Practically all my life, I’ve carried a book with me at all times. I read everywhere. I scoff at people who say they “don’t have time to read.” Oh yeah? What do you do in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, in line at the supermarket, on breaks at work, and at stoplights? For the true reader, there is ALWAYS time to read.
In my younger days, I worked at a very busy restaurant, but there were still slow moments in which I could sneak in a few pages. My co-workers were both horrified and fascinated by my reading. They’d pepper me with endless questions (ignoring my pointed sighs every time I was forced to stop reading to answer): What’s your book about? Why do you read all the time? How many books do you read in a year?
This was before Goodreads, so I had no clue how many books I read in a year. But now thanks to the internet, social media, and big data, I can look up my reading stats any time I want (it’s usually between 50 and 80 books per year). I’m just a few books away from my reading goal this year, and I love being able to look back over my year in books.
The books I have read this year run the gamut from superhero comics to the Man Booker Prize winner, science fiction to celebrity memoirs, non-fiction graphic novels to Viking romance, history and science to true crime. If, like those long-ago co-workers, you’re interested in what I’ve been reading, here’s a sample of my “best books of 2017” list (in the order I read them, not ranked at all qualitatively).
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
This was a book club pick, and it is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. President Lincoln’s grief over the death of his son Willie is narrated by a chorus of ghosts inhabiting the cemetery where the boy is laid to rest. Many of these ghosts are bawdy, rowdy characters whose own histories and issues, not to mention the politics of ghost society and the logistics of navigating the afterlife, often overwhelm Lincoln’s story. Despite—or maybe because of?—all this, the book remains a powerful examination of grief. It won this year’s Man Booker Prize. Check out the audiobook, which features the voice talents of Don Cheadle, Kat Dennings, Lena Dunham, Bill Hader, Keegan-Michael Key, Julianne Moore, Megan Mullally, Nick Offerman, Susan Sarandon, David Sedaris, Ben Stiller, Jeff Tweedy, and Rainn Wilson, among others.
A Really Good Day by Ayelet Waldman
Ayelet Waldman suffers from extreme mood disorders. After trying nearly every therapy and treatment out there, with her marriage and family suffering, Waldman turns to an experimental—and illegal—protocol for relief: microdosing LSD. The dose she takes is not nearly enough to induce a “trip,” but she experiences profound effects on her mood and her life. She combines her personal experience with a lot of research, including the history of LSD and other psychedelics, the crazy laws governing their use, the draconian sentences imposed on those who break those laws, and the extremely limited scientific research being done on their effects. This book definitely challenged my views on drugs and their uses, both recreational and medicinal.
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
In the 1920s, the members of the Osage tribe in northeastern Oklahoma were the richest people per capita in the world, thanks to a savvy land deal that gave them not only the surface rights but the mineral rights to their land, as well. And the white folks just could not have that. Grann details the plot to subjugate, marry, and kill the Osage for their fortunes and the lawmen who eventually brought some of the culprits to justice. This is one of those books that will leave you outraged, but it’s a story that deserves to be told.
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
In the early days of the 20th century, radium was all the rage. Thought to promote health, it was in everything from tonics to lotions. Women working in factories, painting numbers on watch dials so they would glow in the dark, would stick their paintbrushes in their mouths to create a sharp point, inadvertently eating the radioactive element all day, every day. They soon began getting sick, but the factory owners ignored it, even covering up evidence that radium was harmful. A few of these brave women fought to get compensation for their illnesses, hindered by powerful men, primitive workers compensation laws, and a system that did not value the rights, health, or even the lives of women. If you want to get really mad, kind of grossed out, and a little inspired, all at the same time, this is the book for you.
Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
What if the kids from Scooby-Doo had PTSD from all the mysteries they solved, and they grew up to be very damaged adults? The names are different, and the dog is a Weimaraner instead of a Great Dane, but that’s pretty much what’s happening here. The surviving members of the Blyton Hills Summer Detective Club (shout out to Enid Blyton’s Famous Five!) decide they must return to Blyton Hills to confront the trauma of their past and solve a cold case. There is just enough nostalgia to be fun, but not so much that it becomes annoying.
Thornhill by Pam Smy
In 1982, Mary, an orphan living in Thornhill House, writes in her diary in the last months the home is open, chronicling her troubles with a bully, her worries over going to a new home, and her joy in sculpting puppets of her beloved book characters. In 2017, Ella moves in to a new house near Thornhill and sees a little girl in the top window of the abandoned building. The really unique thing about this book is that Mary's story is told via text, her diary, while Ella's story unfolds entirely via illustrations. The illustrations are dark and creepy, bringing a sense of foreboding to the story long before you realize its tragic end.
Mockingbird, Vol. 2: My Feminist Agenda by Chelsea Cain
My Goodreads review of this graphic novel reads simply, “Chardonnay. Corgis. Bermuda Triangle.” If that, and the title, doesn’t convince you to read it, I don’t know what will. Okay, here’s a little more. Bobbi Morse, a.k.a. Mockingbird, in an attempt to escape the publicity over her ex-husband’s trial for murder (spoiler alert: Hawkeye is on trial for murdering the Hulk—a bigger comic book geek than I will have to tell you where and when that happened), agrees to a suspicious offer of an all-expense-paid cruise. Only it’s a themed cruise—superheroes, of course—and another ex is on board, along with a rampaging herd of corgis. Oh, and it’s clearly a trap. When a murder occurs on board, Bobbi must investigate.
There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins
Okay, I’ll start out by admitting that the reviews on this one are VERY mixed. Perkins’ usual teen romance readers are very confused that she suddenly wrote a slasher book, and horror readers are a bit squicked out there’s so much romance. But I actually really liked it. It reminded me (in the best way possible) of the R. L. Stine Fear Street series, which I LOVED in middle school. It’s very reminiscent of the teen slasher genre of the late 80's and early 90's, but with 21st century updates, such as multiracial and LGBTQ characters.
All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
Fun story: Maggie Stiefvater and Holly Black are two of my favorite authors, and I met both of them recently. In the course of a week, I talked to Maggie Stiefvater about Holly Black, and to Holly Black about Maggie Stiefvater. And perpetuated the rumor that Maggie set John Green on fire (it’s not true, but pass it on anyway). What IS true is that this, her brand new book, is as weird and wonderful as all the rest. It centers on the Soria family, who can perform miracles. Well, just one, really. They can make a person’s inner darkness manifest itself physically. Then it’s up to the person to work the second miracle, overcoming their darkness. The Sorias are forbidden from helping the pilgrims with their second miracle, but of course, this being a YA novel, someone breaks the rules, and chaos ensues.
Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore
Kristin Cashore is another of my favorites. If you haven’t read Graceling yet, do it. Now. I’ll wait. Okay, now that you’ve seen how amazing Cashore is, let me tell you about her new book, which is absolutely nothing like Graceling. Jane is a young college dropout, reeling from the death of her beloved Aunt Magnolia, a nature photographer. Shortly before her death, Magnolia extracted a promise from Jane that if she was ever invited to the Thrash family mansion, she must go. Of course, the invitation arrives, Jane goes, and instantly, things are a bit weird. The house is odd, and so are the people (and the dog). Jane finds herself confronted with a choice, and this is where the book gets truly original. Jane will make the choice five times, following a different path each time, and each time a different choice is made, the book switches genres. Yep, it goes from realistic fiction to art heist mystery, to spy thriller, to horror, to science fiction, and finally, to fantasy.