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The Best Books You Didn’t Read in 2017

The Best Books You Didn’t Read in 2017

We don’t know exactly how many books were published last year, but you can bet it was more than any reasonable human can be expected to read. Since we’re also human, we didn’t get to read them all, but of the ones we did, we have some we liked more than others. If you’re looking for some new literary pursuits to while away the winter, here are the best books that came out last year.

Lincoln in the Bardo

George Saunders

Calling this Saunders’ first novel is technically correct, but it doesn’t quite do the book justice. This isn’t a novel in the traditional sense. It has a lot of pages and it tells a story, but the formatting is easily the most interesting we’ve read all last year. The story’s broken down in the quotes of different ghosts stuck in the bardo (a Tibetan sort of purgatory). You never lose the main thread of the story, which is mostly about how Willie Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, affects the afterlife he abruptly finds himself in. Lincoln in the Bardo is a beautiful exploration of human spirituality, though it’s still by George Saunders, so you’ll readily find philosophical humor oozing from every word. $17

Eat What You Watch

Andrew Rea

As soon as Binging with Babish announced a companion cookbook, we knew what we were eating for the rest of the year. If you’ve ever watched the videos, you know that Rea knows exactly what he’s doing when he recreates television and movie recipes, so we were salivating at the opportunity to bring that talent into our own homes. Make no mistake, Rea is a professional cook and pulls off some seriously advanced and detailed steps. But if you have patience with yourself, you’ll be rewarded with delicious food that might as well have jumped off the screen and onto your plate. $23

The Half-Drowned King

Linnea Hartsuyker

With Vikings, American Gods, Thor: Ragnarok, and the highly underrated Norsemen, vikings are having a bit of a cultural resurgence. The Half-Drowned King, besides being the greatest title on this list, is a part of that resurgence, and, if you can get used to the names, offers a great Scandinavian adventure story. It does a great job blending the tone of ancient sagas with modern historical fiction, to the point that you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d see a fjord if you looked out your front door. Plus, there’s Viking violence, which, we’re all agreed, is historically the most entertaining. $15

The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For

David McCullough

Our attraction to this book was less for the political statement and more about the historical education, especially coming from someone like McCullough. This book collects quite a few of McCullough’s speeches, in which he dissects what it means when someone talks about “core American values.” There’s no denying some of the motivation for McCullough putting this book out was the 2016 election, but his message runs deeper than a single, divisive election cycle. The ideas McCullough discusses span the entirety of the American experiment and should serve as a recalibration for anyone who reads it, not just people who were affected by the last presidential race. $14

Dynastic, Bombastic, Fantastic: Reggie, Rollie, Catfish, and Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s

Jason Turbow

We’re not trying to insult anyone when we say sports have gotten a bit antiseptic. Not that we’re nostalgic for the days of hard drugs and mindless violence, partially because we barely experienced them, but we also totally might be nostalgic for exactly that. There’s so much money mixed up in everything that no one can afford to have a team like the Oakland A’s of the 1970s, and baseball is worse for it. Watching this team careen through the decade with essentially no mind paid to good sense or rational decision making is a marvel. Someone better have a good bench clearing brawl this year, or we’re going to swear off the sport entirely. $17

Chuck Klosterman X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century

Chuck Klosterman

Any time Chuck Klosterman puts a book out, it’s going to make our list, no matter what that list is. Hell, it’s only a matter of time before we start using bourbon lists and movie recommendations to talk about the latest Klosterman developments. Chuck Klosterman X is his latest work and is a collection of some of Klosterman’s best pieces. Topics run the societal gamut, so don’t expect the tightly focused books we’ve had before. But this is still Klosterman we’re talking about, so each piece is going to inform the one before and after it. It’s still best to read this book as a complete unit, rather than a bunch of self-contained essays. $17

Ten Dead Comedians

Fred Van Lente

It’s a bit guiltily we admit that watching a handful or two of hack comedians be slowly picked off is a delight. To be clear, we don’t want this to happen to anyone in real life, so all you potential D-list celebrity serial killers shouldn’t be reading this and thinking your time is now. It’s just that we’ve met people like this in real life and they were highly unpleasant to be around. They’re also woefully unprepared to deal with a murderer of any kind, so watching them deal with their situation lends itself to some seriously dark comedy. Also, no WiFi, so they can’t tweet shitty jokes, no matter how badly they want to talk about laughter being the best medicine. $15

Future Home of the Living God

Louise Erdrich

Humans are barely equipped to deal with the theory of evolution we currently have, so when the whole evolutionary process completely reverses itself and threatens to fire us back into the age of Australopithecus, you can bet some rash decisions are going to be made. Future Home of the Living God quickly becomes one of those dystopian books people are going to be talking about for years, so if you don’t read it now, your (hopefully properly evolved) kids are going to be explaining it to you when they’re going through high school. Do both of yourselves a favor and jump on it now. $15


Andy Weir

As far as we can tell (which, when it comes to complex science, admittedly isn’t much further than anyone else), The Martian was a scientifically accurate, fictional portrayal of how Survivorman would play out on Mars. Extend that a bit and we’ll say Artemis is a scientifically accurate, fictional portrayal of what it’d be like to smuggle things into a lunar colony. Naturally, that’s a winning formula for a great story. We’d even almost believe the colony of Artemis exists, and the memo telling us about it got lost in the shuffle on the desk of whoever was supposed to tell us about it. $16

American War

Omar El Akkad

This is not a tacit endorsement of the idea that America is heading for a second Civil War. That’s a topic best tackled by educated historians and stoned college freshman, with special exception for ex-pat dwarves in Belgian cinema. This, however, is an explicit endorsement of an excellent book. The first thing American War does right is acknowledge the technological difference between the real Civil War and this imagined one. We’re not dealing with a bunch of guys charging each other with muskets and bayonets. The other thing it does right is keep the story focused, for the most part, on a single girl and her family. These sorts of events are best viewed as they affect someone specific the audience can empathize with, and Akkad finds that person in Sarat Chestnut. $18