Every year I set my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal at 52, an average of one book a week for the entire year. Ideally I would like to spread out my reading in just that way, reading one book each and every week. Of course, that never happens. Sometimes I fly through three books in three months; sometimes it takes me just as long to read a single, long, dense book (for example, last year’s reading choice of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susannah Clarke). Sometimes life gets in the way—I’ve read as almost twice as many books in the month I’ve been home as I did in the nearly three months I spent on the road. However, I’m more or less on track; last night I finished reading Anne Helen Petersen’s Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud and Goodreads informed me that I have finished 27 books and am therefore halfway to my goal. Next up is Amelia Gray’s latest novel, Isadora, but first, here is a ranking and short review of all the books I’ve read so far this year.
Note 1: I’ve read two series or multiple volumes of a series this year; I’ve grouped them together rather than ranking each separate book.
Note 2: Books published in 2017 marked with a *
Note 3: You’ll notice that I say mostly positive things about all the books on this list. I’m pretty good at this point at guessing whether I’m going to enjoy a book before I pick it up, so I don’t tend to start many duds (which is good, because I’m also determined to finish even a dull book once I’ve opened it).
23. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
The reason this one doesn’t have a higher rank is because it took a looooong time to grab me. Once I got into it, though, it’s definitely a page-turner. I found the characters to be well-developed, but the plot to be somewhat lacking given the amount of action it contained. This one’s mostly at the bottom of the list not because it’s bad, only because other books were beter.
22. A Series of Unfortunate Events (books 1&2) by Lemony Snicket
I’m probably one of the only people my age who didn’t read ASOUE when I was a kid, but around the time the Netflix miniseries came out my old coworkers recommended I pick them up. They were a quick and silly read but I did enjoy the literary references and techniques.
21. Bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward
Poems as short as a single sentence or even a single word are certainly en vogue of late, and they can have the power to strike your heart in an instant. Daley-Ward’s poetry does some of this in beautiful fashion, but the collection overall didn’t linger with me the way some others have.
20. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
This was one of THE books of last year, and so I’d been looking forward to reading it for a long time. While I loved the magical realism themes and the idea of the Underground Railroad being a real railroad, I found the writing style to be, although beautiful, impassive and hard to connect with emotionally.
19. The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank
I didn’t know until after I read it that this book is allegedly classed as “chick lit.” My issues with the folks who sneeringly use that term aside, I wouldn’t call this one “chick lit” by any means, unless “chick lit” means any book written by a woman with a female protagonist (which, to some of those sneering folks, it does… okay, really putting my issues aside now). There’s one story/chapter in this book that seems entirely out of place, but beside that I enjoyed the messy honesty of the main character.
18. *Universal Harvester by John Darnielle
I wasn’t entirely enamored with Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van, but Universal Harvester brings the same soul-wrenching artfulness as his music does. It’s not a perfect novel, confusing at times and dragging at others, but the title character, grief, seeps through it in a wistful, lingering way that makes it a worthy read.
17. The Green Road by Anne Enright
A mother writes to her children, who have grown up and in some cases moved far away, that she intends to sell the family home. In light of the news, her children reunite there for Christmas. The drama is quiet, contained, and intimate. I love this sort of novel and Enright’s prose beautifully complements the realistic plot and characters.
16. A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar
In this novel, a Jewish man in a concentration camp imagines a universe in which Hitler failed to rise to power and instead becomes a mediocre PI in London. It’s just as controversial and gripping as it sounds. Sometimes I felt that the book went unnecessarily far in its savagery, but maybe that was the point.
15. *Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
As the title implies, Norse Mythology features Gaiman’s retelling of… well, Norse mythology. Sure, if you wanted you could find the same tales on Wikipedia, but Gaiman is a master storyteller, relating the tales in his typical enthralling style. Some stories I were familiar with while some were new to me, but as a lover of folk stories and fairy tales, I couldn’t put this one down.
14. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
First, the positive: this book is so high on the list because the worldbuilding is some of the best I have ever read. I was absolutely transported in to this place of magical academia and mysterious elemental alchemy. It doesn’t measure up to the worldbuilding in Lord of the Rings, but beyond that I’d struggle to find worldbuilding with which I was more impressed. The negative? The protagonist is either a seriously unreliable narrator or the most insufferable “Gary Stu” known to man. Believing the former helped me get through the book, but fair warning.
13. The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
I will never tire of books examining the intersection of feminism, fanhood, and popular culture (see #10) and this book should definitely be on the list of anyone who feels the same. Many of the essays are taken from the author’s blog and sometimes the writing style doesn’t translate as well to a cohesive book but the points she makes about misogyny, expectations, women in science fiction, and more are inarguably solid.
12. The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride
With her debut novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, Eimear McBride instantly established herself as a powerful and poetic voice in fiction. The plot of this one didn’t grip me in the same way, but that stream-of-consciousness-poetry-prose style remains in equally beautiful form.
11. *The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
Roy’s first novel in two decades is undoubtably one of the publishing events of the year. Although I sometimes found it hard to follow and know nothing of the Indian politics on which the novel often focuses, the richly developed characters and lush prose mean we should all certainly hope that Roy will write a third novel in the future. Even if it takes 20 years.
10. *Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud: The Rise & Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen
Petersen consistently produces some of Buzzfeed’s best writing (because yes, in between the listicles, Buzzfeed has some excellent writing). In eleven essays, Petersen explores a variety of female celebrities who push boundaries and challenge female stereotypes. As she shows how these women are both lauded and criticised, she also does not shy away from interspersing her praise with her own criticism and notes on their various privileges to create a well-rounded look on some of the famous women with whom we and the tabloids are most fascinated.
9. A Cook’s Tour by Anthony Bourdain
This is the companion book to Bourdain’s first show (which I have watched at least five times over the years). It’s not only a look at the places themselves, sometimes with additional information about the locations and food, but also the process of filming a food/travel docuseries—having to reshoot scenes to get the perfect shot, having to film the day after a heavy night of drinking, having to come up with a pithy line after having just eaten a beating cobra heart.
8. Salt by Nayyirah Waheed
Along with Rupi Kapur’s Milk and Honey, I think many would agree with me in calling Salt the pinnacle of the style of short, striking poetry I mentioned earlier. Waheed’s ruminations on race, gender, love, and identity are brief and elegant. It’s a collection that will linger with you long after you read it.
7. *Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane
This is not my favourite of Lehane’s books, but that speaks only to the strength of his other works. Nearly as soon as I started reading his latest novel, I knew that I wouldn’t be sleeping until I finished it (and I didn’t). What starts as a fairly straightforward mystery becomes a fast-paced thriller with endless twists and turns. Several times I thought I knew what the outcome would be, and then another surprise would leave me guessing.
6. Stories Of Your Life by Ted Chiang
I’d been wanting to read this collection after seeing Arrival, which was based on the title story, and it completely blew me away. Science, mythology, religion, and technology merge and meld to create stunning new ideas about progress and humanity. My favourite story was ‘Tower of Babylon,’ about an attempt to build a path to the vault of heaven.
5. *Every Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley
I already discussed my love for this book in my last post, so I won’t go into too much detail here. But whether you’re an absolute beginner or simply curious about yoga, or you’re an avid practitioner, this book has something for you.
4. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri is one of my favourite authors. She writes in a way that overstates nothing, that uses beautiful turns of phrase but no overly flowy, effusive language. And her attention to detail, to emotion, creates a feeling of being able to picture everything; I can see the apartment in Boston, the ceremonial foods, the hat that Gogol buys for his girlfriend. And I can feel the tension between Gogol and his parents, the grief of his mother, the understanding of culture and change. It’s a simple and elegant book, written with a masterful hand.
3. *A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab
As much as I love fantasy, sometimes I get frustrated picking up the latest hyped fantasy book only to discover that it’s the author’s best attempt at Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or A Song of Ice and Fire. V. E. Schwab’s Shade’s of Magic series is written in the tradition of classic high fantasy, but doesn’t simply ape the tropes. Schwab’s voice is original and enthralling, with characters such as the incomparable Lila Bard turning the series into a rollicking quest-pirate-trial-magic-mystery-battle story that stands on its own as an intense, compelling work.
2. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
For some reason I never checked out Room when it was the must-read book a few years ago, but after reading The Wonder I know I definitely need to go back and give it a shot. Donoghue’s writing style is simple and evocative, with this novel telling the heart-wrenching story of a young girl believed to be part of a miracle in which she does not need to eat or drink, and of the nurse sent to sent to discover whether she is lying or truly a would-be saint. It’s gothic and atmospheric, as well as creating thought-provoking questions about the lengths we go to for our beliefs.
1. The Xenogenesis Trilogy by Octavia Butler
I cannot believe that it wasn’t until a friend picked Parable of the Sower for our work book club last year that I finally read something by Octavia Butler. She was an absolute visionary in sci-fi writing, and the Xenogenesis trilogy demonstrates that in overwhelming fashion. The first novel is the strongest of the three, with the protagonist waking up to discover that Earth has been more or less destroyed and that she is in the company of an alien race who want her to convince other humans to join their cause, but all three are solid, striking science-fiction.
So that’s where I’m at right now. Next up is Amelia Gray’s Isadora. I read her story collection Gutshot over a year ago and it still sticks with me, so I’m excited for this one. I’ll check back in at the end of the year to add the rest of the books I read (hopefully 52 in total!) to the ranking.
What are your favourite books you’ve read so far this year? I’m always looking for recommendations! Share with me below!