My 2017 Year in Reading: Highs, Lows, and Discoveries

I like to wait until the last possible minute to write a yearly roundup post, mostly as a way of justifying my procrastination, but also because I’m reading up to the last day and who knows what I’ll find? I’ll finish a book today, probably, but we can call the year done for all intents and purposes. So how was it?

Overall, despite the horribleness of the public year, my personal year was pretty good, especially on the reading front. Here, in no particular order, are my highlights, lowlights, and new discoveries.

HIGHS:

  • I found my reading mojo and read a lot of great books across a diverse set of categories. I discovered that the less I was online, the more I was reading and the better my concentration was. This meant I didn’t only seek refuge in comfort reads but also stretched myself with my reading choices. And it never felt like work. Reading for discovery is more important to me than reading for recognition, and when I’m out of balance I don’t get enough of what I want and need out of it.
  •  I completed two reading challenges and read more books than I have in ages. I finished the PopSugar Reading Challenge a month early (as opposed to the previous two years, where I either didn’t finish or had to fudge categories to finish). I completed the second tier of the Mount TBR Challenge (36 books), as opposed to last year where I completed the first tier of 24 books. And I read 103 books across all categories (text v. audio, regular novels v. manga/comics, different lengths of fiction, poetry).
  • I bought a new ereader and made Kobo my main ebook retailer. I linked my account to my favorite St. Louis independent bookstore (a wonderful store that is a terrific community resource) so I give them back a little with each purchase.
  • Reading various book awards longlists led me to vibrant discussions on Goodreads, so I reactivated my dormant account. And as a result I also found category romance readers and old friends. So when Twitter is dominated by talk about books I won’t ever read, I hop on over to Goodreads and get a whole different set of recommendations.

LOWS:

  • I’m still not reading many romance novels, and almost none of the ones that online Romanceland talks about the most. I’m reading categories, favorite authors, and backlist romances in my TBR that I bought and never got around to. I’ve tried a few of the authors whose books are always being recommended in my Twitter feed and DNF’d most of them. I’m happy for the people who enjoy them, but current romance trends aren’t for me at all. It means my Romance Twitter conversations are more limited, although I enjoy the ones I do participate in.
  • I realized how much the literary fiction online world is like the genre fiction online worlds, especially the US-centered part. While I enjoy the Tournament of Books in the spring, there is a certain style and topicality (both in terms of substance and it-book-factor) that tends to drive the choices, especially in the shortlist. In almost every award I followed this year, I vastly preferred the longlisted to the shortlisted books (Man Booker for sure, but also the National Book Awards in most of the categories). The TOB summer tournament gave me two successful reads, three negative or DNF reads, and one not-interested read. And in looking at the recent 2018 book recommendation lists, I see the same books over and over again. In the meantime, publishers put out amazing novels that barely get reviewed in the big online sites or traditional book review outlets.

DISCOVERIES:

  • I finally cracked the code of manga. Now when I open a manga volume I both read the text and see the art, and I get more out of both. I read a lot of Harlequin manga this year, but also classics like FullMetal Alchemist and Attack on Titan. And I discovered the beautiful manga of Kaoru Mori, reading the first volume of Emma and picking up the print version of A Bride’s Story.
  • I rediscovered the library with a vengeance. I’m lucky to have free access to three public libraries and I used them all, for print, audiobooks, and ebooks. I don’t usually get the most popular books right away, but I get them, and more often than not the books I want to read are available immediately or within a couple of weeks. I’ve waited four months for a book, too, but I’ve discovered that I don’t mind. If I don’t want to wait that long, I buy it. And since I’m using the library more, I have more freedom to buy when I want.
  • I discovered small publishers, enlarged my knowledge of translated fiction, and started paying attention to big award longlists and small awards. This really helped me address the discoverability problem and led me to wonderful novels that are not part of the NY/London Big Publisher marketing juggernaut, which tends to dominate review choices and what gets talked about. The Goldsmiths Prize and the Giller Prize in particular were awards I’d only vaguely heard about, and they gave me terrific reading experiences.

My most memorable reads, in chronological order:

  1. Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
  2. The Stand by Stephen King
  3. Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
  4. Version Control by Dexter Palmer
  5. Outline by Rachel Cusk
  6. Emma, Vol. 1 by Kaoru Mori
  7. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  8. Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
  9. Autumn by Ali Smith
  10. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
  11. Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
  12. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  13. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  14. A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
  15. A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume
  16. Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill
  17. A Natural by Ross Raisin

Most of these have reviews at my LibraryThing account if you want to read more about them, and I’ve written about them over the year here on the blog. It was a great reading year for me, so these aren’t the only good ones, but they’re the ones that have stayed with me.

Happy New Year! May 2018 be personally and collectively rewarding for us all.

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