Best Books: 2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010
Summer Reads: 2024 | 2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012

Biography of X

Catherine Lacey (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Lacey’s audacious narrative takes the form of a biography about a fictional artist written by the artist’s widow. It’s also an alternate history set in an America shaped by the South’s second secession, after WWII. The high-concept structure and dizzyingly warped cultural references push the reader to reconsider what fiction can do.


The Country of the Blind: A Memoir at the End of Sight

Andrew Leland (Penguin Press)

Masterfully combining memoir and cultural history, Believer editor Leland catalogs his gradual loss of sight due to retinitis pigmentosa and situates his predicament within broader cultural discussions of blindness. Rigorously researched and presented in sparkling prose, it’s an extraordinary account of adapting to change.


Flee North: A Forgotten Hero and the Fight for Freedom in Slavery’s Borderland

Scott Shane (Celadon)

This vibrant character study of Black abolitionist Thomas Smallwood and his odd-couple partnership with white abolitionist Charles Torrey uncovers astonishing new information about the history of the Underground Railroad. In an exhilarating narrative that reads like a thriller, Shane reveals Smallwood to have possessed a canny understanding of how to use media to amplify radical activism, an insight that feels remarkably ahead of his time.


The Maniac

Benjamin Labatut (Penguin Press)

Labatut’s magnum opus sets a fictionalized oral history of the scientists behind the 1945 nuclear bomb test at Los Alamos, N.Mex., alongside a dramatic account of an advanced AI’s 2016 victory over a South Korean master in the ancient strategy game of go. Through the interplay between these stories, Labatut constructs a persuasive case for what makes us human, and why those qualities are key to our survival.


My Work

Olga Ravn, trans. from the Danish by Sophia Hersi Smith and Jennifer Russell (New Directions)

Ravn takes an ingenious approach to writing about pregnancy and new motherhood, not just by mixing genres (poetry, literary criticism, and autofiction), but by attributing some of the autobiographical narrative to a separate fictional character, one who’s responsible for the darker and more mysterious material. It’s the best novel on the subject in recent memory.


Ordinary Notes

Christina Sharpe (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

This visceral and kaleidoscopic examination of racism, presented in 248 brief “notes,” meditates on memorials, press bias, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, depictions of trauma, and more. Sharpe’s tender remembrances of how her mother’s support helped her endure the cruelties she faced growing up Black in America constitute the volume’s beating heart, bringing to life this formally inventive and analytically brilliant meditation on race and family.


The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History

Ned Blackhawk (Yale Univ)

Blackhawk demonstrates how inextricably linked Indigenous history is with all aspects of American life and politics in this expansive survey, which teases out the deep connection between the aims and attitudes of the developing nation and its dealings with Native peoples. Reorienting the history of America as foremost that of an Indigenous colony, Blackhawk calls for a fundamental change of perspective.


Same Bed Different Dreams

Ed Park (Random House)

What if Korea’s government-in-exile during the early 20th-century Japanese occupation were still operating today, with the secret mission to reunite the peninsula? Who would be involved? These questions and more are explored in Park’s triumphant postmodern masterpiece, which is also a hilarious send-up of publishing and a moving portrait of the Korean diaspora.


The Talk

Darrin Bell (Holt)

Pulitzer winner Bell’s accessible yet incisive comics art lends immediacy and humor to this graphic memoir of growing up biracial in 1980s L.A. Though Bell’s Black father evaded his son’s questions about police violence, Bell takes on “the talk” about the risks of being a Black man in America with his own young son, in a powerful and moving portrait of the experiences of racism across generations.


The Wren, the Wren

Anne Enright (Norton)

Enright’s supremely crafted story about a young Dublin woman’s adventurous but tortured sex life, her chaste and bitter mother, and the mother’s toxic late father, an acclaimed Irish poet, burns the conventional multigenerational family novel to the ground. The depictions of the characters’ inner lives and the breathtaking language give this the feel of a classic.


© PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.