I didn’t keep very good track of what I read this year. I can’t imagine why, can you? It’s not like I was busy leaving one life and starting another, traveling and seeing the world – coming back to the States and starting everything all over again. Just no good excuse at all for my lack of record-keeping. It should have been right up there at the top of my list.
What was I thinking?
I am proud of myself for getting around to wrapping up my year in reading before Christmas has even passed, for having the wherewithal to assemble my thoughts and put together a blog post, no less. Last year I didn’t manage to sum things up until after the New Year; I’m so far ahead of the game right now I’m impressing even myself.
(Leave me my self-aggrandizing fantasies. At least I’m impressed with me.)
Busy as things are with the holidays and such, I don’t expect I’ll read any books better than my favorites of 2017. I reviewed a few books and covered some on Bluestalking, but unlike the old days when I kept track of everything from titles and authors to number of pages read – even breaking it down by gender and nationality of authors, and genres of the books – this year’s reading is a scattered mess. I ought to be ashamed of myself.
I’m not, but I ought.
Despite all the craziness and wonder, I managed to come up with this list (in no particular order):
TOP FIVE BOOKS OF 2017
Sebastian Barry – Days Without End
Read for the Sir Walter Scott Prize shortlist – as I predicted, it was the winner. I hate to say I told you so…
That’s a lie. I’m more than happy to say I did.
This was a very un-Sebastian Barry novel. Set in the U.S. South, for the first third it lacked his trademark lyricism. It tackled issues of homosexuality as an acknowledgement of his son’s real life coming out, simultaneously presenting a very different, more playful Barry. If you’ve read The Sisters Brothers or True Grit, it had a similar feel. Not as openly funny perhaps, but his characters wound up in oddly humorous and very American situations.
I could understand if readers who’ve loved his Irish novels didn’t like this one bit. You don’t have to be an American to appreciate what he’s done here, but I believe it helps.
Eventually he shifted back to the style that defines him, the book as a whole a strange and uneven display I wasn’t sure I liked at first. I started it, put it aside dissatisfied, picked it up to try again, and only then realized this was a truly great book.
Ever Dundas – Goblin (my interview with the lovely Ever is here)
Oh, Ever Dundas. Such a heartbreaking novel you’ve written. So gorgeous, so rich and full. Addressing issues such as gender fluidity, Goblin is about a young girl on her own during the London Blitz, what she saw and a terrible secret she kept which came back on her in a way she could never have imagined.
Flashing back to the war in London and forward to contemporary Edinburgh, Goblin is a miracle of a book.
Roxane Gay – Hunger
The only Best of 2017 book I read outside the UK, I’m realizing now this one non-fiction title is also the only book by an American that made my list. Roxane Gay is a black woman well-known in the states for her brutally honest stories about vicious childhood rape and the impact it’s had on the rest of her life.
In Hunger, Gay talks about how her obesity was a shield protecting her from unwanted attention from men. In wrenching detail, she outlines the reasons for her over-eating as well as the strain it put on her emotionally and physically. This is a hard book to read, emotionally speaking, but the message is important.
Graham Swift – Mothering Sunday
Also read for the Sir Walter Scott Prize, this was my choice as runner up.
I refer to what I wrote in my previous review in regard to Swift’s novel (follow Mr Linky, above). It’s not as vivid in my memory, though I know I loved it. As with Barry’s novel, it took two tries connecting with it, but once I did it was a marvelous read.
Having a solid book journal to back up my reading would come in very handy here.
Rose Tremain – Gustav Sonata
Again, read for the Sir Walter Scott Prize. I’m seeing a pattern here.
As with Mothering Sunday, please refer to what I wrote previously via the link. I remember the young boy in the tale, how his story broke my heart. I remember its beauty, precious little more than that.
I know I read more than the 15 I can come up with, and I’m frustrated I didn’t keep better track. All things considered, good enough.
For next year, I’m reverting to my old system. I’ve ordered a book specially designed for keeping track of books read that’s far more detailed and formal than my efforts in years past, when I kept religious track of every, single book read. I bought standard journals, noted titles and authors and general impressions so that, by year’s end, I could sit down and write proper “best of” lists.
I loved it, revelled in it. There’s a lot to be said for writing with pen and paper.
I had quite a collection of book journals, all of which I threw out when I left for Scotland, it saddens me to say. I’ll be starting fresh in 2018. Everything shiny and new.
Yes, it’s sad I don’t have the physical journals, but I do have Bluestalking and Goodreads, not to mention dozens of reviews peppered all over the place. I would say I have my memories of books read, but my recall is nowhere near what it used to be.
I can re-read old favorites and it’ll be almost like I’m reading them again for the first time. Indeed, every time you read a book you’ve read before the experience is different. Just as every time you think back to times past it comes with new perspective. You change and evolve; that’s life.
Let go of the expectation anything ever stays the same. I can’t express how much easier life becomes when you follow that bit of advice.
That’s my reading year, 2017. Not all of it, but enough to feel a sense of satisfaction, a closure of sorts.
You don’t always have the luxury of closure. Some things will never have an explanation. At least in this case, I’ve managed to pull together enough I feel a sense of accomplishment. Controlling what you can is the very best you can do.
Next time I’ll reveal the books I’ve bought myself for Christmas. I’m not one hundred percent positive Santa’s finished shopping, but he’s made a very good dent in his list. A very good dent, indeed.
Until then, happy reading.