I read 59 books last year which is quite amazing considering that I ‘only’ read 13 books in 2016, and I am still a bit in awe that I was able to execute my goal last year and really put some serious time and effort into reading again. It made my heart so very happy and it also means that I actually get to pick my favorite 10 books (out of many) for you this time around.
Here are my top 5 (in more detail) and below 5 more honorable mentions.
1. The Art of Racing in Rain by Garth Stein
This might have been my favorite book of all in 2017, just because I pretty much had no expectations and was surprised in such a positive way. I didn’t think that I would like a book that was narrated from the perspective of a dog, but it worked remarkably well.
The story is heartbreaking and tragic. Enzo is reporting his life story and the life story of his family. He uses first-person central narration when talking about his own feelings and reactions to things, but then he also uses the role of peripheral narrator when he’s talking about his family. Basically, Enzo is the center of his own story, but he’s a peripheral character in the story of the humans, which he’s also telling, which makes for some really interesting observations and insights.
2. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
You need to read this book. I am sure you’ve been told this many times from all the people who read it in 2017. The story touches on the very current topic of police violence against people of color and is told from the perspective of 16-year old Starr Carter, who was in the car with her childhood friend Khalil, when they got pulled over by police and Khalil got fatally shot. Starr experiences first hand the divide between black and white culture and the assumptions that are made and perpetuated about each other. Thomas’ writing is vivid and descriptive and very much underlines the fact that this is not a black-and-white issue (pun intended!), but a very complex problem that can only be solved by the willingness to listen to and really hear each other.
3. Madness by Marya Hornbacher
I loved this book. I have read a lot of books about mental illness, but none has moved me as much as this one. It is hard to understand mental illness, let alone to feel what it is like to be in midst of an episode. Marya does not only draw a clear picture of what it is like to live with her mental illness, but also how it affects the people around her. The best part of this book truly is the epilogue. Marya puts into perspective how her life will always be different from yours. Without trying to be all woe-is-me, she manages to evoke compassion and understanding for a situation that is so often met with stigma and prejudice. I will leave you with this (partial) quote.
“Some of the things I won’t do are things you take for granted; many of them are things I want to do, but can’t. This isn’t the end of the world. It’s just the way things are. Managing mental illness is mostly about acceptance – of the things you can’t do, and the things you must. […] There is grief for the years that slipped by, guilt at having hurt people, and for having needed so much and given so little for so long, regret about the goals I never attained. But there is also hope.”
4. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
I am always a little hesitant to read WWII novels (maybe because it still is such a ‘sensitive’ issue for us Germans), but I am also always intrigued by them. This book is about women in wartime, and it’s an interesting, moving portrait of the Nazi occupation of France and what this meant for all the women that were left behind. Abandoned by their father, who was broken by war and with life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have to find their own ways to cope and resist during the Nazi occupation. I loved Hannah’s writing style and couldn’t put this book down. I wanted to know what happened to Vianne and Isabelle and was rooting for their survival. I also loved the ending (if you pick up and read this book, you’ll find out why!).
5. The signature of all things by Elizabeth Gilbert
I am pretty confident when I say that this book isn’t for everyone. Some may find it too long, others may find parts too graphic, too detailed, or unnecessary. Some might find it downright boring. But personally, I loved this book and Elizabeth Gilbert is a very talented writer. I love books that combine a fictional life story (with a female heroine!) with historical context and events, scientific theories, relationships, and life struggles and this book has it all! The book speaks to the parts of us that desire order, reason, and evidence and those parts that want to embrace the opposite; faith, belief and unwavering optimism and hope. Especially the second half of the book kept me turning the pages and reading well into the night.
Honorable mentions (that also got 5 stars from me).
6. Me before you by Jojo Moyes
7. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
8. When breath becomes air by Paul Kalanithi
9. A tree grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
10. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
What was your favorite book in 2017? What is on your to-read list for 2018?
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