Purpose: Since 1944, the goal of the Notable Books Council has been to make available to the nation’s readers a list of 25 very good, very readable, and at times very important fiction, nonfiction, and poetry books for the adult reader.
History: The Notable Books List evolved from an activity sponsored by the Lending Round Table of the American Library Association (ALA) in 1944. Since then, the selection of a list of notable or outstanding books of the year has been carried out in a variety of ways, and under various auspices. For three years, the selection was known as Outstanding Books, and was prepared by the ALA Lending Section, with the assistance of membership votes. In 1947, the Division of Public Libraries assumed responsibility of producing the list, changing the name to Notable Books. In 1955, the Notable Books Committee was expanded to become a 12-member Council, and in 1958 was transferred to the Adult Services Division. In 1959, the RASD Board of Directors adopted a statement of purpose and a list of criteria for Notable Books. These documents codified the characteristic philosophy and methodology of Notable Books and remain guiding principles today. In 1966, the Council began a reconsideration of the purposes and procedures of the selection of the Notable Books, the first step being revision of the Manual. With the merger of RSD and ASD in 1972, the Notable Books Council became a committee of the Reference and Adult Services Division. (Condensed and updated from “The Notable Books Project, 1044-55; Summary by S. Janice Kee, prepared January 1956.”)
Council Operations: The operations of the Council have undergone subtle changes during the 1990’s. Meetings are now limited to regular ALA conference dates; the 12-member Council no longer relies upon participating libraries for input; a publicity subcommittee has been established in order to further recognition and use of the Notable Book designation; and, Literary Tastes, an author event and book signing that takes place at the ALA Annual Conference. The Council enjoys enthusiastic support of most major publishers in providing review copies of books for Council members.
In 1991 the Notable Books Council came under the aegis of Collection Development and Evaluation Section (CODES) following the restructuring of RASD (now RUSA). The Council reports to the Chair of CODES rather than directly to the Division President or RUSA Executive Director.
Submission: The Notable Books Council considers titles based on stellar reviews published in standard library reviewing sources and other authoritative sources. While unsolicited titles will be accepted, the committee is under no obligation to consider them. For further information, please visit the committee roster page (login required) or the staff contact page.
“Elsewhere” by Alexis Schaitkin (Celadon books, a division of Macmillan Publishers) A dreamlike allegory about home, identity, and disappearing mothers.
“The Haunting of Hajji Hotak: And Other Stories” by Jamil Jan Kochai (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC) Life, death, rebirth, and the complex lives of Afghans and Afghan Americans are shared in a surreal collection.
“Horse” by Geraldine Brooks (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC) An oil painting and an equine skeleton are clues to uncovering the history of antebellum racetracks and the enslaved trainers who worked them.
“Seeking Fortune Elsewhere” by Sindya Bhanoo (Catapult) A glimpse into the lives of South Indian families, especially those of the women, at home and abroad.
“Stories From The Tenants Downstairs” by Sidik Fofana (Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.) Residents of a Harlem on the brink of gentrification offer a snapshot of life within their shared apartment building.
“The Furrows” by Namwali Serpell (Hogarth, an imprint of Random House Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC) The long tail of grief haunts Cassandra after she and her brother Wayne go swimming and only she returns.
“The Rabbit Hutch” by Tess Gunty (Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC) The legacy of a medieval mystic and an unexpected sacrifice spark a young woman’s escape from her body and her Midwestern hometown.
“The Swimmers” by Julie Otsuka (Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC) An elegant meditation on loss, belonging, and the effects of dementia.
“Trust” by Hernan Diaz (Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC) The truth about an old New York family’s fortune is slippery in this experimental novel told in iterative perspectives. Which version is real?
“Vagabonds!” by Eloghosa Osunde (Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC) Shimmering characters from marginalized communities of a Nigerian metropolis are explored through a magical realist lens.
“What We Fed To The Manticore” by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri (Tin House) Nine fables told by animals navigating a fraught world.
“Also A Poet: Frank O’Hara, My Father, And Me” by Ada Calhoun (Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic) A bittersweet quest to finish her father’s biography of their shared literary hero results in a daughter’s deeper understanding of their complicated relationship.
“An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us” by Ed Yong (Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC) This thoroughly researched exploration of nonhuman perception uncovers the joys and challenges of attempting to understand our fellow creatures.
“Bitch: On The Female Of The Species” by Lucy Cooke (Basic books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group) Irreverent and revelatory, a look at animal behavior that 19th-century gentlemen scientists couldn't bring themselves to discuss.
“Easy Beauty” by Chloe Cooper Jones (Avid Reader Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.) Raw and brutally honest, this multi-layered memoir examines life in a disabled body.
“The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out Of Auschwitz To Warn The World” by Jonathan Freedland (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) Driven by a mission to alert others of the Nazi regime’s atrocities, Rudolf Vrba flees an extermination camp and encounters resistance to the truth.
“His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life And The Struggle For Racial Justice” by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC) Original research enriches this comprehensive biography of a big-hearted man, his legacy, and the Black Lives Matter movement catalyzed by his death.
“The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human” by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.) The mysteries of biology and the painstaking efforts of scientists attempting to solve them take center stage in this luminous guide to life’s building blocks.
“This Body I Wore: A Memoir” by Diana Goetsch (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) A candid, poetic account of the winding road to self-discovery and midlife gender transition.
“Under The Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and the Health of Our Nation” by Linda Villarosa (Doubleday, an division of Penguin Random House, LLC) Numerical data and personal accounts document how medical bias and systemic failures specifically threaten Black people in the United States.
“The Vortex: A True Story of History’s Deadliest Storm, An Unspeakable War and Liberation” by Scott Carney and Jason Miklian (Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) Resilience emerges in the wake of a massive cyclone and the political violence it provokes, prompting the birth of the nation of Bangladesh.
“We Are The Middle Of Forever: Indigenous Voices From Turtle Island on the Changing Earth” Edited by Dahr Jamail and Stan Rushworth (The New Press) Intimate interviews expand the conversation about the global environmental crisis and inspire a hopeful vision of the future.
“Alive At The End Of The World” by Saeed Jones (Coffee House Press) A passionate and devastating examination of grieving and surviving the society we’ve created.
“Bless The Daughter Raised By A Voice In Her Head” by Warsan Shire (Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC) Somali culture and lived experience are detailed in these heartbreaking, eloquent pieces.
“The Rupture Tense” by Jenny Xie (Graywolf Press) Lingering reverberations of China’s Cultural Revolution and a sense of national disruption—past and present—permeate this collection.
“Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced An Emergency” by Chen Chen (BOA Editions, Ltd.) Family and queer Asian identity depicted with vulnerability, humor, and tender playfulness.
“Afterparties” by Anthony Veasna So (Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins) A rich collection of unique, vivid, and expertly written characters from the Cambodian diaspora in America.
“Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr (Schribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.) A celebration of the power of the written word echoing through time, space, and lived experiences.
“Gordo” by Jaime Cortez (Black Cat, an imprint of Grove Atlantic) Linked stories told by a fat, queer kid in a 1970s migrant workers' camp open doors to a world of heartache and humor.
“Hell of a Book” by Jason Mott (Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC) Metafictional musing on racial justice, fear, and grief in America relayed through a humorous cross-country publicity tour.
“Klara and the Sun” by Kazuo Ishiguro (A Borzoi book published by Alfred A. Knopf) The lives of a family in the near future are examined through the eyes of an artificial friend.
“Matrix” by Lauren Groff (Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC) The transportive story of a woman cast out by medieval society claiming leadership inside the walls of a convent.
“Painting Time” by Maylis de Kerangal (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) In this captivating, heady, warm translation, a decorative artist in Brussels develops her creative identity through trompe l’oeil.
“The Five Wounds” by Kirstin Valdez Quade (W. W. Norton & Company) Five generations of a New Mexico family grapple with many questions, including “what is redemption?”
“The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois” by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) The recovered history of one woman’s family exposes a legacy of stolen land, abuse, and personal ties in the American South.
“The Wrong End of the Telescope” by Rabih Alameddine (Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic) Daily life and mortality in a refugee camp in Lesbos prompts a trans woman physician to revisit memories of her childhood in Lebanon.
“When We Cease to Understand the World” by Benjamín Labatut (New York Review Books published by The New York Review of Books) A feverish exploration of the moral consequences of scientific discovery, told through an inventive blend of fact and fiction.
“A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance” by Hanif Abdurraqib (Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC) From Josephine Baker to Beyonce, this vibrant fusion of essays, memoir, and poetry is a deeply personal dive into Black artists’ vital contribution to modern culture.
“A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds” by Scott Weidensaul (W.W. Norton & Company) Despite the increasing dangers that flocks encounter during their arduous journeys, their innate adaptability and conservation interventions offer hope for survival.
“Beyond: The Astonishing Story of the First Human to Leave Our Planet and Journey into Space” by Stephen Walker (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) New research recreates the drama of the race into orbit between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
“Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South” by Winfred Rembert as told to Erin I. Kelly (Bloomsbury Publishing) In words and painted leatherwork, a Black man shares his story of trauma, survival, and claiming agency through creative expression.
“Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty” by Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House LLC) An investigation of the mega-rich family behind Purdue Pharma, the producer of OxyContin, and their denial of responsibility for the opioid epidemic.
“Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019” Edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain (One World, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC) Ninety different Black authors lift their voices in this expansive anthology, using a variety of forms to speak to centuries of heritage.
“How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America” by Clint Smith (Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.) With thoughtfulness and nuance, a poet interrogates places tied to the transatlantic slave trade and calls upon us to engage with our shared responsibility for the past.
“Pastoral Song: A Farmer’s Journey” by James Rebanks (Custom House, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) An elegy for what has been lost from the English agricultural landscape, and what can be regained, through the lens of one family's experience.
“People Love Dead Jews: Reports From a Haunted Present” by Dara Horn (W.W. Norton & Company) Blistering fury and intense love create fireworks in this collection of provocative essays that challenge the way the world sees Jewish people.
“Poet Warrior” by Joy Harjo (W.W. Norton & Company) In a generous act of verse and prose, an author offers a spiritually layered and fearless memoir of her Muscogee (Creek) heritage, family, and grief.
“The Hospital: Life, Death, and Dollars in a Small American Town” by Brian Alexander (St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of St. Martin’s Publishing Group) One community medical center serves as a microcosm for national problems, fighting to prioritize patient care in a corporate landscape.
“Playlist for the Apocalypse” by Rita Dove (W.W. Norton & Company) Creating a rich range of voices, the poet orchestrates themes of mortality and politics in an examination of American humanity across time.
“The Renunciations” by Donika Kelly (Graywolf Press) Family trauma, its aftermath, and the process of burning it all down to start anew.
“Winter Recipes from the Collective” by Louise Glück (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Cool and spare, these poems contain an undercurrent of despair while germinating seeds of hope. Could this be a message for our (post?) pandemic world?
“Leave the World Behind” by Rumaan Alam (Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers). A family’s stay in a luxury vacation rental is interrupted when the homeowners arrive seeking shelter from a menacing but nebulous catastrophe.
“The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett (Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House). Twin African-American sisters escape their oppressive Louisiana hometown to lead very different lives. A story about race, identity, and the consequences of individual choice.
“Piranes” by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury Publishing). The occupant of a labyrinthine house explores its infinite rooms and corridors until the world he knows begins to unravel.
“The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories” by Danielle Evans (Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House). Through rich characters and inventive settings, this witty collection explores the identity of Black women and pervasive racism in America — past and present.
“Breasts and Eggs” by Mieko Kawakami, translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd (Europa Editions). The intimate journeys of three women confronting oppressive mores and their own uncertainties sketch a portrait of contemporary female identity in Japan.
“Temporary” by Hilary Leichter (Coffee House Press). An unnamed protagonist searches for permanence through increasingly absurd job assignments in this inventive gig economy satire.
“Deacon King Kong” by James McBride (Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House). Brooklyn, 1969. A man called “Sportcoat” shoots a local drug dealer, and it takes a village to tell the rest of the darkly comic tale.
“Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague” by Maggie O’Farrell. (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group). In 1580 England, a Latin tutor pursues a career in London’s playhouses while his wife attempts to protect their children from a pandemic in Stratford-upon-Avon.
“Little Eyes” by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell (Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House). In the near future, Kentuckis—small robots purchased by eager “keepers” but controlled by anonymous human “dwellers”—sweep the globe, with unnerving results.
“Shuggie Bain” by Douglas Stuart (Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic). A heart-wrenching and haunting story of a gender-nonconforming boy and his alcoholic mother, set against the bleak backdrop of 1980s Glasgow.
“Run Me To Earth” by Paul Yoon (Simon & Schuster). In this cinematic tale, three orphans in 1960s Laos do what is necessary to survive the chaos of war and its aftermath.
“A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice and Freedom” by Brittany K. Barnett (Crown, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House). In this passionate memoir, a driven lawyer recounts fighting draconian sentences meted out to Black Americans in the “War on Drugs.”
“Carville’s Cure: Leprosy, Stigma and the Fight for Justice” by Pam Fessler (Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W. W. Norton & Company). At a little-known government treatment facility in rural Louisiana, patients battle the physical symptoms and unwarranted ostracism that result from Hansen’s disease.
“Children of the Land: A Memoir” by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers). In eloquent and unflinching prose, a Mexican-born poet chronicles his family’s harrowing experiences with the U.S. immigration system.
“Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family” by Robert Kolker (Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House). A haunting and compassionate chronicle of a household of twelve siblings, six diagnosed with schizophrenia, told in parallel with scientists’ efforts to understand the disorder.
“Just Us: An American Conversation” by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf Press). A collection of essays, poems, and art that draws the reader into a frank and intimate dialogue about race and white privilege.
“Oak Flat: A Fight for Sacred Land in the American West” by Lauren Redniss (Random House, a division of Penguin Random House). Beautiful and heartbreaking, this illustrated work seamlessly compiles an array of voices, illuminating the conflict over an Apache holy place slated to become a mine.
“Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace” by Carl Safina (Henry Holt and Company). Intimate and accessible portraits of three species reveal how culture and social learning shape their lives.
“We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State” by Kai Strittmatter (Custom House). An eye-opening journalistic account of escalating totalitarianism, its tools and technologies, and its implications worldwide.
“Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir” by Natasha Trethewey (Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers). In spare prose, a poet celebrates and mourns the mother whose life was cut brutally short, forging lifelong grief into moving remembrance.
“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson (Random House, a division of Penguin Random House). A stark examination of America’s systemic discrimination that reveals unsettling parallels to hierarchies in India and Nazi Germany.
“Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy” by David Zucchino (Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic). A sobering, resonant look at a little-known insurrection that for decades was wrongly described as a race riot instigated by its city’s Black population.
“Owed” by Joshua Bennett (Penguin Books, a division of Penguin Random House). Through masterful wordplay and resonant themes, these poems vividly explore the perspective of the othered, childhood, family, and memory.
“Postcolonial Love Poem” by Natalie Diaz (Graywolf Press). A dazzling collection that explores the beauty of desire, the terror of violence on Indigenous people, and the vital need for the preservation of culture.
“Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry” by John Murillo (Graywolf Press). Combining the classical and the modern, this tripartite collection melds technical mastery of language with themes of memoir, police violence, and authenticity.
“Trust Exercise” by Susan Choi (Henry Holt and Company). A performing arts high school serves as a backdrop for young love and its aftermath, exposing persistent social issues in a manner that never lets the reader off the hook.
“The Water Dancer: A Novel” by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, NYC). A gifted young man, born into slavery, becomes the conduit for the emancipation of his people in this meditative testament to the power of memory.
“The Innocents: A Novel” by Michael Crummey (Doubleday a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York). On an isolated cove along the Newfoundland coastline, the lives of two orphaned siblings unfold against a harsh, relentless, and unforgiving landscape.
“Dominicana: A Novel” by Angie Cruz (Flatiron Books). In this vivid and timely portrait of immigration, a young woman summons the courage to carve out a place for herself in 1960s New York.
“Everything Inside: Stories” by Edwidge Danticat (Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York). This searingly emotional collection explores the complexities of the Haitian diaspora.
“Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo (Black Cat an imprint of Grove Atlantic). A sweeping look at black British life through a symphony of female voices, young and old, conventional and iconoclastic.
“Sabrina & Corina: Stories” by Kali Fajardo-Anstine (One World, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, NYC). This debut collection captures and preserves the beauty in the lives of Latinas of Indigenous descent working through change, violence, love, and family in a gentrifying Denver and the American West.
“The Topeka School” by Ben Lerner. (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). This stylistically complex novel opens in 1990s Kansas and delves into themes including relationships, aggression, and masculinity.
“Lost Children Archive: A Novel” by Valeria Luiselli (Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, NYC). A summer road trip captures a moment when both a country and a family are in danger of splitting in two in this meditation on the immigration crisis and the role of artists bearing witness.
“Lanny: A Novel” by Max Porter (Graywolf Press). This is the story of an English village, three people, and a child around which everything revolves. Inventive, raw and insightful, it is more to be experienced than just read.
“Normal People: A Novel” by Sally Rooney (Hogarth, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC, New York). Two Irish high school students take up an intense relationship that wavers between love and friendship as they move on to college. The deceptively simple style plumbs the depths of human nature in a coming-of-age story of uncommon grace and power.
“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous: A Novel” Ocean Vuong (Penguin Press an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC). In a letter from a son to his mother who cannot read, Little Dog unearths a family’s history rooted in Vietnam, also revealing his journey of self discovery.
“The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York). This powerful and unforgiving portrait of a school for boys in Florida sheds light on the cruel and dehumanizing legacy of the Jim Crow Era.
“Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life” by Louise Aronson (Bloomsbury Publishing Inc.). An examination of aging and the human condition, this call to action challenges the U.S. medical system to rethink how to care for patients.
“Yellow House” by Sarah M. Broom (Grove Press an imprint of Grove Atlantic). A memoir of family love, striving and loss in New Orleans East that exemplifies humanity and injustice.
“Thick: And Other Essays” by Tressie McMillan Cottom (The New Press). A bold, new voice combines theory and the everyday to explore race, feminism, and culture.
“A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21st Century” by Jason DeParle (Viking an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC). Experiencing cultural differences, long separations and triumphs, a group of Filipinos leave their families and homes behind for better jobs in other countries, including the United States.
“Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Themselves” by Frans De Waal (W.W. Norton & Company). Readers are led through research showing that other living creatures have their own range of emotions.
“Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster” by Adam Higginbotham (Simon & Schuster). Extensive investigation and access to new materials paint a full picture of the worst man-made accident to date, including corruption, incompetence, inexperience, secrecy, courage and heroism.
“Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland” by Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York). In this fascinating blend of true crime and history, the kidnapping of a widowed mother is the starting point for the investigation of the IRA during the conflict known as The Troubles.
“Underland: A Deep Time Journey” by Robert Macfarlane (W.W. Norton & Company). An exploration into underground worlds, from the human made to the natural, and how they connect to our myths, beliefs, and rituals.
“Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss” by Margaret Renkl (Milkweed Editions). An exquisite essay collection reflects on family, place and the amazement of nature.
“The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming” by David Wallace-Wells (Tim Duggan Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York). A dive into the climate apocalypse illuminates the myriad devastations that await us.
“The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation” by Brenda Wineapple (Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York). Congress enacts the first trial of a President after he refuses to enforce the laws and legislation for post-Civil War reconstruction, including equal rights for freed slaves.
“The Tradition” by Jericho Brown (Copper Canyon Press). Searing rhythmic poems examine Blackness, queerness, spirituality, and trauma with integrity and profound insight.
“Deaf Republic: Poems” by Ilya Kaminsky (Graywolf Press). This single narrative begins with a soldier shooting a deaf boy and the gunshot rendering the occupied town deaf.
“Waiting for Eden” by Elliot Ackerman. Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House. A psychological drama about an Iraq War veteran who hovers between life and death while his wife agonizes over her choices.
“Friday Black” by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. Mariner, an Imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
“Washington Black” by Esi Edugyan. Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House. The eponymous protagonist escapes slavery and embarks on an adventure through the Victorian world as a fugitive, artist and scientist. Characters in a darkly satirical future confront race in America in this provocative collection.
“An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. A young, black couple struggles to stay connected when the husband is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit in this complex domestic drama.
“The Mars Room” by Rachel Kushner. Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. At the start of two consecutive life sentences a young mother reflects on her life while navigating incarceration.
“The Great Believers” by Rebecca Makkai. Viking, a division of Penguin Random House. A book of friendship and love in the face of tragedy and loss during the early years of the AIDS crisis in Chicago and the impact years later.
“Warlight” by Michael Ondaatje. Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House. A man seeks to understand why he and his sister were left in the care of a mysterious figure they call the Moth in post World War II England.
“There There” by Tommy Orange. Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House. A gritty depiction of the lives of urban Native Americans that converge at a Powwow in Oakland, California.
“The Overstory” by Richard Powers. WW Norton & Company, Inc. A profound meditation on the connection between humankind and trees and the often invisible impact each has on the other.
“The House of Broken Angels: a Novel” by Luis Alberto Urrea. Little, Brown, and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group. In this vivid and heartwarming portrait, a Mexican-American family celebrates the lives of their patriarch and his mother over a weekend in their San Diego home.
“Don’t Skip out on Me” by Willy Vlautin. Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins. A ranch hand who yearns to be a boxer, the people who love him and the land that holds them.
“High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing” by Ben Austen. Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins. An insightful and robust history of the politics, policies and personal stories of city planning and urban renewal.
“American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment” by Shane Bauer. Penguin Press, a division of Penguin Random House. An investigative journalist undergoes training as a guard at a private correctional facility and reveals the harsh living and working conditions for inmates and staff.
“Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” by David W. Blight. Simon & Schuster. An engrossing biography of the abolitionist, author and orator.
“Rush: Revolution, Madness, and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father” by Stephen Fried. Crown, a division of Penguin Random House. The comprehensive biography of a lesser known statesman and his contributions to medicine and politics in the newly formed United States.
“Call Me American: A Memoir” by Abdi Nor Iftin. Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House. A Somali man recounts a childhood marked by constant violence and hunger, and his adjustment to life as a refugee in the United States.
“The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century” by Kirk Wallace Johnson. Viking, a division of Penguin Random House. An ornithological robbery shines light on fixation, beauty, and the niche hobby that led an unlikely culprit to risk it all.
“Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found” by Gilbert King. Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Random House. A hard-hitting reporter exposes the story of a developmentally challenged youth falsely accused of rape in Florida during the Jim Crow era.
“Heavy: An American Memoir” by Kiese Laymon. Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. A son’s complicated relationship with his mother is laid bare in this unflinching look at a life full of adversity and love.
“Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America” by Beth Macy. Little, Brown, and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group. A deep dive into the dark and consuming opioid epidemic centering on the predatory practices of Purdue Pharma and the devastating effects on communities.
“The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life” by David Quammen. Simon & Schuster. A chronicle of recent discoveries that changed our understanding of evolution, the scientists who made them and the implications for the future.
“Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore” by Elizabeth Rush. Milkweed Editions. An evocative account of how changing sea levels impact coastal communities.
“Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover. Random House, a division of Penguin Random House. A girl raised by Mormon survivalists in rural Idaho must choose between higher education and family ties.
“If They Come for Us: Poems” by Fatimah Asghar. One World, a division of Penguin Random House. A Pakistani Muslim American woman longs for her parents and grieves the effects of the India-Pakistan Partition with a fresh, inventive voice.
“American Sonnets for My Once and Future Assassin” by Terrance Hayes. Penguin Poets, a division of Penguin Random House. An electrifying collection ranging in subject from Dr. Who to black male hysteria.
“The Carrying: Poems” by Ada Limón. Milkweed Editions. An elegant and vulnerable expression of the aching beauty of an imperfect world.
“Stay with Me” by Ayobami Adebayo. Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House . Secrets and loss torment a modern Nigerian couple.
“Days without End” by Sebastian Barry. Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House. A tender love story between two soldiers spans the mid-nineteenth century American wars.
“The Last Ballad” by Wiley Cash. William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. A fateful decision puts a mother on a collision course with history during a 1929 textile mill strike in North Carolina.
“American War” by Omar El Akkad. Alfred A. Knopf. A second Civil War turns lives upside down in this devastating vision of a dystopian future.
“Here in Berlin” by Cristina Garcia. Counterpoint Press. Through interviews with myriad characters a mysterious visitor to Germany unveils the lasting consequences of WWII.
“Less” by Andrew Sean Greer. Lee Boudreaux Books, an imprint of Little, Brown & Co, a division of Hachette Book Group. A fifty-year old novelist experiences a second coming-of-age in this madcap romp through the literary world.
“Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid. Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Random House. A young couple’s relationship takes on the velocity of their city’s civil unrest and evolves as they experience life as refugees.
“Human Acts” by Han Kang. Hogarth, an imprint of the Crown Publishing. Following the brutal Gwangju Uprising and the murder of a teenage boy, a series of linked stories relates the experiences of the victims and the survivors.
“Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee. Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group. This immersive multigenerational saga follows a Korean family in Twentieth Century Japan.
“Solar Bones” by Mike McCormack. Soho Press Inc. A man sits at his kitchen table and ruminates on his life’s mistakes and accomplishments and ponders the meaning of it all.
“Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders. Random House, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Three characters stuck in an ambiguous limbo after their deaths narrate the story of the president’s visits to the graveyard following the tragic loss of his son.
“Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward. Scribner, an imprint of Simon and Schuster. A lyrical and psychologically astute exploration of the gravity of history that still ripples through the lives of a Mississippi family.
“You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir” by Sherman Alexie. Little, Brown & Co, a division of Hachette Book Group. A deeply moving memoir about a son’s complicated relationship with his mother told in seventy-eight poems and seventy-eight essays.
“Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam” by Mark Bowden. Atlantic Monthly Press. A multiple perspective account of what proved to be a decisive moment in a conflict that is indelibly marked on the American psyche.
“The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir” by Thi Bui. Abrams ComicArts, an imprint of ABRAMS. A first generation immigrant reflects on her family history in this nonfiction graphic novel.
“Grant” by Ron Chernow. Penguin Press. In this definitive biography, new scholarship illuminates the life of a complex American president.
“The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies” by Jason Fagone. Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. A biography of the forgotten heroine who founded American cryptography and cracked the Nazi Enigma machine.
“The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine” by Lindsey Fitzharris. Scientific American. A gory history of nineteenth century surgery and the adoption of modern antiseptic practices.
“Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” by Roxane Gay. Harper, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. This candid account lays bare the author’s personal demons.
“Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by David Grann. Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House. A combination of history and true crime, in which a Native American tribe is defrauded and nearly eradicated.
“Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character” by Kay Redfield Jamison. Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House. A multi-layered exploration of an American literary giant and the relationship between creativity and mental illness.
“Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women” by Kate Moore. Sourcebooks. In early twentieth century watch factories, dial painters suffer the deterioration of their bodies and fight to pave the way for workplace safety standards.
“Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America’s Most Storied Hospital” by David Oshinsky. Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House. The story of New York’s enduring medical institution chronicles three hundred years of public health care.
“The Blood of Emmett Till” by Timothy Tyson. Simon and Schuster. Drawing on new information, the author returns to the 1955 lynching of an African American boy in Mississippi.
“I Know Your Kind” by William Brewer. Milkweed Editions. Set in small town Appalachia, this powerful collection humanizes America’s opioid epidemic.
“Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded” by Molly McCully Brown. Persea Books. A dark imagining of life at a government run institution.
“Behold the Dreamers: A Novel” by Imbolo Mbue (Random House, a division of Penguin Random House) A Cameroonian family struggles to achieve the American dream during the Great Recession.
“Christodora: A Novel” by Tim Murphy (Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic) A powerful narrative about the impact of HIV and AIDS on individual lives, the activist community that developed in response, and the ways that the virus reverberates through decades and generations.
“Grief Is the Thing with Feathers: A Novel” by Max Porter (Graywolf Press) A surreal and poetic look at a time in life when nothing feels quite right--the time after losing someone you love. What’s real? What’s imagined?
“Homegoing: A Novel” by Yaa Gyasi (Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House) A dual history of two countries and the descendants of two half-sisters--one sold into slavery in the United States, the other remaining in Ghana.
“I'm Thinking of Ending Things: A Novel” by Iain Reid (Scout Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster) Things are not as they seem as a couple ponders the meaning of it all on an eerie road trip to nowhere.
“Missile Paradise: A Novel” by Ron Tanner (Ig Publishing) Drama and satirical humor intertwine to create an insightful story of regret, exposing American privilege and its effects on the Marshallese people.
“The Nix: A Novel” by Nathan Hill (Borzoi Books, Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House) When his absent mother gets arrested for an activist crime, a half-hearted college professor (who spends more time gaming than working) undertakes an offbeat voyage of self-discovery.
“The Sport of Kings: A Novel” by C. E. Morgan (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) A Kentucky horse farmer breeds thoroughbreds, but his focus on controlling the outcomes of life, both equine and human, has far-reaching consequences.
“To the Bright Edge of the World: A Novel” by Eowyn Ivey (Little, Brown, a division of Hachette Book Group) From the wildly adventurous story in the Alaskan frontier to the innovative presentation on the pages, this historical novel blends folklore, science, feminism, and the new art of photography.
“The Underground Railroad” Colson Whitehead (Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House) A shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share, with characters as fully realized as the train that carries them to “freedom.”
“An Unrestored Woman” by Shobha Rao (Flatiron Books) Women recover--or lose themselves--amidst the backdrop of war, power, and politics after the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan.
“The Unseen World” by Liz Moore (W.W. Norton) When she loses her father to Alzheimer’s disease, young Ada Sibelius becomes aware of how little she truly knows about him. From Turing to the next incarnation of Second Life, this character-driven novel is part mystery and part meditation on humanity.
“Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?” by Frans de Waal (W.W. Norton) Different species illuminate how we can learn from their natural intelligence, instead of imposing limits based on human perspective.
“At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails” by Sarah Bakewell (Other Press) A heady mix of biography, philosophy, and social history (with drinks!).
“Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America” by Patrick Phillips (W.W. Norton) The expulsion of the entire African American community from Forsyth County, GA in 1912 established it as a white-only county, a condition which persisted into the 1980s with the support of local officials.
“The Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland” by Dan Barry (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) Spanning decades, a group of men with intellectual disabilities, marginalized by society, work tirelessly in a turkey processing plant in Iowa under exploitive conditions.
“Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond (Crown Publishers, a division of Penguin Random House) Told through the painful struggles of individual families, this insightful ethnographic study elevates housing insecurity as a leading social justice issue.
“The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship" Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice” by Patricia Bell-Scott (Alfred A. Knopf, a division for Penguin Random House) The correspondence of two trailblazing women embodies the tension between the need for immediate action on civil rights versus the political philosophy of picking one’s battles.
“The Gene: An Intimate History” by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster) A cancer physician and researcher uses his family history to frame the story of genetics, in all its danger and wonder.
“Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race” by Margot Lee Shetterly (William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers) The compelling narrative of the unsung heroines who helped us win World War II and reach the stars. Read the movie.
“In the Darkroom” by Susan Faludi (Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt) A feminist writer’s investigation into her parent leads to an examination of our contemporary ideas of national and individual identity, gender, and family.
“Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams” by Louisa Thomas (Penguin Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House) A nuanced portrait of a multi-talented and widely traveled woman, often overshadowed by other members of America’s first political dynasty.
“Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life” by Ruth Franklin (Liveright Publishing, a division of W.W. Norton) From early feminism to Tarot cards, reluctant polyamory to motherhood to drug use, this complex writer is compassionately portrayed.
“Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution” by Nathaniel Philbrick (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House) The grueling course of the Revolutionary War tested its generals harshly, leading one of them to abandon the cause.
“Cannibal” by Safiya Sinclair (University of Nebraska Press) Sharp observations on our off-kilter world will spark your emotions while engaging your mind.
“The Rain in Portugal: Poems” by Billy Collins (Random House, division of Penguin Random House) Dealing with ordinary life, death, and language, this collection is thoughtful, witty, and lyrical.