Originally published January 1, 2018
And we all thought 2016 was a ticket to Crazy Town.
2017 was a year in which I probably could have leaned on books even more to whisk me away from the batshit absurdity that is the current political and cultural landscape. But like a train wreck or Chrisley Knows Best, it was so hard to look away.
Still, I was able to knock off a few – 29 to be exact. Well short of my stretch goal of a book a week, but I’ve got nobody but myself and MSNBC to blame for that. Which is too bad, because I know there is a metric ton of great books I haven’t picked up yet.
For those new to this post, this is the reason my blog even exists. About 15 years ago, I started keeping track of everything I read during the year. Then, on New Year’s Day, I’d send my friends an email with the book list, just as a way to share book ideas and get some recommendations in return. From there, it grew into the blog where I now write books up as I read them and then share everything once more to kick off the new year.
Please please please — if you love books, share this list with a friend. And if you have a favorite, please tell me about it in the comments. I believe reading is magical is so many ways and really, these days, a tool we can all use to jump start important conversations and practice critical thinking. It’s so important to share what we love, to read in front of our kids, to encourage others to pick up a book. Looking forward to another year, friends. Without further ado …
No Time to Blink by Dina Silver
This is a cheat for me — I got to read the ARC, you have to wait until February. But it’s worth it, I promise you.
Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
It’s interesting, having read this with the perspective of the last few months and the voice women have found in sharing their stories of harrassment … how would we treat someone like Monica Lewinsky today? Would people still look the other way at President Kennedy’s indiscretions? Hmm.
Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
A collection of short stories can be a nice read when you are in the mood for something, but feeling non-committal to anything longer than a New Yorker article. Hanks’ collection includes a few very sweet characters that’ll make you wish for a few more pages.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
I love when authors can so deftly delve into character backstory without it feeling heavy-handed or overly-purposeful. There’s such a natural flow to Ng’s exploration of two families in suburban Ohio and as a result, readers are treated to an extremely well-developed tale about the choices we make that change the course of our lives.
Thanks, Obama by David Litt
Equally enjoyable and depressing all at once. I’m not opposed to a leader with a differing viewpoint. I just want that person to have a decent command of his or her mother tongue. President Obama was both smart and lucky to surround himself with gifted writers.
Not a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf
I’m a longtime fan of Gudenkauf and her stories set in Iowa. Great mystery and a deaf main character to boot!
The Burning Girl by Claire Messud
One of several coming of age stories I read this year – so sad and touching. Didn’t we all have a friend, or were the friend, that grew up too fast or was left behind? Middle Schooling is hard.
Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
One of my favorites this year – it’s got a family with supersensory powers, the mafia, G-men, a smooth talking ladykiller grandpa, a selective mute, online dating love, divorce and teenage angst. All at the same time. I miss the Telemachus clan!
Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane
I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I was drawn into this book and invested in the outcome for its protagonist. Can she beat her anxiety? Is her husband a good guy? Does she ever figure out the mystery of her paternity? You’ll have to read it to find out.
Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta
I adore Tom Perrotta so it goes without saying that of course I was going to read this, but I will admit, I felt like the title character was really kind of sketchy. And given the second half of this year and the #metoo movement, I’m wondering if I read it again if I would find her completely out of control.
Marlena by Julie Buntin
This, an even sadder coming of age story than The Burning Girl, puts a price on the irreversible damage tragedy can sometimes take on those that survive it. You want Cat to escape her past, but can she? (Also, winter in rural northern Michigan is just plain awful.)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
A love story where you’d least expect it, in the war torn Middle East. You’d think that readers would need a healthy ability to suspend reality to enjoy the story, but the fantastical plot device feels, really, rather natural and leaves me wishing once in a while for an equally accessible escape route. Only I’d want mine just to lead me to a vacation on a beach.
The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman
The moral of this story? That passion – whether it be for work or for pleasure or for a person – is never inconsequential. And that can be both good and bad.
The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
I remember at the time I read it thinking it was trying a little too hard to be the next “Me Before You” but the schmaltz of the holiday season must be in overdrive because the lingering feeling I’m left with months later is that of just a sweet love story.
Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Sen. Al Franken
This. I am going to be sad about this for a long time. I can’t make excuses for his behavior, but I want to. I want to say his actions were immature and that people evolve and that he evolved. That really really smart people do stupid things. But I still think it is worth the read in that it is the story of a person that found himself in a place where he wanted to make a difference and how he got to that place to make a difference and found it was hard but not impossible to affect change. And that’s worth the effort.
Theft by Finding by David Sedaris
Lucky us lucky us, this amazing memoir only covers Sedaris’ earlier years and we get treated to another volume this year. He is such a gifted storyteller, so damn funny and incredibly insightful.
The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu
I should get up and re-read a passage of this every day. For me, the message is that joy isn’t something that necessarily just happens, and isn’t necessarily equated with happiness. A positive mindset, more often than not, is a choice, not a natural character trait.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
Easily one of my favorite reads of the year. It’s the perfect book to read when you want to debate the concept of the inherent good in even what you think are the worst kind of people. A father’s love for his daughter knows no bounds.
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
I love Neil Gaiman, and I like to try to sneak in a little fantasy / SciFi once in a while. Also required reading before watching Thor.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Looking at all the books I read this year, there’s definitely a “mother” pattern emerging — and this particularly engaging look at a motherless young woman surrounded by a neighborhood of mothers was one of the most enjoyable reads of the year. A lot to break down in a book club meeting, for sure.
A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart
I wish this could be the answer for everyone raising a child with autism, but if anything, Stuart’s story of a father making a real connection to his autistic son through gaming offers hope that the fight to find that connection is worth every effort made.
Motherprayer by Barbara Mahany
Chicago area author Barbara Mahany is one of those people you wish you could have in your life every day because she just makes you feel good. This collection of essays is explores all the different kinds of motherhood out there and a reminder that the human connection is the most important one.
Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson
If I could make a late addition to my best books post, I’d go back and tack this on — the more I consider Wilson’s story about creating a family of one from many, the more I love it. I am so grateful for the myriad friendships I’ve had over the course of raising my kids and the support network we all became for each other.
The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking
#lifegoals. If books could be spirit animals, this one is mine.
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
This was likely the strangest read of the year — another coming of age story with a young girl trying to make sense of her unorthodox upbringing, latching on to yet another unorthodox family. Beautifully written but so damn odd.
Kathy Griffin’s Celebrity Run-Ins by Kathy Griffin
Not the best year for Kathy, was it? She never had a politically correct sense of humor, or sense of self, for that matter. She’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and she’s not especially nice. But if you want to indulge in a little snark and get a sneak peek inside a few Hollywood parties, this is a great pickup.
Books for Living by Will Scwalbe
This was a fun read if only because the person writing it appreciates a good book as much as he does good food, which matches perfectly with me. I’ll wait forever for a dinner invite, Will.
Mischling by Affinity Konar
I wholeheartedly recommend this book but also completely understand if people don’t want to read it. The Holocaust is not light reading. That said, the story of two sisters, their survival and their quest to find each other after the war was one of the most powerful things I have read in a very long time.
The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian is one of those authors where you are more likely than not to get to the end of the book and immediately want to pick up the phone, call a friend, and ask “WTF just happened?!?” His contemporary mystery/thrillers are always engaging, as is this, the story of a young women trying to grasp what really happened to her sleepwalking mother the night she died. And — yay! — we’ve got The Flight Attendant coming to us this spring.
Want to know which ones were my absolute favorites this year? Click here.
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My suggestions for book club? Mrs. Fletcher, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, Perfect Little World, and The Mothers