Top 10 books from 2017 and top 5 picks for 2018

2 Jan

As regular readers of this blog might know, my new year’s resolution two years ago was to read a book a week for that year (2016) – a resolution that has become a habit and a blog (http://dogearedman.wordpress.com); you can read fuller reviews of all the books I mention here on that blog. This year has been a busy one, so I’ve read a lot of relatively undemanding crime and police procedural thrillers that provide a bit of escapism and a neatness that real life cannot. In 2018, I’m hoping to up the quotient of non-fiction and literary fiction in the mix – and achieve an equal gender author split (I was a bit out this year with 28 books by men and 25 by women). Anyway, here’s my top 10 fiction and non-fiction from the year, and below that the five books I’m most looking forward to reading in the year ahead.

1) The Power by Naomi Alderman – loved this from start to finish; if you were to tell people it’s a ‘feminist’ novel, some might turn away and run for the hills, but it is thrilling, exciting, funny and challenges any number of preconceptions along the way. A must-read in post-Weinstein, #metoo times.

2) Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – it won the Booker prize, so I’m not exactly unveiling any shock recommendations here, but this was great. Genuinely unlike any other book I’ve read, and inventive and creative in the way I have come to enjoy from Saunders’ books of short stories (which I would also highly recommend).

3) My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – another book that made all the book of the year lists (last year and this year) and it’s a very quiet, unassuming, devastating story of a woman and her relationship with her mother. Insightful, troubling and moving in equal turns, it’s elegantly and sparely written but packs a real emotive punch.

4) A Beautiful Young Wife by Tommy Wieringa – a strange, evocative short novella from this Dutch author that stayed with me a lot longer than many others I read: beautifully crafted and enchanting in the way it details the breakdown and break-up of a marriage.

5) Home Fire: SHORTLISTED FOR THE COSTA NOVEL AWARD 2017Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie – just finished this, and it’s great: incredibly current, but with the force of Greek tragedy (it’s based around Sophocles’ Antigone), the novel revolves around the clashes between family and country, between loyalty and law, between the political and personal, and could only have been written in 2017. Crackles with energy to the last page.

[non-fiction now….]

6) Grit by Angela Duckworth – one for those who think hard work and commitment and persistence and resilience matter as much as disruption and (academic) intelligence and breakthrough innovation. Duckworth has taken a simple premise and dedicated a lifetime to testing out the theory in different ways, and has plenty of tips that are applicable – in everything from recruitment to schooling.

7) The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry – Perry is brilliant on male foibles, the crisis of masculinity, and on diagnosing the problems (and potential answers) to the situation we find ourselves in. I loved the TV series he made about this (and the associated series of artworks) and this is wonderful too. Read alongside Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Dear Ijeawale, a great series of pieces of advice to a friend on how to raise a feminist daughter, and Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, which is short, eloquent and rightfully angry.

8) The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich – a really unusual memoir which intermingles the author’s personal family story with the disturbing and troubling tale of a murder case she works on as a young lawyer. Fascinating detail about both families emerges, and though resolution remains distant, I found this unputdownable.

9) Utopia for Realistsby Rutger Bregman – it’s certainly felt like a year when we’ve needed some optimism and hope and ideas about how things can get better, and Bregman’s book is full of those. Universal Basic Income remains one of his key ones, but there are many more here to set the brain running: much food for thought, and it’s an inspiring read. (If you want to be thoroughly depressed, I’d suggest All Out War which lays out all the detail and story behind Brexit).

10) Hillbilly Elegy by J D Vance – heralded as giving the insight to how Trump got elected, this is a really interesting look at poor white hillbilly families in mid-America and the circumstances they are in (and how hard and difficult it is to escape them). It’s probably been a bit overhyped (I’m not sure how universal Vance’s story is), but it’s compelling stuff and paints a bleak picture of the heart of the USA.

For what it’s worth, if you’re interested, the best new crime writers I came across this year were Stav Sherez and Jane Harper; both worth your time on the commute / beach.


The five books I’m most looking forward to reading in 2018 are:


1) Age of Anger by Pankaj Mishra – this doesn’t look cheery but I hope it might help me understand the trends and motivations underlying a more divided world


2) Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Raceby Reni Eddo-Lodge – like Mishra’s book, this comes highly recommended by lots of different people


3) Post-Truth: How Bullshit Conquered the World by James Ball – this might already be out of date, but as the nature of communication (and communication channels) changes so quickly, the role of evidence, ‘truth’ and authenticity grows


4) Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine – I remember reading about this a while back, and it’s meant to be a great insight into the punk / music scene and the realities of life on the road.


5) Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant – all about resilience and what to do when Option A goes out of the window (in Sandberg’s case, when her husband died suddenly); I enjoyed (most of) Lean In and hopefully there will be some nuggets here

For those more interested in fiction, novels lined-up include The Party by Elizabeth Day, Man With A Seagull On His Head by Harriet Paige, Larkinland by Jonathan Tulloch, The Girls by Emma Cline and, for a crime fix, The Intrusions by Stav Sherez and a couple of Ruth Galloway mysteries by Elly Griffiths.

Have a great 2018 everyone.

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