Snotty Literati’s Best and Worst 2017 Reads

The Very Best Book of 2017

Jennifer: I found myself reading better nonfiction than fiction this year. And I was very personally affected by Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977–2002) by David Sedaris. I found it utterly relevant to my own writing life. I sorta doubt my attachments would be felt by everyone. But this was my favorite book of the year.

Lara: I am going with Nathan Hill’s debut whopper, The Nixas the best book I read this year. It’s a must read. Actually, it’s a must listen. The audiobook version is a masterpiece.

Best Fiction and Best Nonfiction

BEST Nonfiction

Lara: So, out of the 40 books I read this year, 10 of them were nonfiction. I wouldn’t have guessed that I would have read that much. The only non-fiction I read this year that was published this year was David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI; David Sedaris’ Theft by Finding; and Roxane Gay’s Hunger. While each were good, the best non-fiction I read this year wasn’t published this year. The best non-fiction I read this year was:

Shrill by Lindy West (she is fierce and awesome); Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (I still can’t stay up late enough to watch “The Daily Show”, but I love this man); and Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon (basically, another badass human being).

Jennifer: Well, I did read some great nonfiction this year. I think Ta-Nehesi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy is a must-read. Maybe the definitive text on the Obama Era? It rivaled Sedaris as my favorite, and I might venture to say that this was the most important book published in 2017. Also, it’s written wonderfully. Coates is an intellectual and these are dense essays which require a lot of attention from their readers—but he introduces each hard-core essay with a little memoir-like piece, and these are super engaging. (Why didn’t this appear on more end-of-the-year lists?!?)

Another favorite nonfiction book was Sherman Alexie’s You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me. I’m going to hold back on commenting because we’ll look at this memoir, as well as Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, in January 2018.

And . . . I adored Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, which was charming, engaging, gripping, funny, and sweet with a fascinating look at a fascinating country (South Africa). I loved it! I might note that both Noah and Alexie are interesting to compare, maybe, because they’re both really about mother-son relationships.

BEST Fiction

Lara: My favorite fiction of the year was actually published this year! My top picks, in no particular order…

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Riveting, character-driven drama with so much drama I couldn’t put it down. You’ll gobble it right up.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hanna Tinti. Beautiful writing of a father and daughter’s journey. Untidy ending. Just about everything I love in a book.

I am a sucker for historical fiction; and, if it’s about WWII, you might as well clear my schedule. Kate Quinn has written one of my favorites (behind All the Light We Cannot See and The Book Thief) with The Alice Network.

Jennifer: Well, these are not necessarily in order. I might highlight three.

I loved The Nix by Nathan Hill. Though published in 2016, it was among my favorite 2017 reads.

But I think all of my favorite fiction reads this year were from previous years. I re-read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), and it blew me away more than ever.

And then my very weird favorite was Colson Whitehead’s Zone One (from 2010). Why weird? Well, Whitehead wrote The Underground Railroad, right? Right. Turns out he also wrote a full-fledged zombie novel set in Manhattan. It’s serious zombie fiction. Literary Zombie! I had a bizarre time with it. I taught a themed composition class this year, during which we discussed the future. Eager to read a novel with futuristic themes, I just chose this one. In truth, it’s uber-literary, and my English 101 students struggled. I would have to say that it’s considerably less accessible than Railroad. It feels more self-conscious, like the early work of a great writer; every single sentence is amazing—and this could potentially drive someone crazy. I thought it was the best. (Interesting, too, I said his Underground Railroad was my favorite read of 2016 – so he’s had the top spot for two years in a row.)

The Most Disappointing Books

Jennifer: Well, it’s painful to write, but I was disappointed by George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo. I’m still dealing. In summary, I found the book a brilliant but non-immersive literary experience. It’s a great discussion piece. I was untouched, unlike—say—the way I was deeply affected by The Handmaid’s Tale.

Lara: There are a few that let me down—I’m not going to lie. I couldn’t even finish Lincoln in the Bardo. I tried it in book form, audio form, and audio while following along with the book. It’s official: I am done with George Saunders. Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs had so much great writing but tried to cover way too many things that it lacked focus. Helen Bryan’s War Brides peaked my interest because WWII; but it was just okay.

Audiobook Favorites

Lara: Maggie Gyllenhaal is my new audiobook girlfriend. Her narration of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina—all 36 hours of it—is simply divine. It’s like a massage for your ears. Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime should only be sold via audio. Ari Fliokos’ narration of The Nix is brilliant. I want him to narrate all the books. ALL. THE. BOOKS. Unless Mags is doing it. Oh, and Clare Dane’s doing The Handmaid’s Tale is pretty dope.

Jennifer: I liked quite a few. Trevor Noah did a great job. Sherman Alexie hit me pretty hard, in all honesty. I really like when authors do their own narration. I know it doesn’t always work out, but there was virtue in audiobooks narrated by Ben Sasse, Hillary Clinton, and Bruce Springsteen. But—for the money—TREVOR AND SHERMAN.

Highlight the Classics!

Jennifer: I re-read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but the annotated version by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Hollis Robbins. This version is amazing with commentary from James Baldwin, and all kinds of historic notes and illustrations/color plates (that will blow you away). After reading it this second time, I still feel favorable towards it. The critics can be harsh on Stowe, and I’m probably more sympathetic. I love Baldwin, but I disagree with him about this landmark abolitionist attempt by a white Northern woman. I also think critics miss a lot of her theological thinking.

I checked out Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. I’m not much of an Austen scholar or anything. I admire her writing—its intelligence, maybe? This one seemed just a tad outrageous? Like a portrait of pompous assery? I kinda hated the end.

I listened to the audiobook of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Casey Affleck narrated, and he is surprisingly (?) stellar. It was fascinating—the Chicago meatpacking district, Lithuanian immigrants, the appeal of Socialism. It felt a little Dickensian, a little Dostoyevsky-ish, and mostly American.

Lara: If I keep gushing about Mags, you are going to call security, so know that Anna Karenina fits here. As does Pride and Prejudice narrated on audible by the impeccable Rosamund Pike. I want her to narrate the thoughts in my head. I wonder what she would charge for that.

Books We Missed

Jennifer: So many . . .

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons
South and West: From a Notebook Joan Didion
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
The Golden House by Salman Rushdie
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Lara: Everything I didn’t read, I missed. I miss all the books. But seriously.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
Marlena by Julie Buntin
One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
A Selfie as Big as the Ritz by Lara Williams
Sing, Unburied, Sing By Jesmyn Ward

Books We Shamelessly Abandoned (or was there shame?)

Lara: Lincoln in the Bardo. Dumped. Hard. No shame. Oh and Elif Butman’s The Idiot. No time for meh.

Jennifer: There’s always shame for me, to be honest. I’m trying to get better. In truth, I think it’s smarter and healthier to move on. So . . . I tried. I abandoned Douglas Coupland’s latest, Bit Rot. An essay collection, it was amusing and Coupland-y. I just thought—God Help Me!—this would never have been published if someone who wasn’t Douglas Coupland wrote it.

Books To Read In The Middle of Our American Craziness

Jennifer: I’m a firm believer that we would be seeing more love and more empathy in our lives if we read more. I think I’d recommend Ta-Nehesi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy and the graphic novel trilogy by John Lewis, March (all three of them). I don’t fully agree with Coates on so much, but that’s okay. He opened my eyes to so much too. He organized my thinking. And my guess is that he’s one of the most important voices of the time. John Lewis’s graphic memoirs the March trilogy are books that just shouldn’t be overlooked. They need to be read.

Lara: I agree that reading is a gateway to understanding and empathy. This year I read, for the first time, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl with my good friend Jill. It’s his memoir of his time captured by the Nazis. The main message he shares is a profound one: “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear almost any ‘how’.” That perspective is such a great reminder when we think we can’t go on.

One (or Three)-Sentence Reviews for Ten Books Not Yet Mentioned


  1. If You’re Not Yet Like Me by Edan Lepucki. This 55-page novella centers on Joellyn, an insecure, manipulative, and judgmental woman, telling her unborn baby the stories of two courtships–Invisible, boring, and available Zachary and super-hot douchebag Dickens (Joellyn’s nickname for him because he was one and had a big one). While I didn’t like Joellyn, I liked her story and Lepucki’s way with words. I also want to know what was inside the piñatas.
  2. The History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund is a beautifully written, quietly building story about a lot of things, most notably, loss; and it has a secret double cover.
  3. A Study In Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro is a fun YA romp of students behaving very badly and doing a number of age-inappropriate things, while loosely following a classic Sherlock Holmes story.
  4. I completely ate up the interconnected stories that make up The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. A grandmother and her motherless daughter living and adventuring on an island was a delightful escape. So thankful it was recommended to me.
  5. Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is a great read on the immigrant experience. And I knew that before Oprah told everyone to read it. So there.
  6. Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was so disturbing and weird that you kept turning the page the same way you crane your neck passing by a roadside accident.
  7. I wanted to love David Sedars’ Theft by Finding as much as you did.
  8. Moshin Hamid’s Exit West is on a lot of best lists. I liked it until magical realism entered the picture. It’s so not my jam. Check it out if it’s yours.
  9. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Total self-help and a few nuggets I can use.
  10. Kathleen Rooney’s Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is a tidily told tale of reflection as one was nearing the end of her life. It had a nice contemplative feel and felt comfortable. Like the mink stole she wears on the book’s cover.


  1. T.C. Boyle’s The Terranauts should’ve been great because the idea was fab, but it didn’t work out.
  2. I finally read Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, and my big question was this: What Took Me So Long?
  3. Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was weird and scary, but I think I loved it in a moderate way that gave me a great excuse to talk books while eating Korean food.
  4. The Idiot by Elif Bautman was a Gen X read full of nineties’ college girl moments and I loved it for the way she brought it all home—the secret sadnesses, the poignant quirkiness, the adventure—though it didn’t quite end up how I wanted it to, which might be a good comment on college girl/Gen X life: it doesn’t end up quite how you expect it to.
  5. It’s a little surprising to me that I missed The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen last year: I found it epic, brilliantly-written, and thematically-rich.
  6. I finally made my way through David Foster Wallace’s at-times totally brilliant Infinite Jest and my impression is this: The Joke Is Infinitely On Us.
  7. I kinda really liked Hillary Clinton’s What Happened? and I found myself thinking Putin is an evil genius: a wily dude with a KGB past wreaking havoc on an ignorant public who doesn’t read much.
  8. I try to be non-partisan, so I picked up Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult, and it’s a great parenting book (not merely about politics) with a lot to say about reading and education!
  9. Bruce Springsteen penned his memoirs, Born to Run, which he just kept penning and penning and running and running—and it’s so freakin’ good, and it’s true: Springsteen was, indeed, born to run.
  10. Another must-read book that should be included in any high school curriculum is Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, which—along with the documentary 13th—really affected my thinking on mass incarceration.

Judging Books by Their Covers

Jennifer: Covers can be so seductive. I bought The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman solely for its lovely cover. The book was much like its cover. Very pretty. It reminded me of Jodi Picault’s Small Great Things. Like the author’s intentions were good, but it didn’t smack of the real truth; it was just a brush with truth. It’s not that it was a rosy picture of the Holocaust, but it was—at heart—a romance. I felt as if this could’ve been downright offensive to many Jewish readers who find no romance in this history whatsoever.

Lara: The Wildwood trilogy has STUNNING covers. I read the first in the series with my kiddo, and despite having talking animals, I enjoyed it very much.

That wraps it up for us! Share in the comments your best and worst reads for 2017 and we will be back in January with more commentary.

Happy reading, Snotties!