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January 3, 2018

My Top Five Films and Novels of 2017

Cover art for the film, written and directed by Jordan Peele, Get Out.

"If you haven’t seen this yet, you should get out."

My Top Films of the Year (2017)

  1. I am Not Your Negro—James Baldwin intended a book called, “Remember This House,” based on the lives and assassinations of three of his close friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Filmmaker Raoul Peck imagines the book Baldwin never finished.
  2. The Florida Project—A lovely but unsentimental film dealing with class, childhood, gender and race as they play out among the hard-scrabble inhabitants of a Florida hotel near Disneyland.
  3. Get Out—The horrors of white racism with a bitter comedic touch. If you haven’t seen this yet, you should get out.
  4. A Ghost Story—Life, time and the ineffable texture of memory. A truly fine piece of film making.
  5. Neruda—The great Chilean poet and leftist political figure Pablo Neruda goes into hiding while pursued by an over-zealous detective. This film did not appeal to a number of my friends. But I took it to be quirky and subtly tongue-in-cheek.

My 5 top novels of 2017

  1. James Baldwin, “Another Country” – Yes, I know I am a Baldwin fanatic this year and I know this book is more than fifty years old. But this is one Baldwin novel I had not read until I went to New Zealand in the fall. What a masterpiece. There is simply no one who handles race, sexuality and gender with such burning insight and uncompromising honesty.
  2. Marlon James, “The Book of Night Women” – This book blew me away. The story of enslaved women on a Jamaican sugar plantation in the late eighteenth-century, it just bristles with tension—and truth. The main character stayed with me long after I turned the final page.
  3. Edna O’Brien, “The Little Red Chairs” – The late Irish writer (this 2015 novel was her last) simply cannot write a false sentence. Here she tackles war, gender, the refugee experience and betrayal with devastating effect. (Imagine too that without her encouragement Walter Moseley might never have tried to publish his work.)
  4. Viet Thanh Nguyen, “The Sympathizer” – I worried about this one because of the hype around it. And midway through I wished his editor had been a bit more ruthless. But so much is wonderful about this story of Vietnam, America and left-wing ideals gone bad that I readily forgive the excess and the hype. A gem.
  5. Attica Locke, “Bluebird, Bluebird” – A confession: I just received this novel as a gift a few days ago and I have not finished reading it. But it has so much going for it—murder mystery delicately entwined with race and racism in small town East Texas—that I felt compelled to recommend it now!