I’ve divided these into two groups, as always. We have the Gold Books – the ones that sprang to mind immediately, without having to check my Library Thing list, and that I knew had to be on here somewhere. Then we also have the Silver Books – they’re still really good and deserve to be on the list, but maybe they’re not quuuiiiite as good as the Gold Books.
I’ve read some really wonderful books this year. I honestly think this may be my most successful year of all time. I look back and wonder if there are any good books actually left as surely I’ve read them all this year!?
Also, find my previous ‘Best of… Lists’ below.
1) The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
If I had to choose a favourite book from 2017, this would be it.
It’s a very casual non-fiction book about the women who worked in the radioactive factories in the 1920s and 1930s, who were subsequently refused any kind of compensation with their jaws quite literally fell off and they developed tumours the size of small cats.
It’s informative and honestly, just heartbreaking. It’s beautifully written so the pages just fly by, but the emotional trauma will take several months to dissipate.
I cried on a train, I cried on a bus and I cried in a cafe. This was real, this happened and people did nothing. My eyes are watering with angry tears as I write this six weeks after I read it.
2) Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
I read Six of Crows and absolutely loved it. I’d been told that Crooked Kingdom was even better but I didn’t believe it. How could it be? Then I read it, and oh my God.
It was doubly a surprise because I really didn’t get on with Leigh Bardugo’s original Grisha series but this duology may as well have been written by a completely different author. The six characters each have brilliant, unique personalities and the way they interact is masterful. The story itself is dark and twisty and wonderful, and the ending is perfect. Definitely read.
I CRIED. I actually sat there and properly cried. It’s an actually perfect ending that suited all the characters. I loved that it wasn’t perfect, that not everybody got a happy ending and that it wasn’t what I had hoped would happen – it was better than that. It was brave and awful and amazing and… ARGH.
3) The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
This book is what would happen if you got all my favourite things and smushed them all together. It’s a huge and engrossing science fiction novel with a snarky sense of humour, about time travel, history and witches. Almost as if you got The Eyre Affair and combined it with The Chronicles of St Mary’s books. It’s a hefty book and I was still disappointed when I’d finished it. I definitely can’t wait for the second book.
It’s ingenious. A lot of time is spent on setting the scene and I loved every second. However, the actual over-arching point of the novel is deeply hidden and quite subtle, so that you start to feel genuine little twinges of anxiety before you even really know what’s going on. It’s hard to pinpoint, but it’s there. When it really gets going, towards the end, my stomach actually hurt, I cared so deeply about the characters.
4) Where Am I Now? True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson
This is the sort-of memoir of Mara Wilson, the now grown-up ex-actress who played Matilda and the little girl in Mrs Doubtfire, amongst other things.
I say it’s a ‘sort-of’ memoir, because it actually strikes the perfect balance between autobiography and book of random articles. You don’t have to suffer through the usual ‘my childhood was this and then I went to this school…’ boring stuff; sje jumps right in to talking about Robin Williams and her embarrasing moments on set. It’s divided into topics, rather than time periods, and she sounds like a really pleasant person. Parts of this are really funny and others are really moving.
I (now) know that she has experience in writing (both academically and through her one-man shows, etc) so perhaps it’s it’s only to be expected, but she writes very well. Not just ‘… for a celebrity,’ but it’s actually, objectively, good. I felt angry when she was describing the joys of seeing comparisons of your childhood and adult faces of the Internet when you least expect it, and I teared up when she was expressing her sadness over the loss of Robin Williams.
5) The Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
I’ve now read the second book in this series as well as the first, and just thinking about them brings a smile to my face.
They have such a pleasant premise – an elderly, female, Victorian scholar looking back on her dragon-related academic career and putting together her memoirs. They’re charming and quite snarky at times, and I’m really looking forward to reading the third book in the New Year.
Lady Trent writes her memoirs from several decades in the future, when she’s clearly an accomplished scholarly adventurer of some renown. In her twilight years, she has taken some leisure time to finally write an honest account in response to the hundreds of letters she receives from young fans, clamouring for details on her exploits. This results in a charming first person narrative that has the benefit of hindsight – the elderly Lady Trent looks back on her younger self with some fondness (and occasionally frustration) and muses on how the world has changed.
Again, the below books are still the best books of the year, it’s just that they’re not quite as good as the above. The ‘I’ll use this if there’s space’ books. You know.
6) My Friend Dahmer by Derf Beckderf
This is a non-fiction graphic novel by a classmate of Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer than went on to murder, molest and eat (in that order) seventeen people within a decade of leaving school. Derf Beckderf was a peripheral friend of Dahmer’s and here depicts that which he knew of Dahmer as a teenager.
It’s very honest, down to the minor bullying he took part in. The central theme is that somebody with authority could have seen that Dahmer wasn’t doing so well and lent a hand… but they didn’t, and now we have seventeen dead people.
For a graphic novel about murder, it’s not all that gory, but it is still thought-provoking and somewhat disturbing.
So the graphic novel is brilliantly put together, but I’m not sure if the experience would have been as good as it was if it wasn’t for the extensive notes at the back of the book. Each chapter has references and explanatory notes that fill in the gaps that weren’t pictured in the narrative. It was this part that really stuck in my mind and the following night I had a dream about trying to eat teeth.
7) The Power by Naomi Alderman
The Power is a really interesting take on a sort-of gender role reversal – women find that they can shoot lightning out of her fingertips. It sounds very light-hearted and trivial, but it’s very much not. The implications are huge – men of the world are in uproar and opressed women in developing countries start to rebel. Fast forward several thousand years and it’s fascinating.
A bit sledge-hammery but the detail is impressive and it leaves a lasting memory. I wasn’t sure of the ending but then I also don’t see how else it could have ended.
I don’t even know where to start with this book. It doesn’t surprise me that it won the Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction, and I’m also not surprised that I’ve seen a few reviews by men that hated it. The Power is, at heart, a very female book with a very clear Message, but that in no way detracts from what is also a very compelling story.
8) Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From The Crematorium by Caitlin Doughty
Whilst this might seem an odd choice for a Top Ten list, it really blew me away. Not only did it make me laugh out loud with hilarious anecdotes, it also made me really think about the culture of death denial perpetuated in Western civilisation.
I couldn’t get it out of my head for days afterwards and this book deserves to be on that list for purely that reason. Some of her ideas are a little too ‘out there’ for me, but I suppose that sort of proves her point in itself. Caitlin also runs a really interesting YouTube channel called Ask a Mortician, which is fairly self-explanatory… Sorry, I love this stuff.
This is not a book for those of a sensitive disposition. We read about decay, leaking and mechanisms for keeping the eyes of the deceased firmly closed (spoiler alert: they use caps with spikes on). I like that about this book though. I like that it goes slightly beyond the realms of propriety to explain the details that I had never considered were an issue.
9) The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
This is a very recent addition as I finished this book less than a week ago.
This is another nonfiction, memoir-style graphic novel, which apparently seems to be the type that I gravitate towards. There are two parts – the first depicts Marjane’s childhood during the Islamic Rebellion in Iran in 1979, and the second looks at her teenage and young adult years after her parents sent her away to Vienna.
Whilst I found the first part a lot more interest, there’s no getting away from how moving Persepolis is. It also motivated me to learn more about Iran – they have a fascinating history that just isn’t taught in British schools. I actually have a couple of books on hold at the library about that very thing.
Persepolis is non-fiction, but it’s not meant to be a historical examination. Instead it focuses on the human aspects – how the common people, particularly the more Westernised families like Marjane’s, were affected by the change in government and the change to stricter enforcement of the rules of Islam. It’s very surreal, watching the revolution through the eyes of a ten year old girl.
10) My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
I enjoyed this story at face value – it was engrossing, page-turning and intriguing, trying to work out Rachel’s true motivation.
It made it to this list for the multiple possible interpretations, however. Was Philip right all along and Rachel only after his money? Did she really love Ambrose? Is this a feminist masterpiece where she was complete oblivious to Phillip’s assumptions about her intentions?
It could go so many different ways depending on your interpretation of the novel, and for this reason I think it might be more masterful even than Rebecca. I love that book, don’t get me wrong, but it’s pretty clear cut what happened by the end. Not so much here. I discussed it with the one other person I knew who had read it, and naturally she’d understood it completely differently to me (although this is the person with whom I nearly came to blows over We Need To Talk About Kevin) so we don’t trust her view entirely…
And we’re done! Thank you for stopping by 🙂
Have you read any of these books? Did you love them as well, or do you think I’m over-hyping a bit? Let me know!