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The best reads of 2017, from Ann Patchett and Daniel Pink

What were the best new books you read this year? Ann Patchett and Daniel Pink recently sat down with Jeffrey Brown to discuss their own picks for recommended reads of 2017.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now a look at some of the best reads of 2017.

    Jeffrey Brown is back.

    He recently sat down with Ann Patchett, author of “Commonwealth” and co-owner of the Parnassus bookstore in Nashville, and Daniel Pink, author of “When- The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” to be published in January.

    They met up at the newest Politics and Prose Bookstore here in D.C.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, so you want to start us off, Ann? What do you want to start with?

  • Ann Patchett: 

    OK, so, so many things.

    I’m going to start off with David Sedaris’ “Theft by Finding.” This book just broke my heart, smashed me open. It’s David Sedaris’ very, very best book. It’s his diaries from 1977 to 2002. His partner, Hugh, described it as David Copperfield Sedaris, and that’s exactly what it’s like.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Sort of the making of David Sedaris.

  • Ann Patchett:

    It’s so true. And he had a really tough start.

    He says in the introduction that this book should be dipped in and out of, and read over a long period of time. Absolutely not true. I picked it up. I could not stand up until I finished it. It’s riveting. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. It’s everything you would want in a book.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, and for David Sedaris’ fans, you sort of see where he came from and where the stories came from.

  • Ann Patchett:

    Yes, but also for people who have never read him before or who aren’t David Sedaris fans, this is just a fantastic piece of writing.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK.

    Dan?

  • Daniel Pink:

    So, this one will make you laugh, will make you cry, though I think for different reasons.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Daniel Pink:

    It’s a book called “Everybody Lies” by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. He is a data scientist.

    And the premise of the book is, indeed, that everybody lies, that when we talk to our friends and when we talk on social media, we actually are not truthful about who we really are, what our preferences are.

    But there is one place where we are incredibly honest. There is one place in our lives that operates as a confessional. And that is the Google search box.

    And if you look at aggregated Google searches, you find some incredible truths about who human beings are, what their preferences are, and sometimes in disturbing ways.

    Incredible amounts of racism. So, searches for racial slurs and racist jokes surge on Martin Luther King Day, for instance, surge after President Obama was elected. They end up being predictive of which counties certain candidates are going to perform well in.

    And, also, as someone who’s been married for 22 years, if you look at what wives say about their husbands on social media, if you look at the actual words, they say, my husband is the best, my husband is my best friend, my husband is cute.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    I think I know what is coming.

  • Daniel Pink:

    But you look at their search data, their search data say, my husband is annoying, my husband is gay, my husband is cheating on me.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    So does it offer any hope for the human condition, or at least understanding the human condition?

  • Daniel Pink:

    You know what I think it does? I think what it offers is, is that we should trust our instincts less and trust the data more, that there are some ways to reveal what people’s preferences are, what people are really thinking, and that a lot of times our intuitions about people are dead wrong.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK.

  • Ann Patchett:

    Wow.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Ann, you’re moving us to fiction.

  • Ann Patchett:

    “Lincoln in the Bardo,” George Saunders.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes. Yes.

  • Ann Patchett:

    It came out February. It’s a big winner. It just won the Man Booker Prize. It’s the story of the death of Willie Lincoln, who goes to the cemetery, and Lincoln comes to visit his son in the cemetery, and all the different ghosts are there talking to Willie Lincoln.

    It’s a little bit like “Spoon River Anthology.”

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Multiple voices.

  • Ann Patchett:

    Multiple voices, and also a lot about Tibetan Buddhism, a lot about American history.

    It’s really innovative. It’s smart. And it’s a book that pushes you. It stretches you in a lot of different ways. But, believe me, you’re not ever going to read anything else like it.

  • Jeffrey Brown: 

    You know, I interviewed him, and I read the book.

    And I told him, it’s one where I started and wasn’t quite sure what I was reading.

  • Ann Patchett:

    Right. Exactly.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    I couldn’t decide for a little bit. And then, when I picked it up a second time, I just breezed through it, loving it.

  • Ann Patchett:

    Yes. Yes.

    It is a profound book, I would say the best book of the year, for my money.

  • Daniel Pink:

     Wow.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Aha.

  • Ann Patchett:

    This one.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK.

    What do you got?

  • Daniel Pink:

    Well, so, what I have got is a runner-up for the Man Booker Prize, which is “Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid.

    This is a really peculiar and intriguing book. It’s a love story at some level about these two characters named Saeed and Nadia. It’s also a political novel, because it’s set in a place that’s torn by civil war, and these two characters end up becoming refugees.

    But it also has this really interesting amount of magical realism, because the way that people emigrate is, they go through these doors, Narnia-like, and they end up in Greece, they end up in London.

    The thing about this book, and the reason that I chose it, is that, for me, this book was sort of like those moments when you sit around a campfire, OK, and then you put your jacket back in the closet when you come home. And then, a couple months later, you come back to the jacket, and you can — oh, it sort of smells like a fire.

    And this book, for me, it just stays with me all the time. I keep thinking about it. And what I also love it, as a writer, is that this is not a long book. And it is an incredibly efficient, well-constructed book.

    And so it does all these things at once in a way that is really, for me, has lingered with me months and months and months after reading it.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    It’s very up to the moment in its concerns, right? Refugees. It’s immigrants.

  • Daniel Pink:

    Right. It’s about refugees, right.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    But in an extremely creative telling.

  • Daniel Pink:

    Right.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK, Ann, what do you got?

  • Ann Patchett:

    “Less” by Andrew Sean Greer.

    This has been a depressing year for a lot of people. And I really want a book that was going to make me laugh. And the number one thing that people come into my bookstore and ask for is a book that is smart and funny and has an uplifting ending. And those books are few and far between.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Really? They’re coming to you asking you to be for uplift?

  • Ann Patchett:

    That is what people want.

    And a really smart, funny book that pulls you up, instead of down, tough to find. This is about a character whose last name is Less. Arthur Less is just about to turn 50. His longtime partner is about to marry another man.

    And he is — Less is embarrassed because he can’t go to the wedding, but he can’t just sit around. So, he decides to take a trip around the world and accept all the invitations he’s been offered.

    So, this is really just a story of a guy on the eve of his 50th birthday trying to make peace with his life, his past, who he is. And it’s hysterical. And the writing is fantastic. And I think not enough people are reading this book, so read “Less.”

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Oh, well, that’s — I mean, some of those others you have picked have gotten more attention than that one.

  • Ann Patchett:

    Exactly. Exactly.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes.

    OK.

  • Daniel Pink:

    So, in that spirit, my next choice is a book called…

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    In the unsung spirit?

  • Daniel Pink:

    It’s not this — well, I have one that is really unsung.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    OK.

  • Daniel Pink:

    This one is quietly sung.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes.

  • Daniel Pink:

    This is “The Best We Could Do,” and it’s a graphic novel. And I happen to love graphic memoirs, books like “Persepolis,” books like ” Arab of the Future,” because they take you into this world that you might not see. But, again, they do it in this brisk, powerful way.

    And this is a story about a woman who was born in Vietnam, whose family fled Vietnam, was — were both people in Vietnam, and made their way into the United States.

    And so what seems like a classic immigration story — and this is — what this writer does is that, when she has her first kid, she starts wondering about her own parents. And so she goes back and researches her own parents’ lives.

    And it turns out her parents, born in Vietnam — well, one born in Cambodia, one born in Vietnam, have lived these extraordinary lives as kids that she didn’t realize.

    So what seems to be superficially a novel about the immigration experience is really a graphic memoir about parents and children. What do parents understand about their kids? What do kids understand about their parents?

    So I found this. It’s a really beautiful and powerful memoir, and it gives you some great insight into the history of Vietnam, without watching a 37-part PBS series.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Ooh. Ooh, rough.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Daniel Pink:

    Yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown: 

    A great 37-part series.

  • Daniel Pink:

    A great 37-part PBS series.

  • Jeffrey Brown: 

    Yes. Yes.

  • Daniel Pink:

    This could be a two-part PBS series.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    All right, we’re going to continue this discussion online.

    But, for now, Ann Patchett, Dan Pink, thank you both very much.

  • Daniel Pink:

    Thank you.

  • Ann Patchett:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff

    : And, on our Web site, you can find the titles of five additional books recommended by Ann Patchett and Daniel Pink.

    That’s at PBS.org/NewsHour.

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