I am a huge reader… I think everyone has figured that out by now. Since the year 2005, I have recorded every book I read in a given year into a notebook (I’ve only just recently put these lists into a Word document). I have no idea why I started to do that, but I’m really glad that I did. It helps me keep track of what I’ve read and allows me to offer up recommendations for friends and family looking for a vacation book suggestion (It also comes in handy in my job at Amazon Books).
Last year, I read 62 titles, one of my highest numbers since early high school (those were the days for recreational reading, am I right?) Since quite a few people have been interested in what I’ve been reading, especially the books I’ve given the gold star of approval, I’ve decided to give you my list of favorite books I read in 2017.
DISCLAIMER: Yes, I realize this post is coming about three months and a half months too late, but hey! Getting back into writing is hard, but luckily, there’s never a wrong time to talk about books. 🙂
The Circle | Dave Eggers
This was the first book I read in 2017, and it was the book that inspired me to join an LA book club (they were reading The Circle at the same time I was, so I said, “Hey! Perfect timing!”). The Circle focuses on recent post-grad, Mae Holland, who gets a “customer experience” job at The Circle, a social technology company that is basically a Google-Facebook hybrid on crack. While the company first dazzles her with all its perks—free living spaces, drunken soirees with exclusive musical performances, high-quality health care for her father with MS—Mae soon discovers the dark side of the social media company that thrives on online attachment, influence and control.
Reading this with my book club may have skewed my perception, but I loved the deep, relevant discussion this book inspired. As the Circle’s technological triumphs become borderline-invasive, issues of privacy and entitlement to information in a digital age come sharply into question. “Sharing is caring. Privacy is theft. Secrets are lies,” one character pronounces towards the middle of the book. A scary thought, but one that inches into our own reality as we make advancements. It might be a little creepy for some people, that fine line between Mae’s reality and our own, but a great read for anyone who likes books that spur heated discussion.
The Nightingale | Kristin Hannah
There is not a person I’ve met in the last year who hasn’t had glowing reviews of this book, and for good reason. The Nightingale was a stellar story of family and war and the strength people, specifically women, can find in times of crises. Specifically, it focuses on two sisters in occupied France in World War II; fiery and impulsive Isabelle finds more than just a purpose within the Resistance, while sensible Vianne’s attempt to keep her head down and her family safe slowly bleeds into her own small acts of resistance.
What I like most about this book is that I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this book to anyone. I think this story has a little something for everyone. It has history and family; it has tragedy and hope. It shows that war isn’t always fought on the front lines, that sometimes it takes a person’s single act of heroism to make a world of difference. A very inspiring story for those willing to wade through the darkness to get to it.
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things | Bryn Greenwood
The title forewarns for the reader what lies ahead: ugly and wonderful things. The story focuses on Wavy, a child raised of her own devices, left neglected and alone by her drug-addicted mother and her drug-producing father. The only solace she finds is in a friendship with her father’s henchman, the lumbering gentle giant Kellen, who fits as awkwardly in his world as she does hers. As their friendship blooms into something more, the world around them tries to pull them apart, but both Wavy and Kellen are fiercely committed to holding on the small things that make their lives minutely beautiful.
It’s interesting to me, because as I read on the message boards about this book, people find the relationship between the two main characters, particularly their age difference, controversial, but it didn’t feel that way to me when I read the book. It felt like two people, both of whom were raised in disadvantaged circumstances, found comfort in each other that life has previously withheld from them. This book isn’t supposed to be some comfy, conventional romance; it’s about finding a shred of light in the darkest of circumstances. It’s a credit to the author that you got these characters so well that you sympathize with Wavy and Kellen.
Nobody is Ever Missing | Catherine Lacey
On the night of an Elon alumni event in the fall, I grabbed this book, because I wanted a book to keep me occupied on the two-hour round-trip train to Boston and it was small enough to fit in my purse. I had no idea that by the end of the night, the book would be completely read, and I would find a new favorite author. Nobody is Ever Missing tells the story of Elyria, who takes off from her husband and life in New York, to lose herself in a passive existence in New Zealand. As she uses her self-imposed isolation to reflect on the pain of her past and her growing inner rage, she spirals more and more into delirium.
If I was the kind of person who highlighted in my books, this one would be bleeding neon. The story was written lyrically, the sentence structure unraveling along with Elyria. It was such a strange little novel about spiraling down and the ways we process grief, and I continue to think about it all the time.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda | Becky Albertalli
I’ll admit it: I am still a huge sucker for Young Adult books. I can definitely use the excuse that I work in a bookstore, so knowing the genre is helping me be a resource to a huge part of our clientele, but if I’m being honest, life is so much simpler in a Young Adult book.
If you’ve seen the trailer for the movie adaption (retitled Love, Simon), which opened last month, you know the gist: Simon is a normal high school student, with a good family and great friends, who is harboring a big secret: he is gay. When his sexuality is discovered by the class clown, he is blackmailed into acting as a wingman. That story sounds kind of dark when you write it out, but it was one of the most heartwarming stories I’ve read in a long time.
At the end, I had chills and was happily tearing up. Why? Because Becky Albertalli wrote a funny, charming story about a teen struggling with what all teens struggle with: friends, family, school, identity and romance. It was a very wholesome story, in the way that that I think a lot of people can see a piece of themselves in.
Mistakes I Made at Work | Edited by Jessica Bacal
This was one of the only nonfiction books I read last year, and it made a huge impression on me. Jessica Bacal interviewed over a dozen of successful women, from Wild author Cheryl Strayed to musician Kim Gordon to Odd Girl Out scribe Rachel Simmons, on their professional pitfalls and biggest learning lessons along their way.
I read this within my first couple weeks at Amazon Books, still anxious about my future and transitioning from my old career path, and it filled me with so much comfort to hear women I had heard of, and even looked up to didn’t travel a smooth, easy or even conventional path to success. Rachel Simmons, in particular, didn’t realize until she was a Rhodes Scholar that she wasn’t doing what she was passionate about. It was such a comfort to me in the early days of my new chapter, and I cannot recommend it enough for young professional women who are still trying to figure it all out.
The Hate U Give | Angie Thomas
If you read books, you have probably heard about The Hate U Give. Coming home from a party, Starr Carter’s childhood best friend Khalil is pulled over, ordered out of the car and eventually shot by the office, all while Starr sits in the passenger seat. As Khalil’s story becomes a national headline, the focus on which on him as a gang member and a drug dealer, with pressure mounting on her at all different angles, Starr struggles to how to tell her side of the truth.
In my opinion, The Hate U Give will go down as a young adult right of passage. It is well-written with full-formed characters that elevate it above the YA genre. It was eye-opening to read the full picture of racism in the country Thomas paints, the racism as blatant as uneven media treatment of a black victim to the kind that’s as subtle as the backhanded comments of a white so-called friend. It reminds me that while I am a citizen of this country, I live in a completely different country than some of my fellows citizens do. But that’s why we have books… to open our eyes to truths we can’t see.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky | Mark Sullivan
As I have mentioned before, thanks to my cousin Stevie, I had some Audible credits to spare before my cross-country excursion, so I wanted to invest a solid story to make the driving less monotonous. The movie adaption was announced days before I left, so I thought, “Hey, let’s check this out.” I’m certainly glad I did, because this book, among all of those, made the greatest impression on me.
A novelization of a true story, Beneath a Scarlet Sky focuses on the effects of World War II in Italy, specifically Milan, where buoyant, passionate Pino Lella’s life is turned upside down when Milan is bombed and the Nazis take siege of the city. Eager as ever to help his people, Pino’s journey leads him into the enemy camp, working as a driver for a high-ranking Nazi official while reporting to the Italian resistance.
It took about three paragraphs to fall in love with Pino, who’s exuberance and passion leaped off the page. He was just a boy, wanting to do right by his family and friends, which led to heroic acts the majority of us could not fathom doing. Don’t get me wrong, this is a book of war and had its fair share of heartbreak and tragedy, but the story remains grounded by Pino’s shining character.
For the first time ever, I broke down the statistics of my yearly reading. In 2017, I read 62 books. Of those titles, I clearly favored fiction (~92% of the books I read). The ratio of female to male writers I read was 60% to 40%. The most pitiful statistic for me was about writers of color; only 8% of my reading was by people of color.
My overall reading goal for 2018 is 100 books. The closest I’ve ever came to that goal was 78 books in 2006 (which, to be fair, I was 13—the height of middle school—when I was going through a friend-group problems, and homework didn’t take me several hours to complete, so I’m sure I had ample time to read). I always strive for that 100 books, because why not? Life is short. It never hurts to read more.
Within those 100 books, I want to go outside my normal realm of reading and start to read stories that challenge me and make me see the world differently. I recently read an author’s tweet that said: “If you only read books that make you feel safe and comfortable, what’s the point of reading?” I believe that sentiment is true, and I look forward to expanding my reading horizons this year.
As of now, I have already read 24 books (in addition to 5 audiobooks for my commute… that counts, right?). Feel free to follow along with this year’s reading pursuits on my Instagram.
Until Next Time,
Casey Brown // Gal about Town