Happy new year! I had planned to have all of these best of lists done before the actual end of the year, but most of us got sick over Christmas, which stunk for obvious reasons. It also meant that we rested A TON and are just now getting back in the swing of things, which, honestly, isn’t the worst way to start a new year.
My list of favorite reads this year was tough because I read some great books. I pick these based on how much I talked about them and how “sticky” they were, meaning how much I kept thinking about them far after they were over. For that reason, it isn’t too surprising that most of them are novels, even though I read quite a bit of non-fiction too. Stories have staying power; they’re sticky, which is why any teacher or preacher worth their salt primarily teaches via story (e.g. look at Jesus and all those parables).
So anyway, my favorites of the year aren’t necessarily the best written books I read this year, although some of them were beautifully written. My favorites are the ones that will stick with me beyond 2017. I’ve added a sentence or two for each title below. I have linked to the Goodreads page, but can I encourage you to purchase at least a few of these titles from your local bookstore? (My new sorta-local favorite here if you’re looking for one).
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward won the 2017 National Book Award for good reason. I raced through this book because I so badly wanted to see what Ward was up to, but I think it requires a slower, more careful pace than what I gave it. Some of the sentences were so perfectly crafted that I had to stop and catch my breath.
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl has been on my to read list for years, and I finally got around to it this year. I’m about to start re-reading it for 2018 already, if that tells you how much of an effect it had on me. Frankl’s description of “the pause” comes to my mind nearly every day.
The Power by Naomi Alderman. I picked up The Power on my first visit to Wild Geese because it was on their recommended table and even after a brief time, I trusted their recommendations, but also because the blurb on the back from Joss Wheldon made me laugh outloud: “Magnificent. I’m agog. Really, I’m several gogs. So smart and scary and sad but true. I can’t say enough. It’s a classic, in the way that it’s hard to imagine it ever wasn’t there.” In my review on Goodreads, I said that this was the perfect read for “the shit show that was 2017,” and I still agree. This will become a classic that high school kids will read, and it should.
Deep Work by Cal Newport. This is necessary reading for all of us. We are missing the opportunity to do deep work (defined loosely and certainly not only the stuff for which we receive a paycheck) in favor of the allure of social media or that temporary fix we get from checking our phones for the 41st time. When I first read it, I said I should probably reread it every January, and I stand by that since my boundaries around my phone and social media use have eroded since I first read Deep Work earlier this year.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. If you’ve seen me in real life recently, you have probably already heard me blabbing about this one, but it was one of the best stories I’ve read in years. Seemingly about one thing, but really the love story about a beautiful family. I want to live in Rosie and Penn’s family.
Be Here Now by Ram Dass was definitely the wierdest book I read this year (maybe ever), but it surprised me when it made this list because I keep having conversations about it and coming back to it. I think it was one of those books that hit me at the right time because I was finishing up yoga teacher training, and it tied up some loose ends for me from all of my reading during yoga teacher training. Regardless, I’ve started using “be here now” as a mantra of sorts, reminding me to be present and enjoy the moment. It was certainly worth the read if only for that phrase that has become important to me.
The Unsettlers by Mark Sundeen. I loved these stories that Sundeen assembled of people checking out from typical American life, probably because I so badly want to be brave enough to join them at some point. The Unsettlers also gave me some momentum to simplify some things in our life that I had been itching to do for awhile. I’m hoping for of that stripping away in 2018.
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. Gosh, I loved this story, and I can’t even put my finger on why I loved this so much. Hig was one of my favorite literary characters of the last several years.
Beartown by Fredrik Bachman. Bachman wrote one of my favorite books of 2015, and this was nothing at all like that one. Beartown is about many things, so I don’t want to oversimplify it, but I think it hit home so profoundly this year because of the avalanche of women coming forward to call out powerful men. I don’t know how we’ll title 2017 moving forward, but I am grateful to have witnessed #metoo and its aftershocks firsthand. I feel empowered in a different sort of way than ever before.
Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God by Brian Zahnd is a synthesis of so much of what I’ve been learning about following Jesus over the past several years. I wish I would have had it ten years ago (but would I have been ready?), but, regardless, I am happy to have it now.
Saints For All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan. I love sweeping stories with multiple inter-connected story lines, so, of course, I fell hard for this one. What surprised me was how well Sullivan crafted the Catholic faith as if it was a character as well. I can see myself reading everything Sullivan has written.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Once our kids are old enough, this will be required reading. The best art helps you experience something from another’s perspective, and The Hate U Give did just that – beautifully.
YOUR turn. What were your favorite reads of 2017? I’m crafting my TBR list for 2018 and need your suggestions!
P.S. As I said I read some great books in 2017, even if they didn’t make this list. Check out my Goodreads 2017 shelf for more reading inspiration.