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I haven’t done a bookish post in while, which may lead you to believe I haven’t been reading. You would be wrong. My life has not changed so much that I would put down my book!
In 2017, I read 146 books. I have read some expected gems, some unexpected gems, some expected disappointments and some unexpected disappointments. Overall, it was a good reading year, though not as good as 2015 – it felt like every book I picked up that year was astounding. It will be a hard year to beat.
Because list writing is fun, I am going to try to do my Top 10 books of 2017.
But before I start, there will be some caveats and disclosures:
There may be some honourable mentions, because I find it impossible to list my best books. Some people have a Top 10 of all time. I don’t think I would be able to limit myself to 10 – I could possibly do a Top 100, but not listed in order of favourite-ness. I don’t think I am decisive enough (see what I did there :P) to list my favourites, but mostly, I don’t want to hurt the feelings of books that I love, and there are definitely more than 10 books that I love.
Also, I finished re-reading the Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Narnia series this year. We all know that these are incredible books that would make it into pretty much any Top lists. I will not list them in mine though because I don’t want them to take precious spots in my list.
So, here is a not-so-definitive list of My Top 10 Books of 2017 with a Few Extras Thrown In.
The Shadow of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (along with the 2nd book: The Angel’s Game). This was a completely unexpected gem. I picked this book up from the library as I was walking by the shelf because I liked the cover. I couldn’t put it down. This is a gothic mystery and romance, but not an icky romance. Its a romance about love. And books. And the love of books. Which makes this a perfect novel. Dealing with the loss of his mother, Daniel’s father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books where he is allowed to choose one book. The book he chooses is so arresting he tries to find other books by the author. But they all have been systematically destroyed. If you want to know why, I suggest you pick up the book.
The Sparrow/Children of God by Mary Doria Russell– I actually read The Sparrow last December, and spent the next 11 months scouring used books stores for the sequel Children Of God. These 2 books read like it should be 1 very large novel as The Sparrow ends in a very unsatisfying way. These novels tell the story of a distant planet, and the Jesuits journey to discover it, both for science and for God. Like any exploring group, they misunderstand the social and economic structure of people living there and so disrupt the order. The outcomes are both devastating and beneficial for all involved. Children of God tells the story of the long-term outcome of the interference from Earth. I loved these books because they dissect the devotion a believer has to God, both in dealing with other’s tragedy and his own. The journey back to faith can be difficult and seemingly impossible, but also earth-shattering and beautiful.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra – This was a re-read for me and I loved it this time around as much as the first time. The story of the decades (centuries?) long war in Chechnya is told in one of my favourite ways: slowing walking through the present while diving deeply into the past of the characters. Set in 2004, but reaching back far into history, we learn the story of a few inconsequential people whose lives are torn apart because of wars that don’t benefit them. Unravelling the mystery of what binds them together, Sonja and Akhmed learn of betrayal, coincidence and forgiveness.
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker– This was a completely unexpected gem! Set in turn-of-the-century New York, 2 mythical creatures unexpectedly meet, one a Kabbalistic creature made of Clay, the other a fire-born Syrian creature captured in a copper flask. Their connection is mystical and their story is a combination of fairy tale, folk lore, magic and ancient history.
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys– Telling the story of the little-known sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, this novel weaves the story of refugees in Eastern Europe fleeing before the Red Army in World War II. With incredible character development, (the Shoemaker has become one of my all time favourite characters. And that list is also not definitive), the outcome of horrible tragedy made my mother’s heart weep.
The DoveKeepers by Alice Hoffman- When I picked up this book, I was informed by a number of people that it was in their (definitive) Top Ten of All Time list. I can see why. Telling the story of Fall of Masada and expounding on historian Josephus’ claim that 2 women and 5 children survived the mass killing, Hoffman creates 4 strong, independent and very different women through whose eyes we can witness the lives, loves and losses of 900 people 2000 years ago.
When Breathe Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi– This memoir deals with death and dying and knowing that its going to happen to you. After nearly completing all his training, neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi learns he has aggressive, stage IV cancer. Wrestling with questions of what makes life worth living, even in the face of dying, this book is a must read.
The Circle by Dave Eggers – I enjoyed this book immensely, but I am mostly including it because I think it’s a must read for everyone who got an Amazon Echo or Google Home for Christmas :D. In a world where everything can be known, should it be? How close is our society to believing that Privacy is Theft? This fictional tale tells the story of large online company that connects people socially, economically and finally politically. What are we giving up in order to be connected?
The 100 year Old Man who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson– I loved this book because its about a journey while reflecting on the past. This book is unbelievable and funny but also well written and engaging. Allan Karlsson has lived an unbelievable life and decides he isn’t done living it on his 100th birthday at the old age home. So he leaves, and continues to live, while stealing $50 million from a gang. You can imagine what happens next…
The Orphan’s Master’s Son by Adam Johnson– After reading Escape from Camp 14 a few years ago, I have sought out books about North Korea. This Pulitzer Prize winner delves into many different areas of life in North Korea using Jun Do, a professional kidnapper, to navigate the treacherous political landscape of the corrupt and cruel dictatorship.
I can not fathom that while I sit in my warm house with a full belly there are still labour camps and starvation and deprivation of individual autonomy to this magnitude in this world. I realize there are a lot of places where social injustice runs rampant, but there is something about North Korea that seems to strip its people of their humanity. While reading Escape from Camp 14, what struck me to my core was how the author told of competing for food with his mother. What kind of life does one have to live in order to see your children as competitors not your loves for whom you would give up your life? I would argue that mothers facing a wide variety of horrors have continued to put their children’s lives ahead of their own: what does one have to experience in order to have that mother’s-love stripped away so completely?
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett – I love Ann Patchett. Her ability to weave a tale is almost unparalleled. This novel is of a hostage situation in a South American country in which unexpected love blossoms. The only thing that would make this novel better is if you skip the last 3 pages. While they don’t ruin the book, they take it down a few notches.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – Imagining the Underground Railroad as an actual Railroad with trains and conductors and stations, Whitehead tells the story of an escaped slave looking for the freedom to live her life while always running from the slave catcher who just sees himself as upholding the law. The gross injustices that blacks faced in pre-civil war America are investigated and laid bare as a people try to build a community that welcomes them. This novel won a Pulitzer with good reason.
Well. There you have it. My Top 10 as told with 14 books.
Have you read any of these titles? Do any sound interesting enough to pick up? What were your favourites in 2017 – hit me up – my TBR list has only 2 or 3 hundred books on. I need to bulk it up 😉