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Book Notes from Susan

Island Bound Bookstore's Best Reads of 2017…

If the New York Times can pick their ten favorites for 2017, so can Island Bound Bookstore — and we don’t have to limit ourselves to 2017, so while this list reflects our favorites for this year, they aren’t all brand new.

Here are 10 books, both fiction and non-fiction, that we don’t hesitate to recommend to our readers.

In fiction

Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles tops the list with Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck a close second. In case you haven’t read either, A Gentleman in Moscow tells the story of Count Rostov, deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal and sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol Hotel. The novel is the story of how he makes a life in these reduced circumstances.  Go, Went, Gone is a powerful story about immigrants in Germany and one man’s transformation from indifference to their plight to becoming an activist. While it is an indictment of the way refugees are treated in Europe, it is also a story about one man learning how to put himself in someone else’s shoes.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (this one made the New York Times list) was excellent as was My Absolute Darling by Gabrielle Talent, although, admittedly, it deals with an emotionally difficult subject. Sing, Unburied, Sing is an American story, lyrical yet tough, of three generations of a family in Mississippi struggling with drugs, cancer, and belonging to a marginalized community. My Absolute Darling is a debut novel with an adolescent heroine who has a tortured and charismatic father. It is a story of bravery and redemption and our heroine’s struggle to become her own hero.

In non-fiction

A must read is Masha Gessen’s The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia and one or both of the books by Svetlana Alexievich (The Unwomanly Face of War or Secondhand Time). Alexievich’s books are oral histories and all three books challenge our assumptions about Russians. The Future is History is brilliant and sobering. The book examines recent Russian history from within and the devastating descent of post-Soviet Russia into authoritarianism. The Unwomanly Face of War tells the stories of Russian women who served as combat soldiers in World War II while Secondhand Time tells the stories of dozens of ordinary Russians in an epic chronicle of the fall of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a new Russia.

The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer, an account of a teenaged German soldier who served on the Eastern Front in World War II has to be one of the most powerful books about war and the soldier’s experience that has ever been published. (The Forgotten Soldier was published in 2001.)

And last but not least, the year isn’t complete without revisiting some old favorites and our favorite re-read this year was My Antonia by Willa Cather. If you haven’t read it, you should and if you have, a revisit to this book about ordinary people in extraordinary times will remind you why it is a classic.

We're sure you can add to this list and we'd love to hear from you. Share your recommendations with us and we'll post them.

Best wishes for the holidays and a healthy and prosperous 2018.