1. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders This year’s Man Booker Prize winner is a cleverly wrought first novel by a gifted short-story writer. In the cemetery where Lincoln grieves the death of his son, Willie, anxious ghosts work through life issues before they can move on to whatever’s next.
2. We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates Slightly less gripping, perhaps, than Coates’ earlier Between the World and Me, this collection of essays documenting the Obama Era are nonetheless crucial for understanding the racist underpinnings of the current president’s rise.
3. What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton Hell yeah, she has some axes to grind. Clinton accepts her share of blame for losing last year, but in lively, sometimes wicked prose she scatters other shares where they belong. Sadly, though, we already know the end of the story.
4. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward The National Book Award Winner reimagines the classic American genre of the road trip. In this case, a drug-troubled black mother drives through Mississippi to pick up her teenage son’s white father on his release from prison. On the way they confront personal and societal ghosts.
5. Grant by Ron Chernow The world hardly needed another biography of the Civil War general and later president, whose triumphs and faults have been amply chronicled. But Chernow re-evaluates and mostly redeems Grant’s often-questioned leadership in war and in politics.