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A YEAR IN GHOSTS

The best books of 2017, if you combine 21 “best books of 2017” lists

By Thu-Huong Ha

Best-books-of-the-year lists are a way for editors to promote the books they loved the most, but it’s easy to forget such lists are subjective. One way to get a view of what the industry thinks as a whole is to look at the lists in aggregate. That’s why we combined 21 of 2017’s best-books roundups into one master list.

This year, Jesmyn Ward’s brutal Sing, Unburied, Sing was mentioned in the greatest number of lists. Ward’s novel is about a mixed-race family in Mississippi: Leonie, an addict struggling to keep her family together; Jojo, a straight-laced 13-year-old wary of his mother; and the ghosts that haunt them. George Saunders’s polyphonic Lincoln in the Bardo, another multiple-point-of-view-including-some-ghosts novel, was just behind her. His book takes place in the crypt of Willie Lincoln, the son of US president Abraham Lincoln, who died when he was 11. Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, about two migrant refugees in love and on the run, was another fiction contender for most mentions.

The nonfiction book mentioned most was David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. The bleak, riveting whodunit by the New Yorker writer recounts the cold-blooded murders of Osage natives in early 20th century Oklahoma, and the people who tried to uncover what happened. We Were Eight Years in Power, by American essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates, about the end of the US’s Barack Obama years and the election of Donald Trump, was runner up in nonfiction. Behind him were journalist Masha Gessen’s The Future Is History, about Putin’s Russia; and The Rules Do Not Apply, a memoir by Ariel Levy.

The lists aggregated here are from: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, GQ, Huffington Post, Kirkus, The LA Times, The New York Times, Newsday, Publishers Weekly, TIME, USA Today, Vogue, New York Magazine’s Vulture, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. For consistency we’ve included short lists from US outlets with books chosen by editors or staff, meaning no popular choice awards, bestseller lists, or sprawling lists like NPR’s 350 books.

Top 16 fiction books

bookcount
“Sing, Unburied, Sing,” by Jesmyn Ward11
“Lincoln in the Bardo,” by George Saunders10
“Exit West,” by Mohsin Hamid9
“Manhattan Beach,” by Jennifer Egan6
“Little Fires Everywhere,” by Celeste Ng6
“White Tears,” by Hari Kunzru5
“The Power,” by Naomi Alderman4
“The Ninth Hour,” by Alice McDermott4
“The Answers,” by Catherine Lacey4
“What We Lose,” by Zinzi Clemmons3
“The Ministry of Utmost Happiness,” by Arundhati Roy3
“Pachinko,” by Min Jin Lee3
“Mrs. Fletcher,” by Tom Perrotta3
“Ill Will,” by Dan Chaon3
“Her Body and Other Parties,” by Carmen Maria Machado3
“Goodbye, Vitamin,” by Rachel Khong3

Top 16 nonfiction books

bookcount
“Killers of the Flower Moon,” by David Grann8
“We Were Eight Years in Power,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates5
“The Rules Do Not Apply,” by Ariel Levy4
“The Future Is History,” by Masha Gessen4
“You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” by Sherman Alexie3
“Priestdaddy,” by Patricia Lockwood3
“Hunger,” by Roxane Gay3
“Homo Deus,” by Yuval Noah Harari3
“What Happened,” by Hillary Clinton2
“The Evolution of Beauty,” by Richard O. Prum2
“Sticky Fingers,” by Joe Hagan2
“Locking Up Our Own,” by James Forman Jr.2
“Leonardo da Vinci,” by Walter Isaacson2
“Grant,” by Ron Chernow2
“Behave,” by Robert M. Sapolsky2
“Ants Among Elephants,” by Sujatha Gidla2

All books, fiction or nonfiction, that appear on more than one list

bookcount
“Sing, Unburied, Sing,” by Jesmyn Ward11
“Lincoln in the Bardo,” by George Saunders10
“Exit West,” by Mohsin Hamid9
“Killers of the Flower Moon,” by David Grann8
“Manhattan Beach,” by Jennifer Egan6
“Little Fires Everywhere,” by Celeste Ng6
“White Tears,” by Hari Kunzru5
“We Were Eight Years in Power,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates5
“The Rules Do Not Apply,” by Ariel Levy4
“The Power,” by Naomi Alderman4
“The Ninth Hour,” by Alice McDermott4
“The Future Is History,” by Masha Gessen4
“The Answers,” by Catherine Lacey4
“You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” by Sherman Alexie3
“What We Lose,” by Zinzi Clemmons3
“The Ministry of Utmost Happiness,” by Arundhati Roy3
“Priestdaddy,” by Patricia Lockwood3
“Pachinko,” by Min Jin Lee3
“Mrs. Fletcher,” by Tom Perrotta3
“Ill Will,” by Dan Chaon3
“Hunger,” by Roxane Gay3
“Homo Deus,” by Yuval Noah Harari3
“Her Body and Other Parties,” by Carmen Maria Machado3
“Goodbye, Vitamin,” by Rachel Khong3
“What Happened,” by Hillary Clinton2
“Uncommon Type,” by Tom Hanks2
“The Leavers,” by Lisa Ko2
“The Idiot,” by Elif Batuman2
“The Evolution of Beauty,” by Richard O. Prum2
“The Changeling,” by Victor LaValle2
“The Burning Girl,” by Claire Messud2
“Sticky Fingers,” by Joe Hagan2
“Sourdough,” by Robin Sloan2
“Sour Heart,” by Jenny Zhang2
“So Much Blue,” by Percival Everett2
“New People,” by Danzy Senna2
“My Absolute Darling,” by Gabriel Tallent2
“Moving Kings,” by Joshua Cohen2
“Marlena,” by Julie Buntin2
“Magpie Murders,” by Anthony Horowitz2
“Made for Love,” by Alissa Nutting2
“Locking Up Our Own,” by James Forman Jr.2
“Leonardo da Vinci,” by Walter Isaacson2
“Improvement,” by Joan Silber2
“Homesick for Another World,” by Ottessa Moshfegh2
“Grant,” by Ron Chernow2
“Borne,” by Jeff VanderMeer2
“Behave,” by Robert M. Sapolsky2
“Anything Is Possible,” by Elizabeth Strout2
“Ants Among Elephants,” by Sujatha Gidla2
“American War,” by Omar El Akkad2
“A Legacy of Spies,” by John le Carré2