Jessica’s Notable Reads of 2017
It’s the beginning of 2018, so that means I had to log all of the books I read last year into my Goodreads account to see if I met my reading goal for the year. (If you’re on Goodreads find me and lets be friends, please!) My goal was to read seventy-five books—didn’t matter the genre. Graphic novels count, and so does listening to books on tape, but 95% of the books I read were good old fashioned hardcovers from the library.
The fun part of logging all those books was remembering all my favorites, and now I’ll share the most impactful reads of the year with you.
Born a Crime:Stories from a South African Childhood–Trevor Noah: Noah is about my age. He grew up in South Africa while I was playing Nintendo in suburban Kansas. His book helped me understand how fortunate I have always been. His voice came through really clearly and the book helped me see history in real life through one of my contemporary’s experiences.
Creativity, Inc.-Ed Catmull & Amy Wallace: Catmull is one of the founding fathers of Pixar. The book is basically the origin story of Pixar and a case study of a company that holds creativity as one of its core tenants. I found it fascinating, because every large corporation I have worked for says they want innovation—but if you ever did anything differently you were chastised. They said they wanted to implement change, but in the end never changed. I was uber surprised because at one part of the book I actually cried, and that was the last thing I was expecting in a management/non-fiction read.
How To Stop Worrying & Start Living-Dale Carnegie: Self help book from 1948. His “modern” examples and references cracked me up. Some of the science of the time is now outdated, but it’s surprising to see how self help books haven’t really changed in all these years. It was also interesting to see that a lot of the information in the book is still relevant.
Max Perkins: Editor of Genius–A. Scott Berg: Super-nerd-geek-out book of the year. Perkins was the editor at Scribner’s for Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and a ton of other notable authors. It’s astounding how little the publishing industry has changed in one-hundred years. Also very eye-opening into what the editor/writer relationship can be like.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking-Susan Cain: The most personally validating book I read this year. It made me feel like I wasn’t such a freak show for being an introvert. I loved the science, description of case studies, and voice of the book. It also helped me understand why I can talk in front of large groups about my writing/editing/etc. with success, even though being around that many people exhausts and overwhelms me. This book gave me permission to take care of myself by carving out the alone time I need, so that when I am with other people I can fully participate in our interaction.
Rising Strong-Brene Brown: Brown is a grounded theory researcher who is known for her studies in shame. This book focused on her research of people in industries with a high failure rate, including writers/creators. In a very relatable way, she breaks down emotional tools you can use to be more resilient so when you fail you can rebound a little more quickly. Yes, failure sucks, but this book confirmed it is a real part of my job that isn’t going away, and there will always be a light at the end of the failure tunnel.
The Unwomanly Face of War–Svetlana Alexievich: Want to add it to my permanent bookshelf; definitely my favorite non-fiction book of the year. She won the Nobel for it, and rightfully so. That being said, it was hell-of-hard to read sometimes as she interviewed female Soviet soldiers from WWII. It captures the oral history of a generation of soldiers that haven’t seen a lot of limelight.
A Darker Shade of Magic-VE Schwab: Schwab is a titan in my genre, and I understand why after reading this. A portal fantasy with tangible alternate worlds and characters you remember for life.
All Systems Red-Martha Wells: I love Murderbot! A sci-fi novella with the main character a sentient AI who is obsessed with watching soap operas. It’s fantastic.
An Excess Male-Maggie Shen King: Haven’t read anything else like it. Shen King takes a look at the future of China, which is overpopulated by men due to their (real) selective birth practices in the late 70s. A mind-opening look at the potential evolution of a culture.
Elysium-Jennifer Marie Brissett: A brilliant lesson in spiral narrative that is absolutely original.
Homegoing-Yaa Gyasi: Holy crap balls. The most effective way I’ve ever seen systemic racism shown. Gyasi follows a family tree for generations. She weaves sentences together like a quilt and her descriptions slay.
The Book of Dust–Philip Pullman: We’re back in the world of Lyra, but this time when she’s a tiny baby. Pullman is one of the best fantasy world builders out there, and I was so happy to slip back into his brain. This is a fantastic prequel to His Dark Materials series.
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue-Mackenzi Lee: Book I expected to like least and enjoyed immensely. I don’t normally read romances, but this book was getting a ton of YA buzz. A historical adventure/love story of a young noble and his best friend/love interest, with a smart sassy-little sister thrown in for good measure. There are pirates and fights and magic serums, and the love parts aren’t too yak-alicious over the top, which is very palatable to the non-romance readers out there.
The Golem and the Jinni-Helene Wecker: A fantastically odd combination of a turn of the century American immigrant story paired with a golem and a jinni as main characters. You don’t think it should work, but it does.
The House of the Scorpion-Nancy Farmer: Love it so hard; don’t even know where to start. It’s a YA book, but Farmer doesn’t talk down to kids at all and that made me love it all the more. It’s the story of a clone set against a weird backdrop of borderland Mexico that is embroiled in opium trade. Serious face it’s phenomenal.
The Long Way to A Small & Angry Planet-Becky Chambers: Super fun time read; space opera at its finest. Chambers puts us on a ship with an inter-planetary cast of character punching holes in the time space continuum.
Who Fears Death-Nnedi Okorafor: Oh-no-she-didn’t-just-do-that, unbelievable read of the year. I think the best compliment a reader can give is “I had a physical reaction to something in your writing.” I have never reacted so viscerally to anything I have ever read in my life. Dr. Okorafor is building worlds like you’ve never seen before and damn it is intense.
Permanent bookshelf – re-reads
The Alchemist-Paulo Coelho: Because when you write with elegant simplicity there can be a deeper resonance with your reader. Yes please, learn me that. The preface to my edition is what really blew me away with this year’s re-read. I’m at such a point of transition in my life I needed some sort of a road map to let me know I wasn’t completely lost. Coelho’s writing helped give me confidence to keep going into the unknown.
The Grapes of Wrath-John Steinbeck: Hadn’t read it since college. First time I’ve re-read it since I’ve been studying writing. The alternating chapters of the general public were so well done. The Joads story gives us a family to really connect with, but those alternating chapters show us how the depression happened to everyone.
The Name of The Wind-Patrick Rothfuss: Favorite re-read. Had to buy another copy because I always give mine away. Kvothe is just as awesome as I remember. This round it was Interesting to read looking for the framework story and structure Rothfuss set in place for the trilogy. It’s an epic fantasy and his world building is unparalleled.
Did you have a favorite book last year? If so, let me know what it was and I’ll add it to my to be read list. Happy reading!