Best Books of 2017
I read 62 books this year across a range of genres, from fiction to memoirs and collected journals. These are a few of my favorites.
Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide by Charles Foster
Author Charles Foster wanted to get closer to nature, so he decided to embody the lives of a badger, otter, fox, deer and swift. It takes an eccentric man to eat worms from the ground, as badgers do, and this is an eccentric book. But the prose is startlingly beautiful, and Foster's odd revelations helped me see nature through a new pair of eyes. He writes:
"A few weeks in a wood doesn't make you local. Localness means that you weave around your moldering ancestors. Yet our human lives are so long, and our capacity for skin shedding so great, that we can become our own ancestors. The ground in which the ancestors molder has to be real, not figurative. But we can settle in a place, and by living sufficiently completely to each moment, die completely to each moment, too, so that the place becomes littered with our own corpses, and we can fix our landscapes by reference to our graves."
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk
I heard an interview with Bessel van der Kolk on On Being and became fascinated by his view of trauma. This book changed my life. It transformed the way I looked at mental illness and turned me on to therapies such as EMDR and Feldenkrais.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Yes, I read this book because of the TV series. I don't know which I enjoyed more. The show was so visually lush, like an old Masters painting. And Margaret Atwood's writing is deceptively simple yet full of power. I discovered, after listening to an interview with Atwood on Studio 360, that the story was inspired by a rumored ancestor of Atwood's: a woman known as Half-Hanged Mary, who was sentenced to death during the Salem witch trials but lived to tell the tale. This made me love the book (and the show) all the more.
My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris
There's so much to love about this graphic memoir. The stunning pen and ink drawings (which I tried to copy, with marginal success). The dark, richly layered story. The characters.
"Anka wasn't a liar. Actually--like a lot of crazy people--she had this way of cutting right down to the truth. But the stuff she described ... was pretty weird. I wondered if any of it came from inside her head, or had it come from another darker place?"
Ferris says in the New York Times, "I never quite became the monster I wanted to be. I feel mostly monstrous as I more become myself. Because the more you become yourself, the more it disturbs other people.”
She's working on a sequel to be released in the summer of 2018. I CANNOT WAIT.
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Several people have told me this is a must-read, and it didn't disappoint. I usually avoid science fiction, but the time travel aspect of the story gave the horrors of slavery a startling new context. It was a hard read at times, but an important one nonetheless. I anticipate I'll return to this one.
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
Both Amazon and the New York Times ranked this memoir as one of the best books of the year. While I didn't find the plot particularly compelling, Lockwood's use of language carried me breathless through each page. It has a playful inventiveness that reminded me, at times, of Nabokov:
"He seemed to especially love the citric humor of high school girls--which is eternal, but which tasted new to us at the time. My friends and I were four full oranges of it, with a resilient shine on our leaves."
This book made me rethink my approach to writing. It's not new wisdom, by any means -- Rainer Maria Rilke said much the same things in Letters to a Young Poet. But I found the author's cavalier tone refreshing and helpful at a time when I was feeling blocked. He writes:
"Until your ship comes in, the only people who will really care about your work are those who care about you personally. Those close to you know that the work is essential to your well-being. They will always care about your work, if not because it is great then because it is yours. And this is something to be genuinely thankful for."
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
It took a broken leg and a long bed stay for me to finally read all 800 pages of this book, but it was time well-spent. I can't say if this surpasses Great Expectations as my favorite Dickens novel, but it's close. It's a cozy read, expertly plotted, with memorable characters on every page. Except maybe for Dora. I wanted to throw Dora under a train.
What books did you love this year? Leave me a comment and let me know so I can add them to my list in 2018.