This year has been a great year of reading for me. Through the 2017 Popsugar Reading Challenge I read a total of 52 books and managed to fit in 1 more following the challenge completion. That brings the total to 53 – the most I have ever read in a single year!
I love taking the time at the end of the year to think about the best books that I have read, and while I read many that I enjoyed, these are the 11 that stood out the most for me.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017)
This is easily the best book I read all year. It was incredible, powerful, rich and completely captivating. Telling the fictional story of Starr, a 16 year old girl from a rough neighbourhood riddled with gang violence and crime, it explores issues of race division in modern America.
When Starr is driving home from a party with her childhood friend Khalil, they are stopped by a white police officer and an unarmed Khalil is shot and killed. What follows is a long fight for justice and an exploration into social divisions based on race in America, told through the eyes of Starr and her family and friends. This is unfortunately a familiar story with these kind of situations making many news headlines and fueling the conversation for activism groups in America such as Black Lives Matter. This book opens up these stories and fights for the injustice of many real victims.
There is an important message about race to be understood from this story and I think it is delivered through one of the most controlled pieces of fiction I have read in a long time.
On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads by Tim Cope (2013)
This book is for anyone who is passionate about travel and adventure. Tim Cope recounts his incredible journey as he follows in the footsteps of the nomads and travels the length of the Eurasian steppe on horseback. This is a journey that begins in Mongolia and takes him through Kazakhstan, Russia, Crimea & the Ukraine, eventually finishing at the Danube river in Hungary. At its core, this book is about a person with a single somewhat crazy idea, who has the perseverance and the determination to make it happen despite the many obstacles that may stand in their way.
There is enough factual information that I can understand the history and the culture without reaching for my phone and Googling every 5 minutes, however not too much that it felt too dense. This history is carefully weaved between an honest account of his personal experience. He tells his story though the people and the landscape of the countries he passes through and speaks openly about how this impacts his own life.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)
The book tells the story of Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman who emigrates to the US to attend university. The writing is clever and engaging as the story of Ifemelu intertwines with that of her classmate and ex-boyfriend Obinze as he moves through life still in Nigeria. The paths they took after school were very different yet they seemed to lead them back to the beginning.
While in America, Ifemelu becomes a prominent blogger exploring the topic of race in non-American blacks living in America, all while navigating her way through a new society. The interactions she has with people are really what this story is about as it explores how the environment around you can shape your beliefs and the person you become. I found both Ifemelu and Obinze quite selfish and I struggled to empathise with them, however the overall message told through the book seems to transcend just those characters and becomes an interesting insight into a perspective of America not often told.
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green (2017)
Aza is a young girl who struggles with anxiety – like really struggles. Her and her best friend Daisy get caught up in trying to solve the disappearance of a local billionaire accused of fraud, and through these events, Green uncovers the realities of living with anxiety. Like all John Green novels, relationships are the main focus as we learn about Aza’s friendship with Daisy, her relationship with her mother, and the struggles she undergoes to try and have a romantic relationship with Davis. Green goes deep as he talks about the realities of how a person with anxieties mind works with rich character development.
This was the one extra book I read immediately following completing the reading challenge. For fans of John Green (me), it has been six years since he released a book so I had been itching to get an opportunity to read it. It is classic Green, dealing with intense issues but the subject of this book is one that I think is really important as it highlights mental health issues, especially in young people.
The Hours by Michael Cunningham (1998)
This book spans across three different time periods and tells the story of one day in the life of three women all who have been impacted by the book Mrs. Dalloway written by Virginia Woolf. The first is Virginia Woolf herself as she is writing it, the second is Mrs. Brown who is reading it, and the third is Clarissa who shares the first name of Mrs. Dalloway. The book is of course influenced by the original story by Woolf, following the same style of writing.
This story seems to encompass so much emotion within its pages and it doesn’t shy away from exploring issues of mental health and the impact this has on relationships. For me, this is one of the best books I have read in a long time and Cunningham’s writing was just a pleasure to read.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (2016)
The story begins not long after the Russian Revolution with the count, Alexander Rostov, accepting his sentence of life imprisonment confined within the walls of the Grand Metropol Hotel after being accused of writing a poem that was counter revolutionary. So he begins his life in a small room on the top floor of the hotel.
It is hard to say what this book is about because I do not feel it has a traditional story line which is maybe why I enjoyed it so much. This book is about relationships, about the changing world outside, and about making the most of any situation. Throughout the book, not once does the count complain about his situation in life, but rather he relishes in maintaining the air of a gentleman and making do with what he has. He is a man of routine and quickly finds his through friendships and eventually a daughter which forces the count to finally think about the life of another before his own.
While the landscape of the book doesn’t change, it moves along through the years so beautifully as we catch little glimpses of the changing world of Russia and are exposed to the counts witty musings on life.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)
The story follows the parallel lives of Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Werner Pfennig as they grow up and become entangled in the German occupation of France during World War II. Marie-Laure is blind and lives with her father who is a locksmith at the museum in Paris. He teaches her to navigate the streets through an intricate wooden model of the neighbourhood and buys her braille books for her birthday with the little money he has. Werner is an orphan and lives in a children’s home with his sister Jutta. He has a fascination for the world and how it works and focuses that into engineering and fixing radios. His passion (and white blond hair) leads him away from a certain future working in the mines, to attend a school for gifted German boys.
Both children question the war as they grow up. Werner as a soldier in Germany and Marie-Laure as part of the French resistance. I loved how the perspectives of the war were told through the eyes of a child and how they grew into their understanding of the world as it unfolded around them.
This story was beautiful, it was heartbreaking, and it is such a well written and structured book that I felt I couldn’t put down.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016)
Whitehead has re-imagined the Underground Railroad, a series of safe houses that African-american slaves would move through to escape to freedom in Canada during the 19th century, as an actual rail road that one could climb aboard and be taken to safety.
This story follows Cora, from growing up under the brutal ownership and enslavement of the cotton fields of Georgia, and follows her as she escapes with aid from the Underground Railroad. At each stop she finds something that makes her want to stay and she starts to begin to trust her surroundings and her freedom. That is until something undoes everything and she finds herself fleeing for safety yet again.
This book highlights the cruel past of America and identifies the horrific treatment of slaves. It is hard to read at times, and I think what makes the book so good is that blurred line Whitehead creates between fiction and history.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (2016)
This is not a self-help book, it is a guide to helping you change the way you think. The way you interpret information, the way you react to information, and the way you shape your thoughts that get you through your everyday. As expected, Manson delivered and I loved the book pretty much devouring it in a single sitting.
I found the honesty and the simple approach to how he writes so refreshing. He has some pretty intense ideas and opinions at times, but the majority of his way of communicating I find so relatable in that it is just truth – nothing else. It also helps that he is a smart guy and understands the underlying principles of what he is saying, whether psychological, biological or sociological as he explores concepts in more detail, using analogies both from his own life and from history.
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney (2017)
Based on the life of Margaret Fishback who became the highest paid advertising woman in the 1930s writing copy for Macy’s, this book tells her story through the fictional tale of Lillian Boxfish, a 85 year old woman living in New York.
On New Year’s Eve 1984, Lillian takes a walk through the streets of Manhattan reflecting on what makes the city unique. After feeling the pressures from her family to leave the city, she reflects on her life and the changes she has seen around her since moving to New York in 1926. Lillian recounts each stage in her life comparatively with the changes of a city through the depression era.
Her reflections are interspersed with the encounters she has that night. She stops and takes her time to speak to people along her walk and get to know them. She is bold and fantastic and the kind of person you wish you knew in real life.
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (2015)
This is the kind of book you want a physical copy of. To be able to own it and come back to it whenever time you might needed it.
Kaur’s form of poetry is raw, and at times uncomfortable, but her words are so filled with emotion that they need to be read and understood. She speaks about heartbreak and abuse but also about healing, love and femininity.
It is an empowering book and one that I found myself deeply connected to in such a beautifully constructed book. I think it is one that all women should read, particularly if you are looking for healing after trauma or loss, or just looking for a greater understanding of yourself.
Related: My Favourite Books of 2016
How many of these have you read? Let me know what you think of this list in the comments!