Yesterday I shared my Top 10 Non-Fiction Reads from 2017. Turns out, that was the easy list. I didn’t read nearly as much non-fiction so it was a lot easier to sort through my reads, rank them, and pick the top 10.
Today, I’m sharing my Top 10 Fiction Reads from 2017. This was a hard list to make because I really did read so many books that I enjoyed last year. Honestly, if I think about this list too much, I’ll probably rearrange the whole thing for the fifth time. So, here goes:
Top 10 Fiction Books I Read in 2017
Possession by A.S. Byatt
Hands down, my favorite fiction read of the year. I loved this book! The funny thing is that it was my third attempt at reading it. I first attempted to read it about 10 years ago and abandoned it about 50 pages in. Boring. I tried again at the recommendation of a friend about 5 years ago, but abandoned it about 100 pages in. Boring. But I hear raving reviews about it all the time from intelligent people whose reading taste I respect, so I gave it a go one more time. Third time’s the charm.
This time around, I finally saw Possession for the literary masterpiece it really is. It begins with a struggling scholar’s visit to the London Library where he finds drafts of a letter from the renowned Victorian poet, Randolph Henry Ash. The previously undiscovered letters lead him on a literary scavenger hunt of sorts. It’s a romance, between lovers, yes, but also between readers and the beautiful words that captivate them. There’s a mystery, thrilling enough to keep you turn pages and guessing right up to the end. And, dear heavens, it’s so masterfully written.
I really love this book. It’s a strong contender for “all-time favorite book” right now. I don’t know why it took three attempts for me to fall in love, but I’m glad I finally saw it through.
Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
This was the National Book Award winner for 2017 and in my humble opinion, it was the perfect choice. Although in some ways it’s a thoroughly modern book, it also reminded me so much of my favorite Gothic Southern writers like Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, and even Faulkner at times. It’s set in Mississippi and like the best Southern writers, tackles race relations, violence, and family history. But it’s more than just another book about race in the South, it’s brilliant. It’s a work of art as a piece of fiction, but also as a highly relevant social commentary.
I don’t want to say too much about this book, other than Read It! But here’s my hook: The book is dark – one of the narrators is a ghost. The bulk of the book takes place over the course of one day. Jojo and his toddler sister are accompanying their mother on the way to Parchman’s, a prison, to pick up their father. Every character has a lot at stake, which will keep you turning pages right to the very end. And at the end, if your experience is anything like mine, you will feel like Ward has given you a powerful, beautiful, important gift.
If you read this one and want to talk about it, tell me because I’m dying to keep talking about this one.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
I read this one a year ago, in January 2017, but I’m still thinking about it. This book, by a Ghana born author, is a rich, broad look at history, slavery, and colonialism in Ghana over the last 300 years. Each chapter spans a generation, linking characters and the reader to a history beginning in 18th century Ghana into the 20th century.
The characters are complex and the story feels personal, even as it travels through centuries. I came away with a much clearer understanding of how deep and broad the effects of slavery have been. Gyasi is a master storyteller! This was a really beautiful, ambitious book – highly recommend.
Autumn by Ali Smith
I’ve read all but 1.5 of the Man Booker nominees (I haven’t finished 4,3,2,1 yet because holy batman it’s long, and I haven’t read Elmet), but I do think that if I’d been on the panel, my vote would have gone to Autumn. This was just so delightful to read – charming even.
It’s a tricky book to describe, but I’ll say this – it’s a very literary book. And by that, I mean, you have to be an active reader to appreciate this one as the writing moves through time, space, poetry, and stream of consciousness. But it’s beautiful to read and I took away so many things from it. People call this a “post Brexit novel” and I think that’s fair – it does give a good portrait of England as it is right now. It also looks at the treatment and disregard of women in a way so relevant right now with all the sex scandals being exposed. My favorite story line though is the friendship and love between Daniel, an old man, and Elisabeth, who befriends him as a young child and he remains her best friend her whole life.
Between the covers here is a story that affirms what I do know to be true, love is the only thing that really matters.
The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard
This is the first in the Cazalet Chronicles (five book series) and I am seriously in deep love with these books (Thank you Jane for the stellar recommendation). It’s a British family saga that begins in 1937, on the eve of The War. These are pure pleasure to read. I haven’t read past the first and second books in the chronicles, but only because I don’t want it to end too fast – I’m holding myself back.
If you liked watching Downton Abbey, I feel pretty confident you’ll enjoy reading these books.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
First, I need to say that I would never recommend this book to anyone. I thought it was incredible, but it was so harrowing that I wouldn’t dare recommend it. The book is about a man who endured the most unspeakable childhood, the kind of trauma that breaks and scars a person for life. And while it’s also about love and true friendship, it is, no doubt, the most depressing book I have ever read in my life. I cried so many times while I read this book and then I full on sobbed through the ending. I don’t even think I can talk about this book now without it bringing tears to my eyes.
The emotional experience of this book alone made it unforgettable to me, but it’s also extremely well written. So, I don’t recommend it, but I’m so glad I read it.
Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
Top notch historical fiction, as I’ve come to expect from Brooks. Set on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in the 17th century, this book follows Bethia, a minister’s daughter and the son of a Wampanoag chieftan, who she comes to know as Caleb. They meet when they are twelve and become unlikely friends as Bethia’s father attempts to convert the Wampanoag tribes in the area.
I listened to the Penguin Audiobook version and it was fantastic.
Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Last year I included My Name is Lucy Barton on my top 10 list. This year, Strout made me a happy reader by releasing this companion book to Lucy Barton. In this book, we get to meet the people in Lucy Barton’s home town. Once again, it’s the humanity, honesty, and complexity of Strout’s characters that makes me fall so hard for her books. I did like My Name is Lucy Barton better than this one, but still, such a good read.
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
When Deming Guo is eleven years old, his mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, goes to work but never comes home. Deming ends up first in the foster care system in New York and is later adopted by an older white couple. This isn’t another “good immigrant” story – rather, Ko shows us just how messy and complicated and emotional it can be to be both Chinese and American and still not fit in anywhere.
Ko is a really good story teller and the pages turn themselves. I loved a different perspective on the immigrant story as well as Ko’s handling of race and identity issues. But I also really loved the story of the relationship between the mother and son. It was emotional and relatable in so many ways.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
It wasn’t until I started reading this book that I realized just how little I know about Korean history. This book follows one Korean family through history, beginning in the early 1900s. When Sunja, finds herself alone and pregnant, a shame to her family, a big hearted young minister marries her and takes her to Japan to begin a new life.
The family saga is a great read,but I really loved the historical backdrop. I learned so much about Korea and the fraught relationship between Japan and Korea. It was rich, detailed, and grand in its scope. Wonderful book!
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning that I thoroughly enjoy the Inspector Gamache books and read them all year long. I only have one book left in the series now and I’m trying to stop myself from reading it because my life is better when I have another Gamache book to look forward to.
Also, I didn’t include any Rumer Godden books on this list even though I’ve been reading her obsessively. The problem is that I couldn’t pick just one. So, Rumer Godden will have to be a list of its own at some point.
And last but not least, also very much enjoyed this year: The Dry (a new detective series not unlike Gamache), The Essex Serpent (in the same vein as Possession, and quite an intriguing mystery), Exit West (so relevant in these days of building walls and such), and the Lathe of Heaven (because I’d never read any LeGuin before and she really is a genius!).
Thank you for putting this list together! One of my goals for the year is to do more reading, and I’m always looking for good book recommendations.
And thank you for taking the time to comment! I love talking books and I hope you find a book you enjoy – I’d love to hear what you like, and even what you don’t like. Happy New Year.
Lynn D. says
I’m heading to the library right now with your list tucked in my pocket. I honestly don’t know how you have the time to read so much and so critically. To thank you for your list may I recommend two favorite authors. Bryan Doyle has written Martin Marten, Mink River, The Plover and others I haven’t read yet. Robin Wall Kimmerer has written Braiding Sweet Grass. She is Native American and a biologist. Also Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.
This makes me so happy! I read Lab Girl and I loved it (listened on audio), but I haven’t even heard of the other two authors you mentioned. I’m adding them to my library list right now. Thank you so much! I hope you find a book you enjoy from my list – I’d love to hear what you end up reading.