My thoroughly biased and utterly self-indulgent list of the best books I read in 2017.
(listed chronologically by when I read them)
The Last Days of Night — Graham Moore
Watch Graham Moore's Oscar acceptance speech (for penning The Imitation Game), then pick up this novel that only increase your affection for him & his extraordinary talent. It was a really great read; and this, coming from someone who is not inclined to historical fiction. I am shocked that it didn't blow up in popularity when it was released.
How to Celebrate Everything — Jenny Rosenstrach
Good ole Jenny from Dinner: A Love Story! This book was the perfect primer as I head from the I'm-in-the-trenches-with-toddlers years to the braces-tightening-soccer-game years. She demonstrates what a life looks like full of family ritual, those events & moments whether commonplace (Thanksgiving) or unique (Friday pizza or Saturday summer walks to the market). It also woke me to the most genius ever donut birthday cake (you'll have to look it up in the book).
Hillbilly Elegy — J.D. Vance
A memoir of growing up poor & white in America, but this book is more informative, entertaining, & enlightening than it is a downer.
A Mother’s Reckoning — Sue Klebold
Well, this one was a downer. But, it is my #1 recommend of the year. It is hard & emotional — written by the mother of one of the perpetrators of the Columbine school massacre — but, what she shares about brain health & suicide should be required reading for every parent. When a recent family friend took his life, I thought often of what I learned in this book about the unhealthy mind from which he was operating.
Reading this book wasn't like gawking at an accident, and it wasn't, in my opinion, a self-indulgent pet project for a woman seeking freedom from the world's scorn. It was a hand-wringing grief, full of opportunities for empathy. A good, worthy read.
Born a Crime — Trevor Noah
I have previously mentioned this book which I listened to, read by the author, on Audible (it is their exclusive audiobook) using the free 30-day trial. A friend to whom I recommended it found Trevor Noah's story jumpy, disjointed, and was always waiting for him to talk about his career! A fair assessment, but I found his South African childhood compelling, and his stories both powerfully & hilariously told.
A Little Life — Hani Yanigahara
This is not a novel for everyone, and not just because of its girth at 700+ pages. It is full of dark, upsetting subject matter & brokenness so raw & deep that it is quite overwhelming. I don't think it is a perfect book, but I can swallow a grain of salt (for her limited, artsy NYC environment) to bask in the beautifully written prose and the extraordinary, unforgettable characters she has created. If you like "dark matter" and character studies (I usually like the former, but not the latter), this book is for you.
Hourglass — Dani Shapiro
As Modern Mrs Darcy wrote, "I wouldn't have "gotten" this at 22, but adored it in my 30s." As the subtitle indicates — Time, Memory, Marriage — this is a grown-up book, for readers ready to accept the imperfections, compromises, & tensions of joy & sorrow intermingled in a mature life.
Wonder — R.J. Palacio
Late to the party here. Like, waaaayyyy late, like midnight buffet late. Nonetheless, it is just as its reputation claims: excellent, beautiful, must-read.
The list above reveals my proclivity for the memoir genre! I have learned that not everybody loves memoirs as much as I do (hard as it is for me to believe).
I did read some great fiction this year, too, but apart from the couple mentioned above, the novels just didn’t have the same impact on me as the nonfiction above. I also spent way too much novel-reading energy on Justin Cronin’s The Passage (which was a zillion pages long).
Anyhow, I do also recommend The Dinner, Beartown, Commonwealth, and Anne of the Island ;)