I present to you my “Best Books of 2017” list, as always with the huge caveat that very few of the books were actually published in 2017; they’re simply my favorite books I read during the year. Like a failed game of Simon, this list is out of sequence.
The Stand by Stephen King – The Stand is one of the longest books I’ve ever read, and I didn’t even read the complete and uncut edition, which is somehow over 200 pages longer. At 1,153 pages, it’s a full-on multi-week reading event, but not a bad one, like an airborne toxic event; it’s highly enjoyable, like the Airborne Toxic Event. Laws yes,
Tom Cullen loved this one. The apocalyptic plot takes its time developing, as we get a picture of life both pre- and post-near-humanity-eradicating supeflu, but the tale of good vs. evil and all that comes with such a faceoff is never anything but compelling, even if the ending goes a little deus ex machina. Most compelling of all with The Stand, as is the case with most King novels, are the characters. I spent hundreds of pages getting to know them, to love and hate them, to care for them, and at the end I still wanted more.
About a Boy by Nick Hornby – About a Boy was my second dose of Nick Hornby after reading High Fidelity last year, and it solidified Hornby’s quickly (and completely deservedly)-earned spot as one of my favorite authors. This story about the unlikely friendship between an overly contented man-child and a desperately uncool child-man is simultaneously hilarious and uncomfortably real in its treatment of relationships, growing up, and whether we should really care about the frivolous stuff we care about.
The Boy on the Bridge by M.R. Carey – The sort-of sequel (it takes place in the same world but is more of a prequel) to The Girl With All the Gifts, The Boy on the Bridge gives us more hungry (Romero forbid anyone ever just come out and call them zombies) action with a seemingly doomed military/research expedition through a bleak apocalyptic landscape to try to uncover any shred of discoverable hope for mankind. The uniqueness of Carey’s
zombie hungry universe isn’t as apparent in this book, which knocks it a peg below TGWATG for me, but it still packs enough intelligence, tension, and insight into human nature to score my seal of approval. Fans of the first novel will really dig, and possibly freak over, the epilogue.
Strange Weather by Joe Hill – The latest release from Joe Hill, or “Stephen King, Jr.” as I’m sure he (doesn’t) like to be called, is a collection of four short (100 page-ish each) novels. It delivers tales of a memory-draining Polaroid, a questionable gun-toting hero, a reluctant sky diver who accidentally lands on a UFO, and a deadly, needle-y rain. Hill’s concepts are killer and make for highly readable plots, but what makes these winning stories is the fact that Hill shares his father’s gift for characterization. Cool stories almost always mean nothing if the reader can’t be made to give some semblance of a hoot about the characters that drive them, and Hill knows this. If forced to choose a favorite, I’ll go with “Loaded,” which is about the aforementioned questionable hero and deals with the tricky issue of gun access/control/reverence.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman – For a book about a man who aims to and repeatedly attempts to kill himself, this one was somewhat surprisingly an absolute delight. The titular Ove seemingly hates everyone and everything and has lost what he considers to be his reason for living, but thanks to a band of quirky neighbors and a cat (woot), his curmudgeonly ways are challenged as he and the reader are given much to consider about life, death, and purpose. A heartwarming, humorous read.
Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977 – 2002 by David Sedaris – If the idea of reading someone else’s diary doesn’t sound appealing to you, I would normally agree, but as I’ve stated in this space before, when it comes to Sedaris, anything he puts out is worth consuming. As the title indicates, this book isn’t his typical collection of essays, but is rather a selection of Sedaris’s personal diary entries spanning his early 20s to his mid 40s. The bleakness and scattershot nature of the early entries may turn some readers off, as may the general lack of polish (these are diary entries as opposed to carefully constructed and edited essays, after all), but Sedaris’s ability to provide poignant comedic insight on even the most everyday of occurrences and topics is always a small wonder to behold. This is a must for Sedaris fans and an eventual must for everyone, but newbies may be better served starting with one of his essay collections.
It by Stephen King – Because reading one colossal Stephen King tome this year wasn’t enough, I just had to read It as well, in part because I wanted to be prepared for the remake of the movie, but mostly because it’s something I felt I simply had to read as a Kingophile. I don’t know how he does it, but King seems to have somehow bottled the childhood experience and can expertly conjure and release its essence onto the page at will. I’ve said before that King’s writing often makes me nostalgic for a time I never lived, and the kids of the “Loser’s Club” in their 50s Maine world certainly had that effect on me. All that sadistic clown business I’m glad to have not experienced, sure, though it was gripping to read about. Man, what a buildup. The ending is a little iffy and frankly, weird, but It is overall a reading experience undoubtedly worth having.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – I’ve now read three Liane Moriarty novels, and my favorite thing about her is her knack for being genuinely funny while writing about truly horrible things. One Goodreads reviewer called Big Little Lies “probably the funniest book about murder and domestic abuse I’ll ever read,” which in a way is an awful sentiment, but readers will find that it’s pretty accurate. Not that Moriarty doesn’t treat such serious issues with the gravity they deserve; she does, and her intentions are in the right place. My advice is embrace the dark humor, savor the characters, and lose yourself in page-turning fervor. Then, watch the excellent TV show adaptation.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – As we reach the third apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic book on this list, you may be sick of hearing about them and/or think there’s something wrong with me. To that I say, “Trust me, just hear me out” and “Prove it,” respectively. If you read just one book from this list about the collapse of humanity (or even just one book from this list, period), I recommend you make it Station Eleven, even *gasp* over The Stand, as Station Eleven offers the most elegant, affecting, melancholic-yet-hopeful exploration of humanity of the bunch, and of most bunches, I’d wager. The motto of the novel’s Traveling Symphony, “Because survival is insufficient,” is something I now aspire to live by.
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green – My YA reading has dipped dramatically in recent years (a drop that has not-so-coincidentally coincided with my steady march away from young adulthood firmly into young-looking adulthood), but I couldn’t pass up the new book by ma dude John Green, the man who masterfully writes teenage characters who come fast and furious with the Amy Sherman-Palladino-esque witty repartee and wise-beyond-their-years philosophizing. If you’re up for deft depiction of anxiety and a story that’s light on plot but heavy on musings about life and meaning in this crazy ol’ universe of ours, give it a read, regardless of your adulthood status.