As 2017 has now ended, I’d like to list the best 7 books I read in 2017!
First, some stats:
- I read 72 books and DNFd 2 books*
- I read more than 2100 pages! O.O!
- 26 of the books I read were written by women (~37%)
- 12 of the books I read were written by people of color (~16%)
Now let’s get on with the books!
#7. Moloka’i by Alan Brennert
Moloka’i was a beautiful book that I read at the beginning of the year. It was recommended by my good friend Romy over at The Footnote and I immediately agreed to read it because I remembered the joy and heartbreak in her eyes as she read the first chapters of the book. So yes, this book will break your heart and it will show you a side of Hawaii that you might not have considered before.
Essentially it is a story about a girl who is sent to live in the island of Moloka’i where all the lepers are sent to live until they die from the disease. Moloka’i really was used for this purpose so the story told here is one that probably did happen to many people in the past.
“She already felt dead in everything but name. What remained to be taken from her? She longed to be enfolded, welcomed, into the earth – to breathe no more, love no more, hurt no more”
— Moloka’i by Alan Brennert —
#6. The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck is definitely one of my favorite writers. I must thank my boss from when I worked in the mailroom in college because she gave me three boxes full of classic books, including all the works by John Steinbeck. I’ve read a few of his works and The Winter of Our Discontent did not disappoint at all.
We follow a man who finds himself at a moment in his life where he could continue as he is and be okay in terms of money, his family, and his job. But an opportunity arises where his life could become more interesting, he could get quite a bit of money in return, and therefore bring his family into another level of comfort. However, this opportunity is not exactly aligned with his values and really make him question who he is and what he believes.
I loved this book also because it portrays mental health in a way few classics do so. The idea that our decisions will not just create consequences in physical or monetary ways, but also to our mental health. What about does decisions that we have anxiety about, or those that later on cause us to fall into despair? That introspective is thoroughly explored in this novel and that’s one of the main reasons I loved this book.
“When a condition or a problem becomes too great, humans have the protection of not thinking about it. But it goes inward and minces up with a lot of other things already there and what comes out is discontent and uneasiness, guilt and a compulsion to get something–anything–before it is all gone.”
— The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck —
#5. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Homegoing was the second book we read when my boyfriend and I joined a book club in Mexico City. I was very excited for it because it would be the first book I would read by a Ghanaian author. This book provided a new perspective on the enslavement of people in Africa, their journey to the United States, and the journeys of the following generations. It’s an ambitious book that delivers small stories that form the epic tale of the generations that follow two half-sisters, one who is married to an Englishman in charge of sending slaves to the Americas, and the other who is a slave sent to the United States.
It’s a book full of hardships and sorrow but also full of hope and bravery. Men and women who strive to do the right thing even when everything goes against them, and the horrible ways in which their culture was obliterated by men and women who thought they were superior based on the color of their skin. I highly recommend this book because it extends the landscape of slavery and the ways that it has permeated our society, not only in all the places where it existed, but also through time itself.
“Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”
–Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi–
#4. Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner
There are books that are so emotionally charged that I don’t know what to do with myself for days afterwards. Goodbye Days was one of those books.
This book is about a teenage boy who sends a text message to his best friends around the time when they get into a car accident that ends up killing them. It’s a book about grief, mental health, friendship, and family. It’s about forgiveness and doing the right thing even when you would rather run in the opposite direction as fast as you can.
Zentner has the amazing ability to describe the environment, a park, a bench, a house incredibly well. But he can also describe things such as music, synesthesia, complex emotions, and grief, in a way that you can almost feel it yourself. Just with that in mind it’s a book that guarantees an amazing journey.
Be prepared for tears and laughs and the desire to never again text people you love when you suspect that they might be driving. Hug your friends and keep them safe!
“For the most part, you don’t hold the people you love in your heart because they rescued you from drowning or pulled you from a burning house. Mostly you hold them in your heart because they save you, in a million quiet and perfect ways, from being alone.”
— Goodbye Days, Jeff Zentner —
#3. It by Stephen King
As you can see from the picture, It by Stephen King is a very big book. It was a gift from my boyfriend and it was the first Stephen King book I read. This makes the top three simply because I am incredibly impressed with how cohesive and well-planned this book was. The book starts off with our main characters as kids but it transitions to them as adults throughout the book. We also get glimpses of other times in the town of Derry that seem to be irrelevant but then turn out to be central to the problem that our main characters face. The mythology behind the book is subtle and yet it’s quite clear what the intention is for each of the supernatural elements that we encounter. Yes, the book is scary in some parts, and some elements will creep into your dreams or might scare you subconsciously when you least expect it (I ended up being slightly afraid of balloons for a few weeks…).
So even though the book is a horror book it is also about friendship and love, about believing in yourself because you are brave enough thanks to the friends that surround you and will always have your back. It’s about realizing that even though you are only one person, you can make a difference.
“Maybe there aren’t any such things as good friends or bad friends – maybe there are just friends, people who stand by you when you’re hurt and who help you feel not so lonely. Maybe they’re always worth being scared for, and hoping for, and living for. Maybe worth dying for too, if that’s what has to be. No good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.”
–It, Stephen King–
#2. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Good Omens get spot number 2 because it was so good in so many ways! First of all, we get two amazing authors, Pratchett and Gaiman, who are both hilarious and witty. Then we have the plot, which is that the apocalypse is just around the corner, and the antichrist is nowhere to be found. The characters are so rich and complex that you feel like you’ve known them your whole life within just a few pages. Add to that the mythology of the apocalypse and all that comes with it: the four horsemen, the angels and demons, the humans, the witches, and the aliens (of course!).
This book is full of social commentary (as all of Pratchett’s and Gaiman’s books usually are) and it makes you think about the things that we as a society place importance upon. That is, religion, politics, borders, money, status, careers, the planet, friends, family, ourselves. Perhaps there is something within our priorities that perhaps isn’t that important and which should be replaced with something that should be prioritized just a bit more. Good Omens lets us take a hard look at ourselves through a journey full of fun twists, mysteries, and laughs.
“Anyway, if you stop tellin’ people it’s all sorted out afer they’re dead, they might try sorting it all out while they’re alive. ”
–Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman–
#1. The Locust and the Bird by Hanan Al-Shaykh
Number one goes to The Locust and The Bird by Hanan Al-Shaykh! Al-Shaykh is from Lebanon and in this book she tells her mother’s memoir. Her mother, Kamila, lived in Lebanon at a time when she was not allowed to learn how to read and had to obey what the men in her family thought was best for her.
I loved this book because even though I read it back in July, I find myself still thinking about it. In part because it mirrors what my mother lived when she moved to the United States, not being able to read, write, or speak english is a disadvantage that she still deals with even today (she’s learned some but she’s still anxious whenever she is in a situation where she must speak english). I can see my mother’s story in many parts of this book, the misunderstandings that came about with the rest of our family and myself when she came to the United States and was far away from us mirrors that of Al-Shaykh’s uncertainty at the beginning on whether her mother’s story was actually interesting enough to write about.
I loved this book because it resonated with me in ways no other book has and I feel like it helped me understand my mother in ways I couldn’t before.
“I was never so desperate to read and write as I am now, if for no other reason but to write my story. Let me tell you how it hurts when a piece of wood and a piece of lead defeat me.”
–Kamila in The Locust and the Bird, Hanan Al-Shaykh–
So there you have it! Those were the best 7 books I read in 2017!
I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2018, I hope to increase the number of books by POC authors I read and to expand my perspectives as much as possible.
Let me know if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought of them, or if there’s one that you really want to read now.
Happy New Year and happy reading everyone!
*As for the two books I DNFd (Did not finish), they were Rayuela by Julio Cortázar and Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski. Both had the same problem, they were gimmicky to me, exploring a very strange structure (going from chapter 4 to chapter 72 and so on, or reading the book from both ends), which didn’t provide anything to the actual plot (if there was one…), and which ended up confusing me so much to the point of being too frustrated to care about what would happen in the book anymore. Rayuela lasted about 100 pages while I got to the half way point of Only Revolutions before putting it down. I don’t recommend them but if you are adventurous and want to try unusual book structures then do check them out.