The end of the year is upon us, accompanied by the necessary reflection on the books read over the last revolution around the sun, in particular the favourite books of the year. It was a good reading year for me. I read as voraciously as I did last year: just about the same number of books, but fewer pages. (Thank you Goodreads for keeping track of these things, via my 2017 in books and annual statistics.)
My 17 favourite books this year
How to Live: A Life of Montaigne, Sarah Bakewell. An exploration of the life, times, and literary afterlife of Michel de Montaigne, the original essayist.This is first on the list because I spent more time with it than any other book on this list. Partway through I finally splurged and bought the complete essays, which I may or may not start working through in 2018.
A Book of Silence, Sara Maitland. Part memoir, part academic-ish study of silence and solitude. Arguably, this book was the one that really kicked off my current fascination with books on this subject.
Journal of a Solitude, May Sarton. This is kind of mostly about gardening but it was still a wonderful read about seeking time alone.
Eat Sleep Sit, Kaoru Nonomura. A memoir of one year at a strict Zen temple in Japan. It removed all romanticism from how I thought of monks and the ascetic way of life.
Upstream, Mary Oliver. Wonderful essays about poetry, nature, writing, and life.
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas. A wonderful YA novel about a young black woman who sees her best friend shot to death by the police. It’s emotional and funny and political and heartbreaking.
The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down, Haemin Sunim. Normally a book I would never admit to liking, this was a case of the right book at the right time.
Hourglass, Dani Shapiro. A kind of inexplicable memoir about, like the cover says, marriage and time. Beautifully written.
Outline, Rachel Cusk. A novel told in conversations, strangely compelling and fascinating.
Transit, Rachel Cusk. The follow-up to Outline, which I read very shortly afterward and which did not disappoint.
Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari. A fascinating exploration of how homo sapiens made it.
All Grown Up, Jami Attenberg. A novel told in vignettes about a woman alone, without partner or child, coming to terms with herself. It took me by surprise.
American Primitive, Mary Oliver. Poems about nature, humanity, and the universe.
300 Arguments, Sarah Manguso. A tiny but smart book. Essays distilled down to their barest essence.
Delights and Shadows, Ted Kooser. More poetry. I read a lot of poetry this year (for me).
One Hundred Days of Solitude, Jane Dobisz. I read this very quickly over 24 hours around Christmas, and I thought it was so lovely. I’m not sure how much that was because it was so much better than a similar book I’d finished a few days before, Consolations of the Forest, which was not what I’d hoped.
Some random notes
Because I can’t limit myself to just favourite books, whatever exactly that means. I enjoyed some really fun novels this year: Startup, Public Relations, Grace and the Fever, Kissing Ted Callahan, Sourdough. Made for Love was also fun but in a totally zany way. In a Lonely Place was moody and dark and perfect. I was sorry that both Commonwealth and Swimming Lessons featured the tired story of the young woman giving up her life to an older male writer. I read a lot of poetry. I re-read several favourite books: a few Barbara Pyms, The Hating Game, The Restraint of Beasts, The Writing Life, Bear, Mansfield Park. I read a lot more about religion and spirituality this year, which is unusual for me. I read several great books about writing, in addition to Still Writing: The Art of Fiction, Reading Like a Writer, Draft No. 4, Six Memos for the Next Millennium. I also finally got to a few books that have been on my reading list for a long time: Someone at a Distance, High Rising, All Passion Spent, The House of Mirth.
Isn’t it wonderful that everyone doesn’t have the same favourite books? Isn’t it great that everyone loves different things?
For the last month the internet has been full of year-end reading lists, none of which look anything like mine (that’s a good thing). Here are some I enjoyed the most: Chicago Review of Book’s best fiction list, Literary Hub’s mega-list, Austin Kleon’s reading year, and The Millions Year in Reading series. The one thing we will never ever have to worry about is running out of things to read.