I read so much good stuff in 2017. SO MUCH. I wouldn’t say that my reading mojo is completely back from my pre-divorce days-- I’m not going to hit 100 books read for the year, after all. But I’ll probably finish somewhere in the 80s, and that’s not shabby.
To say that I haven’t blogged much this year would be to indulge in careless understatement. It hasn’t seemed as urgent to me, what with the political scene and human rights fiascos everywhere I turn. (It’s been much easier to lose myself in watching The Office, or The Crown, or The Wire.)
The thing is, though, most of my favorite books this year speak to the horrifying things that have left me feeling, if not precisely hopeless, then at least hopeless-adjacent; yet each book made me feel a little bit better after finishing it. Thus I’m summoning up what energy I have on a Saturday in December to pay tribute to these books, and if you have ever worked retail during the holidays, then you will know how much this is a labor of love.
First, the stats: I completed 79 books this year. Here’s how they break down. Numbers may add up a bit wonkily because many books qualify for multiple categories.
Female authors: 59
Male authors: 20
Books for Young Readers: 19
Diversity challenge: 22
Books in translation: 3
Fan fiction: 4
Short story collections: 2
Curiously, three writers count for almost half of the reading I did by male authors this year: David Sedaris, Bill Bryson, and Frederick Backmann (who incidentally was the author of all three books I read in translation). I had rather more re-reads in 2017, as I often turn to my lifetime favorites of Harry Potter or any of the various Anne of Green Gables novels when in need of a comfort read, and I will not include any of those for my top ten list.
Thus, my top books of the year, in chronological order of my reading them, are:
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. Definitely the most important novel published this fall, possibly the most important novel published this year. I was lucky enough to read an early copy of this in the spring and ever since then I’ve been telling everybody who will listen to read it.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid would be the other novel published this year that could vie for most important of 2017. Where Jesmyn Ward’s prose is searing, Mohsin Hamid’s is taut. They’re both nearly perfect. I remain disappointed that this book did not win the Booker prize this year.
Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire lured me in with descriptions of the part of Massachusetts I currently called home, only to quickly take on greater import on a more global scale. She is compassionate and generous with her characters, who grapple with politics, family, immigration, and fundamentalism.
Local writer Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince is one of only two YA books on my list this year. I pick up Holly’s books to read when I want an escape, since her world building is utterly immersive, but then I remember how sharp an eye she has for politics that transcend the human realm and how much reading her books can inform my current world.
Wiley Cash is one the most gracious authors I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and The Last Ballad brings all of his storytelling powers to bear. Here he plays with the intersection of workers right with the racism and sexism of the era, bringing the story of real-life Ella Mae Wiggins to modern readers.
The author of the Orange-prize winning Song of Achilles returns to the classics with Circe, spanning the centuries-long life of the eponymous witch-goddess who was not content to play by the laws of the Olympians. I debated including it here simply because it will not publish until April 2018, but I liked it too much to exclude it.
Angie Thomas’s debut novel is the other YA book on my list, and it’s probably the most important book published in the world of young adult literature for 2017. Powerful and emotional, and likely more effective in putting a human face on the Black Lives Matter movement than any work of nonfiction could be.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is probably the most important voice on the topic of race today, and in this collection of essays, one written for each year president Obama was in office, he probes the political underbelly in the US in clear and persuasive prose.
Maggie O’Farrell’s memoir is the second piece of nonfiction to make my list this year, despite its technical pub date for spring of 2018. Each of her seventeen brushes with death is the jumping off point for an essay that examines life. Her writing is luminous and soul-searching, whether she’s recounting her childhood or reflecting on adulthood.