Top Ten Books I Missed in 2017

Is it just me, or were a lot of good books published in 2017? I felt like I was buying something or adding something new to my list every time I turned around. I bought a lot of current books in 2017, which is unusual for me. I tend to buy more backlist titles, probably because I buy most of my books on sale or used. Six of the books on this list are already on my shelves, and I greatly covet the four that aren’t, especially because my library only has one of them. Sigh. Without further ado (and a day late), here are my top ten books I missed in 2017 but plan to read in 2018:

Pachinko, Min Jin Lee. This made so many “Best of” lists this year, and most importantly it was Roxane Gay’s favorite book of the year. We all trust Roxane, right?
The Child Finder, Rene Denfeld. The second I saw Rene Denfeld had a new book out, I had to buy it. I loved The Enchanted, which was beautiful and heartbreaking.
Bellevue Square, Michael Redhill. I had hoped to buy this 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning novel on my trip to Amsterdam after hearing Naomi and Kim say wonderful things about it, but the American Book Center didn’t have it and Waterstone’s was closed the day I finally made it over there (New Year’s Day). My library does have another 2017 Giller contender I really wanted to read, I Am a Truck by Michelle Winters (published in 2016), but not this one. Maybe they’ll have it by 2018?
The Essex SerpentThe Essex Serpent, Sarah Perry. Honestly, I just liked the cover on this one, and everyone was buzzing about it so…trust.
Marlena, Julie Bunting. I love novels about formative female friendships. Last year I had two on my radar, Marlena and Claire Messud’s The Burning Girl. Sadly, The Burning Girl, while spot on about many of the ways girlfriends can drift apart during adolescence, failed to provide the deeper story I longed for. Maybe Marlena will fill the gap.
Elmet, Fiona Mozley. This was one of the Man Booker Prize nominees that interested me the most after I heard Hannah Greendale review it on her YouTube channel, Beginning to Bookends. And again, that cover! I’m shallow. Sue me.Elmet
The Dark Dark, Samantha Hunt. I was absolutely blown away by Mr. Splitfoot in 2016, and then again by her first novel, The Seas, when I read it last year. The second I heard Hunt had a new story collection out in 2017, I ordered it.
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Caroline Fraser. Like millions of American children, I grew up captivated by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books about her childhood and early adulthood in the American Midwest and West. This book sounds absolutely fascinating and takes a close look at Wilder’s relationship with her daughter Rose, who had a great deal of editorial influence on the books. THE LIBRARY DOESN’T HAVE IT. I feel this is un-American.
Texas Blood: Seven Generations Among Outlaws, Ranchers, Indians, Missionaries, Soldiers, and Smugglers of the Borderlands, by Roger D. Hodge. Because you can take the girl out of Texas…
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, by Michael Finkel. Several people were talking about this one in 2017, but it came to my attention when it popped up as a recommendation for me after I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Last American Man. I’m fascinated by people who brave the wilderness and choose a simpler (in some ways) life. Nope, no copy at the library.

Hopefully I’ll get to most of these in 2018! How about you: did you read any of these in 2017, or do you hope to read them in 2018?


Hey, You, Get off of My Shelf

Get it? “Hey, you, get off of my shelf…” You know, like “Hey, you, get off of my cloud…” The Rolling Stones? Anyone?


So last week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and The Bookish) topic was something that makes us instantly want to read a book, so let’s see if you can guess this week’s topic. YES! You in the back row with the yellow shirt (totally your color, by the way), that’s right. Today’s topic is what instantly makes us NOT want to read a book.

Right off the bat, let’s just go ahead and break rule number one (I’m sure I am not the only one doing this): Its cover is stupid/cheesy/just not compelling in any way. That’s right. I judge a book by its cover. For example, if I happen to come across these:

Product DetailsProduct Details

(Hm. These were listed on Amazon under “Best Amish Romance,” like that’s a thing. By the way, my search history is so wrecked now. And no, I wouldn’t read these even if they had a better cover, so maybe not the best example.) Put a woman in a bonnet on the cover of your novel, and I’m probably going to walk on by. I also avoid clowns, most wizards, and evil cat eyes. And while we’re at it, I seriously hate movie tie-in covers, and I’ll go out of my way to find a copy without one if the book has been turned into a movie/TV show. One thing that seriously annoys me about Kindle books is that Amazon now automatically updates covers to the movie/TV-show tie-in. STAHP.

Its title is too dumb to say out loud. Okay, that’s a little over the top. Maybe. Except my Mom tried for years to get me to read a book called Fair and Tender Ladies (by Lee Smith), and I resisted with every fiber of my being because ugh. That title. And then there are titles like Where White Horses Gallop and Butterflies Dance in the Dark. Please! (And, of course, the above-pictured The Healing Heart of an Amish Girl.) If any of these are your favorite books, I am sorry (on so many levels).

Except you know what? Fair and Tender Ladies is a really wonderful book. I’m not kidding.

It’s been blurbed by Jonathan Franzen. I read The Corrections and it was good. Not the best novel of a generation, not the Best American Novel, but good. I’ll probably read Freedom and Purity at some point. All that to say, nothing about an endorsement from Franzen will make me hurry to pick up a book. And apparently I’m not in a hurry to pick up his books, either.

It’s been compared to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. This is the book that broke Dave Eggers for me. I like McSweeney’s and The Believer and he does a lot of good for literacy with his 826 Valencia project. Any comparison to that book makes me think, “Hm, so navel-gazing, self-aggrandizing, SO POSTMODERN Tristram Shandy ripoff” is not going to have me reaching for my wallet.

It’s written by Dave Eggers. See above. I don’t know why, I just haven’t been able to do it. Lots of people whose opinions I trust think he’s a great writer. On the other hand, I have several titles by Vendela Vida on my TBR. She’s his wife. So that’s something, yes? Come on, someone talk me out of this one and convince me to read one of his books. This is a cry for help.

It’s the first book in a series. So many good series exist out there, but I don’t have that kind of time. I have too many books on my TBR list as it is. So while I am really, really curious about, say, Donna Leon, I probably won’t be rushing to pick up one of her books any time soon. I still have to get through all of Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan series and Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books first. Bah.

It’s self-published. I know. The Martian was self-published, and look what happened there! You can now buy the book with the movie tie-in cover! It has Matt Damon on it! Look, getting published is not easy. Some self-published works out there might be really good. And you do hear about some breakout authors (Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking) who make a lot of money or get book deals. It seems, though, that a lot of self-publishing happens in genres that don’t interest me all that much (fantasy, romance). I also imagine I would spend more time editing (in my mind, anyway) these titles than reading them.

Its description includes the words “magical realism.” I’m not saying I don’t like magical realism. I’m just saying I won’t rush to pick it up.

It’s titled Fifty Shades of [You Name It]. Do I need to explain this one?

It features a precocious child or an animal as the narrator. Children’s voices are hard to get right, and most adults can’t do it. There are some exceptions. (Don’t come at me with Room because I didn’t make it past page five on that one, and don’t think the movie tie-in cover with Brie Larson will help because I didn’t see the movie.) And I like dogs, but I’m not really interested in any novel narrated by one. Plus, if a dog is narrating, you know the ending will be sad. It’s a given. Don’t pretend it’s not.

Your turn*…what keeps you from instantly picking up a book (or from picking it up at all)? 

*I love connecting with other readers, and I enjoy hearing from you if you have something fun to share. If you are just here to leave a lame comment so you can post your own link (“Great list! Here’s mine!” or “Me, too! Here’s mine!” ), please don’t waste your time.

Those Books I Cannot Deny

Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and The Bookish) this week asks us to list the top ten things that will make us instantly want to read a book. This is a tough one—I think next week’s topic about what makes us NOT want to pick up a book is easier—but I’ll give it a shot.

RunawayIt’s by a favorite author. Okay, that’s such a no-brainer, right? Obviously, we all look forward to books from favorite authors, but maybe we get to some a bit faster than others. As much as I love Lorrie Moore—and even though I had preordered a copy—it took me almost a year to read her most recent story collection. And I love Mary Gaitskill but haven’t read The Mare yet. But a new Alice Munro, Tana French, Donna Tartt, or Marisha Pessl? I want that book in my hands on pub day, if not before.

It’s a campus novel. I’m a huge sucker for any book set at a boarding school or a university. I blame The Official Preppy Handbook, which was published when I was in seventh grade. It’s the source of all my fantasies about wearing blue blazers and knee socks and carrying a beat-up leather messenger bag and driving an old Volvo station wagon and attending classes in grey-stone buildings covered with ivy. What? Oh, right, like you don’t have a dream. The Secret History, Prep, The Headmaster’s Wife, Skippy Dies

It’s set west of the Mississippi. Hello, Larry McMurtry. Hello, Kent Haruf. Hello, Wallace Stegner. Wait…those were all men. Hello, Louise Erdrich. Hello, Molly Gloss. Hello, Willa Cather.

LandfallsIt involves any sort of seafaring. I’m fascinated by the Dutch East India Trading Company, the age of exploration, the migration of people….as long as it’s happening on a ship. For someone who’s terrified of the ocean, I have enough books about sailing the wide open seas on my TBR list that you’d never guess. Landfalls, Ship Fever, Servants of the Map, Master and Commander

It involves cowboys/pioneers/people settling the Western US. Technically this could be considered a subset of number three, I guess, but it’s a particular one that always draws me. The Jump-Off Creek, The Son, Lonesome Dove, The News of the West

It features a WASPy New York family. You can keep your navel-gazing Brooklyn hipsters who all want to write books about being writers. I’m way more interested in the Upper East Side, particularly if the book is set before, say, 1970. The Rules of Civility, The Swans of Fifth Avenue, The Catcher in the Rye, The Nest

It’s compared favorably (by someone I trust) to a book/writer I love. No, not looking at you, Gone Girl. You’re over your limit. But if a book is compared to, say, The Secret History, The Goldfinch, Commonwealth, Empire Falls, The Likeness…Somebody stop me before I list all my favorite books. You get the picture. Although sometimes these comparisons make me leary (still not looking at you, Gone Girl). I’m sorry, but if I saw a book that said, “For readers who love Alice Munro,” I might be afraid I was going to get a cheap imitation, because honestly, who can compare?

Seating ArrangementsIt’s set anywhere from coastal New England up to Newfoundland. I’m talking rocky coast, sea spray, the Atlantic, whales, fishermen, creaky old cottages with worn shingles, lighthouses—the whole shebang. So anything from Seating Arrangements to Olive Kitteridge to Sweetland to The Shipping News. The gamut of the northern US/Canadian East Coast, if you will.

It involves a clever twist. I’ve gotten a bit more wary about this one. (Okay, Gone Girl, I’m looking at you now.) Still, I do like a good twist. I really thought Gone Girl was masterfully done. And Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith (who’s twisting who?). John Fowles’s The Magus (twisty involving teacher at secluded Greek boarding school). E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars (twisty/New England combo).

So, where do we line up? Any recommendations? Where do we differ? (I’d love to hear from you if you have a real comment! If you are just here to spam your own link, move on.)

Favorite Books of 2016

Today’s Top Ten (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) asks us to list our ten favorite books of 2016. When I sat down to write this post, I learned that Carrie Fisher had died. I had been telling myself all morning to start focusing on small things, like reading and writing and blogging and yoga, and not to think too much about the headlines or about all the things that currently make everything seem somewhat useless or hopeless. This year has been a very tough one, not just for much of the world but for a lot of people very close to me, but up to November I at least thought that we would all get past it. But like a lot of you out there, I feel that since November 8 that the world has tilted. I cannot seem to get over the shock I feel that so much of America is filled with hatred, that so many people willingly believe fake news and that science is equal to nothing more than mere opinion. For the first time ever, I fear the future. I also realize how weirdly lucky I am to have the luxury of that fear. I have lived through a great time of mostly peace and progress and prosperity. Like a lot of people, I assumed the world would more or less continue that way. Not anymore. And now in less than three days, the passing of two more icons. I mean, what the hell?

That said, 2016 really did have one big bright spot for me, and that was reading. I slowed down a bit after November, but at that point I was only two books away from my goal of reading 50 books this year. As of today, I’ve read 54, and I may finish another two before the year is out. I don’t have any fancy graphics and I didn’t write reviews for most of these, but these were the books that made the best impression on me in 2016:

Commonwealth, Ann Patchett. For those of us who like stories about families and all their quirks and foibles. I plan to re-read this one in 2017. That’s how much I liked it.

The Turner House, Angela Flournoy. I read this family drama about a group of grown children grappling with what to do about their Detroit family home right after finishing Commonwealth, and I found it every bit as engaging.

Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt. I had no idea what to expect from this strange and wonderful novel. The ending vexed me but overall the story was so original and engrossing I knew it would have to be on this list.

Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue. This novel about a Cameroonian family trying to make a go of life in New York just prior to the Lehman Brothers melt down and the national financial crisis that followed isn’t exactly an uplifting tale, but Mbue is such a good writer and her characters were so wonderful this one was hard to put down. She’s such a confident writer, it’s hard to believe this is a debut (same goes for Flournoy, actually).

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead. I wish I could press this book into the hands of every American. I wish that books really could change minds and make people more empathetic.

All My Puny Sorrows, Miriam Toews. You might not think you would laugh out loud reading a book about a woman trying to keep her sister from committing suicide, but you would be wrong. This touching, funny, smart book about our obligations to family and ourselves is absolutely terrific.

The Girls, Emma Cline. I keep going back and forth on this one, trying to decide if it’s overrated and I drank the KoolAid or if it really is that good. I think the fact that I read it in July and I am still thinking about it in December probably says more than anything.

Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner. Enter this in the “Why did I wait so long to read this?” category. This classic, beautiful family saga was my most favorite book this year, and another I plan to re-read sooner rather than later.

The Rules of Civility, Amor Towles. I am just a sucker for a New York tale, and I read a lot of them this year, but this one was my absolute favorite.

The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson. This harrowing tale about an orphan in North Korea has stuck in my brain, almost as though it were a documentary of things that have actually happened. Most certainly, it shows what humans are able to to endure.

You can see the full list of everything I read this year here.

What was your favorite book of 2016?

Top Ten Books on My Holiday Wishlist

For this week’s Top Ten (hosted by The Broke and The Bookish), we’re asked to list the top ten books we’d like to receive for the holidays. Hm. Seems like this topic should have come around in November when people were putting together their shopping lists.  I rarely receive books as gifts, so this list is probably more like what I’ll buy myself if I get a gift card, but why quibble? It’s still a gift, from me, to me.

Sweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler. Everyone’s saying all the good things about this one. I am number 140 on the library waiting list. I don’t want to wait!

Let Me Tell You, Shirley Jackson. I have had a sudden urge to read all things Shirley Jackson. I’ve only read We Have Always Lived in the Castle (and of course “The Lottery,” in school). This seemed like an interesting second choice.

News of the World, Paulette Jiles. National Book Award Finalist. Western. You do the math.

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, Legs McNeil. You would never know it to look at me, but I love punk rock. For a music lover, I don’t do a lot of reading about music. I wouldn’t mind starting here.

A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles. I loved Rules of Civility so much, and everyone has had nothing but good things to say about this one. Number 52 on library hold list. See, “Do not want to wait.”

The Summer That Melted Everything, Tiffany McDaniel. Sounds like such gothic, twisty fun.

Here Comes the Sun, Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn. This novel about Jamaica has been on everybody’s best-of lists this year.

Nobody’s Fool/Everybody’s Fool, Richard Russo. I love Richard Russo and I plan to re-read Empire Falls this year. For some new Russo, I’d love to knock these out. Love his writing.

Novels, 1930-1942: Dance Night / Come Back to Sorrento / Turn, Magic Wheel / Angels on Toast / A Time to Be Born, Dawn Powell. Powell is a writer I have long been meaning to read. It would be great to start with this collection of some of her best works.

How about you? What’s on your wishlist?

Ten Books on My Fall TBR (Or, Getting My Diversity On)

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) asks us about books on our Fall TBR. I’ve had a particularly good reading experience so far this year. I haven’t been following any kind of plan. Typically a book pops into my head when I’m getting closer to the end of my current book, and that’s the one I pick up next. But sometimes, when we just follow our whims, we get caught in a rut. The kind of rut I’m talking about isn’t the kind where you don’t know what to read next and nothing satisfies. I’m talking about the exact opposite kind of rut—the kind that’s so easy, you never really think about getting out. It’s like having spaghetti for dinner every night (well, if you like spaghetti. I do. A lot.). It’s nutritious enough, satisfying, tasty. But probably you need a little variation, and you could pump up the nutrition a bit and still eat something yummy. Okay, enough with the food metaphors.

Basically, I had a pretty sad realization. When it comes to reading women authors, I do just fine. I’ve read 42 books so far this year, and 21 of them were by women (not counting the book I’m currently reading, which is also by a woman). But the diversity stops there. I’ve picked up exactly TWO books by by authors who aren’t white (Marlon James, Louise Erdrich). I have plenty of books on my TBR by non-white authors, so I have no excuse, really. Some of my choices were driven by picking up new books from authors I really like (Bonnie Nadzam, Megan Abbott, Maggie O’Farrell, Liz Moore, Ann Patchett). Some of my choices were driven by the fact that I like a good campus novel (The Headmaster’s Wife, The Pursuit of Cool, A Dual Inheritance). Some were driven by my desire to finally try and finish a series (The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay…Too much Ferrante for me all at once; I did not make it to book four). Some things, too many to mention, were just on sale, and some were physical books that have been sitting on my shelf for way too long.

So. Excuses, excuses. This needs to remedied. We all know I’m not great at reading from a list, but here are my top ten diverse reads for the fall, all picked from my current TBR or books I already own:

  1. Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, Sunil Yapa
  2. The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
  3. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates (I own this one)
  4. Family Matters, Rohinton Mistry
  5. The Turner House, Angela Flournoy (own this one)
  6. Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue
  7. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
  8. Slumberland, Paul Beatty (I know The Sellout is big this year  and up for the Booker, but I own Slumberland already)
  9. Long Division, Kiese Layman (another one I own)
  10. The Thief, Fuminori Nakamura (and another one I own)

I’m excited about all of these books, otherwise they wouldn’t be on my shelf/Kindle/TBR list. I know this list hardly makes a dent, and so many groups/nationalities aren’t even included. The thing is, it’s so easy not to pay attention, to pick up what everyone else is reading, to follow favorite authors, to stay in that comfy zone. Is this racism? I think probably it is. Not the kind that comes from a place of hatred or intentional exclusion, but certainly the insidious kind that comes from being very comfortable with seeing much of what you already know in the world reflected back at you and never thinking much about it. Time for me to wake up and fix it. This is a start.

Ten Books I Picked up on a Whim (Or Every Book I Ever Picked Up, Ever)

The thing about being a reader who has a (mostly neglected) book blog and a Twitter account where I follow all sorts of bookish accounts (book bloggers, critics, authors, publishers) is that it’s very, very difficult to avoid being influenced in some way when it comes to what I read. Everything on my TBR is something I’ve seen recommended somewhere else, however fleeting the recommendation might be. But almost everything I buy or pick up next is based on a whim (well, a whim based on a list). I rarely plan or schedule or commit (as evidenced by the blog) to anything except the very few authors whose books I will pre-order without question (Alice Munro, Tana French, Donna Tartt, and so on and so forth), and even the arrival of one of these titles doesn’t guarantee it will be my automatic choice for what to read next. Couple this tendency with my willingness to set any book aside that doesn’t grip me at the moment, and you can see, whim is where I live.

Let’s face it: I’m a freewheeling reader. Perhaps I should consider changing the blog name.

Instead of listing every book on my shelf (because that would be way more than 10), for today’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish), I thought I’d list the last ten books I bought, and the reason why (if I can remember it). Here goes:

Late One Night

Late One Night, Lee Martin. You may or may not have heard me sing the praises of Martin’s Pulitzer-nominated novel, The Bright Forever. Martin has a way with quiet moments in small-town America that renders them both universal and unforgettable.


Mongrels, Stephen Graham Jones. Okay, I’m not even going to pretend that horror is up my alley, or that I’m very well-versed in werewolf tales much beyond An American Werewolf in London. I read Jones’s Not for Nothing back in 2014, and let’s just say he has a way with story that makes me think this will be one of those genre-busting books for hardcore horror and literary fiction fans alike.

Mr. Splitfoot

Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt. It was on my TBR, and it was on sale for $2.99 on Kindle. That said, I don’t purchase every book on my TBR that comes up for sale, and I have to say this one was going to end up in my hands one way or another. It just sounds too deliciously unusual to ignore.

Wilde Lake

Wilde Lake, Laura Lippman. I have at least three unread Laura Lippman titles that I could have picked up to read, but instead I had to have Wilde Lake. Why? I read an interview where she mentioned that someone at a reading asked a question about her choice to write the book in alternating first and third person. I’ve been thinking a lot about novelistic structure lately and was so intrigued I felt like I had to read it. Right. Now. So I bought it and I read it and I still don’t know the answer to that question….but this is probably the best Lippman I’ve read, maybe ever.

Into the Darkest Corner

Into the Darkest Corner, Elizabeth Haynes. One of you told me to check out Elizabeth Haynes. It was Wendy at Musings of a Bookish Kitty, as a matter of fact! And this one was on sale and occasionally I do what I am told, so I bought it and will be checking it out. Eventually.

The Round House

The Round House, Louise Erdrich. I have been meaning to read this book for ages. Every time I read an interview with her, I am left with the feeling that I want to read all of her books. Maybe someday I will.

The Circular Staircase

The Circular Staircase, Mary Roberts Rinehart. Sarah Waters said this was one of her influences for writing The Little Stranger. Oh, when are we getting new Sarah Waters?

During the Reign of the Queen of Persia

During the Reign of the Queen of Persia, Joan Chase. Okay, rare instance where I cannot remember where I heard about a book, but it was one of those “I have to have this NOW” purchases through Better World Books. And of course I haven’t read it yet, but I hope to, very soon.

Wild Life

Wild Life, Molly Gloss. Because I loved The Jump-Off Creek, and also was interested in reading more books set in the American West just after I finished Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose.

The Last Child

The Last Child, John Hart. Um…I can’t remember why I bought this. Another used purchase from Better World Books. I have three of Hart’s titles on my TBR wishlist, so I picked one at random. Ta DAH!

So there you have it. What about you: do you plan your purchases? Is reading on a whim unusual for you?