The Best Books of 2017 — Real Recommendations from Real Readers

by Laura Lambert

As any reader knows, there’s no shortage of “best of…” and bestseller lists out there. (Is there a best of list for quick-and-easy books tired moms can read in the bathroom, hiding from your family? Sort of.)

What I love most, though, are the recommendations from the real people in my life, with all their unique passions and quirks and needs and interests. With personal recs, you don’t just get the book, you get the book through their eyes — which is exactly how we deepen our understanding of each other, and the world.

With that in mind, here are some of the most beloved titles from 2017, as recommend by real readers.

  • The Changeling

    by Victor Lavalle

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    There are some things that are so distinctly New York, you have to live there to truly understand — like riding the subway. Says Nora L., The Changeling, while a fantasy book, is “the most recognizable depiction of New York City that I’ve ever read” which “made the fantastical elements seem more real, more present.”

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  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

    by Gail Honeyman

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    This charming novel — and soon-to-be film starring Reese Witherspoon — gets many a thumbs up. Says Christine H., “I absolutely adored this book because it was laugh-out-loud funny, totally quirky, and so unique. Eleanor, the protagonist, thinks like no one else I know, which made this a fascinating read.” Ragan K. adds, “One of the most lovable ‘unlovable’ protagonists in recent memory, Eleanor lives a regimented, spartan life guided by unflappable, unusual opinions as to how to conduct oneself as a person in the world. When an incident brings several new people into her circumscribed orbit, Eleanor finds herself in all sorts of circumstances previously foreign to her (concerts, a funeral, a 40th birthday party, for starters), to hilarious results.”

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  • Exit West

    by Mohsin Hamid

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    Writer Ayelet Waldman calls Exit West, “a road map to our future.” This is the story of life in a war zone — and two students turned refugees trying to escape. Says Jennifer R., “I read this book with a mix of dread, anger, and utter sadness. Hamid portrays greater themes, such as religious extremism, political upheaval, the refugee crisis, and xenophobia, while also examining the everyday concepts of love, friendship, and home. I still find myself thinking about Exit West months after reading it.”

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  • The Four Tendencies

    by Gretchen Rubin

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    There’s nary a personality test I can pass up — from the latest riff on Myers-Briggs to mindless Buzzfeed quizzes that promise to tell me whether I’m a 20-something grandma. (Guess what? I am, minus the 20-something part.) That’s why Rubin’s rubric of Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels, outlined in The Four Tendencies, is so appealing. It gives us a sense of ourselves — and a guide to others. Says Megan B., “It really answered questions that pop up in my everyday life with those I live and work with, like ‘How can she DO that?’ or ‘What was he THINKING?’” Rubin lays out a theory about four different personality types and explains the thoughts and motivations of each in a way that promotes compassion and understanding, and fosters an environment to work together more smoothly and efficiently.

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  • The Heirs

    by Susan Rieger

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    Liz L. says, “I was hooked from the start by this funny, moving story of adult siblings grappling with their father's death, their inheritance, and each other. Fans of The Nest and Where'd You Go, Bernadette? will love The Heirs.”

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  • Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body

    by Roxane Gay

    I love me some Roxane Gay — and clearly, I am not alone. Hunger is her account of living in her self-described “wildly undisciplined” body. Reviews hail her searing honesty, with passages like:

    “I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I had been because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere ... I was trapped in my body, one I made but barely recognized or understood but of my own making. I was miserable, but I was safe.”

    Says Marian B., “So good. Perspective-changing!”

  • Lincoln in the Bardo

    by George Saunders

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    There’s a short story in Tenth of December, “Escape from Spiderhead,” that comes back to me — unbidden — with some regularity. Such is the power of Saunders’s dark and vivid imagination. Lincoln in the Bardo, his first full-length novel, is an experimental and unforgettable tale of what happens after 11-year-old Willie Lincoln, son of then president Abraham Lincoln, dies. Emily H. says, “With Lincoln in the Bardo … Saunders ascends to a new plane. It made me cry, and it made me hope.”

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  • Little Fires Everywhere

    by Celeste Ng

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    Writes Christine M., “What smolders under the surface of the suburban utopia of Shaker Heights, Ohio? Secrets, hopes, good intentions, and deeply flawed, wonderfully genuine relationships. Celeste Ng’s accomplished novel Little Fires Everywhere explores the complicated nature of motherhood, parenthood, and personhood, with characters so vivid and alive you feel as if you’d recognize them on the street, at the post office, or in the supermarket, or maybe even in the mirror. You smile, weep, cheer, worry, and hope for them, propelled along the volatile path created by their affection, sacrifice, and deep love one for one another. Unforgettable; a fire to be reckoned with.”

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  • Mrs. Fletcher

    by Tom Perrotta

    Perrotta’s Little Children is still one of my favorite books — and if I’m to believe those I heard from for this piece, Mrs. Fletcher is destined to join it. Like Little Children, Mrs. Fletcher is about sex and the suburbs — and our slippery identities. “It’s a super-fast read” says Esther C., a mom who knows exactly how much time we all have at our disposal (i.e. about 9 minutes a day). “It has the most hilarious premise on the planet — involving MILFs — but is also insightful and real,” says Marian B.

  • My Absolute Darling

    by Gabriel Tallent

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    Says Milena S., “Despite the disturbing subject matter covered, I couldn’t put down this beautifully written coming-of-age story that transports readers to the woods of Northern California. My heart ached for Turtle, the main character who fights for survival at the hands of an abusive parent. Turtle’s story is one that lingers and haunts.”

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  • The Rules Do Not Apply

    by Ariel Levy

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    Some essays just stick with you, for years and years. One of those, for me, was Ariel Levy’s “Thanksgiving in Mongolia” from back in 2013. At the time, I wasn’t so very far away from being pregnant myself, and her unflinching description of losing her still-forming baby, halfway across the globe, spoke deeply to me about the cost of being a woman. Levy’s memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, centers on that story but delves much deeper into her life. Stacey W., a journalist herself, says, “It’s a super raw — and at times heartbreaking — memoir about female ambition, sexuality, family, and love, written by a journalist.”

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  • Sing, Unburied, Sing

    by Jesmyn Ward

    Sing, Unburied, Sing “humanizes the poor by giving them rich inner lives,” says Catherine C., quoting Ward from a recent book event. Ward won her second National Book Award for this title — and the story of its publishing is a life lesson in itself. As Ward put it, she had been rejected by gatekeepers who told her the characters she writes about — poor people, black people, Southerners — were not universal stories. But she persevered — and boy did she show them! Catherine C. calls the book “poetic and beautiful, and sad and real.”

  • Stay with Me

    by Ayobami Adebayo

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    Laura B., a journalist abroad who covers Africa, interviewed Adebayo about her debut novel, about a childless couple struggling with infertility and the cultural politics of 1980s Nigeria. The Guardian calls Stay with Me, “a bright, big-hearted demonstration of female spirit, as well as the damage done by the boundlessness of male pride.” Laura B. says simply, “It's an amazing book.”

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  • What Happened

    by Hillary Rodham Clinton

    For those still grieving the 2016 election, What Happened provided some balm, some relief — and even more fodder for the pitched political back-and-forth native to social media. Many said they appreciated having Clinton’s voice in their ear again, and hearing her perspective on the events of last year.

  • Young Jane Young

    by Gabrielle Zevin

    Young Jane Young — which The Washington Post calls, “a redemptive novel inspired by the Lewinsky ordeal”— gets several real-word accolades from women who, like me, experienced said ordeal firsthand, as young women on the cusp of professional life. Here, our Lewinsky surrogate is Aviva, a 20-year-old intern involved with a Congressman in Florida. In the novel, “Avivagate” is told from five different female perspectives. Ellen F. calls the novel “fun and lively, but also important and tackling a lot of cultural issues.”

And what about you, dear reader? What was your favorite book of 2017?