It’s the week of lists and favorites as we prepare for the new year. As of right now, I’ve read 67 books and am hoping to hit 70 by the end of the year. I did a better job than in years past of balancing fiction and nonfiction reads. I also tracked my page goals and found that they matched up pretty well with the number of books I read. I feel like I read a lot of great books this year, probably because I’m learning to be pickier about what I choose and about dropping a book that I’m not connecting with. I thought I’d compile a list of my favorite reads of 2017, in case you were looking for a way to spend some gift cards. Most of these books have made it into other lists and references throughout the year but these are the ones worth mentioning again.
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey
This beautifully written novel follows the men of the first exploration to the interior of Alaska was well researched and thought-provoking. Ivey weaves maps, journal entries, and letters to tell the story of Alan and his new wife, Sophie, who is left behind in Washington as he leads a group of men on a harsh expedition. Ivey’s writing style is engaging and I’m thinking of starting 2018 with her earlier work, The Snow Child.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This is a book everyone should read. Following two half-sisters from Ghana, one who marries an English colonist and stays in Africa, the other who is sold into slavery in America, we see the history and repercussions of colonialism and slavery as each chapter flows into the next generation. The format is powerful as Gyasi points out the direct results of actions three hundred years ago to what is happening in modern society. I’m currently reading Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, which pairs well as a nonfiction account of laws and practices that have continued nearly two hundred years later.
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
These powerful short stories follow Vietnamese immigrants following the American war in Vietnam. Some stories take place right after the conflict; others are reflections twenty years later. As with powerful fiction, Nguyen is able to weave facts, history, and important commentary into his stories. Frank recently took my library copy of The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, which seems like a good pairing.
American War by Omar El Akkad
As with most dystopian novels, this one had parts that hit a little too close to home. But Akkad’s view of the future seemed plausible and, while I didn’t connect with any of the characters, I also had trouble putting the book down. It gave me a lot to think about without being too heavy-handed.
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
I will read anything written by Roxane Gay. Her subject matter is gritty and raw but these stories are important. However uncomfortable the topic, Gay reminds her readers that these stories are based on actual experiences. She doesn’t sugarcoat life and I always close her books feeling that I’ve gained empathy for the stories and struggles of others.
Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein
This book (and Orenstein’s TED Talk) has started a necessary conversation about how we’ll model and present healthy views of sex to our girls. It’s no shock that our culture needs an overhaul in how we treat women and deal with sexual misconduct. I don’t know the big answers to that, but I do know that I want to raise strong girls who have a healthy view of themselves and their sexual experiences. Girls and Sex was the starting point I needed.
Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour
My year has been marked by learning more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Blood Brothers was a good starting point. Written by a Melkite priest, Chacour’s family has lived in Galilee for centuries. This book reframed the conflict for me and added depth that is so often lost in the media’s portrayal of this seemingly two-sided issue. Paired with The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan, I’d recommend either book as a place to dig deeper into the stories of this region.
Adopted by Kelley Nikondeha
I had the honor of being on the launch team for Kelley’s powerful book but it’s one that has stayed with me. As an adoptee and mother of adopted children, Kelley brings her experience of adoption into her theological readings. Kelley digs into the sacrament of belonging – that Christianity is built on the idea of adoption and what that means in our relationships with God and one another.
Mending the Divides by Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart
Another book centered around Israel and Palestine, Huckins & Swigart dissect the story of the Good Samaritan in asking, Who is my neighbor? As they ask this question and center their search around peacemaking, they also give practical advice and help in creating peace from a grassroots level. They helped me look into my own family as a place to start working toward global peace.
I’ve been reading the following three books all fall and they are ones worth taking slow. I’ll read a chapter or two a day, sometimes leaving the book for a few days before picking it up again. This is not normally how I read and I’ve found it so rich and satisfying. As I look toward 2018, I want to be sure to keep some of these slow reads by my side.
The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
This memoir is one I’d recommend everyone read. When I read the news and wonder how we have created systemic injustice, Douglass answers those questions. His own story of life as a slave is powerful on its own but Douglass includes societal commentary that helps me understand how certain policies and practices were put in place and are still considered normal.
In the Sanctuary of Women by Jan L. Richardson
This book is worth reading just for Richardson’s reframing of the “sin of Eve.” Leading us through powerful women in church history, Richardson gives insight and blessings to help us on the way. Reading about the church mothers is a reminder to reach back in history and immerse my own experiences in the stories of those who have gone before.
This is Not a Border, edited by Ahdaf Soueif and Omar Robert Hamilton
These reflections and essays from the annual Palestinian Festival of Literature have been powerful and heartbreaking. Included are insights from Palestinians, Jewish authors, British and American artists, and other creatives who have participated in PalFest. Their insights and reporting into what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank have given faces and stories to an underrepresented people.
Of course, I have so many more favorite reads of this year – it was hard to narrow down! Check out my Goodreads shelves if you’re looking for other recommendations. In the past, I’ve set goals and made lists for my reading. This year, in taking over the Red Couch Book Club as well as some other projects and focuses, I’m not really sure how I’ll set and track my reading goals in 2018. I do know I want to read more women of color and will be more aware of how I choose the books I read.
What were your favorite books of 2017? How do you track your reading? Anything you’re looking forward to reading in the new year?