My new year’s resolution is to migrate all the material on this blog to my actual site and maybe even format it so it both looks professional and is up to date. By the time I finish updating my online presence to where I am now, I will be somewhere else, right?
But you’re not here for that, you’re here for the books. Feel free to scroll down past all the data if all you care about is the Top Ten List.
In my third year as a parent, I finally broke 100 again! Thank goodness for Tor.com’s novella series. This year I read 118 books and, honestly, I think I did a pretty good job. Let’s see.
Apparently I really liked my books this year. The 4 star books significantly outnumbered 3 star books and, even when accounting for the fact that Goodreads now allows you to add rereads (which I mostly refrained from doing), I read more 5 star books this year that I had in a while. And three of those books were by authors I had not read before, which is always reassuring.
Turns out my current reading remains extremely current. I think this is the most recent recently read selection I’ve managed in a while. Maybe next year’s resolution – make a dent in my books before 2015 TBR pile.
For the next few charts, the Y axis (which is unlabeled, I know, I’m sorry!) refers to number of books.
I realize there is something specious in breaking fantasy out into historical, fairytale, epic, and not otherwise specified because it makes it look like I’ve read less fantasy than I have. That’s not the point; I read a LOT of fantasy and I revel in it. (I feel like I need to start linking to previous posts on the subject). But they are different subgenres in my my mind and they are distinct enough to warrant their own Goodreads categories. This invites a conversation about whether fantasy–and speculative fiction more broadly are a kind of story or a setting for a story. The obvious answer is that they are both and an author can use the narrative conventions of the genre outside of a fantastic setting and end up with historical fantasy or, instead, take a fantasy setting and impose a police procedural on it. One could twist Samuel Delany’s definition of science fiction to give fantasy primacy of place and argue that all fiction is fantasy and realist fiction is just fantasy with very little imagination… I have my biases, same as everyone else.
I’ve added a new category this year and it’s all Tor.com’s fault. They’ve been publishing really excellent novellas and they’re kinda the perfect length to devour in one sitting. So in the interest of quantifying all the things, here is the genre breakdown according to a radically different definition of genre. I’m not sure what it says, other than that I would have passed last year’s book count even without including the novellas, which I find validating indeed.
Okay, this time the Y axis is unlabeled for a reason. It’s because it refers to number of authors read in dark blue and total number of books read in lighter blue. As usual the women dominated and also dominated rereads. (A large light blue block means I read multiple books by a single author, although Lois McMaster Bujold and Megan Whalen Turner are outliers and they skew the results.) On the bright side, you can tell that I took my resolution to read more people of color seriously this year since this is the first year that more than a quarter of the books I’ve read were by people of color. I am aiming for one third for next year. Not counting the one reread that snuck its way in there, one half of my 5 star books from this year were by people of color. So the payoff isn’t just in the numbers, it’s in the quality of works I read. Since I started this project, I’ve read more widely, discovered writers who could make my least favorite genres sing, and nearly excised uncomfortably objectifying portrayals of women from my reading experiences. Totally worth the three hours total I have probably spent over the course of the year curating my reading list.
And now, in no particular order, my top ten books of 2017.
- Bone Swans by C.S.E. Cooney. The first of two short story collections that make up my favorites from this year. I can’t quite explain what it is about Cooney that makes me love her so much. It might be her approach to myth and narrative or maybe it’s the utterly glorious exuberance of her style. Or maybe it’s the descent into hell with scary clowns. There’s really no way to tell.
- Roses and Rot by Kat Howard. I don’t think I realized just how deep my love for retellings of Tam Lin went until someone mentioned on Twitter that this book was one and I dove for it. Howard does an amazing job of transposing the faerie ballad into the realm of modern day anxieties while maintaining the sense of magic and mystery that envelopes the fae in the original.
- Ninefox Gamit by Yoon Ha Lee. Lee’s a genius, let’s just get that out of the way. His work deliberately looks for the limits of space opera and then pushes. It’s infuriating, mesmerizing, fascinating, and sets the bar ridiculously high for others trying to innovate in the field of space ships attacking other space ships. (Interestingly, the other figure I’d put up there is James S.A. Corey–who is actually two people–as a writer on the other side, pushing space opera towards its most realistic. Both, I think, define the limits of what the genre can do.) But Lee’s major talent is in his ability to build impossibly real and vivid characters out of what appears to be three personality quirks and some chewing gum.
- The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. Turner’s name gets thrown around with Pierce and McCaffrey and McKinley as a writer who EVERYONE read as a child and was blown away by. As it turns out that I didn’t read everything as a child, I was a bit leery of this series since there are many books I read as a child that do not hold up and what if everyone else was wrong. Everyone else was not wrong, this book and its sequels were just as good at 30 as they would have been at 13.
- The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin. She’s two for two with Hugos for this series and, God and the voting public willing, she’ll clinch the third as well. She deserves it. It felt like there was nowhere to go after The Obelisk Gate, but Jemisin takes her readers through the worst to find that there is a future after destruction and desolation. Which, more than anything else, is the path that speculative fiction can pave for us.
- Summer in Orcus by T. Kingfisher (a.k.a. Ursula Vernon). Last year, I wrote about Seanan Maguire’s Every Heart a Doorway as a book for those of us who never stop opening wardrobes and looking for Narnia. Summer is a similar sort of book, although more for those of us who have grown up and wondered whether we really would have been as brave and true (and Christian) as the Pevensies, for those of us who have learned that our bravery is not about being a knight, but being a Lorax.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I read this book on Yom Kippur and basically sobbed. Which is not, in retrospect, a great move when you are trying to conserve liquids. There’s a reason this book has been on the NY Times bestseller list for as long as it has and it’s because Thomas is a glorious writer telling a story we all need to hear.
- Strangers Drowning by Larissa Macfarquhar. Help me, I have become the kind of person who reads a book because the author was interviewed on On Being. This book was not entirely satisfying, though I doubt any treatment of the topic could be, given that we are talking about empathy and altruism and what it means to give of the self. I still don’t know what to do with it, but it won’t leave me along and so it too gets a place here.
- Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler. Butler’s a genius. She’s one of the greatest writers that speculative fiction has ever seen and I’m going to read at least one book by her every year until I’ve made it through her oeuvre. I finished this book and the first thing I wanted to do was write a syllabus around it. It’s that good and dense and yet so utterly readable that I enjoyed it while sitting on the floor at an SAR shabbaton.
- If All the Seas Were Ink by Ilana Kurshan. Memoirs are great because they can make even the most distant figure seem like a kindred spirit. And then there are memoirs where, yeah, you understand everything motivating the author because you know exactly what they mean. And its not just because you get all of their literary references. Kurshan’s memoir was that for me. It made me fall in love with the Talmud all over again and its not like I ever fell out of love with it.
And there you have it. 2017 in books. The books were excellent and my reading list keeps growing. May 2018 be as good as the books I am planning to read in it.