Earlier this year, I wrote this tweet:
Does anyone else’s brain feel broken since, oh, November? Reading has gone to shit – can’t concentrate on books. Writing? Hahahaha
— L.D. Oxford (@ld_oxford) February 8, 2017
I think many people felt the same way: reading seemed hard. There was so much crazy flying around in the world; my brain was filled with that. I simply couldn’t focus on one static page—especially if the book was difficult in any way.
There are times when books should challenge and expand us—and times when they should comfort us. Times when reading should feel like sinking into an armchair in front of a fire while the storm rages outside.
So this year I re-read a lot of old favorites. The first three Harry Potter books. Wonder Boys. Lost Cat. It was reassuring to return to something I loved, a known quantity. But the funny thing is, you never read the same book the same way twice. It had been years since I read the early Harry Potter books, and this time around the writer in me was fascinated by the way J.K. Rowling built and revealed her world, how she plotted, how she introduced characters and information. There’s always something new to see in an old book.
Re-reading these favorites allowed me to get back into my reading groove. It still wasn’t a standout reading year—I only read 34 books, as opposed to 46 in 2016—but that’s ok. When I was ready to return to them, books were there for me.
Before I share some new favorites from this year—some stats in the name of reading diversely.
- 18 of the books I read were written by women, so about 53%.
- 11 books were written by people of color, or 32%.
That second number keeps going up every year, which is great—and it’s because I’m paying attention. If you want to diversify your reading, following Book Riot is a great place to start.
And now! Without further ado! Of the new books I read in 2017, here are the raves and faves.
My Favorite Thing is Monsters, Vol. 1 by Emil Ferris
OMFG THIS BOOK! Just go buy it now. After having two people highly recommend it, I got it from the library and wish I had just bought the thing.
First off, this book is BEAUTIFUL. The illustrations are like nothing I’ve seen, created with BIC pens in a beautiful crosshatched style. And then there’s the story…ooooh what a story. So much is woven in here: history, art, myths, family, identity and community. If that sounds like a lot—it is! But somehow Ferris takes it all and makes a cohesive whole, a beast of a story in the best way possible. I’m not going to say anything more about it. Just go buy it now.
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
For better or worse, to appreciate this book, you need to read the whole Broken Earth trilogy, beginning with The Fifth Season. The Stone Sky is not a book that stands on its own. But it is a brilliant, heart-wrenching finale to a brilliant, heart-wrenching series that has won a zillion awards and done a hell a job redefining some fantasy tropes.
It’s also a timely read for our current reality. I mean, check this:
“Some worlds are built on a fault line of pain, held up by nightmares. Don’t lament when those worlds fall. Rage that they were built doomed in the first place.”
Start with book one. Read the whole trilogy back-to-back. Sink in and enjoy the rage.
Last year, when I left my steady corporate job, a friend from college reached out. She was full of enthusiasm for my new adventure, full of book recommendations and advice. That friend was Kate, who quit her full-time job in order to create art. You’re Weird is her first book, and I was so pleased (and unsurprised) to discover how delightful it is.
Part journal and part coloring book, You’re Weird basically encourages you to have FUN, which at the end of a long day is a wonderful encouragement. It’s also insightful; some of the writing prompts in here really ask you to dig deep (but in a kindly, non-threatening way). You can plow through it or really spend your time on each exercise—either way, it’s a pleasure.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I was late to the party on this one, and honestly? I probably don’t need to tell you much about it. Everyone has heard of this book. It’s won a zillion awards. But I’m here to tell you, it’s worth the hype.
I tried to read Whitehead’s Zone One and couldn’t finish it. The writing style, the pace—nothing about it worked for me. So I was hesitant to pick up The Underground Railroad…but somehow, in this book, everything that didn’t work for me about Zone One clicked here. The Underground Railroad deals with some dark subject matter (I mean, it’s about a slave escaping the South, so you’re probably not surprised to hear that), but it never feels too heavy. It propels you forward with a classic hero and villain—a classic adventure story that never feels stale.
Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books by Nick Hornby
I can’t remember where I first heard of this book, but it had been on my “to-read” list forever. It’s the first book I picked up in 2017, which turned out to be the perfect choice. Light, funny, celebratory—everything I needed at that time.
This is the collected “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” columns that Hornby wrote for The Believer. The magazine had a firm rule: no negative reviews. This meant that Hornby only read books he liked, and the result is a celebration of books and reading unlike anything else I’ve encountered. It’s for people who think reading is fun and don’t want to feel bad about not reading “important” books. (Although some of those books are fun, too.) I felt like Hornby was a friend talking personally to me, that we were sharing our joy of books together.
Another plus of this collection? It added a lot of books to my “to-read” list. Perhaps I’ll tackle some of them in 2018.