AROUND this time every year, literary enthusiasts are always subjected to the summer reading lists of people with the dullest taste.
Lists of books favoured by political and business leaders are usually pretty impressive, and suspiciously highbrow. Ulysses often features on more than one leaders’ list.
The lists can be interesting, but there’s not a whole lot to take away from them — wouldn’t you rather get a glimpse into what regular people with normal tastes read?
So would we, and that’s why we’ve decided to bring you our picks for the best books of 2017 to add to your summer reading stack. No snobbery or haughtiness, just cracking reads.
A pick for quite a few of the news.com.au team this year was not a new read, but one that enjoyed a modernised resurgence.
Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale became a must-read after the series modelled after it became everybody’s streaming obsession.
A more recent read we enjoyed was Philip Pullman’s The Book Of Dust, a dark fantasy read more than a decade in the making.
Another ripping, and at times confusing, literary read which gets the tick of approval not only from a few of our reporters but judges of the Booker Prize which is took out this year, is George Saunders’ Lincoln In The Bardo.
This experimental novel, told in the voices of a 166-strong cast, is a chilling and fantastical exploration of Abraham Lincoln’s grief over his son Willie’s death and the multiple visits he made to his tomb.
Heather Rose’s The Museum Of Modern Love was a worthy winner of the Stella Prize, and a great read for art and book lovers alike.
BEST POLITICAL READS
You can’t escape a story about 2017 without a mention of Donald Trump. Books focusing on the US President feature in most bestseller and recommendation lists for the year, and our pick of them is NBC reporter Katy Tur’s campaign diary, Unbelievable.
Stationed with Mr Trump from the time his candidacy was considered a ridiculous and hilarious impossibility, Tur has an insight into the evolution of Trump the politician that few share. The blond broadcaster who Mr Trump nicknamed “Little Katy” during his campaign also had her share of clashes during the campaign, and her telling of those moments are priceless.
In a bid to offer an explanation as to why Mr Trump went from a joke candidate to the world’s most powerful leader, J.D Vance brought us Hillbilly Elegy — a fascinating “memoir of a family and culture in crisis”. Though it doesn’t mention the name Donald Trump once, this book has been named by numerous critics and literary publications as the defining book of the period that led to his presidency.
Also seeking to explain the Trump election, is The Retreat Of Western Liberalism by Edward Luce — a brilliant insight into the “forgotten middle class” behind world trends, including the 2016 election result.
BEST MEMOIR AND BIOGRAPHY
Just weeks before Middle Eastern Crime Squad officers raided his luxury properties, infamous Sydney nightclub boss John Ibrahim released a wildly entertaining memoir taunting police with tales of corruption he claimed to have seen during his time managing Kings Cross nightclubs. Last King Of The Cross is in no way a literary masterpiece, but it’s a very entertaining read.
Offering an insight into a completely different crime world was comedian Trevor Noah who shared his experience of the end of apartheid in South Africa in his book Born A Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood.
For something completely different, Lilia Tarawa told of her life in a religious cult in her memoir Daughter Of Gloriavale. This one was a powerful true story about the New Zealand woman who grew up in a cult and finally managed to defy everything she knew and break free. What was most compelling about the story was learning about the meaningful relationships she forged even in such a twisted environment.
And the most glamorous release of 2017 has to go to Tina Brown for her The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983-1992, which detailed her time as the ridiculously successful editor of a relaunched Vanity Fair in the 1980s. It’s been somewhat criticised as a retelling of history, but who cares? This version of history is brilliant fun, and it’s worth a read for the name-dropping alone.
RIPPING CRIME READS
The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is an ingenious whodunit. It’s actually a book within a book, so you get two murder mysteries for the price of one.
Not strictly a crime book, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is one of those reads you just won’t be able to put down, so schedule ahead if you plan to pick this one up over the summer holidays. Beginning with a deliberate house fire, this is almost a reverse whodunit — we already know who lit the fire, the story is about finding out why. It follows the story of two families who linked and then divided over an extraordinary set of circumstances in a small Pleasantville-style American town.
And in one of the most impressive Australian literary offerings this year, journalist Jane Harper’s second novel Force Of Nature is another for lovers of ripping crime and mystery reads like Gone Girl, The Girl On The Train, and Harper’s highly-praised debut novel The Dry.
BEST SPORTS BOOKS
I’ve left this one to our sports reporters, but they tell me Shea Serrano’s Basketball (And Other Things) was well worth picking up.
And also on the basketball theme was Betaball: How Silicon Valley And Science Built One Of The Greatest Basketball Teams In History. In this recommendation, Bleacher Report journalist Erik Malinowski details the road to success experienced by NBA champion team the Gold State Warriors.
BEST SHORT STORIES
A suitably short and succinct list in this category, which is wholly dominated by celebrated Australian journalist and author Helen Garner.
The much-loved writer released two collections of short stories this year, Stories (fiction) and True Stories (nonfiction). They’re both brilliant.