Happy New Year, everyone!
I hope you’re all having an amazing 2018 so far! I’m going to start my 2018 by travelling back to 2017 for a second and listing my favourite reads of last year. I love doing this post, and as crazy as it is that 2018 has come so soon, I’m happy I get to talk to you all about my top reads of the year again. So, keep reading to see which books I enjoyed the most in 2017. Make sure you let me know in the comments your top 3 books of 2017!
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
This was actually a re-read, but I definitely appreciated this short story much more the second time around. Perhaps this is because I read this short story in preparation for a discussion group session based on this text – this definitely made me consider what I was reading much more, and allowed to access alternate interpretations. Thus, this book made my top 17 of the year! Woohoo!
Based on the author’s own experiences, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is the chilling tale of a woman driven to the brink of insanity by the ‘rest cure’ prescribed after the birth of her child. Isolated in a crumbling colonial mansion, in a room with bars on the windows, the tortuous pattern of the yellow wallpaper winds its way into the recesses of her mind.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was America’s leading feminist intellectual of the early twentieth century. In addition to her masterpiece ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, this new edition includes a selection of her best short fiction and extracts from her autobiography.
Letters from Medea by Salma Deera
I read this collection of poems towards the beginning of 2017, so I don’t remember well what it consisted of. However, I do remember how it made me feel: empowered, strong, proud to be female. These are the kinds of texts we need more of. These are the poetry collections I love.
A collection of poems that reincarnates one of the most wicked women in classical literature into the modern day. It is a collection that celebrates and understands girlhood, loss, and love. These are Medea’s letters to the modern girl.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I read this novel for school, and so – much like The Yellow Wallpaper – I have had ample chance to consider meaning and construct much more than usual. I definitely think the beauty of Gatsby lies in the nuances, not the surface meaning, and so I am so glad to have explored this text in depth.
Jay Gatsby is the man who has everything. But one thing will always be out of his reach. Everybody who is anybody is seen at his glittering parties. Day and night his Long Island mansion buzzes with bright young things drinking, dancing, and debating his mysterious character. For Gatsby—young, handsome, and fabulously rich—always seems alone in the crowd, watching and waiting, though no one knows what for. Beneath the shimmering surface of his life he is hiding a secret: a silent longing that can never be fulfilled. And soon this destructive obsession will force his world to unravel.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This book is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever read. If you like historical fiction, this book is definitely the one for you. Even if you don’t, this book is definitely worth your time.
Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
This book was unexpectedly enjoyable, not only because it was well written, had well-developed characters, and an intriguing plot, but because it challenged me. I found some parts difficult to understand or didn’t completely grasp references, but research into these illuminated the text into something more complex and beautifully written than I could have imagined.
Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it ﬁrst appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting inﬂuence, he responded that there is, in fact, “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.” Just a few years later, the book and the aesthetic/moral dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde’s homosexual liaisons, which resulted in his imprisonment. Of Dorian Gray’s relationship to autobiography, Wilde noted in a letter, “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.”
Room by Emma Donoghue
I expected this book to be tedious because it is told from the perspective of a child. In actuality, it was anything but. Reading from an infantile perspective put me in an unexpected position: suddenly I had the same understanding of everything as a 5-year-old, and I had to piece the story together myself. I loved that. I loved that nothing was clear in this book, and everything could actually be something else. Emma Donoghue is a talent to have written something so amazingly complex in such a simple and elegant manner.
To five-year-old Jack, Room is the entire world. It is where he was born and grew up; it’s where he lives with his Ma as they learn and read and eat and sleep and play. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits.
Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it is the prison where Old Nick has held her captive for seven years. Through determination, ingenuity, and fierce motherly love, Ma has created a life for Jack. But she knows it’s not enough…not for her or for him. She devises a bold escape plan, one that relies on her young son’s bravery and a lot of luck. What she does not realize is just how unprepared she is for the plan to actually work.
Told entirely in the language of the energetic, pragmatic five-year-old Jack, Room is a celebration of resilience and the limitless bond between parent and child, a brilliantly executed novel about what it means to journey from one world to another.
The Trees by Ali Shaw
I picked this book up on a whim. Never did I think I would enjoy it so much. Never did I think it would be so well-written, so thought-provoking, so unique. If you enjoy unique apocalyptic novels, I highly recommend The Trees.
There is no warning. No chance to prepare.
They arrive in the night: thundering up through the ground, transforming streets and towns into shadowy forest. Buildings are destroyed. Broken bodies, still wrapped in tattered bed linen, hang among the twitching leaves.
Adrien Thomas has never been much of a hero. But when he realises that no help is coming, he ventures out into this unrecognisable world. Michelle, his wife, is across the sea in Ireland and he has no way of knowing whether the trees have come for her too.
Then Adrien meets green-fingered Hannah and her teenage son Seb. Together, they set out to find Hannah’s forester brother, to reunite Adrien with his wife – and to discover just how deep the forest goes.
Their journey will take them to a place of terrible beauty and violence, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness inside themselves.
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
I studied The Taming of the Shrew at school last year and decided to watch/read this play in order to develop my understanding of Shakespearean comedy. However, what began as work evolved into enjoyment. I loved reading this play and enjoyed watching it even more. I watched the 2002 Shakespeare’s Globe all-male cast version, which was so hilarious, and so well adapted – I highly recommend this version if you haven’t seen it before!
Set in a topsy-turvy world like a holiday revel, this comedy devises a romantic plot around separated twins, misplaced passions, and mistaken identity. Juxtaposed to it is the satirical story of a self-deluded steward who dreams of becoming “Count Malvolio” only to receive his comeuppance at the hands of the merrymakers he wishes to suppress. The two plots combine to create a farce touched with melancholy, mixed throughout with seductively beautiful explorations on the themes of love and time, and the play ends, not with laughter, but with a clown’s sad song.
Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare
I was anticipating this release from the moment I put down Lady Midnight. This book definitely didn’t disappoint. I love delving back into the Shadowhunters world, and Clare makes it as easy as simply falling asleep. This book was action packed, with characters I cared about so much, and plots I was invested in. If you’ve read any of Clare’s other Shadowhunter books, but have not started this series yet, I highly recommend it.
Would you trade your soul mate for your soul?
A Shadowhunter’s life is bound by duty. Constrained by honor. The word of a Shadowhunter is a solemn pledge, and no vow is more sacred than the vow that binds parabatai, warrior partners—sworn to fight together, die together, but never to fall in love.
Emma Carstairs has learned that the love she shares with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, isn’t just forbidden—it could destroy them both. She knows she should run from Julian. But how can she when the Blackthorns are threatened by enemies on all sides?
Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes
Earlier this year, I got the opportunity to stay in one of Ted Hughes previous residences. Never before had I actually read Hughes’ work, but this was the perfect opportunity to do so. I read a few of his poems, and the anthology Crow, but nothing really touched me like Birthday Letters. This collection is so emotionally charged, I couldn’t read more than three poems in one session. I was so touched by the depth and tenderness to Hughes’ writing paired with the stark and frank quality of his writing. This anthology just gets better and better as you read through it, providing poems to accompany what we already know about Hughes, and of course his first wife Plath: there are poems about Cambridge, about their marriage, about their relationship in general. In short, this is a beautiful poetry collection.
The poems in Birthday Letters are addressed (with just two exceptions) to Plath, and were written over a period of more than twenty-five years, the first a few years after her suicide in 1963. Some are love letters, others haunted recollections and ruminations. In them, Hughes recalls his and Plath’s time together, drawing on the powerful imagery of his work–animal, vegetable, mythological–as well as on Plath’s famous verse.
Countless books have discussed the subject of this intense relationship from a necessary distance, but this volume–at last–offers us Hughes’s own account. Moreover, it is a truly remarkable collection of poems in its own right.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
I love historical fiction, but never before have I read anything about the circus. This is historical fiction with a completely new and unique background which I enjoyed exploring just as much as the plot and characters. This book is action-packed from start to finish and contains characters you really begin to care about. You may have heard of the movie starring Robert Pattinson and Reece Witherspoon, but this story is best enjoyed on paper (or e-reader). Loved it!
An atmospheric, gritty, and compelling novel of star-crossed lovers, set in the circus world circa 1932, by the bestselling author of Riding Lessons.
When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, drifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.
Beautifully written, Water for Elephants is illuminated by a wonderful sense of time and place. It tells a story of a love between two people that overcomes incredible odds in a world in which even love is a luxury that few can afford.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
A lot of people asked me why I was reading this novel. It’s about paedophilia, isn’t it?
Well, yes. Yes, it is. But it also isn’t. This book is about so much more. I actually wrote a post about why you shouldn’t be put off reading Lolita last year (still weird to say!), which you can read here.
The book also offers a lot more understanding and depth to the characters than the movie – the movie doesn’t do Nabokov’s work justice!
Humbert Humbert – scholar, aesthete and romantic – has fallen completely and utterly in love with Lolita Haze, his landlady’s gum-snapping, silky skinned twelve-year-old daughter. Reluctantly agreeing to marry Mrs Haze just to be close to Lolita, Humbert suffers greatly in the pursuit of romance; but when Lo herself starts looking for attention elsewhere, he will carry her off on a desperate cross-country misadventure, all in the name of Love. Hilarious, flamboyant, heart-breaking and full of ingenious word play, Lolita is an immaculate, unforgettable masterpiece of obsession, delusion and lust.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
I have a lot of feelings for this book. I don’t really know how to explain it without spoiling the book, so I’ll say this: if you enjoy books concerned with mental health, cast everything you know about this genre aside, and read The Bell Jar. If you don’t, read The Bell Jar, anyway.
We follow Esther Greenwood’s personal life from her summer job in New York with Ladies’ Day magazine, back through her days at New England’s largest school for women, and forward through her attempted suicide, her bad treatment at one asylum and her good treatment at another, to her final re-entry into the world like a used tyre: “patched, retreaded, and approved for the road” … Esther Greenwood’s account of her year in the bell jar is as clear and readable as it is witty and disturbing.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I’ve been a feminist for many years now, but sometimes I find it difficult to explain why. How can you explain an inherent desire for equality? I struggle to even comprehend the other side of the argument. Adichie puts my thoughts into words. If you’re a feminist, read this. If you’re not, read this: be open to this perspective – it’s really worth considering.
With humor and levity, here Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century—one rooted in inclusion and awareness. She shines a light not only on blatant discrimination, but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world, in order to help readers of all walks of life better understand the often masked realities of sexual politics. Throughout, she draws extensively on her own experiences—in the U.S., in her native Nigeria, and abroad—offering an artfully nuanced explanation of why the gender divide is harmful for women and men, alike.
Argued in the same observant, witty and clever prose that has made Adichie a bestselling novelist, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman today—and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.
The Colossus and Ariel by Sylvia Plath
Jumping back to Plath, her poetry also made the list! There’s a special place in my heart for Plath’s poetry. I love it so much I even based my coursework for English Literature on it! Ariel is Plath’s best-known work, so if you’ve read this but not The Colossus, get on that ASAP!
First published in 1960, The Colossus was Sylvia Plath’s debut collection of poems and marked the arrival of a major new talent.
‘She steers clear of feminine charm, deliciousness, gentility, supersensitivity and the act of being a poet. She simply writes good poetry. And she does so with a seriousness that demands only that she be judged equally seriously. . . There is an admirable no-nonsense air about this; the language is bare but vivid and precise, with a concentration that implies a good deal of disturbance with proportionately little fuss.’ A. Alvarez, Observer
‘It shows what a remarkable talent she already possessed and is a very satisfying volume in its own right.’ Bernard Bergonzi, Guardian
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
I think this book ranks so highly because it was unexpectedly good. I’d never read anything by Ishiguro before I read this, and so I didn’t know at all what to expect. I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. This book captivated me from start to finish, and I left with a lot of questions: not just about the book, but society in general.
As a child, Kathy–now thirty-one years old–lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.
And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed–even comforted–by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.
A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance–and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
I think about this book a lot. I have recommended it to reams of people. All have come back satisfied but changed. This book completely changed my perspective on so many things, and I find there are now two versions of myself: before I read this, and after. This is such a beautiful, unforgettable, touching novel. Those adjectives don’t do it justice. If you leave this post with one book you want to read, let it be this one.
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.
When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?
Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.
And that’s it, that’s everything – all of my favourite books of last year. I really hope you enjoyed this post!
Tell me in the comments what your top book of 2017 was!