It’s a little premature to list my favorite books of 2017 – after all, we have two more (three more? I’m bad at dates) weeks in the year, and I have a few titles on the shelf that I’m still really excited to get to in the next couple of weeks. But I’m thinking about it right now, and that’s really the absolute best impetus to getting words down on paper, or in a blog… you have to do it while it’s on your mind.
And I read a decent number of books this year. I kind of devoted my weekends to sleeping and reading for a while.
My Goodreads account says I’ve read 44 books this year, and that doesn’t count all the re-reads I’ve squeezed in. One night last week I dug out All Creatures Great and Small and devoured it over the course of two happy days. I realized that my love for the English novel’s gently comic, self-ridiculing style began when I first read this book in elementary school, right about when Herriot wrote, “even the cow was smiling,” about his lying veterinary textbook’s picture-perfect calving photograph.
I went on an L.M. Montgomery tear, as I seem to do every year, and devoured everything from Rilla of Ingleside to Emily of New Moon to my beloved, desert-island read The Blue Castle. I wrote an essay about The Blue Castle, back-to-nature movements and 2017 folk music, and no, you can’t read it.
But for new reads, I stopped reading so many ARCs and instead developed a long-term relationship with my library. (We’re really happy, thanks!) Every time I go inside and see all those books, and every time I walk out with a canvas tote brimming with hardcovers, I think how completely astonishing it is that our government funds us with as many books as we could ever want to read… completely free. Libraries seem like the direct opposite of what our elected officials want for us these days — education, and ideas, which could all be sold but instead are handed out to whoever wants them, for two weeks at a time, at the taxpayer’s expense. Thank goodness.
Anyway, here are a few of my favorite books of 2017.
Favorite Fantasy Book of 2017
I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but that’s because I have very high requirements for it. I’m actually deeply devoted to Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. And if we’re counting, I’ve read all the Harry Potter books at least four times each, and I think His Dark Materials is one of the most important series of all time. So it’s funny that Pullman’s The Book of Dust didn’t make my list, but that’s only because I haven’t read it yet. It’s sitting on my bookshelf, waiting for the right moment.
What I did read was an interesting trilogy by Erika Johansen: The Queen of the Tearling, The Invasion of the Tearling, and The Fate of the Tearling.
These books are big, fat high fantasy with a twist — Johansen gave her fantasy world a dystopian future background. Yes, they’re high fantasy set in the future, and for a long time it’s hard to tell if the Tear (a really odd naming structure for a region or nation) is set in this dimension or another one, what its connection to 21st-century Earth is, etc. It’s… complicated. I commend Johansen for giving it a go, though, and if it isn’t written with the careful hand of a master at work — I’m talking a Tolkien or a Martin here, let’s be real — it’s a bloody good try and I was fascinated enough to read them all in quick succession.
Favorite Airplane Read of 2017
I traveled a ton in 2017 and I fell in love with Amy Stewart’s spunky heroine of Girl Waits With Gun. I never read anything related to crime but the cover and title were just irresistible and so were the characters. I read this on the way to New York one day and on the way to L.A. a few days later. It’s light on the eyes and tightly-written, with a gorgeously slow reveal of the main character’s secret.
I picked up the sequel, Lady Cop Makes Trouble, for a flight to London and while I still liked it, the second volume lacks some of the lovely writing and suspense elements introduced in the first. That’s inevitable considering some of the first title’s appeal comes from its slow reveal, and of course by this time we already know… so it’s a completely linear story, lacking the beguiling mystery.
Favorite Michael Chabon Masterpiece of 2017
Every time I read a Michael Chabon novel I figure I should just pack in any pretensions of writing a literary novel, because I’ll never write like him, and so what’s the point in living?
Anyway this year I reread one of my favorite books of all time, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and then I read The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, which for some reason I hadn’t read yet, and then I read his new release, Moonglow, and it’s probably no coincidence that my own new novel is behind schedule. He’s just so unreasonably good, it takes the wind out of my sails considerably.
I wouldn’t dare actually choose a favorite, but if you’re seeing Moonglow on end of year lists and are wondering if you should read it, the answer is WHAT IN GOD’S NAME ARE YOU WAITING FOR, GO READ IT. The book has Chabon’s incredible knack for weaving a story in and out of a first-person narrative (it reminds me of the style The Princess Bride film was made in, getting distracted from the story, then going back to it). The narrator is recounting his grandfather’s life, and the Moonglow in question is the space race itself.
Favorite Random Used Bookstore Find of 2017
I was in Hollywood for a work conference and wasn’t exactly in love with the area, but I made myself get out for a walk and wandered down to Amoeba Records. I decided against trying to keep a vinyl record alive in my carry-on and drifted over to their book section, where I picked up and put down a beautiful little F. Scott Fitzgerald story collection which I really, really, wish I’d bought. What I did end up with was a lovely fat trade paperback called Crossing California, by Adam Langer, which was so engrossing I read it all the way from LAX to MCO (that’s about six hours) without pausing.
It’s a hugely satisfying coming-of-age story about a bunch of people, all ages, kids and adults alike, growing up and having affairs and doing drugs and working odd jobs and doing everything they can to fit in, stand out, piss people off or suck up to them. It’s set in Chicago — the California in the title is a street that divides two neighborhoods — in the late 1970s, which was a pretty confusing time. I’ll definitely be rereading this one.
Favorite Confusing-as-Hell Soap Opera Novels of 2017
Beatriz Williams, your interconnected families and plots in your novels will never not confound me. That will not stop me from reading them. And Along the Infinite Sea was spectacular. That ending!! Are you kidding me with that?!? Thank you.
Favorite Equestrian Novel of 2017
This is a bit brutal, because I read three equestrian novels in 2017 and I loved them all very much. I read Mary Pagones’ fantastic eventing novel, Stars Hide Your Fires; Kim Ablon Whitney’s excellent horse show novel, Summer Circuit; and Tudor Robins’ 2013 YA equestrian, Objects in Mirror.
And of the three, I have to give the nod to Robins. I’m used to equestrian novels reflecting the lifestyle I know so well, but Robins did something different: she wrote about anorexia in a way that made me stop and take notice.
Objects in Mirror is a graceful and empathetic novel, and totally different from everything else I’ve read in the genre. They’re all worth reading, of course!
Favorite Book I Can’t Get Out of My Head of 2017
I listened to Radio Girls on my long drives home from the barn for about six weeks, and I miss all the characters in it like old friends. The historical novel by Sarah-Jane Stratford is about the early days of the BBC and a couple of spunky ladies who keep the Fascists out of their beloved radio programmes.
The main character is a mousy young woman who finds herself in the stimulating world of radio production; she works for a powerful female producer who is based upon a real character with a very fascinating real story. Yes, you’ll find yourself reading up on her after you finish this book!
I didn’t love the audiobook reader’s interpretation of Stratford’s sentences, but it was such a good story that it didn’t matter. This is one I’ll end up purchasing a nice hardcover of to keep, admire and re-read.
Favorite Book, Absolute Favorite Book, of 2017
I read two books by Chris Cleave this year, and neither of them were Little Bee, his book which was distributed about three per subway car during the summer the paperback came out.
One was Gold, which was tremendously important to me as an equestrian writer. Gold is about cycling, but its look at sports psychology and two women striving to achieve Olympic gold really made me think about my own characters.
The other was Everyone Brave is Forgiven, and I don’t even know what to say about this book. It astonished me. It made me cry. It made me stop and think about everything, about my writing, about love, about history, about the streets I walked on, everything.
After I finished it, I bought a gorgeous hardcover edition from the U.K., just to have it forever, although I haven’t been brave enough to crack it open again.
I took a look back to see if I’d written anything more insightful in my Goodreads review, back in May. Here’s what I wrote:
I don’t have adequate words to describe how much I loved this book. It’s beautiful. It’s horrifying. It takes slow, leisurely strolls through cities and seas. It demands page-flipping, breathless, fierce attention. Read it only when you have the time to devote yourself to it entirely. But please read it.
That’s all entirely correct. If you really want to know, Everyone Brave is Forgiven is about three people during World War II, some in London, some fighting, and it’s about love and loss and human spirit and just how much a person can take. It has some of the most breathlessly terrifying, yet calm and resigned, writing I’ve ever enjoyed. It kept me up at night. Do read it.
I read a load of other really good books in 2017, like these:
- The Animators, by Kayla Rae Whitaker
- Sweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler
- Villa America, by Liza Klaussman
- Perfect Little World, by Kevin Wilson
It was a really good year. What were your favorites?