Coates giving an address in 2015.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Hamid’s story of people and borders, home and safety, in a year when there are currently 65 million stateless people around the globe, is essential 2017 reading. Nadia and Saeed, lovers living in an unnamed modern metropolis, are forced to seek safety in a new, Western city by passing through space-time-bending portals in this magical-realist novel. Above all, Hamid wants readers to imagine themselves in the on-the-move shoes of his characters, as the ones without a home, seeking refuge.
Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders
Master of the short story and hysterical satirist George Saunders chose the Civil War, 1862 as the setting of his debut novel this year. President Lincoln spends an evening visiting Oak Hill Cemetery (in Georgetown, no less) where his son is buried, and is berated and praised by all the spirits who inhabit it—the novel’s story itself being told through these collected strands of ghostly testimony. Saunders uses the in-between state across life and death in which these ghosts are trapped—the Buddhist concept of the titular ‘Bardo’—as a neat metaphor for America’s contemporary moment of transition and transformation.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Set in a fictional Mississippi town, Ward’s story follows a black family trying to define their relationship with their country’s past of racism and brutality. On a road trip to pick up their father from prison, siblings Jojo and Kayla ponder their own bond and the ghosts that haunt the American prison system in the back seat, while their mother Leonie wrestles with addiction and the specter of inherited, generational pain in the front seat.
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
Lockwood’s memoir tells of her life growing up under the perverse religious regime of her father, a married Catholic priest. Her story is that of a family suffering under financial woes in the Midwest and of escaping a religious inheritance one is expected to embrace. Lockwood’s prose is poetic and breezy, and her tales of her father’s rants and rages are witty and humane. Indeed, Lockwood herself is known for her clever one-liners, having achieved a notable degree of comedic twitter stardom (consider her famous tweet at the Paris Review, “So is paris any good or not.”)
We Were Eight Years In Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates
In this lyrical compendium of Coates’ essays from the Obama era, the most controversial debates about race during the last administration are discussed anew in the context of the present one. Coates punctuates this anthology of pieces first published in The Atlantic with literary portraits of personal successes and failures, as well as detailed vignettes of the cast of characters who dominated the presidency. The book ultimately contends that there is profound symbolic power in having a black president elected in a country built on the plunder of black bodies, communities and culture.
PC: Eduardo Montes-Bradley / Wikimedia Commons