Prioritize Your Year-End TBR with These Must-Reads

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Sarah S. Davis

Staff Writer

Sarah S. Davis holds a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master's of Library Science from Clarion University, and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Sarah has also written for Electric Literature, Kirkus Reviews, Audible, Psych Central, and more. Sarah is the founder of Broke By Books blog and runs a tarot reading business, Divination Vibration. Twitter: @missbookgoddess Instagram: @Sarahbookgoddess

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It’s officially in the home stretch of the month—and the reading year. Are you counting down the days until the Goodreads Challenge is done, agonizing over what books to read first? As the weeks draw to a close, many readers are trying to prioritize their to be read lists. If you’ve only got weeks, days, hours left in the year, what should be the top of the list? Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. In this post, Rioters share their “must read” books from 2017, the one book they recommend trying to cram into your schedule before the reading year is through. Even if you can’t fit them all in, here are some suggestions of what to read first next year.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Of all the phenomenal books published this year, it seems that Gabrielle Zevin’s excellent and timely Young Jane Young fell mostly under the radar. Drawing on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, this novel focuses on the aftermath of an affair that nearly ended the career of a charismatic Florida congressman and his young intern, Aviva Grossman. Once the scandal breaks, Aviva becomes a pariah of the country—and of her Jewish community—and flees to a tiny town in Maine to start over as Jane Young. The novel is told through the perspective of Aviva/Jane Young, her mother, and the congressman’s wife. Years later, Aviva’s intelligent and budding feminist teenaged daughter, Ruby, starts to learn the truth about her mother. Besides Zevin’s lyrical, beautiful writing, I loved how this novel focuses on the way women help each other. Amidst the #MeToo campaign and daily allegations of sexual misconduct tearing down powerful men, Young Jane Young brings an emotional core to the zeitgeist. It’s so great, I devoured it in a day. —Sarah S. Davis


River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

Here’s one good reason to squeeze this into your end-of-the-year reading: it’s short! It’s a novella and is less than 200 pages. This is about an alternate-history America where hippos were brought in as a meat source. Now there are killer hippos loose, as well as hippo wranglers. If that didn’t sell you already, the cast is also almost entirely queer and people of color, including a nonbinary character who uses they/them pronouns. Did I mention there’s a caper? (Sorry, sorry, a “totally above-board operation”.) This was so much fun! You can totally squeeze in this quick queer read. —Danika Ellis

Solo by Kwame Alexander, Mary Rand Hess

Here’s a quick one for you. Blade Morrison is sick of living in the shadow of his rockstar dad, who has a tendency to ruin the good things in Blade’s life lately. At just the right (or wrong?) time, a family secret comes out, and Blade travels across the world on a mission to find his roots. This was my first novel in verse, and I listened to the audiobook of it (read by the author), and it is perfect. I nearly missed my exit while I listened. —Ashley Holstrom


All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

I won’t say that this is the single woman manifesto of the year, but it is the woman-doing-shit-her-own-way manifesto of the year. Attenberg’s novel tells the story of Andrea as she navigates adulthood, including work, relationships, and family. Andrea is independent and unapologetic, wonderfully unique, and so very New York City. It’s a funny, quick read, brilliantly written, and perfect for the insanity that has been 2017. —Christina Orlando


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

2017 has been a year of realizing that people can act with pure cruelty. Rather, we realize that you have to fight an uphill battle to demand basic decency. Starr has trouble coping with her childhood friend’s death thanks to a trigger-happy cop, who knows her Uncle Chris on the force. As the whole neighborhood protests against the unjust death, and Khalil’s smearing in the public media, Starr has to figure out how to speak up and honor her friend’s memory. And honestly this book is good for people who think race jokes are hilarious because they need a wake up call. —Priya Sridhar


The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo

To my complete surprise, I discovered this past year that I actually DO like fantasy books other than Harry Potter. Bardugo’s Six of Crows led me down a rabbit hole of YA fantasy and I have become so in love with the world of the Grisha. This book is comprised of six short stories, each of which are lavishly illustrated and set in Bardugo’s Grishaverse, where dark, dangerous magic runs rampant and relationships are constantly tested. Language of Thorns is a super easy, engrossing read that provides a sinister twist on some well-known tales, and new stories.  —Kate Krug


What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

I can’t say that this was the most uplifting book I read in 2017, or the one I’d recommend to everyone I know, but if, here at the end of the year, you are looking to add in one more book that is quintessentially 2017, What Happened is it. This year has been a long, strange, anxiety-riddled nightmare for many of us since Trump was elected and sworn in as President. Reading this book at the end of the year—I’m just finishing it now—helps provide some perspective about how we got here, which is essential to remember when we’re struck down by wave after wave of scandals and terrible legislation. And if, like me, you like to look back on your list of books read each year and figure out how they were connected to the things that happened, both in your life and on a global level, well, almost everything Clinton writes about is still happening right now. I think most of us hoped that this year would end differently, but as Clinton writes, this is what happened and we have to figure out what to do about it. —Kathleen Keenan


utopia for realists

Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World by Rutger Bregman (translated from Danish)

Rutger Bregman is a Danish historian and journalist who here offers an approach to solutions to many of the problems in many Westernized countries. He takes apart the idea of utopia, pointing out that we live in the utopia dreamed of by many people in history (hello, drive-throughs). The book champions universal basic income and open borders, and points out weaknesses and prejudices in some of the ways that we measure “work.” The GDP leaves out huge amounts of work done for free (mostly by women). Can you imagine how we would talk about breastfeeding if it was factored into the overall measure of goods and services provided? Bregman remains at quite a theoretical level, allowing the ideas broader application, and he provides solid examples to support for his theories. I am not informed enough about political science nor economics to be able to give good critique of the ideas in this book, but I love that Bregman shows us that we can choose to make things better in some very clear ways. I mean, our government is still a shit show, so American progress in this will be slow. But if you want to end the year thinking about actual solutions to long standing social problems, rather than the shit show, grab Utopia for Realists. And then come talk to me about it!  —Aimee Miles


Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Last January I started a project for the year, reading all of Shakespeare. It’s been nifty, and I learned a whole lot. And, as is the point of all educational experiments in my little world, I get more jokes now. But the story that will stay with me, the story made me weep and laugh, the one that that haunts me, is Sing, Unburied, Sing. Perhaps it’s because I have been reading Shakespeare that I was open to ghosts and hauntings in a different way. And perhaps it’s because we’ve had a year of extreme racism and hatred simmering to the surface that I was so deeply moved by this story, which seems somehow more tender and scathing as our national politics swerve out of control. The pacing of this story, the care and affection that are so evident in the construction of the children, who are heartbreakingly real and believable, and the power of the story itself are lovely and devastating. I seldom reread books, but this is one I will return to. —Nicole Mulhausen


The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Thi Bui’s graphic memoir about the immigrant experience, the meaning of home, generational memory, and motherhood is one of the most striking memoirs (in any form) I’ve ever read. Bui chronicles her parents’ life in Vietnam, before and during the war, their escape to America with their young children just after it ended, and her own childhood and adolescence in America. In exploring her parents’ past, and her relationship with her family in America and Vietnam, she also tells the story of her own experiences with motherhood. Her storytelling is flawless and the art is simply breathtaking. I cannot recommend it enough. —Laura Sackton


the long run book cover

The Long Run: A Memoir of Loss and Life in Motion by Catriona Menzies-Pike

I am not a runner. I have run in the past (including several half-marathons) but I don’t consider myself a runner. My point is that there seems to be a misconception that “running memoirs” are only going to appeal to people that are runners. Catriona Menzies-Pike’s book will break you of that thought within the first page. Both a memoir—of her experiences losing both parents when she was 20 and the decade of addiction that followed and her climb out of a deep grief-colored hole thanks to running—and a history of women’s running in general, The Long Run is not your typical “running memoir.” It is poetic and emotional and feminist af and funny and relatable. If you’ve ever scoffed at those cheery joggers that seem to levitate with a runner’s high at 6am, you’ll appreciate Menzies-Pike’s relatable discovery of the sport and its decidedly non-female friendly history. It’s so much more than I can possibly describe in a short paragraph. Just go pick it up. —Rachel Manwill


we were eight years in power ta-nehisi coates

We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

For many of us in the U.S., 2017 has been…rough, to say the least. As the year comes to a close, bump We Were Eight Years in Power to the top of your TBR. In this book, Coates examines race and racism over the Obama presidency and in the 2016 election. This is a great book for an end-of-year reflection on where we’ve been and where we’re going, and I recommend following it up with some New Year’s resolutions to create change in your community. —Susie Dumond


The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

If you’re looking for one more book before the calendar rolls over, dark December is the perfect time for The Bear and the Nightingale. Alive with lyrical prose and a snowbound, fairy tale feel, the first book in in Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy will sweep you away to the frozen Russian countryside, where heroine Vasilisa faces off against social and supernatural pressures in a bid to preserve both her family and her freedom. Keep your favorite hot beverage on hand for this one, folks. Arden’s depictions of the winter were so vivid I swear I felt the cold seeping out of her book, and her grasp of Russian Folklore, skillfully interwoven with her original plot, is truly impressive. The timing is doubly perfect, because book two in the trilogy, The Girl in the Tower, was just released December 5th! —Jessica Avery


Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Unfortunately, 2017 (and also 2016) has been the year where we have had continual discussions about refugees. Especially with the travel ban in the US, the discussion around refugees has been ongoing and often disheartening. Which is why I think Exit West is the perfect read to end the year. It’s a book that merges the very real and harrowing stories of refugees with magic and fantasy, and does so brilliantly. —Adiba Jaigirdar 


Binti and Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor

The Binti series is some of the freshest work being done in science fiction right now. Nnedi Okorafor’s vision is new and fantastic, an expert mix of fantasy and science fiction, an examination of science fiction as intricately connected to our biological world. The series follows Binti, a woman who is an expert in mathematics and is the first of her kind to be on her way to an intergalactic university. Her story is compelling, riveting, and goes by quickly—each volume is a novella. The third and final volume in the series, The Night Masquerade, comes out in late January, so you won’t have to wait too long to hear what happens next. —Leah Rachel von Essen

we're going to need more wineWe’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories by Gabrielle Union

In this incredible memoir Gabrielle tells the reader (or in my case listener) stories from throughout her life. She covers everything from the set of Bring It On to her advocacy work to being a step-mom. The collection is warm and funny and heart-wrenching all at the same time. She lays everything out and truly makes you feel like you’re just sitting across from her sharing in wine and stories. (Trigger warnings: rape, sexual assault and emotional abuse.) —Danielle Bourgon

What books are on your year-end TBR list?