Read & Write

Favorite books of 2017

Today is one of those rare, delicious January days where a front moves in, the snow thaws, and the smell of dirt is in the air. It’s currently 55°F outside, gray, and rainy – the perfect weather for flinging open the windows, letting that damp breeze refresh your lungs, and curling up with a great book.

2017 was the year I decided to really return to reading. For years I have had slight Rory Gilmore tendencies: stashing away a book in my purse, just in case, reading a few pages here and there whenever I can. I love reading, but after becoming a mom, I was finding it difficult to simply sit down, pick up a book, and settle in. Sometimes my brain doesn’t turn off when I want it to, and I had to be intentional about setting time aside to read. I’m now happy to say that it paid off! I read more in the last year than I probably have since school. Maybe even more. I discovered new authors, genres, and soaked up so much. Three things helped me dive back in to reading… 1) Establishing a cozy, quiet place without a television or computer to sit down and read, 2) the library, and 3) Goodreads.

If you are a friend of mine, and you like to read, chances are I’ve tried to convert you to the wonderful website (and app) that is Goodreads. Just in case I haven’t personally tried to win you over to the Goodreads side, I’ll do so now…  it’s a wonderful, simple website to track what you’ve read, what you want to read, and see what your friends are reading. You can track what you’re reading, rate books, read reviews, or see those of friends and strangers. If you find that you’re not reading as much as you’d like, or if you need some reliable recommendations, this site is for you! They have a user-friendly app that is my lifesaver on every trip to the library. I have a terrible memory, but when someone tells me about a book, when someone shares one on Instagram, or when I’m pining over one in a bookstore, I simply add it to my Goodreads “Want to Read” list, and then there it is for future reference next time I’m at the library. Every now and then I go to the library, search for several titles on my list and request any unavailable ones, and then I’m set for the month!

Perhaps the most helpful tool in returning to my book worm ways is Goodread’s Reading Challenge option. Every year you can log on and set up a reading goal for yourself. As you switch books from your “Want to Read” list to your “Read” list, it tracks your total for the year towards your goal, giving you visible updates on your progress. Because I knew I wanted to be intentional about reading more in 2017, I set a high personal goal of 20 books for the year. It takes all the nerdy restraint that I can muster to keep myself from typing in all caps that I exceeded my goal and read… imaginary, overly-dramatic, drum roll please… 41 books! I must say, I am hugely proud of myself for reading that many, but I’m also so appreciative of the wisdom I received, the worlds I visited, and the beautiful writing I enjoyed throughout those 10,744 pages. (Thanks, Goodreads, for that handy stat!)

In writing your 2018 resolutions or goals, if you want to read more in the months ahead, I strongly encourage you to join Goodreads, set yourself a goal, and get logging those pages. It was definitely a huge help in keeping me accountable, and it was so fun and encouraging to see my progress as I went.

Looking back on 2017, there are so many great books that I spent time with and that I’d love to read again. After looking over the list, I’ve narrowed it down to my top 10, in no specific order. In case you’re curious, here are my recommendations to get you started in 2018:

 

Sourdough by Robin Sloan – A few years ago, I read the most intriguing, modern, tech-y mystery called Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Book Store.  Any story that involves a quirky book shop, believable characters, and a setting and events that actually make me Google things while reading is guaranteed to keep my interest. I re-read it this year and loved it just as much, so when I heard the author was publishing a new book, I requested it from the library right away. True to the title, I devoured Sourdough. While the characters weren’t exactly deep nor the dialogue life-changing, the story was so incredibly unique, and creatively told. I truly enjoy Robin Sloan’s writing and the worlds he throws the reader in to. Check out his books!

 

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan – You may know of Ian McEwan as the author of Atonement. I read Atonement a few years ago, and loved his writing, so when I saw this one at a used book sale I picked it up immediately. This was the first book I read in 201, and I still remember the haunting story well. Here’s the review I wrote on Goodreads after finishing it: “I’ve become so picky about novels. I want one that will suck me in immediately, that I can’t put down. Ian McEwan can somehow develop clear and intriguing characters so quickly that I’m drawn in from the start. His writing is fast-paced, intimate and clever. Amsterdam was unlike anything I’ve read in a while… a dark comedy exploring themes of personal morals, ethics, genius, friendship and pride. I read it in a day – the first time I’ve gone through a book in a day in a long time. I think that says more than anything else.”

Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – This book was recommended to me so many times before I finally picked it up. It finally took my younger brother, a self-proclaimed non-reader, to convince me to read it. If he loved it and couldn’t stop thinking about it, I knew I would too. But here’s why I kept putting it off: I am a wimp. If I know watching a film or reading a book is going to make me sad, I will delay and delay, even if it’s a beautiful, powerful, moving sadness. Though this book made me actually weep, I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a memoir written from a remarkable perspective, by a talented and thoughtful neurosurgeon who suddenly changed from doctor to patient when he was diagnosed with cancer. Some stories, however sad, are simply worth reading, worth knowing, because they are full of wisdom, truth, humanity. This is one of those.121

“I would have to learn to live in a different way, seeing death as an imposing itinerant visitor but knowing that even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I’m living.” – Paul Kalanithi

 

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley – One of the greatest gems in the reading world is discovering a new series to dive in to, but you’ve hit a real gold mine when you realize there are several books out already. This is how I entered the Harry Potter fandom… a young adult late to the game, with the whole series in front of me, just waiting. I tore through them, book after book. While I wouldn’t say this series is quite HP level, young Flavia de Luce has completely won me over and I’ve enjoyed each book along the way. She’s 11, completely precocious but yet appropriately naive, and obsessed with chemistry and poisons. Her sisters her worst enemies, her brain and books her best friends. Throw in the 1950s English countryside, witty dialogue, and creative storylines – what else do you need?

 

I read a few other novels this past year, but I mostly stuck to my favorite genre… Non-fiction! So, switching gears a bit…

 

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist – If you know of Shauna, you’ve probably read this. Confession, people… I want to be her BFF. Seriously. I think she’s incredibly wise, real, funny, and she also holds the opinion that life is too short for crappy food. PREACH. This book showed me that we have more in common than just that. The book’s tagline says, “Leaving behind frantic for a simpler, more soulful way of living.” She writes, “Present Over Perfect living is real over image, connecting over comparing, meaning over mania, depth over artifice.” That’s hard to argue with, isn’t it? This book isn’t going to tell you to quit all of your commitments, strip back to the basics, and start over. Instead, she’ll encourage you to examine your priorities, hidden motivations, your heartaches and greatest joys, all the while encouraging you to be vulnerable, intentional, and to have fun. She holds your hand and walks you through her journey, essay by essay. As a chronic people-pleaser and perfectionist, this book was truly life-changing for me. There’s a video group-study version that I found helpful as well! (Also, if you like podcasts or audiobooks, I recommend checking out her podcast series from this past year here.)

 

Rising Strong by Brené Brown – 2017 was the year I discovered Brené, so I’m making up for lost time. She has written so many challenging and encouraging books, filled with research, on vulnerability, imperfection, bravery, and resiliency. Of the few of hers I read this year, I think Rising Strong stuck with me the most. Amidst her thorough research and examples, she weaves in her own story with brave vulnerability, encouraging you to live in the same way. She also cusses like a sailor, which for some reason makes me love her more.

“There are too many people today who instead of feeling hurt are acting out their hurt; instead of acknowledging pain, they’re inflicting pain on others. Rather than risking feeling disappointed, they’re choosing to live disappointed. Emotional stoicism is not badassery. Blustery posturing is not badassery. Swagger is not badassery. Perfection is about the furthest thing in the world from badassery.” – Brené Brown

 

Of Mess And Moxie by Jen Hatmaker – Jen is another author discovery this year, and she is another one I’d love to be friends with. In fact, if I could have a long, relaxed, decadent, chatty dinner with Shauna, Brené, and Jen, I might just die happy and go to heaven. I think it’d be a blast. Anyway, of all of the non-fiction authors I’ve recently read, I’m the most impressed with Jen’s ability to be both absolutely hilarious and incredibly deep and passionate, often in the same story. Her heart is so clearly laid out on the pages she writes, and she invites you to learn and care about the issues she holds close with the compassion of a dear friend. This book is a selection of essays encouraging you to make the most of your life wherever you’re at, gather up some moxie, and just get to it. Amen, sister.

 

7: An experimental mutiny against excess by Jen Hatmaker – After moving back to the US after four years of living in England, there were a few things that I found really hard to adjust back to. One of the main ones was the all-around excess. It’s hard to deny, especially if you’ve lived elsewhere and have something to compare it to. Jen and friends/family took 7 months to tackle 7 types of excess in their life: food, clothes, spending, media, possessions, waste, and stress. I highly recommend this one for a challenging, thought-provoking, but still actually light-hearted read.

 

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott – When I started really getting into writing, making it a personal practice, friend after friend recommended this book to me. It was always mentioned like it was a given… “You’ve read Bird by Bird though, right?” Clearly, I needed to read it. Anne is fiery, wise, and a brilliant story teller. She gives clear, tangible tips for establishing a writing practice, but she also beautifully tells stories of her life and anecdotes from her friends, teaching through example and making you forget she’s doing it. My copy is dog-earred, underlined, and one that I will certainly come back to time after time.

 

Unless it Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing by Roger Rosenblatt – I stumbled upon this one at the library, while looking for a book listed near it. The title grabbed my attention, but Roger’s writing drew me in. He offers his creative guidance through an interesting format, through the veil of both fiction and memoir, writing as a professor carrying on conversations with his fictional students. The included conversations, observations, and debates bring to light the motivations, goals, styles, and techniques of writing, all while being enjoyable to read in and of itself. If you’re a writer, or interested in becoming one, I’d recommend it!

 

So, there’s my top 10 for the 2017. I’ve finished two books so far this year, and I’m in the middle of a few more. Check out Goodreads (and add me as a friend!), dust off that library card, find a worthy chair, and get reading! It’s never too late to start and I know you won’t regret it.

 

2 Comment

  1. Leslie! I’m really enjoying each of your posts! Each time I feel like I’m reading a letter from an old friend. My public library has their own site that you can track your reads on but you sold me- I think I will just have to give goodreads a try.

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