The Books I Read 2017
In looking back at 2017 with only a few bitter cold days left, I have to say, it was a mean year. There was a solid whack of struggle and heartbreak for me personally, and a eye opening amount of upheaval on a national level. I'd say my greatest lesson learned this year is that unaddressed feelings/issues do not go away. Such buried giants reemerge at the least opportune moments, distorted and changed from their time below, and having endured great pressure, deep darkness, and endless neglect, they will be silent no longer. An important thing to remember when you're stooping to bury some little thing; perhaps a different approach would serve us all better in the future.
As for my reading life, 2017 was a really excellent year. I read 43 books, and for the first time I don't really have a bad word to say about any of them (shocking!) The top 10 are phenomenal reads that changed my life. 11-38 are great books that I would recommend to anyone. The bottom 5 are also good books, they just didn't resonate with me personally. I dug deep into Neil Gaiman, Diana Wynne Jones, Kazuo Ishiguro (this year's Nobel laureate), and Sarah Vowell because I already loved them and wanted more. I discovered Anne LaBastille, renowned wildlife ecologist and seeker of solitude, and am jealous as can be of her life and her work. And I was blown away by Bill Hayes' beautiful memoir, the most moving thing I've read in years. Enjoy, and happy reading!
The Top 10
1. Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me, Bill Hayes
This memoir is so exquisitely good. It is a love story on many different levels, and is written so beautifully it truly takes your breath away. Bill Hayes came to New York suffering from a broken heart and looking to make a fresh start. He eventually meets and falls in love with Oliver. Intimate and gentle at moments, and explosive and stunning in others, it opens a door to the inner workings of two intelligent, playful, curious lovers of life. I am a great fan of the late great Oliver Sacks, and Bill's love for him is so evident in how he expresses and shares their incredibly personal and endearing life together. This book is a tremendous gift.
2. Swing Time, Zadie Smith
Another near perfect novel from the indomitable Zadie Smith. What amazes me most about her writing is how unfamiliar I am with the characters and settings (which vary greatly book to book) and yet how effortlessly I am swept away into those strange worlds with a seamlessness that reads as easy and natural as sharing a chat with a close friend. She is an incredibly talented writer with skill that speaks to hard work and intricate attention to detail. This novel is about friendship, music, roots, tribe, and freedom. It moves effortlessly from two young girls in northwest London, to a pop star in West Africa without skipping a beat. There is a sense of rhythm and movement to her writing that makes it feel quick and close to the skin, a masterful technique. Nobody handles dialog and cadence with such skill.
3. The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
A couple sets off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen in years. This amazing novel by 2017 Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro is a rather savage adventure for the heart. I found myself terrified while reading this book. A vivid sense of how easily even the most cherished things can be lost, and how over time even those losses can be forgotten, pervade this tale. At times the fear of being somehow misplaced in time creeps off the page and into the reader's heart, CHILLING! This book explores the question, what would we be left with if everything we love, all the things that make us who we are and give our life direction and meaning, just simply slipped away beneath the dark waters of time?
4. The Red-Haired Woman: A Novel, Orhan Pamuk
A fable of Fathers and Sons, and a mysterious and enchanting look at tradition, responsibility, romance, and family. I liked how hard it was to like the main character, and yet how much of myself I saw in him and his often selfish and impulsive actions. And I loved the thread of inevitability, plain to the reader but often hidden from our narrator, that tugged straight through the man's entire life. Perhaps such threads are tugging at our own lives. Orhan is a Nobel in Literature winner and best selling author from Istanbul, Turkey, love him.
5. Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee
This book finds our famous hero, Scout, 26 years old and returning home to visit Atticus and her beloved Maycomb, Alabama. I was pretty wary of reading this. I loved To Kill a Mockingbird, having read it at ages 11, 17, and 25. It was a part of my heritage a as a lifelong reader, in a sense, and I was afraid this sequel would harm it in some way. Well, I was just plain wrong. This is an astounding novel, and adds new depth, context and meaning to the beloved classic. Having those characters romp around the page again was such a delight, and I loved the added complexity of Scout as a young woman transitioning yet again into a new epoch of life. Absolutely fantastic.
6. Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
7. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
8. Woodswoman I & II, Anne LaBastille
9. The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
10. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, Jon Haidt
More Excellent Books Below
11. Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002, David Sedaris
12. Gwendy's Button Box, Stephen King
13. In the Darkroom, Susan Faludi
14. Castle in the Air, Diana Wynne Jones
15. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman
16. Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell
17. The Fireman, Joe Hill
18. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
19. Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah
20. Maybe the Moon, Armistead Maupin
21. A View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction, Neil Gaiman
22. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell
23. Take the Cannoli, Sarah Vowell
24. Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, Peter Godfrey-Smith
25. Island: The Complete Stories, Alistair Macleod
26. Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke
27. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs
28. Greasy Lake & Other Stories, T. C. Boyle
29. The Time of the Ghost, Diana Wynne Jones
30. Dead Clever, Scarlet Thomas
31. Great Dream of Heaven, Sam Shepard
32. Lie Down in Darkness, William Styron
33. The Egg & Other Stories, Sherwood Anderson
34. M Train, Patti Smith
35. Double Feature, Owen King
36. The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, Andrew Solomon
37. Magical Thinking: True Stories, Augusten Burroughs
38. Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind, V. S. Ramachandran, Sandra Blakeslee
39. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions, Dan Ariely
40. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, Sarah Vowell
41. The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True, Richard Dawkins
42. I & Thou, Martin Buber
43. The Hairy Arm, Edgar Wallace