Our 2017 Favorites - Books

2017 was a difficult year in many ways, but eras of strife and hardship breed books of power and beauty, and this year was no exception. So much good fiction, nonfiction, and especially poetry was released this year that it would be impossible to list it all here—fortunately, we've been keeping up with our favorites via profiles, interviews, and book reviews throughout the year. Still, there were a few that slipped through the cracks, and we're happy to draw attention to them here. If you're looking for a good way to spend a holiday gift card, we recommend picking up one of these books. Happy reading!



The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington
by Leonora Carrington
Publication Date: April 28, 2017
Publisher: Dorothy, a publishing project

The world received a gift this year with the publication of The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington. An English artist based in Mexico City, Carrington was a Surrealist interested in exploring magic and sexuality. This incredible collection of Carrington’s short stories helps establish her as master of surrealist whimsy. Go into this collection with an open heart and open eyes, and you’ll come out the other side cursed and wearing the face of a boar. Good luck getting home.

—Kelsey Williams


Flesh of the Peach
by Helen McClory
Publication Date: March 30, 2017
Publisher: Freight Books

Life happens—sometimes all at once. Helen McClory’s novel Flesh of the Peach features an artist named Sarah Browne who suffers from a duo of unfortunate events. Her affair with a married woman falls through at the same time she loses her affluent mother, leaving Sarah with a large amount of money  and resulting in her spontaneous decision to move from New York to Mexico. The novel is a realistic approach to the sudden unraveling that life can take, the human response, and the internal deconstruction of tragedy. Throughout the novel, McClory effortlessly transitions between the settings of New York, England, and Mexico while probing internal reflection with poetic discipline. Flesh of the Peach has everything that makes a novel engaging and dynamic: sex, death, and self-discovery.

—Naya Clark


Goodbye, Vitamin
by Rachel Khong
Publication Date: July 11, 2017
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.

Newly 30 and no longer engaged, Ruth quits her job and moves home to live with her parents. She’s greeted by her once spry history professor father, who won’t accept his Alzheimer’s diagnosis and its imposing effects. Her mother is unable to forgive him for an affair he had with a student, and Ruth is left to navigate their troubled waters, still grieving her own relationship’s end. Khong’s sentences are deft, vivid, and compulsively readable. Ruth’s emotional journey to support her father and find a new path sucks you in, punches you in the gut, and buoys you in quick succession.

—Kimmy Whitmer


by Owen Egerton
Publication Date: July 11, 2017
Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Owen Egerton is one of Austin's literary treasures: he hosts the beloved One Page Salon series, which brings Austin's writers community together to share one page of a work in progress, fostering an atmosphere of support and inclusivity for so many of our city's aspiring talents. He's also a hell of a writer. His latest novel, Hollow, is a poignant tale of loss, a story of a man who literally loses it all: his wife, his home, his child. A former professor, Oliver Bonds is reduced to receiving meals from a shelter and spends his days cavorting with a wily ne'er-do-well who insists that the earth is hollow and that paradise can be found beneath its rocky crust. Somehow, this fantastic tale feels never feels unrealistic, demonstrating the power of belief in an era of fake news. A philosophical exploration of the human ability to cope, Hollow is simultaneously harrowing and humorous, and touching to the core.

—Sean Redmond


The Mountains of Parnassus
by Czeslaw Milosz
Publication Date: January 10, 2017
Publisher: Yale University Press

In the Introductory Notes to The Mountains of Parnassus, Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz’s purposely unfinished science fiction novel, Milosz claims that he didn't feel like writing this book because it would be "(1) artistically dubious and (2) immoral." Strange words from one of the 20th century’s most artistically secure and indisputably moral writers. But then, this is a strange book. Available in English for the first time (it was published posthumously in 2012 in the original Polish) and set in a dystopian future, The Mountains of Parnassus is less a novel than a series of experimental sketches and musings on technology, religion, art, and meaning in the postmodern age. Bleak, yes, but vital.

Paul Stinson



by Patricia Lockwood
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
Publisher: Riverhead

Poet Patricia Lockwood’s memoir Priestdaddy probably doesn’t need much more recognition after The New York Times named it one of their 10 Best Books of 2017. While The New York Times mentions that Priestdaddy is “very funny” and “formidably gifted,” I also want to note that Priestdaddy is one of the most touching inquiries into all the politics, confusion, and perversity surrounding gender and sexuality in Catholic middle America. The book's called Priestdaddy for a reason.

—Adam Fales


Sunshine State
by Sarah Gerard
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Publisher: Harper Perennial

As the title suggests, Sunshine State is a collection of essays about Florida—the Florida where Gerard grew up in in the 1980s, the part that people don’t necessarily vacation in. These essays are both deeply personal and highly researched and informative. Gerard has a knack for interweaving these two modes seamlessly. Much like Joan Didion writing about America via California in the '60s, people may read this book years from now for a window into a certain subset of our national psyche. My favorite essays are “Mother-Father-God,” in which she tackles the history of Christian Science and the New Thought movement through her own parents’ involvement in the Unity-Clearwater church, and “Going Diamond,” in which she does the same thing for Amway. Having little previous knowledge or interest in either, I found her essays riveting—the mark of truly accomplished nonfiction.

—Althea Lamel


Tell Me How It Ends
by Valeria Luiselli
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Publisher: Coffee House Press

In only 106 pages, Luiselli delivers a brief but powerful essay about our nation’s treatment of undocumented children, as seen through the lens of her own experience as a translator for Mexican and Central American children seeking asylum. If you read and loved The Story of My Teeth, this is nothing like it, but her penchant for storytelling remains evident in this deeply moving narrative. She began writing this essay in 2015, years before she could have guessed just how much more brutal American policies toward immigrants and refugees would become. Packed with facts and stories, observations and indictments, the book is a reminder of the human lives at stake behind federal immigration policies, and an urgent call to action.

—Althea Lamel


The History of the Future
by Edward McPherson
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
Publisher: Coffee House Press

The essays in The History of the Future focus on different American cities, exploring the author's personal relationship to them in juxtaposition to their own unique histories, and how the two intertwine. McPherson's writing is measured and subtly engaging, exploring the nuances of each locale with the grace of the finest New Yorker writing, drawing parallels in particular to John McPhee. While the "history of the future" aspect of the book is a little overblown (and the parallels between Dallas and the TV show Dallas are less enlightening than the book jacket would have you believe), at heart McPherson's book provides captivating stories of New York's subway system, the St. Louis World's Fair, the North Dakota fracking boom, and other uniquely American developments, good and bad. As McPherson celebrates his family's history, the warmth of his personal stories balances out the sense of foreboding that builds throughout the collection, infusing it with stakes and breathing life into what is already a finely crafted little history book.

—Sean Redmond


They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us
by Hanif Abdurraqib
Publication Date: November 7, 2017
Publisher: Two Dollar Radio

Hanif Abdurraqib brilliantly makes pain, poetry, and music legible in his prose. He sorts out some of our world’s most fraught and frightening moments, so that we come to appreciate them in a wholly new light. These essays on race, religion, and culture examine a range of topics from Carly Rae Jepsen to Michael Brown, culminating in one of the most urgent books of the year. If, as Abdurraqib claims at one point, 2016 was the year of Chance the Rapper, I’d like to suggest that 2017 might be the year of Hanif Abdurraqib.

—Adam Fales


Tough Enough
by Deborah Nelson
Publication Date: April 3, 2017
Publisher: University of Chicago Press

One of the few good things about the mess that was 2017 is that we received a number of great books that reinterpret past figures for our current moment. Deborah Nelson’s Tough Enough is my favorite of these books. It manages to be a hagiography without veneration. Establishing a cast of hardened saints, including Diane Arbus, Hannah Arendt, Joan Didion, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag and Simone Weil, Nelson brilliantly shows how these women used unsentimentality as an aesthetic and political tool to survive their own time and how we might turn to them to survive our present crises.

—Adam Fales



Electric Arches
by Eve L. Ewing
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Publisher: Haymarket Books

Full disclosure: I went to school with Eve, and we worked on a newspaper together as undergraduate students. We haven't really kept in touch, though, so I was surprised and elated to come across her debut collection. Eve's prose is magic, the intimate stories of her childhood fusing the real and the symbolic effortlessly, painting a picture of growing up young and black in Chicago. It is a celebration of culture so intimate that, as a white man, I can only speak around it with unnecessary words. Beautiful and, to put it bluntly, electric.

—Sean Redmond


by sam sax
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Publisher: Penguin

I interviewed sam sax right before Madness was released, having read his chapbooks and seen him perform live on numerous occasions, so while the novelty of this collection was not as striking as it would be to a new reader, the beauty of his language never ceases to compel. sax's use of medical jargon while presenting his own real-world experiences creates a powerful contrast that illustrates the gravity of otherwise abstract terms. An exploration of queer identity, drug use, and illness, sax's Madness moves fluidly in a stream-of-conscious way from the abstract to the personal, laying bare his struggles and using them to paint a raw portrait of the twin faces of pleasure and destruction.

—Sean Redmond


Patient Zero
by Tomás Q. Morin
Publication Date: April 4, 2017
Publisher: Copper Canyon Press

Memory is an integral component to Tomas Q. Morin’s Patient Zero. Whether the memories in question are romantic, familial, or personal, Morin illuminates these recollections with a tone and voice that leaves the reader feeling that whatever memory the speaker is pining for is just outside of reach. Morin’s collection presents itself with all the tenderness of human emotion while showcasing the untamed nature of our more animalistic sensibilities. Morin’s speaker, like many of us, is fighting: fighting to be and feel whole.

—Sunny Leal