The Best Books of 2017 (or, The First Annual Fyodor Awards!)

FyodorAwardIt’s nearly 2018, so you know what time it is. That’s right! It’s the First Annual Fyodor Awards!

Well, I guess it’s the first one so you probably didn’t…never mind.

What are the best works of fiction and nonfiction I read this year (regardless of when they were published? What should you definitely be reading right now? And what are my supreme recommendations for 2017?

Without further ado, here are the winners of the prestigious and highly coveted Fyodor Awards for Best Fiction and Best Nonfiction!

FYODOR FICTION AWARDS

Best Novel: Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

A powerful novel that truly deserves the adjective “epic.”

Best Drama: Fences, August Wilson

A beautiful character study, packed with a tight plot and beautiful dialogue.

Best Graphic NovelMaus I and II, Art Spiegelman

A haunting look at the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis (which feels sadly all too relevant given the growing popularity and acceptance of Nazism among American politicians and the public).

Most Charming NovelA Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman

An unabashedly feel-good book that rises above more Hallmarky/cliché stories by anchoring the plot with a fun, memorable, and cranky protagonist.

Most Unexpected Novel: The Chess Master, Ah Cheng

Tied with Stefan Zweig’s Chess Story for my favorite novel about chess, Chinese author Ah Cheng does an incredible job portraying chess in a harmonious and completely un-Western way that will make this immortal game feel remarkably fresh and intriguing to experts and amateurs alike.

Check out my article on The Millions for more on this novel.

But what was the best work of fiction I read in 2017?

The Fyodor for Best Fiction goes to…

Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian!

I’m sure McCarthy, who has already won a genius grant, as well as many, many other awards will be humbled to know he finally got a Fyodor and therefore didn’t waste his life.

Congratulations, Mr. McCarthy

Moving on…

FYODOR NONFICTION AWARDS

Best Biography: Simone Weil, Francine de Plessix Gray

I can’t tell you how much I admire this woman after having read this biography (which obviously compelled me to research her more). Granted, I have problems with her later works/philosophy, but her political thoughts and writings are excellent. But more importantly, she put her beliefs into action, as an educator, soldier, and more.

Most Eye-Opening: TIE – Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi CoatesZeitoun, Dave Eggers

Both of these books allowed me get a small glimpse of what it’s like to black or Muslim in the United States Today. Coates’ writing has been compared by Toni Morrison to James Baldwin’s, and I completely agree. Eggers, on the other hand, doe an incredible job not just portraying a heroic Muslim man, but the cruelty of an American “justice” system that nearly kills him and destroys his family simply because he’s brown (if I sound worked up, it’s because Eggers does such a great job working the reader up). I can’t recommend these books highly enough.

Best Long Form Journalism: TIE Holy Lands: Reviving Pluralism in the Middle East, Nicholas Pelham, India, Turkey, and the Return of Strongmen, Basharat Peer

Great examples of investigative journalism that illuminates both the past and present. Both are essential for anyone who, like me, wants to understand each issue/conflict better but isn’t sure where to start.

Best History: TIE – Puerto Rico: A Socio-Historic Interpretation, Manuel Maldonado-Denis, We, the People of Puerto Rico, Juan Angel Silen

Like the previous two books mentioned, this is a great text for anyone unfamiliar with the subject. However, these texts are not written by objective spectators, but men whose passion for their home shines through every fiery sentence. Powerful works that put the recent recovery debacle in Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria in a new light and explain why the United States still has a colony in 2017.

Best Popular ScienceTIE – Chaos: The Story of a New Science, and Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea

James Gleick is my favorite popular science writer, and this book is just one example of how he can make the most complex subjects both comprehensible and riveting. As for Charles Seife, well, I had no idea just how tangled the history of this peculiar number was, nor how tracing its history and influence offers a unique way of tracing the intellectual development of nations across the world. Immensely enjoyable books.

Most Difficult BookThe Foundations of Arithmetic, Gottlob Frege

No contest here. As someone who has read some works of analytic philosophy and has read much more about its history and origin, I felt obligated to try reading one of the discipline’s foundational texts. I honestly don’t feel I understood all of it, especially the latter half, but I certainly feel like I have a better grasp for the kind of thinking that produced analytic philosophy and upon which analytic philosophy depends. A tough read, but worthwhile. Plus, afterwards you can join the club of people who have actually read the book – a club I suspect is relatively small.

Best Political Book: THREE-WAY-TIE – Abolition Democracy, Angela Y. DavisGod and the State, Mikhail Bakuninand Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis, George Monbiot

A three-way-tie might be a bit much, but I couldn’t pick between them and, hey, it’s my blog. Abolition Democracy was my first experience reading Angela Y. Davis and I guarantee it won’t be my last. A powerful, insightful writer who I’ve increasingly felt is one of the bravest authors I’ve ever encountered. Bakunin is no less uncompromising, though reading his polemical God and the State is an experience similar to that of reading Dostoevsky at his most indignant. A great book that is a battle cry against all forms of arbitrary authority, though likely an upsetting one for religious readers. And finally, Monbiot, as I said in a recent post, managed to produce an uplifting political book, which is an accomplishment in itself. It’s also a book I recommend to anyone who is or wants to be engaged politically in this age of…well, like Monbiot says in his title, crisis.

But what was the best work of nonfiction I read in 2017? This is tough. Really tough.

The Fyodor for Best Nonfiction goes to…

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me AND George Monbiot’s Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis!

I know, I know, yet another tie. But really, these two books are just so great that I couldn’t bear to pick just one. The first is simply the most beautiful, painful, and honest account I’ve read in a long, long, long time. Maybe ever. It also has shown me how limited my own reading choices have been in some ways and inspired me to try and break through these self-imposed, unnecessary barriers. I can’t know what it’s like to be a black person, but listening to Coates has made me more eager than ever to hear the voices of others, and to appreciate just how different the world truly is depending on whose eyes you see it through.

As for Monbiot, his book was the perfect way to cap off 2017 (though I may finish L.A. Kaufmann’s Direct Action pretty soon). An unflinching look at the problems we face, but also infused with the hope necessary to overcome them.

Congratulations, Mr. Coates and Mr. Monbiot for this extraordinary achievement.

________________________________

There you have it – my supreme recommendations for this year are:

Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, and George Monbiot’s Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis.

So go read them. Now.

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