When I was in college, I worked at the textbook rental on campus. Each morning I would go in before class and they’d give me a clipboard. I then went upstairs to the attic surplus so I could “take inventory.”
I loved seeing the spines of the books, the covers, wondering what secrets each held within. Which is cool and all, but eventually I had to open the book to find out what it was about. Hours later, my inventory count would be left incomplete and it was time for class. So I’d have to hastily fill in the counts, just hoping that whoever did inventory before me actually did their jobs, unlike me.
I can’t say I’m proud of having been a bad employee, but I am thankful for the love of books that really took hold of me then.
It was in that attic, alone except for the buzz of the heating unit and the ghost that may or may not haunt Pemberton Hall, that I read Harry Potter for the first time, Perks of Being a Wallflower for the first time, Maus, Toni Morrison, and Kurt Vonnegut for the first time. Since then, I haven’t stopped looking for the next book that will floor me the way Perks did, the way that The Goldfinch and The Serpent King did years later. I don’t think I’ll ever stop looking.
Here are the books I’ll be looking out for this year:
History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (January 17th)
Silvera’s debut, More Happy Than Not, was the first YA novel I read when I decided to get serious about writing YA myself. I loved how electric that book was, how immediate the prose felt, and how Silvera wasn’t afraid to leave the reader with a less than happy ending.
History Is All You Left Me is a story of love and loss centered around Griffin as he copes with the death of his first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo. I preordered this book and actually got it in the mail a few days ago. I’m already 90 pages in and I love it. It bounces back and forth between two timelines: the present in which Griffin is forced to face a world without Theo and the past where Theo and Griffin’s love is still very much alive (at least for now, again I’m only 90pgs in). The switching back and forth gives this story a definite 500 Days of Summer vibe for me, though the stakes are higher in Silvera’s universe. This book is available now, check it out.
Universal Harvester by John Darnielle (February 7th)
Darnielle’s first novel, Wolf in White Van, was so unique in its story, prose, and lasting eeriness that I can’t think of another author who could come close to pulling it off. This is unsurprising given Darnielle’s role as lyricist/frontman for the eclectic indie band The Mountain Goats.
When Universal Harvester was first announced I was so in that I didn’t even check to see what it was about. I just knew I would read it regardless, but since I just looked I can now tell you that Universal Harvester is the story of a video store clerk who finds disturbing clips recorded over the store’s VHS tapes. Apparently it’s a horror story. Even better. I’m all in.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (February 14th)
David Bazan played a show at my house once and as a display of my appreciation I gave him my copy of Tenth of December. I chose that book because it reminded me of Bazan’s album Achilles Heel, how each story/song approached similar themes from a different angle so that when combined together it formed a more definitive statement. I don’t think I told Bazan this reason though, or if I did, I’m sure I didn’t articulate it very well, but still, I hope he read it.
Lincoln in the Bardo is Saunders’ first novel despite several decades of writing amazing short stories. In the press release, Saunders states that many years ago while driving past Oak Hill Cemetery, a friend mentioned that during the Civil War, President Lincoln would visit the crypt to hold his recently deceased son’s body. Lincoln in the Bardo is the result of Saunders being unable to shake that heartbreaking image from his head. I can’t wait to read it.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (February 28th)
The Hate U Give is the story of 16 year-old Starr who witnesses the death of her friend Khalil at the hands of the police despite Khalil being unarmed. Ms. Thomas cites the Black Lives Matter Movement as an inspiration for this story. In a press-release for The Hate U Give, Thomas goes on to state that she hopes this story can be a source of hope and a form of activism in the face of the near-continuous reports of police brutality and unwarranted shooting deaths.
A few months ago, there was a link going around where you could read the first few chapters of The Hate U Give and, although I don’t usually read preview chapters, I checked it out and it was so good that I didn’t want to stop reading. I’ll be happy on February 28th when I won’t have to stop.
Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner (March 7th)
Zentner’s debut, The Serpent King, was one of my favorite books of 2016. It’s about three teens from rural Tennessee as they dream about leaving behind the trappings of the lives they’re expected to live. As a small town kid, I related to this story on multiple levels.
Goodbye Days tells the story of Carver as he comes to terms with the loss of his three best friends who recently died in a car crash. Carver can’t stop blaming himself since he sent the text that immediately preceded their fatal wreck. With TSK, Zentner told a story that was equal parts heartbreaking and beautiful, just like life, it seems as though this trend will continue with his follow-up.
The Dinner Party: Stories by Joshua Ferris (May 2nd)
Joshua Ferris is one of my favorite authors as each of his previous novels (Then We Came to the End, The Unnamed, and To Rise Again at a Decent Hour) rank among my top 25 books of all time.
As you likely gleaned from the title, Ferris’ new book is a collection of short stories. When it comes to my favorite authors, I don't usually get as excited about a collection of short stories in place of an actual novel, it’s kind of like hearing one of your favorite directors is working on a TV show instead of a movie. On one hand you may get something great like what Scorsese did with Boardwalk Empire, while on the other you may get something less-than-good like what Scorsese did with Vinyl. In the case of Joshua Ferris, I’m betting that his new effort will be more like the former rather than the latter.
Miles Morales YA Novel by Jason Reynolds (August 1st)
Wait. A Miles Morales YA Novel?
By the amazing author of Ghost and co-author of All American Boys?
Yes. Just yes to all of this.
Welcome Home: An Anthology (Fall 2017)
Collected/Conceived by Eric Smith, and featuring contributions by Adi Alsaid, Dave Connis, Helene Dunbar, Kate Leth, Lauren Gibaldi, Libby Cudmore, Matthew Quinn Martin, Mindy McGinnis, Shannon Parker, Randy Ribay, Nic Stone, and many more. Welcome Home is a collection of short stories that focus on adoption, tackling the theme from a variety of angles (foster care, group homes, looking for birth parents, adopted siblings, and more).
When I first heard of this collection, I wanted to order multiple copies so that I could read it immediately before passing it on to my sister, my nephew, and my wife, while donating the rest to Night’s Shield’s library. It's important for youth to see themselves reflected in the books they love, I think this could be that for the residents of Night's Shield. I am so glad this book will be in the world soon.
Others I Plan to Check Out
The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles (January 31st)
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (February 7th)
The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (April 11th)
One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays by Scaachi Koul (May 2nd)
As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds (May 7th)
Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris (May 30th)
They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera (September 5th)
Dear Martin by Nic Stone (October 17th)
Temptation of Adam by Dave Connis (TBA 2017)
 Editor’s Note: The author has never actually seen Vinyl so he is making a gross assumption based on critical reviews of the television show in question. He’s also only seen one season of Boardwalk Empire, around which time he could be heard to say, “Yeah, it’s pretty good.” Though apparently not good enough for him to finish the whole series, so don’t let him act like he knows everything. Because he definitely does not, he probably just needed a metaphor supported by some examples here.