Is it too early for ‘best books’ lists? Nope

Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff

Whatever the ebb and flow of the publishing industry, there are always plenty of great candidates. That includes books published in November and December. Many annual best-books lists start rolling out in October. October!? That's like breaking out the Christmas decorations before Halloween.

Curiosity generally overcomes indignation, so I have trolled a few of those early-bird lists, scanning the picks from Publishers Weekly (publishing's trade journal), Amazon Books and Library Journal, a trade magazine for librarians.

Three lists — 10 books on each list — and only three made more than one list, proving once again that reviewers are a quirky and eccentric bunch. Here are the three. I can personally testify that two out of three of these are very good books:

"Between the World and Me"by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel & Grau). This was the one book that made all three lists — deservedly so. It is a slim (152 pages), eloquent and angry book — written in the form of a letter to the author's teenage son — about what it means to be black in America today. This month it won the National Book Award.

Part of its success was timing — it was published during this summer's outbreak of deaths of African-Americans at the hands of America's police forces. There's more, though. Some books are angry, others are smart, others are eloquent. This book is all three.


Coates, who also just won a MacArthur "genius" grant, has read about, thought about and lived his subject, and is one of the most articulate people I've ever had the pleasure of speaking with. A book for the ages. I hope he writes lots more.

"H is for Hawk"by Helen Macdonald (Grove Press). A memoir of grief, loss and raising a goshawk, this book by an English natural-history writer got nods from both Amazon and Library Journal.

MacDonald was already a falconer when her beloved father, a photojournalist, died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Cast adrift on waves of sorrow, Macdonald tried to drown hers by buying and raising a goshawk named Mabel, pretty much a 24/7 occupation, if this book is any evidence.

Her story is about death and grief, and also a beautifully written testament to what makes life worth living. In a Seattle Times review, David Laskin said of this book: "There's not a line here that rings false; every insight is hard won." You can catch a breath of Macdonald's ebullient personality in this interview she did for the locally produced books and authors show, "Well Read" (go to and click on "show archives.")

"Fates and Furies"by Lauren Groff (Riverhead). The only work of fiction that made two out of three lists (Amazon, Library Journal), this story of the wax and wane of a marriage has been widely praised. In a Seattle Times review, Misha Berson said that Groff "offers one of the most absorbing, intimate accounts of a modern marriage I've read in a good while."

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