the present.”

Juxtaposed, these words create a suffocating sense of the black female body under constant scrutiny, and yet one that is also erased. Its placement among so many other odds and ends put together in the exhibits turns the figures into objects that patrons might see and then lose as minutia in the flood of material.

Voyage of the Sable Venus feels like an instant classic.

Negro Woman Holding
A Bow and Arrow and Wearing

A Quiver

Sits on the Movement
Of the Table Clock at Her Feet

The cover of the book The Surveyors

The Surveyors

Mary Jo Salter

The title of Mary Jo Salter’s collection is a clue to its content. Her poems feature a series of individuals – sometimes the author, sometimes others – who observe or fail to observe the cultural objects in their path. And while some of these things that are viewed sit in silence in museums, some of the surveying takes place in spaces as loud and dynamic as Madison Square Garden, where Salter scrutinizes Roger Federer.

Salter’s voice is poignant when discussing the loss of a companion who died in Iraq. But her appreciation of Roger Federer’s physical form is cheeky, and provokes a smile. Perhaps the strongest moment of recognition comes in the poem that aches with nostalgia over her daughter’s former size, when she was “pastry level” as she and her mother walked the streets of Paris.

Submission is the mark of all the saints,
too humble to protest how history paints
their acts in its canonical report.
As for the rest of us, who knows our sins?

The cover of the book With the River on our Face

With the River on our Face

Emmy Pérez

Emmy Perez sings the borderlands between America and Mexico, a contested land where identity and nationality are under constant surveillance. Her poetry forces the reader to feel the persons who live in those lands. In poems that follow the currents of the Rio Grande, she re-immerses readers in the waters where we all developed, fills our senses with the scent of blooming roses, of burning mesquite, and crashes us into the barriers erected to prevent the development of cross-border relationships. Reading Perez ignites the desire to experience the heat and the sere landscape, and generates anger at the destruction of all that flourishes there.

Language can be so sexy.
It turns me on, consonance.

The cover of the book Electric Arches

Electric Arches

Eve L. Ewing

It’s difficult to write about Eve Ewing’s work. The poetry leaves me wonderstruck. Whether she’s writing of riding a bicycle as a little girl, narrating stories in her head as she rides along, or whether she is writing an affirmation for prisoners, her language shifts and mutates, pulling the reader into various shapes that reflect one’s own emotions in response to the words.

Her ode to shea butter and oil, her memories of performances by Prince, her neighborhood descriptions – Ewing’s poetry encompasses the quotidian and the sublime. And the poems themselves change shape from page to page, their bodies of text containing surprises and puzzles.

Let me be clear:
there’s nothing wrong with feeling rapture in the broke
or the broken.

The cover of the book Ordinary Beast

Ordinary Beast

Nicole Sealey

Nicole Sealey writes her poems in conversation with other writers, or the work of scientists, or even, in the remarkable poem “cento for the night i said, “i love you,” as a work in which she knits together the words of other poets to create something new.

Her poems are existentialist affirmations of life against the abyss. In “imagine sisyphus happy,” she takes the last line of Albert Camus’s essay about suicide in order to continue the dialogue, reaching across time and space to imagine how we go on when the rock escapes us. In “clue,” she turns a board game into a comic jaunt.

Pray the gods do not misquote your covetous pulse for chaos,
the black from which they were conceived. Even the eyes of gods
must adjust to light. Even gods have gods.

The cover of the book Thousands


Lightsey Darst

Organized as if they came directly from Lightsey Darst’s notebooks, this collection has an intimacy about it that speaks to the tenderness inside the reader. The poems range from reactions to pieces of art, to things the poet has read, and then, because art and life are not long separated, they become reportage from a love affair. Don’t be surprised if there’s a catch in your throat when you read.

Some things you save because you know better.
Some things you save because you love.

The cover of the book Why Poetry

Why Poetry

Matthew Zapruder

From the book, which argues that the way of teaching poetry in school prevents most people from feeling that they are capable of reading poetry, which is why so few books of poetry are found on the bestseller lists:

“Too much of us have been systematically taught to read poetry as if it is full of symbols that stand in for meanings not obviously present in the text itself. The reasons for the pervasiveness of this idea are complex. Regardless of why, so often I have seen even the simplest poem, full of single-syllable words any five-year-old knows, greeted with incomprehension. And I think one big reason is the way we have been taught to think about the genre of poetry: a place where objects are no longer what they are in the world, but symbolic.”

As a means of making poetry less intimidating, Matthew Zapruder offers chapters about the various ways of reading poetry, each designed to encourage readers to stop being intimidated by the art form.

The cover of the book Best American Poetry 2017

Best American Poetry 2017

David Lehman and Natasha Trethewey

In the introduction to this collection of poems drawn from poetry journals that were published in 2016, Natasha Trethewey writes of the power of poetry in her own life. She addresses too how as a mixed-race child growing up in a state where, prior to Loving Virginia, her parents’ marriage had been declared illegal. The poems here are reflective of Trethewey’s sensibility; she observes that “any anthology could serve as an autobiography of the mind of the anthologist.” And yet, her selections also speak to the themes that occupied us in 2016. This collection is perfect for those who are curious about what is happening in the field, and may be a gateway book to reading other collections.

We need the truth of poetry, and its beauty, more than ever.

The cover of the book Equipment for Living

Equipment for Living

Michael Robbins

The decision to award Bob Dylan the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature was met with a variety of responses, most of which turned on the question of whether songwriting comprised poetry, and thus, literature, or whether songwriting was itself its own literary genre. The answers to these questions were varied, but for those who are interested in exploring the connections between the two art forms, Michael Robbins provides a series of essays in which he demonstrates what makes both forms work. The “playlist” he provides as an appendix to the book is provocative, juxtaposing names that have never been mentioned in such proximity.

I was with a friend, and we had been talking earlier in the evening about our attraction to disparate accounts of the world as broken – Marxism, Christianity. I leaned across to her during the song and said, ‘The world is broken, but this is one of the things we do about it,’ … She said, ‘And would it mean as much if the world were whole?’”

The cover of the book Poetry Will Save Your Life

Poetry Will Save Your Life

Jill Bialosky

Jill Bialosky provides a wonderful list of human emotions and situations, and then provides analysis of poems that offer some kind of advice, commentary, or chance to process what one is feeling. It’s such a brilliant idea, one wonders why it hasn’t been done before. And while it seems like it’s a compendium of favorite poems, it’s actually a memoir that provides the context for the reading of the poem with a story from Bialosky’s life. The writing is mesmerizing, and this acknowledgment of the role that reading poetry has played in Bialosky’s life is as powerful a justification for poetry’s existence and testament to its power that I’ve read.

One of my favorites of the many sections I enjoyed is the one labeled, “Sexuality.” It begins:

My best friend and I carouse around our neighborhood in her father’s Cadillac, dubbed the “cruise mobile.” We are fifteen. My friend’s mother had a nervous breakdown when we were in elementary school and never fully recovered. My own mother is in a fragile state. We long to escape the constricting quiet and ennui in our homes.

Which brings to mind driving with my best friend at night, mostly in circuits around town, talking all the time about when we can leave our small hometown forever.

Bialosky’s tale continues, and she chooses to illustrate it with Sharon Olds’s “The Sisters of Sexual Treasure.” The poem and Bialosky’s commentary remind readers that the desire to escape can also drive the desire to explore another’s body, looking for new territory to keep us occupied until the day of departure finally comes.

12 Audiobooks to Get You Through the Crazy Holiday Season


The holidays are just around the corner, and while that can mean many things, for many of us it likely means a long road trip, or two. No matter the length, road trips (particularly in holiday traffic) can be an excruciating endeavor.

Snacks, a less-than-judicious amount of caffeine, comfy clothes, and a good audiobook can make all the difference. They can turn a miserable car ride into something not only tolerable, but enjoyable.

To help you manage pesky holiday excursions, we’ve curated a list of twelve of our favorite audiobooks. There are books here for the whole family to enjoy, as well as more grown-up fare.  Let’s have a look.

The cover of the book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

J.K. Rowling, Read by Jim Dale

If you haven’t experienced Jim Dale’s truly delightful narration of the Harry Potter series, this is the perfect time to check it out. Dale is one of best audiobook readers in the business, and Harry Potter might just be his masterpiece. More importantly, J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world is perfect for the whole family.

The cover of the book Life


Keith Richards, Read by Johnny Depp

What could possibly be better than Keith Richards’ insightful and candid memoir read by Johnny Depp? The answer, of course, is not much. Depp’s languid, playful, wry reading of Mr. Richards’ various hijinks is the perfect distraction for a long car ride. This one may not be for the kiddos, though.

The cover of the book Matilda


Roald Dahl, Read by Kate Winslet

Matilda is one of Roald Dahl’s best-known and most charming creations. The spunky magic-tinged tale is a perfect example of Dahl’s wonderfully absurd prose style, and more importantly, it’s excellent for kids – and adults who are kids at heart. Kate Winslet’s narration is just icing on the cake.

The cover of the book The Martian

The Martian

Andy Weir, Read by R.C. Bray

If you want a read to make a car-ride fly by, Andy Weir’s best-selling thriller is just the ticket.  The instant-classic tale of a astronaut stranded on Mars following a botched expedition is exhilarating, tense, and darkly humorous. This one is guaranteed to make that trip seem mercilessly short, and beyond some PG-13 language, this another solid family read. Weir’s latest, a futuristic heist set on a colony on the Moon titled Artemis, is also well worth a listen.

The cover of the book The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book

Neil Gaiman, Read by Neil Gaiman

There’s nothing quite like listening to a writer read their own work, and Neil Gaiman is among the best. This 2009 Newberry Award winner is as captivating for adults as it is for children, and features Gaiman’s trademark magic-tinged, subversively gothic style. The Graveyard Book centers on an orphan raised by ghosts in a cemetery following the murder of his parents.

The cover of the book Hogfather


Terry Pratchett, Read by Nigel Planer

What would the holidays be without a Christmas tale? If you’re in the market for something catering a bit more toward grown-ups, Terry Pratchett’s deliriously comical skewering of Father Christmas is just the ticket. In Pratchett’s Discworld, the Hogfather is a scary Santa Claus-like figure who delivers gifts on Hogswatchnight.

The cover of the book A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol

Charles Dickens, Read by Tim Curry

If you prefer something both classic and more kid-friendly, look no further than Tim Curry’s brilliant reading of Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. A Christmas Carol is an obvious holiday staple, and Curry’s voice is a perfect match for Dickens’ linguistic flourishes.

The cover of the book Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies

Liane Moriarty, Read by Caroline Lee

Big Little Lies may begin as a light satire of suburban parenting, but things heat up quickly. Filled with compelling, well-drawn characters and sharp-tongued wit, Big Little Lies is the sort of book that might just make you wish that car ride was a tad longer.

The cover of the book The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride

William Goldman, Read by Rob Reiner

If you’ve only experienced the cinematic adaptation of The Princess Bride, do yourself a favor and pick up this audiobook. While the movie is a classic, the novel’s wry observations of Floran culture and self-aware, tongue-in-cheek really are a delight.

The cover of the book Uncommon Type

Uncommon Type

Tom Hanks, Read by Tom Hanks

You can add great writer and unsurprisingly great narrator to the list of things that make Tom Hanks generally awesome. This collection of short stories, all based – to a certain extent – on Hank’s well-known love of typewriters, run the gamut from poignant and heartwarming to downright hilarious. And Hanks’ amiable reading brings the whole thing to another level.

The cover of the book A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time

Madeleine L’Engle, Read by Hope Davis

A Wrinkle in Time is brilliantly drawn classic that has endured as a favorite for adults and children alike. It’s also incredibly thought-provoking and a sure conversation starter, particularly if you’re listening with children. With a highly anticipated adaptation on the way from Ava Duvernay, and starring the likes of Reese Witherspoon and Oprah, now’s a perfect time to give this one a look.

The cover of the book And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None

Agatha Christie, Read by Dan Stevens

If you’re anything like me, nothing beats a good mystery for a road trip.  When it comes to mysteries, Agatha Christie is in a class all her own. While any of her classics will get the job done, And Then There Were None is simply one of her bests and most complex.

Speaking of books that were made into movies…

The 12 Best Stephen King Adaptations, Ranked

King Films

Movie posters from Stephen King adaptations

Stephen King might likely be our most adapted living American author. His “writer” credit at IMDB is sitting at a staggering 242 credits. Given the renewed interest in all things Stephen King of late, driven in part by the runaway box office success of “It,” it’s a safe bet that more King-inspired projects are on the not-too-distant horizon. The bounty and overall quality of Stephen King adaptations that have made their way to screens large and small lately make now the perfect time to count down our picks for the twelve best. Though the reputation of King adaptations overall can be a bit lacking, there were quite a few gems – “Christine” (1983), “Salem’s Lot” (1979), “11.22.63” (2016) – that had to be cut. When the figurative dust settled, here are the twelve we’re committing to. Have at it.

12. “Creepshow” (1982)
This 1982 collaboration between Stephen King and legendary director George Romero is a love letter to the classic EC-style horror anthology comics (titles like House of Secrets, Haunt of Fear, and Tales from the Crypt), from the framing narrative right down to the camera angles. It’s over the top and plays like a B-movie – and that’s the point. “Creepshow” was King’s first and arguably his best foray into screenwriting and featured largely original material. However, two of the vignettes (“Weeds” and “The Crate”) were based on short stories by King.

The cover of the book The Green Mile

11. “The Green Mile” (1999)
Based on the 1996 serial novel of the same name, “The Green Mile” was written and directed by Frank Darabont, a director who seems to have a particularly steady hand with Stephen King adaptations. The film, which received an Academy Award nomination for best picture, featured the talents of Tom Hanks and the late Michael Clarke Duncan, who earned an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of John Coffey, a man with supernatural gifts wrongfully convicted of murder.


The cover of the book Dolores Claiborne

10. “Dolores Claiborne” (1995)
Featuring a predictably brilliant performance from Kathy Bates in the title role, “Dolores Claiborne,” based on the novel of the same name, is an example of the breadth of Stephen King’s talent. This Taylor Hackford-directed adaptation eschews King’s normal horror trappings for a patient, affecting thriller that takes its times as it moves toward its shattering climax.


The cover of the book Mr. Mercedes

9. “Mr. Mercedes” (2017)
“Mr. Mercedes” got off to a great start over its first four episodes. I had the opportunity to screen the remaining six episodes and can thankfully say it proved a worthy adaptation of Stephen King’s Edgar Award-winning 2014 mystery novel. Anchored by a talented cast – particularly series leads Brendan Gleeson and Harry Treadaway – “Mr. Mercedes” is nearly as quick-witted and engrossing as its source material.


The cover of the book The Dead Zone

8. “The Dead Zone” (1983)
“The Dead Zone” is one of the most underrated of Stephen King’s adaptations and Christopher Walken’s performance as Johnny Smith, a teacher who gains the ability to glimpse the future after awaking from a coma, is one of the actor’s best. Thanks in large part to David Cronenberg’s masterful direction, “The Dead Zone” is a taut and powerful thriller that holds up remarkably well.


The cover of the book Gerald's Game

7. “Gerald’s Game” (2017)
Gerald’s Game has long been thought of as one of the more difficult Stephen King tales to bring to the screen. Its premise – a woman is handcuffed to a bed and stranded alone in a cabin after a bit of bondage gone bad – doesn’t necessarily lend itself to cinematic treatment. Fortunately, the talented direction and writing of Mike Flanagan and what may be a career best performance from the underrated Carla Gugino make this one of the finest Stephen King adaptations in recent memory.

The cover of the book It

6. “It” (2017)
The most recent adaptation of Stephen King’s sprawling novel is shattering box office records and with good reason. It is one of Stephen King’s most iconic novels and the culmination of much of his early writing. While this adaptation, which will unfold in two parts, takes more than a few liberties with the underlying narrative including updating the time period, director Andy Muschietti manages to faithfully capture the spirit and tone of the book. To quote myself: “The result is a film that couches its scares in a sepia-toned haze of summer breaks, adolescent friendships, and the secret places of childhood. This more than anything else is the key to why ‘It’ largely works.”

The cover of the book Different Seasons

5. “Stand By Me” (1986)
There’s often a hint of autobiography in Stephen King’s work; it’s clear he draws heavily on his own experiences, whether working in a textile mill or being a writer or just plain, old childhood. It is that autobiographical note that lends “Stand By Me” its potent authenticity and magic. Based on a King novella called The Body and directed by Rob Reiner, “Stand by Me” is ostensibly a coming-of-age tale; it is also a poignant examination of friendship and the bittersweet loss that often accompanies growing up. The Body was featured in King’s 1982 collection Different Seasons.

The cover of the book Misery

4. “Misery” (1990)
Kathy Bates took home an Oscar for her iconic turn as Annie Wilkes. Bates proved absolutely captivating in her ability to switch from adulation to savagery to overwhelming depression in the space of a moment. Thanks to her performance, her chemistry with James Caan, and the steady direction of Rob Reiner – who clearly knows a thing or two about adapting Stephen King – “Misery” is a taut, economical thriller that more than does justice to the source material.


The cover of the book The Shining

3. “The Shining” (1980)
Stanley Kubrick’s take on Stephen King’s novel – the author’s first hardback bestseller – is a masterful descent into pure madness anchored by an unforgettable performance from Jack Nicholson. The film hums with tension and unease. While it may be a stark departure from Stephen King’s novel, everything from Nicholson’s performance to the hotel’s bizarre geography and the unrelenting sense of dread that settles over the entire proceeding simply works.

The cover of the book Carrie

2. “Carrie” (1976)
With superb and Oscar nominated performances from Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie as Carrie and Margaret White, as well as the skillful direction of Brian De Palma, “Carrie” remains one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King novel. De Palma wisely stripped King’s novel, already one of his leaner works, to its essence and this tale of a bullied and ostracized teenage girl builds with remarkable tension toward its shocking conclusion.

1. “Shawshank Redemption” (1994)
Choosing the top spot here was no easy task; indeed, I could quite possibly make a solid argument for any of the top five to claim this spot. However, at the end of the day Frank Darabont – I told you that name would come up again – captured lightning in a bottle with this adaptation of the novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. From the director’s near-flawless direction to the performances of Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman (not to mention Freeman’s iconic narration) and Thomas Newman’s rarely mentioned pitch-perfect score, everything comes together for a deeply satisfying and moving cinematic experience. The short story is featured alongside The Body in the collection Different Seasons.

Books to Film: December Releases

The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero & Tom Bissell

The Disaster ArtistThe Disaster Artist_filmMovie: The Disaster Artist
When it comes out: December 1 (Limited); December 8 (Expanded)
What the book is about: In 2003, an independent film called The Room—written, produced, directed, and starring a very rich social misfit of indeterminate age and origin named Tommy Wiseau—made its disastrous debut in Los Angeles. Described by one reviewer as “like getting stabbed in the head,” the $6 million film earned a grand total of $1,800 at the box office and closed after two weeks. Now in its tenth anniversary year, The Room is an international phenomenon to rival The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Thousands of fans wait in line for hours to attend screenings complete with costumes, audience rituals, merchandising, and thousands of plastic spoons, but readers need not have seen The Room to appreciate its costar Greg Sestero’s account of how Tommy Wiseau defied every law of artistry, business, and interpersonal relationships to achieve the dream only he could love.

The Tribes of Palos Verdes by Joy Nicholson

Tribes of Palos VerdesTribes of Palos Verdes_filmMovie: The Tribes of Palos Verdes
When it comes out: December 1
What the book is about: Medina Mason is a defiant, awkward newcomer to the affluent beach community of Palos Verdes, California. As her parents’ marriage disintegrates and her beloved brother falls prey to the temptations of drugs and the lunacy of their mother, Medina surfs to survive, finding a bitter solace in the rough comfort of the waves. This is the moving story of growing up “different,” of the love between siblings, and of one girl’s power to save herself.

The November Criminals by Sam Munson

November CriminalsNovember Criminals_filmMovie: The November Criminals
When it comes out: December 8
What the book is about: For a high school senior, Addison Schacht has a lot of preoccupations. Like getting into college. Selling drugs to his classmates. His complicated relationship with his best friend (NOT his girlfriend) Digger. And he’s just added another to the list: the murder of his classmate Kevin Broadus, and his own absurd, obsessive plan to investigate the death. When presented with an essay question on his application to the University of Chicago—What are your best and worst qualities?—Addison finds himself provoked into giving his final, unapologetic say about all of the above and more.

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf & Robert Lawson

FerdinandFerdinand_film.jpgMovie: Ferdinand
When it comes out: December 15
What the book is about: All the other bulls would run and jump and butt their heads together. But Ferdinand would rather sit and smell the flowers. And he does just that, until the day a bumblebee and some men from the Madrid bullfights give gentle Ferdinand a chance to be the most ferocious star of the corrida—and the most unexpected comic hero.

Molly’s Game by Molly Bloom

Mollys GameMollys Game_filmMovie: Molly’s Game
When it comes out: December 25
What the book is about: In Molly’s Game, Molly Bloom takes the reader through her adventures running an exclusive high-stakes private poker game. Her clients ranged from iconic stars like Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck to politicians and financial titans so powerful they moved markets and changed the course of history. With rich detail, Molly describes a world that until now has been shrouded in glamour, privilege, and secrecy, one where she fearlessly took on the Russian and Italian mobs—until she met the one adversary she could not outsmart, even though she had justice on her side: the United States government.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool by Peter Turner

Films Stars Don'tFilms Stars Don't_filmMovie: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool 
When it comes out: December 29
What the book is about: On 29 September 1981, Peter Turner received a phone call that would change his life. His former lover, Hollywood actress Gloria Grahame, had collapsed in a Lancaster hotel and was refusing medical attention. He had no choice but to take her into his chaotic and often eccentric family’s home in Liverpool. Turner had first set eyes on Grahame when he was a young actor, living in London. Best known for her portrayal of irresistible femme fatales in films such as The Big HeatOklahoma and The Bad and the Beautiful, for which she won an Oscar, Grahame electrified audiences with her steely expressions and heavy lidded eyes and the heroines she bought to life were often dark and dangerous. Turner and Grahame became firm friends and remained so ever after their love affair had ended. And it was to him she turned in her final hour of need.


Winners of the 2017 National Book Awards Announced

by , NOVEMBER 16, 2017, first appearing on Library Journal

“Books matter because they give us information and hope and connect us to other people,” said Lisa Lucas, the National Book Foundation’s executive director, in a recorded message at the National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner on November 15, at Cipriani’s in New York. Lucas appeared in person as well, appealing to the tightly packed audience for support (envelopes in the program facilitated donations) and proclaim the desire to “not just celebrate [both winners and finalists] tonight but…keep celebrating the work they do.” The awards were the focus of the evening, but as always, National Book Foundation programming got big plugs throughout.

Lucas’s what-books-can-do theme was carried forth by the award winners. Robin Benway, winner of the award for Young People’s Literature for Far from the Tree (HarperTeen), an affecting story of family, told her fellow finalists that “sharing this experience with you has been an honor” and celebrated teenagers as the “toughest audience because they need to hear the truth more than anybody.” Said Frank Bidart, poetry winner for Half-light: Collected Poems, 1965–2016 (Farrar), a magisterial compilation of all the poet’s previous volumes plus the new collection Thirst, “I’m almost twice as old as any of the other finalists, and writing poems is how I survived…. I hope the journey these poems go on help others to survive as well.”

Masha Gessen, whose The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (Riverhead) clarifies the emergence of a new brand of autocracy in Russia today by charting the lives of four people born at the time Communism fell, noted “I never thought a Russian book would be on the list for the National Book Awards, but things have changed.” Said Paula J. Giddings, chair of the nonfiction panel, the judges looked for books that were “national or transnational in scope and significance,…books that spoke to the underpinnings that shape a culture, …and books that [address] the tyranny of state”—those who perpetuate it, those who succumb to it, and those who resist.

Winning her second National Book Award for Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner), an ambitious story of poverty, oppression, and family fractured along race lines and encompassing African American–rooted magic realism, Jesmyn Ward spoke affectingly of the subtexts she has sensed in rejections of her work, as if readers were saying, “What do I have in common with a pregnant 15-year-old or a 13-year-old with a drug-addicted mother?” That challenge to universality begs the question of what books can do, as articulated by master of ceremonies Cynthia Nixon, who saw them as offering not just escape but a “welcome knowledge of history [and] broadened perspective. They cultivate empathy, inspire action, and make us feel less alone.”

Presented with the 2017 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, Richard Robinson, Scholastic chairman of the board, said that while he always wanted to receive a prize for a novel, “I am so grateful to the National Book Foundation for giving me a reading award instead.” His acceptance speech, gracefully introduced by President Bill Clinton (“I don’t think he’s ever going to win an award that reflects his heart as this one does”), embodied his conviction that reading is a solution to social ills, which makes it especially important to get books into the hands of all children.“In the years to come, reading will be more important than ever,” he declared. Rejecting a world of 20 percent reading haves and 80 percent have nots, he added “We have a huge stake in establishing a level playing field.”

Annie Proulx, winner of the 2017 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, took up the theme of social responsibility, pointing out that “we are living through a massive transition from representative democracy to viral direct democracy,” which is overwhelming us in a “garbage-strewn tsunami of raw data.” Decrying environmental degradation and encouraging listeners to join citizen science projects, she celebrating “outmoded values like truth” and wrestled with the tension between hard facts and hope, taking up books as a model: “The happy ending still beckons.”