the books of 2017
i did so well on my reading goal from 2016 that i shot a bit too high in 2017 and for some reason, did not achieve my reading goal (two books short!). i think this can be chalked up to the fact that i don’t always read for pleasure. i read about one “fluffy” book per year (usually by accident), and the ones i read the most are non-fiction and memoirs. i read because i want to learn about something, mostly. most of the time, this is a pleasurable hobby, but some books feel as though i have assigned them to myself and are sometimes a slog to finish.
of the books i finished in 2017, the grand majority are memoirs and non-fiction (big surprise) with a slight sprinkling of fiction and harry potter re-reads.
best book: tranny, by laura jane grace with dan ozzi
even if you’re not a fan of the punk band, against me!, you may be familiar with the story of laura jane grace, who in the past few years transitioned to a woman while all the while dealing with family issues, her long-running band, a relationship, having a child, dysphoria, alcoholism and depression. as a fan of both the band and the writing-style of dan ozzi, this book was a revelation and i thought about (and discussed it) for weeks during and after the reading. even if you’re not against me! fan, if you are interested in memoirs about down-and-out punks, rockers, the DIY ethos, or topics related to gender transitioning, it could be quite an interesting read.
favorite travel memoir: bleaker house: chasing my novel to the end of the world, by nell stevens
this was also one of my favorites of the year. stevens gets a writing grant to go anywhere in the world to write, and she ends up choosing the isolated falkland islands where she stays all alone for months in the dead of winter. if that premise intrigues you even a little as it did me (writing! creativity! isolation! islands!), pick this one up with the quickness. the book that she ends up writing (and not being able to put words on the page) ends up being, well… this one.
best required reading: between the world and me, by ta-nahesi coates
the first book i read in 2017, also the shortest, coates (of the atlantic and other publication) writes bittersweet letters to his son, telling him what he should know about growing up black in america. the way coates writes is so smooth and calm – i feel like i’m looking out over a large body of water hearing his words on really tough topics (trayvon martin, the death of a university friend at the hands of police). i summed it up on good reads as “brilliant, heart-breaking, and profound”. i think everyone should read this book, and then hopefully, continue reading other works of coates (such 2017′s we were eight years in power, a collection of essays he’d written during each year of the obama era and commentary about where he was at that time of his life).
most pleasantly surprising: let it snow, by john green, maureen johnson, and lauren myracle
this was one of the fluffier books i read last year, and i received it as a gift, intending to read it over the holidays. although the holidays are now gone, i was so surprised with how much i liked this book – three stories that take place in the same fictional north carolina town at christmas time that intersect in different ways, all relating to falling in love as a teenager. the writing (of the first two stories, at least) was fresh and modern… and i was extremely captured.
best non-fiction: evicted: poverty and profit in the american city, by matthew desmond
this book is a well-researched, incredible collection of the stories of many poor (often black) americans living in today’s milwaukee. desmond spends so much time with the people in this book, who are mostly tenants at risk of eviction and also from the landlord’s side – how exactly the system incentivizes avoiding renting to these people. we come to realize how strongly the odds are stacked against low-income inner-city americans (often people of color) who simply want to rent an apartment; to have a roof over their family’s head, but how the smallest thing (like a call to the police concerning domestic abuse, for example) will render these people “unrentable”. the system is rigged, and this book is an absolute triumph.
book i downright hated: modern lovers, by emma straub
this book was on so many “best of 2016” lists that i ended up adding it and for probably the second time in my life, I QUIT READING A BOOK. this book. it was the biggest steaming pile i have ever picked up, and still wonder how exactly it graced any reading list at all. not only did it read like a tenth grade fiction assignment, but the characters were insufferable, and the author somehow makes sure that her readers are not able to care less about any of these people. additionally, the narration was unsettling, strange, and unrelatable. i would set it on fire if i could.
what i recommend instead: white teeth, by zadie smith
probably what modern lovers was trying so hard to be, smith pulls off with elegance, humor and grace. i loved the background that smith brought to her ethnic characters (bangladeshi or jamaican), now living a modern life in the suburbs of london and growing up english while trying to reconcile their unique cultural traditions and strict upbringing as enforced by their parents.
although i did set a good reads goal for 2018 as i feel that it is extremely motivating, my focus is never quantity over quality. i still intend to read educational non-fiction, but hopefully with a tad more fiction sprinkled in this year. (you never know how bad you need to read some fiction until you read a thousand year history on the importance of salt!) i also hope to read more czech authors as well as philosophy this year.
do share: what was your favorite book of 2017? have you also read any of these? any reading goals or new directions? (let’s be friends on good reads!)
ps, for more book ideas and mini-reviews, check out the books of 2016, the books of 2015, and czech reads.