My 2017 Year in Books: Analysis and Favorites

I read exactly the same number of books in 2017 as I did in 2016 – 77.   I’m going to have to do some serious limiting of my smartphone habit if I’m going to read more than 80, and given the dumpster-fire of politics in 2017, and hopes that 2018 will be an improvement, I don’t see it being easy to keep from checking Twitter constantly.

Of the total, 42 books fit my diversity criteria of being written by a person of color or person who is openly queer, which was 55%–a significant improvement over the past several years.  47 books were written by women; 2 by both a woman and a man or many authors; 1 by a person who is genderqueer; and 27 were written by men.

53 books were fiction; 9 memoir; 3 essays; 5 self-help; and 7 other non-fiction.  9 would be considered classics.  Of the fiction I read, 21 were contemporary fiction; 12 were sci-fi/fantasy; 14 historical fiction; 21 contemporary; 7 mysteries; and 3 young adult.

29 books, or 38%, were audio books.  It’s clear that without my daily commute and audio books, my reading time has plummeted, since I used to read far fewer audio books (9 in 2014, 16 in 2015, and 14 in 2016) but read a similar total number of books.

I liked so many that I don’t have room to specifically list and describe all of the books I felt strongly about. If you have questions about any from the main list that I haven’t mentioned, please comment and I’ll let you know what I thought.

Favorite Series 

The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman (includes The Masked City and The Burning Page). My best friend of 35 years, Becky, did a great review of this series on her Lighthearted Librarian’s Book Club Blog, which I read on her recommendation.   I then recommended this series all year, and didn’t hear any negatives from anyone who has read it.  Imagine if there are different worlds, and librarians can travel between them as spies to collect books for the library that connects all of the worlds.  I was hooked from the very first scene, and my 14-year old has read them all, as well. Cogman’s new book comes out on January 9, 2018!

I also will read anything N.K. Jemisin writes–she is an author of color who builds fascinating worlds and writes stories about systems of power and how people deal with being both the powerful and the powerless.  This year I read her Hundred Thousand Kingdoms series and she published the last in the Broken Earth trilogy–The Stone Sky–which was just as brilliant as the first two, which I read in 2016.

I also discovered a mystery series by Vaseem Khan, set in contemporary Mumbai, featuring the most upstanding and least-corrupt retired Indian police chief, Inspector Chopra, and his sidekick, a baby elephant named Ganesha.  Beginning with The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, and continuing through The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown, I laughed and escaped by following the Inspector dealing with his unwilling retirement due to heart issues and the crimes he is drawn into.  Imagining the scene made by Baby Ganesha following the Inspector through a mall was a treat.

Favorite Nonfiction

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah and What Happened by Hillary Clinton were my favorite nonfiction reads, both on audio.  Both were read by the author, and I felt like I had private one-on-one time with each of them.  Trevor is brilliant, hilarious, insightful, and I’m very glad to be able to watch him regularly on The Daily Show.  With What Happened, I both laughed out loud and cried during the the first 35 minute reading/listening session.  It helped to find out her grieving process and how she has dealt with the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election.

Library Book Group Surprises

I have belonged to a monthly reading group at my local library since 2011, and, though our facilitator does a great job, she can’t please everyone all of the time.  These three were my favorites from 2017.

The Little Paris Bookshop was a delightful surprise about a bookseller on a barge on the Seine who goes on an adventure searching for a lost love. I found myself flagging quotes beginning on page 11.  One of my favorites: “It’s amazing how close you are to your essential self as a kid, he thought, and how far from it you drift the more you strive to be loved.”

A Tale for the Time Being is set on Vancouver Island, and is a unique combination of a Japanese girl’s diary, and the story of the author (named Ruth) who found the diary washed up on the beach.  She weaves quantum mechanics and Zen Buddhism with magical realism into a page-turner.  “An unfinished book, left unattended, turns feral, and she would need all her focus, will, and ruthless determination to tame it again.”

I didn’t know what to expect with Mister Monkey, because the book I read had a grotesque-looking orange monkey on the front.  I did not expect to read a bittersweet book about theatre, writing, and life, told from the perspectives of different people involved in a children’s theatre play about a monkey on trial for theft. Prose begins from the perspective of one of the lead characters, and continues telling the story from the perspective of a different person in each chapter–we find out what’s in the monkey’s head through the child actor who plays him; what the author of the book that inspired the play intended; how the play affected the grandfather who took his grandson on an outing to see it; how the play and story became important in the day of the teacher of the grandson; and what happened when a waiter went to see it with his free tickets gifted as a tip by the author.  It’s inspiring to think of how many people could be affected by one person’s writing.

Powerful and intense fiction

An Untamed State, by Roxane Gay (Haitian-American woman is abducted for ransom in Haiti, repeatedly raped and assaulted–how does she deal with life afterwards?)

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (13-year old child in late 1800’s Ireland starves herself and claims to be living on manna from heaven; an English Nightingale-trained nurse is assigned to watch her and determine if it’s a hoax.)

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie, who died while Lincoln was in office, is buried.  The story is told by the ghosts who haven’t yet moved on in his graveyard, and the ghosts’ dialogue is woven in to quotes from historical accounts of Lincoln’s behavior upon Willie’s death.)

Overall 2017 Favorites 

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, by Lisa See.  I have loved just about everything of See’s I’ve read, and Tea Girl did not disappoint me.  Set in a remote Yunnan village, Li-yan is a member of the Akha people, an ethnic minority in China.  Her family harvests and processes tea leaves and follow ancient customs through the 1980s.  When Li-yan gets pregnant and is unmarried, she takes her child to the nearest city where there is an orphanage, and later does her best to continue her education.  After several chapters of hearing the story from Li-yan’s perspective, See includes case reports and orphanage reports from the daughter, who was later adopted by an American family and named Haley.  Later chapters alternate between Li-yan and Haley, telling the story through the interconnections of both to the world of tea.  It’s beautifully written, and I loved the ending.

The Midwife’s Revolt, by Jodi Daynard.  Audible sucked me in with this book as a Daily Deal, and I’m so glad they did! Lizzie Boyleston is a midwife-farmer living in Braintree, Massachusetts, in the late 1770s.  Her husband dies in one of the early battles of the American Revolution, and she later supports herself as a midwife.  She happens to live near Abigail Adams, and they become fast friends.  But the time is one where you don’t know who to trust because anyone could be a British spy, or even a double agent.  I loved reading about the details of keeping house at that time in history, along with the portrayal of an interracial relationship, solving murders, topped off with a satisfying romance.  And then I was thrilled to find out Daynard has written two more sequels/companion pieces!

The Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak.  I love library serendipity–where you just wander the stacks and see what you pick up.  That’s how I found this book.  Shafak alternates between the story of a 21st-century Boston woman of a certain age who isn’t completely satisfied in her marriage, and the story of the poet Rumi in the 1200s.  Rumi is found by his soulmate, a Muslim Sufi who changes his life, and in the process, gives him his poetry and the Forty Rules.  I have several pages of quotes–one example: “We were all created in His image, and yet were were each created different and unique. No two people are alike. No two hearts beat to the same rhythm. If God had wanted everyone to be the same, He would have made it so. Therefore, disrespecting differences and imposing your thoughts on others is tantamount to disrespecting God’s holy scheme.”

It was a great reading year–I could have summarized many more worthy books.  Next year, my goal is to NOT purchase any books, but only read what I own or borrow from friends or the library, because the pile has only grown larger since 2013.  Audible won’t count, because the books are electronic and don’t take up any space.

I want to continue to pursue the 80-book goal in 2018, including at least half that meet my diversity criteria.  I like the mix of fiction and nonfiction, so that doesn’t need to change.  I would also like to read some of the books my 14-year old is obsessed with, including Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson.



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