I went into 2017 aiming to read diverse fiction books and non-fiction. I definitely read diverse books, though I failed to read many from earlier eras.
I also set out with the idea that I was going to use my reading as an escape. I’d been feeling pretty down at the end of 2016 after Election Day. My therapy for my disappointment was reading whatever I wanted during 2017.
Looking back over the books that really left an impression on me in 2017, it turns out most of them weren’t escape reads, though I did read quite a few I would consider as such.
As ever, my reading list is comprised of books I read in 2017, not necessarily books published in 2017. See my entire 2017 reading challenge here.
Total books read: 103
Total pages: 36,334
Books by men: 36
Books by women: 63
Anthologies or co-authored works: 4
Books by minorities or people of color: 21
Books from 21st Century: 92
Books from 20th Century: 9
Books from other centuries: 2
My Top Ten, in no particular order:
1) The Moral Arc by Michael Shermer (2014): At its heart this is a hopeful book, and I read it at a time when I needed hope. I appreciated Shermer’s ambitious attempt to offer a philosophy of morality based in science and reason, although I do think at times he neglected to account for the darker angels of our nature in favor of focusing on the better ones.
2) Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari (2011, 2014): In a year when “science” faced political and popular opposition, Sapiens stood out as a proudly scientific book full of interesting information about the history of Homo sapiens. I appreciated the information, but not always the tone of this book, which sometimes slipped into somewhat dismissive or over-generalized musings. That said, the profound and thought-provoking examination of the human species was worth the irritation. I also read the next book by this author, Homo Deus, in which he tries to predict the future of humanity, but I think he was at his best when firmly grounded in evidence, without so much speculation.
3) Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016): One reason I love fiction is how a story unfolds on so many levels. This book is a beautiful example of layers—layers of time and history and memory and experience and how they come together to create a character’s story. This was one of those precious books in which the total effect was more than the sum of its parts. I don’t rank this list, but if I did, Homegoing would be in the spot of #1 for my 2017 reads.
4) The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben: After the self-important voices of The Moral Arc and Sapiens, The Hidden Life of Trees offered a delightful alternative in my non-fiction science reading. This was a book of passion, written by a forester with a profound relationship with his trees. I found myself utterly caught up in his joy and excitement as I read about the fascinating lives of trees. A breath of fresh air!
5) Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (2014): This book came highly recommended, but I was a little worried about reading it. I was already feeling a little bruised and battered by trying to talk about racism in America with what I’ll call racism “deniers.” I feared reading this book would only make me sadder. However, Just Mercy armed me with more concrete information, which is always helpful. I read this back-to-back with Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning. The two books taken together provided me with a deeper understanding of America’s enduring shame.
6) Missoula by Jon Krakauer (2105): I’ll read anything by Jon Krakauer. I appreciate his accessible approach and his genuine curiosity as he examines diverse topics. In the case of Missoula, I did fear the heavy subject matter (rape) was likely to depress me again in a social climate exploding with the misogyny that led to 2017’s #metoo scandals. But Krakauer did a fine job with this book, using a specific case of one city to show problems in how we attempt to deal with rape in our culture. I was a little startled that he his posited himself as unaware of the magnitude of this problem, but if one thing has come out of 2017’s turmoil, I’d hope it’s that no one is left unaware that one in four women experience sexual assault in their lifetime.
7) The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman (2015): This was a fun read that blended the best of fantasy and Regency romance. I picked it up on a lark at the library because I liked the cover, and it turned out to be one of those books I simply couldn’t put down, right on through the next book in the series and a related novella. I look forward to the third installment.
8) An Ember in the Ashes/A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir (2016, 2017): This is the unfinished fantasy series keeping me on tenterhooks, supplanting Games of Thrones and The Name of the Wind as the top “next installment” that I will devour in one night when it finally is released. Ember in the Ashes has it all: an exciting story, deep world-building, juicy intrigues, epic familial drama, diverse and dimensional characters, and a slow-burning romance with a love triangle. The only trouble is the release date for Book Three keeps getting moved further out…Sabaa, please. Stop listening to all that music and get that book written!
9) His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet (2015): This was another serendipitous find at the library, a random book I picked out for no particular reason except that I felt like reading a historical novel with a touch of mystery. I found a well-written mind-bender of a story that held me captive from start to finish. Thought-provoking, chilling, and intense, it transported me back in time in the same way Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood did, years ago.
10) We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2017): Ta-Nehisi Coates does not write to make you feel comfortable or hopeful, nor to provide solutions. But he’s a thoughtful writer, concerned with exposing the interior of his mind in the most precise way he can. I appreciate his embrace of the essay form and his painstaking explication of his thought process and his experience, and how the personal relates to the political in understanding racism in America. Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates asks you to listen in the deep way that only reading can train you to do.