Long and rambling post ahead — you’ve been warned!
Boy, that 2017. Amirite?
/me pours a drink from her fanciest liquor bottle because why the hell not.
If you want my politics, you can find them on Twitter. I want to talk about this year not in terms of the Orange in Chief, or the increasingly tremulous global-political Faberge egg we’re living inside, but in terms of the books that I read.
Books, after all and if nothing else naturally does so (family, school, friends), can teach empathy as well as broaden the mind and console the weary.
Because in 2017, I think all of us are weary. Amirite?
/me takes another swig, dispensing with the glass entirely.
I wasn’t sure I was going to make my 50 Book Challenge on GoodReads. A squeaker, to be sure, but I made it. That goal wasn’t helped by a few monster-length books, or those I started and abandoned after getting about 50 pages in. You can only argue with a book so much before you realize you have better things to do and better books to read. All in all, I think I powered through too many books that I didn’t connect with and DNF three books, including the third book in a series I had started reading in the mid-2000s. (God, REMEMBER THE MID-2000s? #wistfulsigh) Read and loved, talked about, shared, and then bought the third book and held on for the right time only to discover that its time had passed me by. Alas.
There was also one additional conceptual hurdle I had to jump over right at the beginning of 2017: the Christmas Gift Book Trap.
Books, for me, are personal. I don’t like giving them, and I don’t like getting them, unless. (There’s always an unless, and I play it by ear.) In particular, novels can be a total crap shoot for the receiver. And while personally I am comfortable (sort of, the hives are completely under control) letting a book I pick up doesn’t work for me, it’s different with a gift. There’s an obligation, even if unintended. One gift was in a genre I don’t read, and the other was non-fiction, and one that had special significance to the giver. I wasn’t in the mood for non-fiction at the beginning of the year, but the gift giver asked what I thought about it and so I felt pressured to read. (I liked it well enough, it was just bad timing.)
Never mind the towering, tippy, leaning tower of books that will crush me to death if I so much as sneeze in my tiny apartment. They will come for me, sooner or later.
/me takes another drink from the nearly empty bottle, and sighs.
So fifty-two weeks and fifty books. Normally I clear that goal earlier than the week before and usually with a nice cushion. Counting six issues of Yona of the Dawn mangas didn’t hurt, as well as the the nearly 1,000-page Revolutionary Girl Utena manga omnibus. I wouldn’t normally count manga, but I love these series deeply.
The one book I didn’t get to, and that I normally reserve for my holiday reading, is the next volume in the collected short fiction and essays of Roger Zelazny. I’m on book four of the set, and I think I will make that my pet project for January. Add to that, the Holy Grail of quests — TO CLEAR OUT MY TBR PILE. Which has only just entered triple digits.
Stop looking at me like that.
Anyway, while in the middle of 2017, it felt like a lousy year for books but I think that had more to do with the overwhelming mood of the year than the books themselves. Because when I look back at last year’s list, I read some amazing books, ones that sucked me in or moved me deeply — and I want to talk about those books here.
So in the order that I read them (more or less), here are my favorite books of 2017!
Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti: Home was a terrific second installment in her refreshing space opera series. Binti really works for me as a series of novellas. I’ve read a good number of the Tor novella offerings and I find that usually there is a pacing issue — the story skips over major sections, or doesn’t deliver enough world building, and I am left frustrated even if there’s a lot to enjoy. Binti, both the first book and the second, don’t have this problem. I could see all three being a single book, but they stand on their own beautifully. The complex relationship between Binti and her alien enemy-turned-friend Okwu is fascinating to watch, as well as how Binti herself must navigate between the two worlds of her home culture and the University, part of both and yet not. Binti: The Night Masquerade, the finale, is already pre-ordered.
A few other novellas that really worked for me this year:
- Passing Strange by Ellen Klages was my first introduction to her work after hearing a lot of praise. It’s sweet, romantic, and just shimmers with the teensiest bit of magic around the edges. Good stuff.
- A Taste of Honey by Kai Ashante Wilson, second in his science-fictional fantasy series and which should have won all the awards. I enjoyed the first in this series, but this one I adored and wept over.
- Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw is a tightly packed, creepy story with Lovecraftian edges. I devoured this on the train ride to Seattle, and need to dive into its sequel.
- The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson was wow from start to finish, a feminist Lovecraftian travelogue. Her style is so welcoming and assured. I would follow Vellitt, and Kij, anywhere.
- All Systems Red by Martha Wells was one that I felt could have used a tiny bit more meat to it, but on the whole I really liked. A great protagonist. Will check out the sequel.
Okay, back to books.
Goth by Otsuichi (translated Andrew Cunningham and Jocelyne Allen) was a book I’d picked up years ago at a convention (possibly at Sasquan in 2016). My first exposure to Japanese horror came from the Fatal Frame franchise for the Playstation way back in 2001. (REMEMBER THE 2000s???) What works for me in Japanese horror is that I don’t have the visual and storytelling framework to be able to know what’s coming next. Vampires, ghosts, werewolves, slasher flicks, supernatural thrillers — I’m familiar with the North American form. I know what to expect, I know what the rules are. With Japanese horror, I don’t know the ending or how we’ll get there, so watching, reading or playing something that has those elements both creeps me the fuck out and keeps me hooked, even if I am squirming the whole way. Goth is a series of novelettes about the same protagonist encountering and stopping other psychopathic people all while saving his best friend for himself to kill later. It’s creepy and quiet and compelling.
Certain Dark Things by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia was very different from her first book, Signal To Noise, which I loved, but it’s just as strong and comes with an entirely original spin on the allegedly tired vampire mythos. There’s no such thing as a dead trope — only people not paying attention when someone gives it a real, genre-defying twist. This would make a fabulous movie, do you hear me Hollywood? Moreno-Garcia feels like one of those old-school writers — not in terms of her style or her stories but that she’s writing whatever the fuck she wants. I don’t know from book to book what I am going to get but I know I will keep buying her books.
I fell hard down the rabbit hole of The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey, having discovered mid-year that this 2014 release was actually about (spoilers) zombies! I love zombies in both fiction and film, so being able to read the book and then watch the adaptation, penned by Carey themselves, was a treat. Neither was perfect, but it was fascinating to watch how the stories unfolded in slightly different ways. I would strongly recommend that anyone who has read the book hunt down the secret final chapter.
And in a further late to the party style, I finally got my hands on The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, published in 2013. It was perfection page to page. I couldn’t stop reading. It’s been optioned for adaptation, but Google tells me that was years ago and the latest news is that the director of recent SF film (and highly criticized) Passengers may be the one to do it. Here’s hoping they pull it off.
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer was a book I came to both excited and trepidatious. I loved the Southern Reach trilogy. (The adaptation of the first book, Annihilation, comes out soon!) We’re talking fangirl, muppet-flailing, inarticulate joy. But would that mean his next book would, too? Reader, it was. I love this kind of sideways universe, a style that manages the realistic yet lives and breathes the utterly fantastical.
The Refrigerator Monologues by Cat Valente is quite different from her recent stuff and I enjoyed the change. Lyrical, highly wrought language makes way here for a sharp skewering of the traditional fate of female comic book characters, be they love interests or heroines in their own right. Figuring out which character mapped to which mainstream superhero was half the fun, but Valente ends up with a composite universe that’s just as interesting as the originals. I hope we see more of it.
The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin completes her Broken Earth trilogy with such skill, such emotion, such pure and perfect craft, that it has to be among my favorite series of all time. Jemisin does amazing world-building, no question — a science fictional fantasy with armageddon at its core and exploring the effects of colonialism, conquest, and survival. It’s big sweeping stuff, but her characters that take the abstract and make it deeply personal. I am looking forward to whatever she does next.
Lastly, and one of my favorite books of 2017, was Hild by Nicola Griffith. It took me a while to finish, because this isn’t a book you can barrel through. You have to take it one page at a time, slowly, as each sentence unwinds in your mind and ensorcels you to Griffith’s version of Hild’s world. I’ve seen criticism about the book being overly detailed, laboriously slow, but this is entirely a function of point of view. Hild is a seer by trade, yet it’s not magic she wields but a keen understanding of the patterns of the world. Every scene, besides being beautiful, weaves Hild’s world for us and for her as we follow her from about the age of three to eighteen. The patterns must be shown before they can be understood. And all the way there is this line of tension, even in the quiet scenes. It’s a beautiful, brilliant book.
Ah, to a good year after all!
/me takes the final sip and sets the empty bottle down.
But wait! Runner up, Miss Congeniality, or whatever you want to call it, I need to plug my ongoing favorite manga series (again): Yona of the Dawn. I feel in love with the anime adaptation in 2016. It’s a reverse harem story set in a fantasy Japan and I love everything about it. The world-building, the political struggles, the heroism, the humor, the romance. *swoon* While the anime is only 24 episodes (and likely won’t be continued) of a much bigger story, the manga has been translated for the North American market. This year, we hit territory the anime hasn’t covered, so the swooning continues! Where is my swooning couch?
So that’s it, my year in books and the best of the 50 books I read. Are you still with me?
My god, why? I’ve given you a list of terrific books, so what are you still doing here?
Go read something.