25 Best Fiction Books 2017

Read by the Chief Bookworm at The What

For the past two years, I’ve been on the adult fiction book committee for my kids’ school Book Fair, which means I read roughly 50 books between January and October. All but two tomes on The What’s “best list” come from being on this committee with other prolific readers who have fine taste in books. Therefore, a special shout out to my fiction curating homies. You know who you are. Everything recommended below was carefully vetted, discussed at length, and reader approved. We’re always looking for feedback so please let us know if you have additions or subtractions to this list.

Some of the books at my kids’ school Book Fair

If you want a sure thing …

Pachinko tops every editor’s Best Books of 2017 from The New Yorker to The Washington Post to Vogue. It’s a sweeping historical saga that follows a Korean family for four generations from Korea to Japan. Engrossing, epic, and beautifully written. I have yet to meet a person who thinks this book was just okay.
Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood — and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.” Universally loved by everyone on my committee who read it.

If you love exquisite writing …

Nominated for the National Book Award and the Kirkus Prize, “Sing Unburied Sing” by Jesmyn Ward is a breathless novel set in the South that explores race, addiction, poverty, and pain. If you love Toni Morrison you’ll love this book that has many proclaiming Jesmyn Ward as a genius. We’d second that opinion.
Autumn by Ali Smith is a novel that asks “Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearean jeu d’esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s pop art: the centuries cast their eyes over own history making.” Absolutely swoon-worthy gorgeous prose. (Man Booker Prize Finalist)
In Days Without End Sebastian Barry, two time Man Booker Prize Winner, weaves an original tale of two young men from hard scrabble lives who find each other at the start of the Civil War. This inseparable duo embarks on a perilous adventure that is peppered with Huck Finn-style hijinx. One of my favorites of the year but then I love Twain and Westworld. (Man Booker Prize Shortlist)

If you love all things Irish (as we do)…

Himself by Jess Kidd. Brace yourself for the violence of the first paragraph but it’s like ripping off a band-aid to what turns out to be a darkly comic supernatural mystery set in rural Ireland. You’ll tear through this in a week or less.
Saints for All Occasions spins the saga of an Irish family that follows two very different sisters over five decades — from their small village in Ireland to the United States. You’ll love the characters and miss them when you finish this book.

If you like astronauts …

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey. Journey inside the heads of three veteran astronauts as they prepare for their maiden voyage to Mars. This beautifully written novel explores the psychology of inner space against the backdrop of outer space, as well as the mind trip of their loved ones who are stuck dealing with the lackluster reality of home base. Loved this book! It’s quiet, thoughtful, and deeply insightful.
Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar. A highly original comedy about a cosmonaut on a solo journey to win his country fame. It’s weird, hilarious — a little Vonnegut with a dash of Kafka — and highly recommended.

If you enjoy East Coast dysfunction …

The Heirs by Susan Rieger. A seemingly perfect Upper East side power couple with the Ivy-educated kids is upended by the death of the patriarch and all that follows. Breezy page turner with intriguing characters.
The Locals by Jonathan Dee. What happens post-September 11th between townies and a Manhattan billionaire when he decides to move full time to his summer home in the Berkshires. The Locals explores the dichotomy between the haves and -nots in a way that does not diminish either. It’s also a poignant read in an era of Trump. Don’t be discouraged by the brash narrator in the first chapter. He’s there to make a point. The book is told from the POV of many characters. Still thinking about some of the themes weeks after.
The Leavers by Lisa Ko. Chinese immigrants, poverty, well-meaning white adoptive parents, and a young man struggling to find his identity in an 80s suburb and beyond. Solid writing and magnetic characters that will tug at you to finish this eloquent tale. Very filmic, as Altman would say.
The Futures by Anna Pitoniak charts the trials and tribulations of two college sweethearts who leave the coddling confines of Yale to move to the big city. It’s a good reminder of how life, career, insecurities, and ambition can erode young love and lead to isolation and terrible decisions.

If you like short stories …

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami. If you’re a die hard Murakami fan like I am, you’ve already read this. But, if you’re new to Murakami these short stories show his penchant for loner characters living out lives of quiet desperation. Pensive stories for a rainy day.
Fresh Complaint. Jeffrey Eugenides is a master storyteller who has the remarkable ability to develop characters, you’ll deeply care about, with an economy of words. Each intricately wrought short story is a mirrored doorway into people’s lives, where you’ll encounter something new and see yourself reflected back.

If you enjoy cold (or dark) …

The North Water by Ian McGuire. Two brutal men on an ill-fated voyage to the whale hunting waters of the Arctic Circle. Fast-paced, gruesome, and violent, this slim tome plumbs the depths of the soul. Most dudes seem to love this novel, as did we.
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. The coming of age of an introverted teenage girl who lives in the woods of Northern Minnesota with her frugal hippie parents. History of Wolves is a brilliant debut novel that will have you rooting for the young protagonist to do the right thing even though you know the outcome.
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent. On Stephen King’s shortlist of recommendations along with this high praise: “This book is ugly, beautiful, horrifying, and uplifting. The word ‘masterpiece’ has been cheapened by too many blurbs, but My Absolute Darling absolutely is one.”

If you like dramalarious …

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny. “A divinely funny novel about the challenges of a good marriage, the delight and heartache of raising children, and the irresistible temptation to wonder about the path not taken.” A fun, quick read that won’t send you into an existential spiral during the holiday reading break.
Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta. Perotta, who has been described as an American Chekov, is a writer with range like no other (refer to the critically acclaimed book The Leftovers which became a critically acclaimed show). And now meet Mrs. Fletcher, a rollicking tale about the sexual awakening of a middle aged woman in a Snapchat world.
Woman №17 by Edan Lepucki. A young, failed artist from Berkeley embarks on a hilarious, ridiculous “performance art” experiment which involves nanny-ing for a wealthy, enigmatic, newly single mom in the Hollywood Hills. Hilarious, creative, fucked up cast of characters make this book my #1 pick for intelligent beach reads.

If you like mystery novels …

IQ by Joe Ide is an urban, brainy, modern day Sherlock Holmes, barely out of his teens and from South Central LA, who applies his unique problem solving skills to crime. It’s a fresh detective novel that will keep you riveted and entertained.
Lucky Supreme by Jeff Johnson. Don’t be surprised if you pull an all-nighter to finish Lucky Supreme which starts off with a theft in a tattoo parlor in Portland, Oregon and launches the protagonist on a dark, thrilling adventure full of deception, freaks, and surreal situations.
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. Set in a prosaic English village in the 1950s, Magpie Murders is an Agatha Christie-style classic mystery within a mystery.
The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan. Also set in a small English village during WWII, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is a charming novel about what happens when all the men in the village go off to war. Told through letters and diary entries, this book is a testament to the power of female community.

Gina Pell is the Content Chief and resident bookworm at The What, a clever list for curious people. Get The What in your inbox.

This reading list compiled from my favorite reading spot (usually overrun with cats).
One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.