My Year in Books: 2017

Reading sustains me. Joining my consciousness with that of another by way of the written word is the only worthwhile drug I know (ok, aside from wine).


This year I read 51 books, which I'm pretty proud of. Partly because my reading feels like an embrace of art in the face of our crass political culture here in the States, but also because it shows that I am reclaiming my own artistic life from the hardscrabble baby years. Those kids are cute, but man, they wear me out.

Two dragonsharks in combat. 

Two dragonsharks in combat. 

So, 51 books. Let's share some highlights:

Best book published in 2017: I didn't read too many new books, probably about 10, and though most of those were excellent, two stand out: The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck (which I reviewed for the Washington Independent) and Mr Iyer Goes to War by Ryan Lobo (which I also reviewed).

Best historical fiction: Song Yet Sung by James McBride. This masterful tale of enslaved people, escaped slaves, and slaveholders in mid-19th century Maryland managed to be both brutal and hopeful. It's the sort of book that almost makes me wonder why anyone else bothers.

Best literary fiction: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. This book took my breath away page after page with its wisdom and beauty, all wrapped in a page-turning plot.

Authors for whom I read more than one book: It was my pleasure to read two books each from Ann Patchett, David Eberschoff, Kazuo Ishiguro (before the Nobel!), and N.K. Jemison (three books in her case). All fantastic authors, and I delighted spending time in their worlds.

Best non-fiction book: I read nine non-fiction books, but even if I'd read more, I know I'd still be raving about Larissa Macfarquhar's Strangers Drowning. She asks what it means to consider the suffering of strangers as morally equivalent to the suffering of family, and then takes the reader through the lives of a few people who live by that conviction. It's a thought-provoking book with no easy answers. 

Best classic: My beloved friend Dorothy Reno writes the column "Considering the Classics" for the Washington Independent, and she inspired me to dip a little more deeply into the cannon. I'm tempted to say my favorite was modern classic Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin, but in case that raises any purist hackles, I'll also note that I loved finally reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. You might think you know that book ... but if you haven't read it, you don't.

This really just scratches the tip of my iceberg of fantastic reading. I had good luck this year -- there were very few books that I didn't like, and oh so many that I adored. 

This new year is going to be nerve-wracking for me -- my debut novel is coming out in November. And then there's everything else going on in Washington (which is pretty close to where I live, and seems to permeate most breaths we take). But I know the best way to stay grounded will be to keep my nose in a book, and I'm excited to do so.

I hope you find some refreshing, entertaining, thought-provoking, or even world-changing books in 2018. Last year I wrote about how to be a better literary citizen. This year my suggestions are milder. Be kind. Read books. Share your love for the written word.


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