2017 was quite the literary journey. This was the year I decided to take my reading challenge to new heights by reading as many new releases by my favorite authors as I wished, and thus my favorite books in 2017 list is probably my best yet!
This was my 6th year completing the GoodReads Reading Challenge. I haven’t decided if I’m going to do another challenge in 2018 because I’ve completed this challenge six times now, each with a different goal in mind, and all of them were easily achievable. I set my book reading challenge at 52 books for the year, and smashed it reading 60 of 52 books in 2017.
Here is my completed reading challenge from 2016, in case you’re interested.
I continued on my non-fiction and biography trend this year, but managed to keep things rounded out with a selection of books from every genre I enjoy. All in all, it was a wonderful reading journey to embark on in 2017 and I’m pleased to say that three of the GoodReads winners for 2017 ended up on my own reading list this year.
These were my favorite top 12 reads from 2017 out of the 60 books I read this year, in no particular order:
When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalinithi
Genres: Non-fiction, writing, memoir
My review: When Breath Becomes Air
2016 GoodReads Winner for Best Memoir and Biography
When Breath Becomes Air is the 2016 GoodReads winner for best memoir and biography. I now know why it won the top award in this category. This is a book about a gifted neurosurgeon and writer who chose neurosurgery over his love of writing, thinking that he had plenty of time to live out both his dreams.
What does it mean to live a meaningful life? It could be accepting the loss of the person you once were while holding on to the pieces of yourself that you have always been. It means that you should live each day to your fullest and as if it is your last. It means helping others.
Best takeaway quote: Be ready. Be seated. See what courage sounds like. See how brave it is to reveal yourself in this way. But above all, see what it is to still live, to profoundly influence the lives of others after you are gone, by your words. ― Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women
by Kate Moore
Genres: Non-fiction, History, Science, Biography
2017 GoodReads Winner for Best History and Biography
This was one of my favorite books this year and I’m so pleased it won the 2017 GoodReads Award for Best History and Biography book. It is totally deserving of its award and I can’t recommend it enough to history and science buffs. I found it very similar to Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and I’ve found in the past few years that I genuinely enjoy reading about history and biographies in general.
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women is an eye-opening and infuriating account of what can happen when you work with substances you know nothing about. It also illustrates once again the lengths that the US will go to exploit its own citizens.
Hundreds of girls are involved in one of the biggest scandals in America’s 20th century and they go to battle for worker’s rights despite knowing that none of them will live to see the end of their battles in court.
Best takeaway quote: Yet the flip side of the coin was all the positive literature about radium. As early as 1914, specialists knew that radium could deposit in the bones of radium users and that it caused changes in their blood. These blood changes, however, were interpreted as a good thing—the radium appeared to stimulate the bone marrow to produce extra red blood cells. Deposited inside the body, radium was the gift that kept on giving. But if you looked a little closer at all those positive publications, there was a common denominator: the researchers, on the whole, worked for radium firms. As radium was such a rare and mysterious element, its commercial exploiters in fact controlled, to an almost monopolizing extent, its image and most of the knowledge about it. Many firms had their own radium-themed journals, which were distributed free to doctors, all full of optimistic research. The firms that profited from radium medicine were the primary producers and publishers of the positive literature. ― Kate Moore, The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women
Small Great Things
by Jodi Picoult
My review: Small Great Things
A newborn baby dies after a common hospital procedure, and the person who is held responsible is a nurse named Ruth Jefferson who has been banned from looking after the baby by his White Supremacist father.
Why? Because she’s Black. Small Great Things is an ugly and enthralling tale that tackles an age-old topic – racism.
Best takeaway quote: If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.― Jodi Picoult,
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
by Lisa See
Genres: Historical fiction, Asian literature
My review: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
All of Lisa See’s novels are like a finely steeped cup of tea. This is an unforgettable story about a virtually unknown aboriginal tribe in a remote village in Yunnan, China. The Akha world is on the verge of change as the conveniences of modern living start invading their mountain.
Best takeaway quote: All you can do is live,” she says. “You don’t have a choice. Life continues whether we want it to or not. The sun will rise despite our suffering. ― Lisa See, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
by Susan Cain
My review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Reading this book was like reading about myself and never knowing that this person existed. Quiet is an extremely well-researched book that doesn’t show favoritism towards being extroverted or introverted. It simply lays both out on the line.
Susan Cain provides plenty of stories and studies to demonstrate the differences between these personality traits. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal through the 20th century to show how deeply these ideas have permeated our culture.
Best takeaway quote: Whoever you are, bear in mind that appearance is not reality. Some people act like extroverts, but the effort costs them energy, authenticity, and even physical health. Others seem aloof or self-contained, but their inner landscapes are rich and full of drama. So the next time you see a person with a composed face and a soft voice, remember that inside her mind she might be solving an equation, composing a sonnet, designing a hat. She might, that is, be deploying the powers of quiet.
― Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
By Dali Lama XIV and Desmond Tutu
Genres: Non-fiction, Health
My review: The Book of Joy
My dad insisted I read this book at the beginning of 2017, right after I learned about my new diagnosis on February 18, 2017. I finished the book five days later. (Thanks, Dad. It was just what I needed.)
This is a book about two wonderful friends from completely different religious backgrounds who come together to teach us the basic lessons that all human beings should know, understand, and practice, even in the face of heartache and sorrow.
You don’t need to be of a certain faith to understand the lessons in this book.
Best takeaway quote from the Dalai Lama XIV: If you live with fear and consider yourself as something special then automatically, emotionally, you are distanced from others. You then create the basis for feelings of alienation from others and loneliness. So, I never consider, even when giving a talk to a large crowd, that I am something special, I am ‘His Holiness the Dalai Lama’ . . . I always emphasize that when I meet people, we are all the same human beings. A thousand people — same human being. Ten thousand or a hundred thousand — same human being — mentally, emotionally, and physically. Then, you see, no barrier. Then my mind remains completely calm and relaxed. If too much emphasis on myself, and I start to think I’m something special, then more anxiety, more nervousness. ― Dalai Lama XIV, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
Best takeaway quote from Desmond Tutu: We are fragile creatures, and it is from this weakness, not despite it, that we discover the possibility of true joy. ― Desmond Tutu, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
Fourth of July Creek
by Smith Henderson
My review: Fourth of July Creek
Fourth of July Creek is a heart-wrenching story about a family social worker by the name of Pete Snow who helps other families in need in Tenmile, a small town in the middle of nowhere Montana.
One day, Pete meets a young undernourished 11-year-old named Benjamin Pearl. He cleans him up, gives him some food, and helps the boy find his way back home. When they arrive at Benjamin’s home, Benjamin’s father Jeremiah nearly shoots Pete.
Pete learns that Jeremiah Pearl is very disturbed and the two have been roaming the Montana countryside in awful weather living like animals. From what Pete has managed to put together from Benjamin’s story, the rest of his family, including his mother and siblings are being kept somewhere, but Jeremiah won’t let Pete anywhere near them to ask any questions.
Day by day, Pete slowly earns Jeremiah and Benjamin’s trust, but then he learns that Jeremiah is a paranoid survivalist with plans for a final battle that signals the End of Times.
Crazy Rich Asians (Three books in the series)
by Kevin Kwan
Genres: Fiction, Chick-lit, Asian literature
My review: Crazy Rich Asians
This series was so much fun to read! I burned through all three books in a matter of weeks.
Crazy Rich Asians is about three mega-rich Chinese families, and in typical Dynasty style, they spend most of their time gossiping about each other and scheming against one another. It also shows fierce family loyalties and the ties that bind families together.
The contrasts between the newly rich and the old rich families are strikingly funny and unique in Kwan’s writing. It’s like revisiting Dynasty or a good Jackie Collins novel.
Little Fires Everywhere (GoodReads Fiction Award 2017)
By Celeste Ng
My review: Little Fires Everywhere
2017 GoodReads Winner for Best Fiction
Little Fires Everywhere is GoodReads 2017 Winner for Best Fiction. I wasn’t sure of the setting when the book opened, but as the story continued, I was captivated by Ng’s writing and it didn’t take me long to fall in love with all of the characters in this book or the story with each character that leads to the final devastating event.
All the little intricacies of this story were like a flower unfurling petal by petal. That is how good Ng’s writing is.
Little Fires Everywhere is a powerful book about teenage love, the strength of motherhood, and the danger of living up to the ideals of perfection.
Best Takeaway Quote: Most of the time, everyone deserves more than one chance. We all do things we regret now and then. You just have to carry them with you. ― Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere
By Stephen King
Genres: Horror, Fantasy, Fiction, Thriller
My review is at: Sleeping Beauties
All around the world, women are falling asleep and they become encased in cocoons. The world as we know it as at an end. If things continue as they do, there will be no more women in the world, only men.
The Kings keep bringing the freaky world to the literary world, and that’s what I love about them. You never know what to expect, but you can always count on one thing: You’ll never forget what you read in a King novel.
Best Takeaway Quote: Another part of getting older: you forgot what you wanted to remember, and remembered what you wanted to forget. ― Stephen King, Sleeping Beauties
2017 GoodReads Winner for Best Horror
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
By Marjane Satrapi
Genres: autobiographies, biographies, culture, graphic novels, history, memoirs, non-fiction, women
My Review: Persepolis
This book sums up life in Iran in the 70s and 80s and an entire revolution in a beautifully illustrated graphic novel.
Persepolis is the story of a middle class family in Iran. Marjane is the daughter of a school master and she is one of the few girls in her village who has complete access to education. Her childhood story of the Islamic Revolution in Iran is both moving and heartbreaking. Her parents are revolutionaries and it doesn’t take long for Marjane to start questioning her life as well. She, too, becomes a rebel.
I highly recommend Persepolis to everyone who would like to learn more about the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
Avenue of Mysteries
By John Irving
My review: Avenue of Mysteries
Irving has been one of my favorite all time authors since high school. I’ve loved every single word he has ever written. This was one of his more perplexing books, though, and I really had to sit and think about it after I had finished it to figure out what he was trying to tell me. In the end I figured it out, but as all John Irving’s novels go, you’ll need to read it yourself to discover the mystery in his writing.
How do I give you a brief synopsis of a novel about a 14-year-old abandoned boy named Juan Diego who lives in a dump in Mexico, saves books from burning, teaches himself to read in several languages, and cares for his mysterious mind-reading semi-mute 13-year-old sister named Lupe? His sister seems to know what will happen in the future and takes that burden on for her brother so he can live his life to the fullest extent of his being.
How does this child end up lame, sick, and weak of heart, in a circus with his sister and then taken to Iowa as the son of a gay Jesuit missionary and a transvestite named Flor?
Best Takeaway Quote: There comes a moment in every life when you must let go with your hands—with both hands. ― John Irving, Avenue of Mysteries
I would love to hear if you’ve ready any of these books on my list and what you thought of them in the comments section. If you’ve got book suggestions for 208, leave a comment for me. I’d love to hear what you’re excited to read this year!