2017 book list

When I write down a title, I jot down a couple notes to remind myself what I thought of the book. This, it turns out, is fortunate because many times — even though I read the book less than a year ago — I can not, for the life of me, remember anything, not the characters, not the setting, not the plot. Sometimes I don’t even remember the book itself. Am I losing my mind?

*The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss. Lovely and rich, but it left me confused. I felt like there were lots of pieces that should fit together but didn’t.

*Tiny, Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life by Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed. At first I loved the book, but towards the end I tired of the grinding details and reverted to skimming.

*Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal. A light, fun read.

*In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, by Neil White. I quit about halfway through: lack of plot.

*The Clean House, by Sarah Ruhl. A play: entertaining and fun.

*The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. Fast-paced, but shallow and slightly dull.

*A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression, by Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe. Some parts were fascinating, but much of it I skimmed.

*The Woman Said Yes: Encounters with Life and Death, by Jessamyn West. Interesting stories — I learned an awful lot about tuberculosis! — but the book seemed poorly edited and organized.

*Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J. D. Vance. After all the the hype, I expected more…

*Are You Anybody?, by Jeffrey Tambor. A pleasant read about an interesting (but difficult, I imagine) person. Bonus: I gleaned some helpful acting tips and perspectives.

*Anything Is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout. Quiet and meandering, exquisitely written.

*A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. Absolutely splendid! My husband loved it, too. And then we watched the movie and thoroughly enjoyed it. (And my husband, who hates slow movies, got a huge kick out of it, probably because Ove reminds him of himself.) (ALSO, the engagement scene is ours completely: car, parking lot, averted gaze, etc. The only thing missing in the movie version is the turkey plant/factory in the background.)

*The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue. Quite good, and the ending was superb.

*Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub. Lightweight, but entertaining.

*Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg: Facing Adversity, Building Resiliance, and Finding Joy. My world wasn’t rocked, but I appreciated some of her perspectives.

*You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, by Sherman Alexie. A wonderful book — enchanting writing style and enlightening (and hard) subject matter. Even so, I felt like the book was about a hundred pages too long.

*Books for Living: Some Thoughts on Reading, Reflecting, and Embracing Life, by Will Schwalbe. What a fun read! I loved the format: a memoir stemming from the books he’s read. Bonus: the book provided a good bit of read-aloud material to share with the family at the supper table. 

*The King is Always Above the People, by Daniel Alarcon. A collection of engaging, and slightly strange, short stories.

*Turtles All The Way Down, by John Green. It’s a best seller for a reason! I inhaled this book in one day, on our trip home from Tennessee. One of my favorites for the year.

*Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Eegan. Well-written, but the story didn’t suck me in.

*Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward. Fascinating subject matter, but a bit odd.

*Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich. Supremely excellent … until the final section when the author’s tone changed from realistic and believable to dreamy-weird. The change was so jarring (and so crushingly disappointing because the story was so good — if nothing else, read it for the seven-page birth scene) that it made me wonder if Erdrich simply got sick of writing the story and decided to quit. Um, Editor? Hello???

*The Rules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy. A fast read, engaging and well-written.

What memorable, life-changing, page-turning books did you read this year? What are you reading right now? (Currently, I’m reading two books — The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott and Where the Past Begins by Amy Tan — and I have a couple other books in my queue for when those are done, but after that I’ll be casting about for suggestions, so … help?!)

P.S. Book Lists of 2016, 2015, and 2014.

This same time, years previous: 2016 garden stats and notes, remembering Guatemala, our apocalypse, tamales, eggnog, throwing it down.


  • Becky

    I did a lousy job of keeping track of what I read this year. I did read Hillbilly Elegy (meh), a Julian Fellows book in which he yet again has it out for a character he called Edith (what is it with him and that name? An Edith must have done him wrong), "If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of The Home" that was quite fascinating and a whole bunch of other books I seem to have forgotten.
    I'm pondering keeping better track this year. I spent yesterday sorting through the piles of books around my bedroom and this is the year I'm going to read some of the ones that have been sitting there for eons.

  • Anonymous

    I am reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas right now. It is so timely. I also thoroughly enjoyed The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.

  • Melodie Davis

    This past year I especially enjoyed Personal History by Katharine Graham (if you're planning to see The Post, you would also enjoy this book. I could loan you my copy). Also The Day the Angels Fell by Shawn Smucker would be something I think you'd enjoy, along with your older kids. It is geared to the young adult audience. I'd also be happy to loan you it.

  • Anonymous

    I am also an avid reader. Here are a few of my fave new reads from 2017:

    Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
    Delicious! A Novel by Ruth Reichl
    Still Alice by Lisa Genova
    All the Light Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
    Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood
    A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
    Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

    Oldie, but Goodie rereads:

    Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
    The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
    Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

    Foodie books:

    One Hour Cheese by Claudia Lucero (?)

    I enjoy your blog! Happy New Year!

  • Athanasia

    2 titles I am adding to be read off your above list are the A SQUARE MEAL… and KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST. The latter I have heard about before but had forgotten the title.

  • Athanasia

    Happy New Year.

    These are the books I would recommend…

    4 out of 5 stars. Long but interesting all the way '

    LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng 5 out of 5 stars. Oh so
    good. The character development is amazing.

    Sullenberger 5 our of 5 stars. We had seen the movie
    at an airshow and it was very good. The book is some
    what different from the movie but gives all the ins and
    out also of the airline industry.

    TRAVELLING LIGHT by Lynne Branard 4 out of 5 stars A fun book
    that I picked up off library display.

    THIMBLE SUMMER by Elizabeth Enright. 4 out of 5 stars. Children's
    book bought for 25 cents at the library used book sale.
    Takes place during the depression in Wisconsin. I
    always like local author books.

    FBI by David Grann 4 out of 5. Very detailed,
    interest holding documentary book. Had just seen the
    old movie, THE FBI STORY with Jimmy Stewart which
    covered this same topic.

    MAGPIE MURDERS by Anthony Horowitz 5 out of 5 stars. Written in
    the style of classic murder mysteries. We enjoy the
    TV series FOYLE'S WAR and Anthony Horowitz the creator/

    MOUSENET series of 3 books by Prudence Breitrose. 4 out of 5 stars.
    Children's series about mice and computers and kids.

    CINNAMON MOON by Tess Hilmo 5 out of 5 stars. Story of orphans of
    the Peshtigo Fire (Wisconsin) and their resilience
    to survive.

    THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP by Joanna Cannon 5 out of 5 stars.
    Two little girls in England, 1970's, set out to solve a
    neighborhood mystery, look for God (the title is a
    reference to how they interpreted the minister's sermon)

    I did read 2 books inspired by mentions on your blog…

    MANHATTAN BEACH by Jennifer Egan 3 out of 5 stars. I enjoyed
    the historical details but did not care for any of the
    characters or some of the (criminal, immoral) situations.

    AGNES OF GOD by John Pielmeier 1 out of 5 stars I did not
    understand it or like anything about it. It just felt
    so mean. I read it as you were originally going to
    be in the play.

    I read 170 books in 2017.

  • miriamp

    I just read All The Light We Cannot See. It was very intense, I could only read about 75 pages at a time before I needed to take a break. The end was not as satisfying as I would have hoped but it was still amazing.

    • Athanasia

      I listened to that book on Chapter a Day on the public radio. It was very good, but breaking it up into segments is easier, as you say.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Oh my word—I read that, too (and have now ammended the list). Can't believe I forgot it because I LOVED that book! (Have you seen the movie? SO GOOD.)

  • Ernie

    I read 'A Long Walk to Water'. My kids read it at school. Very quick read. Reminded me of the movie 'The Good Lie'. It was eye opening. I'm always looking for something good to read. Thanks for the suggestions.

  • Laurel Delp

    I frequently visit your blog though we've never physically met. I knew Gina Clymer from my childhood and somehow or another stumbled upon her blog one day and in clicking around, discovered your blog. As you are both superb writers, I often check in to see what you're writing about. I would suggest "The Waiting" by Cathy LaGrow. Not only could I not put it down, it stayed with me for days as I digested it. It was an amazing and heartfelt biography of the author's grandmother.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Thank you for introducing yourself, Laurel! I love hearing readers' backstories—it shrinks the world in a sweet, cozy way. xo!

  • Gigi

    You aren't losing your mind…I frequently forget about a book I've just read because I've moved on to something else. It drives my son mad – I'll tell him "You MUST read this!" And then I can't tell him why. I can't remember (obviously) any of the books I've read this year that I've loved but I appreciate your list because I haven't read (I don't think) any of these.

  • mommychef

    Rabbit; The Autobiography of Ms Pat. Loved it….lots of swearing but really fascinating look into another life that I will never experience. Also, a powerful reminder of the power you have as a parent/teacher/person for shaping young lives.
    My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout. Loved…heartbreakingly spare but beautiful.
    This Is Not My Life by Diane Schoemperlen. A memoir of her 6 year relationship with an inmate…wow….could not put it down. My kids ran all over the airport while I was travelling and I could not look up for pages.
    The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve. She tells a great story.
    Happy reading!

    • Jennifer Jo

      Oh yes, I read (and loved) Anything Is Possible, too (but somehow missed writing it down).

      Thanks for the other recommendations!

    • Unknown

      I've also fallen in love with Elizabeth Strout's writing this year (stayed up way too late last night reading Abide With Me).

      I'm a fan of these reviews because you articulate so succinctly what's working in these books, and what might make them frustrating or not worth continuing for you. I often struggle to put my finger on what I don't like or even what I love about a book, and your short reviews have helped me identify some of those elements (clearly, I wasn't an English or Lit major!).

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