My Favorite Books: 2017

2017 was a year of newness and transition: new puppy, new city, new home, new writing project, new countries traveled, new job, new routine. What remained constant throughout all the change were the books: how they continued to inform and inspire, how they illuminated truths and gave voice to interior worlds, how often they broke and then stitched back together my heart. Books were my comfort, the place I returned when life felt too out of control. Though I had less bandwidth to write about every book listed below, I am so happy to celebrate my favorites of 2017 with this annual list. I was also delighted to notice after putting it together that all books on the list are written by women, many of whom I’ve been fortunate to meet and know.

FAVORITE NOVEL (TIE):
Marlena.jpgChemistry.jpg
 
Marlena-Julie Buntin
 
I was hooked by Marlena from its first line: “Tell me what you can’t forget, and I’ll tell you who you are.” Buntin’s debut novel toggles between a teenage and an adult Cat. It’s a story of friendship and how we are shaped, of how we destroy ourselves and how some of us survive. I fell in love with Buntin’s language, Marlena’s tragic destiny and Cat’s powerful observations about the world.
 
“Whenever I hear the word danger, I see Marlena and me staring into the mouth of that U-Haul in the winter hour between twilight and dark. Two girls full of plans, fifteen and seventeen years old in the middle of nowhere. Stop, I want to tell us. Stay right where you are, together. Don’t move. But we will. We always do. The clock’s already running.” 
 

Chemistry-Weike Wang
 
Though I loved so many novels this year, I was sure Marlena would be my sole favorite. Until Chemistry landed in my lap and there was no way to not recognize its brilliance and its impact on me. A slim, fragmented narrative (a style I admit is currently my favorite), it hovers just below the explosive point of compounding pressures, with a melancholic voice that I recognized and adored. My heart was still aching long after I read its final words.
 
“An atom is mostly made up of empty space. If you remove the empty space from every atom, the entire world’s human population could fit inside a sugar cube.”
 
FAVORITE MEMOIR:
Hourglass 2.jpg
Hourglass-Dani Shapiro
 
The first book I have ever finished, then immediately returned to page one to read again, Hourglass is an exquisite, spare memoir that covers time, marriage and memory. The arc of the book, in which Shapiro explores the “problems of duration” (a Wendell Berry phrase) and comes to understand that part of forming yourself alongside another means passing the “I’ll take care of it” (a Shapiro phrase) back and forth as necessary, becomes the plot. Shapiro’s prose is at its finest here, and the short, lyrical passages that make up Hourglass move delicately through time and are among the most memorable of any I’ve read.
 
“Years vanish. Months collapse. Time is like a tall building made of playing cards. It seems orderly until a strong gust of wind comes along and blows the whole thing skyward. Imagine it: an entire deck of cards soaring like a flock of birds.” 

THE REST OF THE BEST

NOVELS:
What We Lose.jpgThe Child Finder.jpgMikhail and Margarita.jpgGoodbye Vitamin.jpgThe Leavers.jpgTwelve Lives.jpg
What We Lose-Zinzi Clemmons

The Child Finder-Rene Denfield
Mikhail And Margarita-Julie Lekstrom Himes
Goodbye, Vitamin-Rachel Khong
The Leavers-Lisa Ko
The Twelve Lives Of Samuel Hawley-Hannah Tinti

MEMOIRS:

The Art Of Misdiagnosis.jpgHeating and Cooling.jpgMorningstar.jpgI'm The One.jpgImagine Wanting Only This.jpgThe Bright Hour.jpg

The Art of Misdiagnosis-Gayle Brandeis
Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs-Beth Ann Fennelly
Morningstar: Growing Up With Books-Ann Hood
I Am The One Who Got Away-Andrea Jarrell
Imagine Wanting Only This-Kristen Radtke
The Bright Hour-Nina Riggs

COLLECTIONS:

300 arguments.jpgThe Wrong Way.jpgMagdalene.jpgTurf.jpgHer Body And Other Parties.jpgKiss Me Someone.jpg

Essays:
300 Arguments: Essays-Sarah Manguso
The Wrong Way to Save Your Life-Megan Stieltsra
 
Poetry:
Magdalene-Marie Howe
 
Short Stories:
Turf: Stories-Elizabeth Crane 
Her Body And Other Parties-Carmen Maria Machado
Kiss Me Someone-Karen Shepard

 

 

Here’s to a calmer 2018, and many wonderful hours of reading for us all.
 
xx Katie

3 thoughts on “My Favorite Books: 2017

  1. Happy Christmas! I liked your list, a lot. My wife and I read a surprising number of books each year. We didn’t read a single book from your very intriguing list. We do have Dani Shapiro’s memoir and plan to read it. Among the novels I can see I’ll have to have ‘Marlena and Chemistry.’

    My favorites this year were, in the memoir category, ‘My Life With Bob,’ by Pamela Paul; nonfiction, ‘Code Girls,’ by Lisa Mundy and ‘Last Hope Island,’ by Lynne Olson. My favorite novel pick, created a list of four where I couldn’t separate out the best. ‘The Essex Serpent,’ by Sarah Perry, ‘Manhattan Beach,’ by Jennifer Egan and two stunning, at least to me, stories from Elizabeth Kostova, ‘Shadowland’ and her debut, ‘The Historian.’ Ms Kostova is such an extraordinary and captivating teller of tales. As I read her work I couldn’t halt the memories of Donna Tart’s writing in ‘The Secret History and The Goldfinch.’

    To me, this is the sheer beauty and pleasure in reading, there’s just so much variety and so many great and good books written, ready and waiting. Thank you for sharing your favorites.

    Be safe and Happy in The New Year.

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