Books

The Books That Got New Yorkers Through 2017

To find out what kept the city turning the pages into the new year, we spoke to some of our favorite independent booksellers -- and a few authors too.

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What do a 2,817-year-old epic poem, a historical account of the atomic bomb’s creation, and a novel about an upstate teenage friendship have in common? Probably a lot, actually—but in this particular case, they’re all books beloved by some of New York’s booksellers and buzzed-about writers. End-of-year roundups run the risk of mimicking the bestseller lists or airport bookshop shelves, but these particular selections run a surprisingly wide gamut, spanning continents, centuries, and genres.

Speaking of genre, from the very start 2017 begged for a little heady escapism, and the team at Tribeca’s Mysterious Bookshop knows all about that (see the sign warning “Nobody shoplifts from a store that knows 3,214 ways to murder someone.”). This year, bookseller Tom Wickersham liked the noir Day In, Day Out, by Mexican writer Héctor Aguilar Camín (“A haunting fever dream of lust and longing”) and Winter Warning by Jerome Charyn, the latest installation in the Isaac Sidel series about a NYPD-cop-turned-president. “Though Charyn says that he wrote Winter Warning before the advent of Trump,” Wickersham says, “it is the perfect novel for readers weary of our real-life presidential news cycle.” Wickersham is also looking forward to Kent Anderson’s “beautifully rendered” next crime novel, Green Sun, due out in February.

This year, Amelia Gray — who published her debut novel, Isadora, in May — was hooked by the short story “The Fisher Cat” (no, not that cat story) from Madeline ffitch’s collection Valparaiso, Round the Horn. “The story is so odd and funny and true, capturing in one wild span all the strangeness of having a father and being a father from the perspective of one father’s daughter, the distance between parent and child expanding and contracting over the course of passing time,” says Gray. “I have a good cry whenever I read this story and I’m so grateful to have found it this year.”

At Fort Greene’s Greenlight Bookstore, it was a year for Latin American literature. Vanessa Hernández Artunduaga recommends 1971’s Open Veins of Latin America by Greenlight favorite Eduardo Galeano, whose writing resonates with especially strong frequency today. “Open Veins is proof of the power of confronting our inherited past and communicating it to those who are not satisfied with the myths fed to them by the powers that be,” says Hernández Artunduaga. Her colleague Julian Elman also reaches back to the past, recommending  Zama, a 1956 novel by the Argentine writer Antonio di Benedetto, which circumnavigates “a life of maté, cold schemes, and violent temptation.”

In a year that badly needed it, poetry was also popular among Greenlight staff: Jarrod Annis read Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets, a collection first published in 1964, and packed with “tender and bemused hymns of possibility”; Nicholas Nichols, meanwhile, liked Incendiary Art by Patricia Smith, whose poetry “weaves together a poetic overview of damage, and investigates where love resides in the body once a love one has been murdered, a city set ablaze.”

At Cobble Hill’s Books Are Magic — the brainchild of writer Emma Straub, which opened just this summer — bookseller Jane Drinkard returned to a timeless tale of bygone adolescence: “Lorrie Moore’s Who Will Run The Frog Hospital? made me slam my head down on my pillow in a dramatic flourish of nostalgia.”

Over at at Astoria Bookshop on 31st Street in Queens, Lexi Beach recommends The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies, a collection of stories which are “like barbs that stick in your mind — each one comes as a complete surprise when it gets you.” Beach’s endorsement of Emily Wilson’s new translation of The Odyssey comes with a solid piece of advice: “Do yourself a favor and read this out loud. It doesn’t matter if it’s just you in the room or if you’re reading to your lover or to your dog. This new translation of one of our greatest narratives tears along, and is a total joy.” Another favorite: Ariel Levy’s new memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, which she calls “a beautiful piece of writing that centers around a time of the author’s life that can only be described as devastating.”

As it happens, Ariel Levy herself had a favorite novel this year. After publishing her bestselling memoir in March, the New Yorker staff writer undertook a profile of the author Elizabeth Strout, which involved a deep dive into Strout’s novels. “My Name Is Lucy Barton stuck out most. It’s just luminous,” says Levy. “I particularly loved a rumination by the title character on the ruthlessness required to be an artist: ‘The ruthlessness, I think, comes in grabbing onto myself, in saying: This is me, and I will not go where I can’t bear to go—to Amgash, Illinois—and I will not stay in a marriage when I don’t want to, and I will grab myself and hurl onward through life, blind as a bat, but on I go! This is the ruthlessness, I think.’ Something about that, and about the book as a whole, simultaneously fills me with hope and breaks my heart.”

Finally, Levy’s New Yorker colleague, David Grann—whose nonfiction work, Killers of the Flower Moon, was one of the year’s most riveting page-turners—traveled back a few decades for his pick. “The book that has stayed me the most this year is Richard Rhodes’s The Making of the Atomic Bomb, which was originally published in 1986,” says Grann. “It is a reminder of the power of history, especially at a time when truth-telling is constantly under siege.”

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