Top Ten for 2017

Some of our favorite books that make you think


We read a lot of books here at Scuppernong. Our health probably suffers because of it. But a sedentary life also has its rewards. For instance, with a modicum of credibility, we can offer a top-10 list you can believe in. We’ve queried the staff, and here are our compiled favorites — without any further hierarchy — but largely created to start a good argument. We expect to hear about what we overlooked and why we’re wrong. So have at it, O.Henry readers, let the holiday disagreements begin here!

The Blood of Emmett Till, by Timothy Tyson (Simon & Schuster, 2017, $27)

Initially mischaracterized as an apologia for the woman who falsely accused Emmett Till in 1955, this National Book Award longlister is more an ode to the strength and conviction of Till’s mother, and of an entire movement in Mississippi facing down the psychopathology of Jim Crow. (BL)

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee (Grand Central Publishing, 2017, $27)

Pachinko is a stunning generational saga whose immigrant characters will sweep you into their lives with ease. It is a story of hardship that never feels downtrodden, of searching without feeling lost. Lee’s intimate prose flows like breath in this deeply human tale.  (SJ)

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World Publishing, 2017, $28)

The eight years of the Obama Administration are denoted by single extended essays in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. These essays don’t always directly address the President and his two terms; they move over a number of nominal subjects, but the essential concern throughout is race in America. The essays are held together both by subject matter and by interstitials on Coates’s life in each year: we watch him in the first as a struggling, directionless writer searching for his voice, supported by his wife, then follow year after year as he finds that voice and rises to prominence. You won’t find a more topical, compelling, and provocative collection of essays this year. (SM)

The Wrong Way to Save Your Life, by Megan Stielstra (Harper Perennial, 2017, $15)

Reading Megan Stielstra is like drinking wine with that one insightful friend who is honest about all the things we’re not supposed to talk about, the one with whom you can laugh and sob at your corner table. Like all the best books, these essays hold a nugget of something true. (SJ)

The Bright Hour, by Nina Riggs (Simon & Schuster, 2017, $25)

There are many people around Greensboro who will hand you this book with haunted delight and tell you how much you will laugh as the author steadily (or unsteadily) approaches her own death from cancer. Nina’s grace in the face of pain and loss becomes a guide for how to live. And you’ll cry, of course, you’ll cry, because it all matters so much. (BL)

Stephen Florida, by Gabe Habash (Coffee House, 2017, $25)

There won’t be another novel from 2017 that’ll make you as uncomfortable, but that’s OK. Habash doesn’t want you to feel good, he just wants you to feel something, and this debut novel of obsession, mania and Midwest wrestling will have you feeling paranoid, contemplative, skeeved, spooked, smart and grateful to have read it. (BE)

Theft By Finding, by David Sedaris (Little Brown, 2017, $28)

A collection of diary entries, this book inspired me to tune into the strange and funny moments of my own life that I might have otherwise missed because I was staring into my phone all day. Try the audio for Sedaris’s classic delivery. (MT)

A Simple Story, by Leila Guerriero (New Directions, 2017, $14.95)

Nothing explains fully, or in any kind of satisfying way, why we become obsessed, engaged, enthralled, with the things we do. Attempting to construct a foundation, we create stories, but beauty, like love, is contradictory, mysterious, impenetrable. Our only role is submission. Only, it’s not submission to the lover, the one obsessed. It’s only submission to the outsider. To the lover, it is complete engagement, an immersion. It’s a form of bliss. A Simple Story by Leila Guerriero, translated by Frances Riddle, really is simply a book about a man who dances the malambo. (SM)

Why Poetry, by Matthew Zapruder (Ecco, 2017, $24.99)

Zapruder was recently the poetry editor at The New York Times, which placed him, somewhat uncomfortably, in the center of the poetry mainstream. This book embraces his position in the eye of the maelstrom (there are actual anti-Zapruder books of poetry being written), and tries to make the case that the perceived elitism of poetry is wrong-headed. Poetry might still matter to all of us. And in case you’re wondering, he’s the grandson of Abraham Zapruder of JFK assassination film fame. (BL)

Basketball (and Other Things), by Shea Serrano (Abrams, 2017, $19.99)

Really? Yes, this book is a gem. With illustrations by Arturo Torres, it’s beautiful to look at, and Serrano’s strange devotion to the arcana of NBA life is endlessly interesting. These folks brought us The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song from Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed in 2015, and the charm is in the obsession. My favorite chapter: “What’s the Order of the Fictional Basketball Player Draft.” Jesus Shuttlesworth is No.10. (BL).  OH

This month’s column was compiled by Brian Lampkin, Shannon Jones, Steve Mitchell, Michael Thomas and Brian Etling.

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