To be honest, I’ve been thinking of this list the entire year as I’ve gone from one book to the next; like the books themselves, it is something that I have been able to focus on that was anything outside of the rolling national panic attack that has been our reality almost the entirety of 2017. Lists are by their very nature ordered, and with a brain like mine, one that is overwhelmed by the simplest daily tasks, what Marcum calls the Daily Business of Life, any order imposed upon it is welcome.
I had started to keep count of the books I read this year, my goal being 40. After about four I tried to willfully forget and by eight or so, I had. This reminds me of when we would watch slide presentations in grade school and at the right hand bottom corner of each slide was a number; I would challenge myself, while watching the presentation, to lose track of those numbers. This wasn’t always easy but it was another example of the focusing of my obsessive mind on a single focal point or idea, even though not looking at that bottom right hand corner always caused me undue anxiety… when I remembered I was avoiding it. All of that being said, I lost count of the books I read this year. But safe to say it was a constant presence in my life from Jan 1 – Dec 31, perhaps the only constant in my life besides fear, and I know for a fact I could not move forward each day without books.
The verdict: Another great year of reading, but I suppose that’s to be suspected. I am someone who lives among small piles portending larger piles and is not able to quite organize my life into something conventional, and I do firmly believe the reason for that is because I spend so much of my time thinking about, reading, talking about (if I’m lucky) and looking at books. I wander my apartment each night and as long as my books are in some sort of order, I don’t have the compunction to put up a framed picture of a fish or tree in my bathroom to stare at when I shit. The book I’m reading will do just fine, thank you very much.
Anyway, here’s the list of the ten best books I read this year. Well, with one caveat. I seem to have forgotten a number of books I’ve read this year. Should those books be in front of me, I would remember (I hope), but I moved and got rid of a lot of books and therefore am a tad scattershot when it comes to recalling what books I read in 2017. Some of these, like the top four specifically, I had no trouble recalling and thought of often throughout the year. I need to perhaps push my memory hubris into the backseat and pull out a notebook, and like Nick, keep track of each book I read. This will cause a direct conflict with my goal of not keeping count of how many books I’ve read; but if I have learned anything in life, it’s that no one thing, or idea, or emotion is ever really about just one thing.
They are in order, from 10-1, 1 being the highest ranked and therefore, the best.
10. Dreamland by Sam Quinones
I like to sometimes think I’d like to research a subject and then write a book about it. I wouldn’t really know where to begin, but this book is a great example of excellent research and reporting, all about the opiod crisis. I learned a lot.
9. Riding Towards Everywhere by William T Vollmann
Do you remember that shitty 90s action movie Conspiracy Theory? In that film, Mel Gibson’s character has to buy a copy of Catcher in the Rye anytime that he sees it; that’s me with William T Vollmann books. I own 15; this was the first I have read. I have issues I need to address.
8. The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Laing
Did you know writers drink? Like a lot. The prose in this book is fucking great. And if you ever think you have been drinking too much, please read the section in this book on Raymond Carver.
This came out in 2016 and is full of information that helps explain, at least partly, our current political climate. If you are curious about why the tax bill contained what it did or never want to shop at Menards again, I would advise reading this book. Very well written and informative. Also, it’s funny to read about the Koch brothers squabbling.
6. I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
My dad reads more books than I do in a year, but we rarely read the same books. He loves thrillers whereas I will only read those sparingly. However, I had heard about this book over the last couple of years and finally picked up a copy at a used bookstore in central IL in August. I set to reading it and while it took me about 100 pages to get into it, after that I was reading it pretty much non stop. I then told my dad about the book and he picked it up and loved it!
5. The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow
This book is beyond intense. It’s a very bleak look at the war on drugs. I had been seeing a number of reviews for its sequel, The Cartel, and when I went to purchase that book, I found this book and saw it was published before and then hemmed and hawed in the book aisle as I googled whether or not I was going to buy this book first and decided to say fuck it and be a purist about it, and I’m so glad I did. I own The Cartel as well, but have yet to get to it. All told, Don Winslow reminds me of James Ellroy, which is high praise indeed.
4. Beloved by Toni Morrison
3. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing
I read this before I read The Trip to Echo Spring. This book was so good, so beautifully written and observed, that I did something I rarely ever do: I read a book by Ms Laing after finishing this. Back to back and it was glorious. This woman can write, and write well. Being a lonely person, reading this book was like discovering a treasure buried in my memory.
2. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
For reasons I can’t quite discern, I really don’t care for the term “National Treasure”. Maybe it’s because of the awful movie. But Marilynne Robinson is a goddamn National Treasure. Period. End of Story. I have only read two of her novels, the other being Gilead, and she is already one of my favorite novelists. Thank you to my friend Nick for opening this world up to me.
1. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
This is a goddamn American masterpiece. I don’t have much more to say, really. Read this book. It is stunning.