24 Feb 2018
The best books I read in 2017
This is the latest I’ve ever put out my best-books-of-the-year post! Sorry for the delay, folks. But I think the books I’m recommending here are worth the wait.
Books I loved reading in 2017 that portrayed a very real NYC
- New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson - This is exactly what I needed - really captures the spirit of my hometown, kinda financy, dealing with climate change head on, but offering a view of a possible future where my beloved city survives despite dramatic flooding and the rise of the midtown intertidal zone.
- A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky - A gorgeous urban fantasy novel that takes place in a very real NYC. Highly recommend to all New Yorkers who love this filthy mess we live in.
- The City Born Great by N.K. Jemisin - Lovely novella about cities as entities in themselves.
- Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older - My favorite book of his so far! Very accurate NYC, poc protagonists, white villains, magic with history, healthy queer relationship, lots of great stuff going on in here.
- Giving Good Weight by John McPhee - Some great essays! I loved the NYC greenmarkets one best, of course.
Books I loved reading in 2017 that focused on grandparents
- My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrick Backman - Broke my heart into a zillion little pieces, and it was worth it.
- A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - The protagonist is sort of like an older, grumpier Dave. (Dave saw himself in the character when he read it too, without any priming! Also I like his description of this one as grandfather fanfic and the other one as grandmother fanfic.) Just beautiful.
- The Property by Rutu Modan - A graphic novel about a Holocaust survivor who returns to Poland to retrieve her old real estate. Hit home for me, of course. (My survivor grandmother had very strong feelings about the house in Hungary that was stolen from her.)
Books I loved reading in 2017 that focused on siblings or sibling-like friends
- Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See - Incredible novel about two girls in 19th century China, in a small Hunan village, who grow up close like sisters. Visceral descriptions of foot-binding, isolation, failures of communication, and speaking past each other. The sort of novel that made me think hard about relationship troubles I’ve had in my own life and the difficulty of really seeing where people are coming from and meeting them where they are.
- Shanghai Girls by Lisa See - Two sisters in Shanghai in the 1930’s. Sort of flapper-feeling. Their father tells them they’re poor and he has to sell them as brides. They get out of it, then escape towards their husbands when the Japanese bomb Shanghai. Fascinating look at what immigration to California was like, and the relationship between the sisters is difficult and intense and feels very real.
- The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante - These books are so overhyped, I expected to not be into them, but the depictions of personal growth and complicated friendships across different means and perspectives really are great. I don’t remember which book in particular, but there was some excellent stuff about adolescent difficulties with friends you maybe felt threatened by or maybe better than or maybe both.
- I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson - Gorgeous, gorgeous novel about twins and the love and resentment between them, queerness and love and complicated romantic relationships, art and relationships with oneself and with one’s art.
Books I loved reading in 2017 that related to gender, race, and class
- The Power by Naomi Alderman - I needed this like water. The ending is a bit weak, but the descriptions of various women’s dawning realization that they’re now the more physically dangerous ones, yes yes yes.
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee - Fantastic novel about a family of Korean immigrants living in Japan. Totally different set of racial tensions than I’m used to.
- And I Darken by Kiersten White - YA. I loved having a protagonist who was unapologetically aware that she was ugly but unbothered by it, who was cruel sometimes but not purely evil or purely good, who got mired in politics over her head.
- Uprooted by Naomi Novik - At a glance it looks like a standard fantasy novel, dragon comes and steals a girl, but it’s largely about a girl growing into an adult woman and how she approaches magic and her world, how it can be great without being the same as what the more experienced men tell her it should be.
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi - Novel about two half-sisters born in Ghana, one sold into slavery, one married off to a slaver. Follows the impact down through the generations of their descendants. A very familiar sense to me, of what it means when family history is lost. I’d never even really considered the other side of that before, what it could be like if it had been retained.
- Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue - Story of a Cameroonian couple in NYC, trying to make ends meet and deal with the legal immigration system, their life entangled with the husband’s employer’s finance career right before and during the 2008 financial crisis.
- Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly - It’s almost boring to recommend this, after the movie was such a hit with everyone I know. Book really was great too, though.
Other books I loved reading in 2017 that touched strongly on themes of abuse
- The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin - The last book of her mindblowingly spectacular The Broken Earth trilogy. All the trigger warnings, all the feels, and the strongest of recommendations. To me, these books are about family and generational trauma and systemic trauma, how we hurt each other and how we survive each other. Oh, and they’re great fantasy novels with an interesting world. This book is the rare example of a trilogy that ends as strongly as it began.
- The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson - Gutwrenchingly good fantasy novel. Themes of colonialism and complicity.
- The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins - Really vivid horrifying stuff, in a fantasy novel that reads like literature and was anything but light. Abuse, family, power, and plotting for change.
- The Dagger and the Coin series by Daniel Abraham - A fantasy novel series where one of the protagonists is a young female banker! Turns out of my favorite genres is something I could frame as economic/financial speculative fiction. The series also gets into some horrifyingly realistic themes of dealing with a “nice guy” who thinks he deserves you but is also a monster. I loved all 5 books in this series, but as seems to be my pattern with Daniel Abraham, I think the second was my favorite.
- A Leaf in the Bitter Wind by Ting-Xing Ye - Vivid, painful memoir of the cultural revolution.
Other intense fiction I loved reading in 2017
- Unsong by Scott Alexander - I was pretty much the target audience for this, a rationalist novel about morality and halacha. But it has some really troubling problematic aspects, too - eg all of Mexico is made of drugs. I have a lot of complicated feelings about this, but it’s definitely worth the read.
- An Excess Male by Maggie Shen King - I picked this up by sheer luck at the bookstore, and it was great! Explores a China where as a repercussion of selecting for males, they have too many, so they end up with policies permitting women to have multiple husbands and strict laws against homosexuality. I love explorations of alternative family configurations!
- On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis - Immediately post-apocalyptic story of survival with an autistic woc hero and her complicated relationships.
- The Last One by Alexandra Oliva - A plague hits and wipes out most of the population while a survivalist reality show is being filmed. The contestants don’t all realize it’s not all part of the game.
- Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders - The title story is one of my favorite short stories of all time. You can also read it online here.
Other light fiction I loved reading in 2017
- Flora Mackintosh and the Hungarian Affair by Anna Reader - A sophisticated schoolgirl’s adventure. Sort of a classic romp, but now with Hungarians so of course it’s great.
- Oglaf compilations by Trudy Cooper and Doug Bayne - These were a reread of compilations of one of my favorite filthy webcomics (NSFW).
- git commit murder by Michael Warren Lucas - Super cute nerd mystery. Reminded me of Bimbos of the Death Sun (an old murder mystery set in a scifi convention).
Other non-fiction I loved reading in 2017
- Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee - Finally, a book about crafting structure from the master! Relevant articles: The Mind of John McPhee: A deeply private writer reveals his obsessive process; Assembling the written word: McPhee reveals how the pieces go together; How Rebecca Skloot Built The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
- Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash by Edward Humes - Interesting stories. Inspired me to start carrying around a handerkerchief instead of disposable tissues.
- The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street by John Steele Gordon - Not a woman but a railroad company. Fascinating history.
Total number of books read in 2017: 158