As usual, I’m going to do a best of 2017 books list. This does not mean the book came out in 2017; it means I read it this year. According to Goodreads, I read 55 books. Of course, many of those were novellas, and probably a dozen I listened to while on long runs training for a half marathon. So don’t get too freaked out by that number.
Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri
My thoughts are recorded here.
The Book of the New Sun – Gene Wolfe
I read this divided into four novels. Only The Sword of the Lichtor stood out at the time as excellent. But if the four are taken as one single novel, then I think this deserves best overall. Even ten months later, I continue to think about it. It’s fascinating how I’ll be reading something else, and I realize something about this book. I think: Oh, that’s what that probably meant.
I remain haunted by its strangeness, and how perfect and shocking it was to realize certain things right in front of me the whole time were something totally different. (I’m remaining intentionally vague to not spoil it for anyone).
Imajica – Clive Barker
I know Clive Barker writes “horror,” but this novel is fantasy through and through. Nothing has influenced my writing this year more than this novel. Further thoughts here.
Gardens of the Moon – Steven Erikson
This is some of the best written, most inventive/unique, and deep fantasy novels I’ve ever read. I can’t wait to dig into the rest of the Malazan series. I have the second one sitting on my shelf.
Analysis of the prose can be found here.
The Boys in the Boat – Daniel James Brown
This was an impeccably written and gripping story of a group of poor boys working hard to achieve their Olympic dreams. The pacing and prose are better than most fiction books I’ve read. Daniel James Brown has produced something beautiful here.
The story also serves as a much needed reminder that intercontinental sport competition and the Olympics in particular are never really just friendly shows of competition. They are highly political acts that can have real-world implications.
From the 1936 games under Hitler to the Munich massacre in ’72 to the recent use of victory at the Sochi Olympics for Russia to invade Crimea and Ukraine, this book should serve as a wake up call to anyone under false delusions about what’s really going on.
The Case Against Sugar – Gary Taubes
The book starts with the analogy of a trial. Sugar is being prosecuted for many of the illnesses associated with obesity: diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, heart disease, etc. This book is the case against sugar.
Am I convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt? No. And if you were, you didn’t understand the arguments. In nutrition science, one will never reach that point. It isn’t even theoretically possible to tease out such complicated interactions.
Am I convinced there is a preponderance of evidence? Of course! I would again say that if you can’t convict at this standard based on the case made in this book, you just haven’t understood the arguments and evidence.
The fact that this evidence standard is good enough to convict in many civil and criminal cases means we, as a society, need to take sugar more seriously. It’s an addictive drug and there’s a preponderance of evidence that it causes four of the top ten leading causes of death each year.
Dialogue – Robert McKee
This was quite excellent and a must read for all writers of fiction. Note: the book is NOT about how two characters converse with each other. This touches upon all aspects of prose, because even exposition is a type of dialogue between the narrative perspective and the reader.
The most useful part to me was the constant reiteration of how great works and complex characters use subtext. People rarely say what they mean or what they think. When your fictional characters do this, they come across as underdeveloped and one dimensional.
The price of the book is worth it for the in-depth analysis of several scenes from famous works at the end.
BEST RELEASED IN 2017:
I’m going to skip this category this year. There were a bunch of books that came out that looked great, but I never got around to them. The Case Against Sugar wins by default. Instead, I’ll list books that came out this year that I want to read.
Oathbringer – Brandon Sanderson
Exit West – Moshin Hamid
Borne – Jeff Vandermeer
Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders