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My Best of 2017

German Author W. G. Sebald (1944-2001)

Below is a list of my favorite books from 2017. Most are fiction, with some occupying the in-between zone, and only two are outright non-fiction. The only name which is repeated from 2016 is that of Patrick Modiano, about whom I posted yesterday. The 14 books listed below are in alphabetic order by the names of their authors. This year, I have also included the country of origin.

  • Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima (US). I was tempted to also include The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols, but of the two New Mexico novels, I think Anaya’s is the better.
  • Teju Cole, Open City (US). Cole’s Nigerian-American viewpoint is incredible. I am keeping my eye on this writer.
  • Ry Cooder, Los Angeles Stories (US). Granted, Cooder is a great musician; but he’s also got the makings of a great writer. I would love to see more from him.
  • Antonio di Benedetto, Zama (Argentina). This New York Review title introduces a writer unknown to Americans, but well known to South Americans. A Spanish government official in Paraguay finds his ambition is constantly being thwarted.
  • Joan Didion, South and West, From a Notebook (US). This is an old title that is just now being released. Didion’s 40-year-old observations of Dixie are still relevant.
  • David Goodis, Dark Passage (US). A noir masterpiece, far better even than the Bogart movie based on it.
  • Indriðason, Arnaldur, Reykjavík Nights (Iceland). Indriðason is a world-class mystery writer, and he seems to be getting better and better.
  • Patrick Modiano, After the Circus (France). A young man falls for an older woman he first sees at a police interrogation.
  • Natsume Soseki, The Gate (Japan). A real find: This quiet writer is a deep one. Even if he died early in the 20th century, his books read as if they were written yesterday. (This writer is not outside of alphabetic order: Natsume is his family name)
  • Raymond Queneau, The Last Days (France). A coming-of-age story with seven characters set in the 1920s.
  • Jonathan Raban, Passage to Juneau: A Sea and Its Meanings (US). Ostensibly a travel book, but a great one. Real life intervenes twice in the author’s solo sailing voyage up Alaska’s Inside Passage.
  • W G Sebald, The Emigrants (Germany). A book about people who have for various reasons emigrated from their home countries (like Sebald himself), and find themselves in a strange in-between place.
  • Marina Tsvetaeva, Selected Poems (Russia). By far the best poems I have read last year.
  • John Williams, Stoner (US). No, nothing to do with drugs. Professor Stoner is an English instructor at a Midwestern college, and we see how his life plays out.