Two years ago, I got to the end of the year and realized I had completed no more than six books in the year. This lack of reading was extremely disappointing as I quite like reading and used to run through six books in a month, easily. So, in 2016, in large part thanks to Audible, I made reading a priority and got through over 20 books, which was my goal. (You can read 2016’s list here if you’re so inclined.) With the success of 2016 under my belt, for 2017 I set the goal at 30 books. I finished 35 (those listed below plus “Ready Player One” and “Starship Troopers” which were both re-reads and therefore disqualified from this list) and now the goal for 2018 is 40 books. 2017 was a bit of a weaker crop that 2016 was if I’m being honest. I read 10, maybe 12 books in 2016 that became instant classics for me and will be revisited again in the future. By contrast, in 2017 I’d say I read three GREAT books, a couple more very, very good books, and a handful of good-not-great books in addition to a whole score that were mediocre or otherwise a bit disappointing. Perhaps my reading list was a microcosm of the entire cluster mess that was 2017, amirite? (*Laughter quickly turns into sobs*) Regardless, I enjoyed the reading, I enjoy making lists, and, thanks in large part to my stupid podcast, I now feel the need to let everyone know what I think about anything whether they really want to hear what I think or not. As such, here’s my ranking of books I read in 2017.
NOTE: I have yet to finish “Basketball And Other Things” by Shea Serrano which undoubtedly would’ve finished no lower than three on this list and possibly higher. I’ve been savoring this one, reading a bit at a time so as not to run through it too quickly. I expect it will rank highly on 2018’s list.
33. “The Wanderers” - Meg Howrey (Audible)
Really the only book I read this year that truly pushed me on my commitment to finish every book I start (minus the one I actually quit, see below). Had this been a paper or e-book instead of an audiobook, I wouldn’t have made it. “The Wanderers” is exponentially more important in the mind of its author than it is in reality.
32. “The Ables” - Jeremy Scott (Audible)
The fact that Jeremy Scott, co-creator of the YouTube channel Cinema Sins which takes great joy in poking holes in virtually every aspect of every film ever made, couldn’t put together a less cringe-inducingly unoriginal book is ironic. Almost nothing within “The Ables” wasn’t taken directly, it seems, from its predecessors in the Y.A.-Sci-Fi genre.
31. “Hothouse” - Brian Aldiss
I had no idea “Hothouse” was written in 1962 until I finished it at which point some of the stranger, more antiquated elements made a little more sense. Good in parts with a B-story that could have been cut altogether. Mr. Aldiss seems to have agreed with me in that he ignored this storyline for the better part of the book.
30. “Before the Fall” - Noah Hawley (Audible)
Quite possibly the most disappointing book I’ve ever read. I love Noah Hawley (of TV’s Fargo fame) and this book was recommended with great fervor by a number of trusted readers. I confess, I don’t get it. I appreciated the characters and the concept but the work done to get to the conclusion was tedious at best and the conclusion itself was a massive letdown for me.
29. “Tip Off” - Filip Bondy
I’ve had this book on my shelf for 10 years and perhaps the unintended build up in my mind tainted my view of the book itself. Some sportswriters transition to books seamlessly and they make great use of the additional space they’ve never had in the pages of the newspaper; and sometimes even the best sportswriters struggle to adapt to the new format. “Tip Off” well into the latter category, unfortunately. Bondy’s structure is needlessly laborious to navigate and the book desperately needed a better editor.
28. “The Force” - Don Winslow (Audible)
Much like “Before the Fall”, this one came highly recommended by multiple people. In this case, I sort of get the appeal; Winslow is a competent writer who is very familiar with his subject matter. Unfortunately for me, I think this is in part because he has seen all the same cop TV shows and movies I have and almost nothing in this book doesn’t feel like it’s pulled directly from The Shield or Law & Order. It’s fine, it’s just wholly unoriginal.
27. “Sleeping Giants” - Sylvain Neuvel (Audible)
Wanted to love this one and by the end, found that I loved the concept, not the actual writing itself. This was an early-in-the-year read and soured me on the series but now, almost a year out from my reading, I’m talking myself into returning for the sequel in hopes of something better.
26. “Hillbilly Elegy” - JD Vance (Audible)
This was a big one within my community this year and I appreciate its intent even if I don’t love the finished product. For me, “Hillbilly Elegy” is two books crammed together. One, Vance’s personal backstory and the history of his family, I found fascinating. The other, Vance’s projections of his personal experience onto a much broader group of people, I found flawed and, at times, problematic.
25. “The Rest of Us Just Live Here” - Patrick Ness
I’ve read some Ness in the past and in fact, he is the author (though not the originator) of “A Monster Calls”, one of my all-time favorites. “The Rest of Us Just Live Here”, though, felt like a good idea that wasn’t completely fleshed out. Narratively enjoyable, the character development is mediocre and at times the whole thing felt a bit forced.
24. “Waypoint Kangaroo” - Curtis Chen (Audible)
“Waypoint Kangaroo” feels like a throwback to the dime store paperback science fiction of the 50’s and 60’s (made complete by the reader who matched the tone quite well) which I loved. But the central plot device (the main character has a semi-magical ability that he alone can access) is almost completely ignored by the author for the majority of the book, leaving me to wonder what the point of it was in the first place.
23. “Artemis” - Andy Weir (Audible)
Weir’s previous book, “The Martian”, and the movie it inspired are favorites of mine and I’ve been looking forward to “Artemis” for some time now. I must say, I’m a bit disappointed, both in terms of the plot, which was fine but unspectacular, and the mediocre characters. By the conclusion, I just sort-of meh’d and moved on, the exact opposite of my experience with “The Martian.”
22. “The Magnolia Story” - Chip and Joanna Gaines (Audible)
Listened to this with Lindsey during a road trip and found it enjoyable. Not a huge surprise, I’m very pro-Chip and Jojo and pro-HGTV in general. (Come and fight me.) I wouldn’t say I learned much of great value but it was a solid read nonetheless.
21. “Fellside” - MR Carey (Audible)
In no way does “Fellside” live up to the standard Carey set with “The Girl with all the Gifts”, one of my best reads of 2016. Unlike the gap between Weir’s “Martian” and “Artemis”, however, I found “Fellside” to be competent and strong in its own right, a solid companion to “Gifts” if nothing else.
20. “The Life We Bury” - Zach Villa (Audible)
I don’t read many mysteries so I’m probably not the best judge of the genre as a whole. This one, however, worked for me quite well. I’m not sure there’s much in the way of originality or brilliant writing but Villa poses an interesting question (did the old man dying in hospice commit the murder for which he was convicted 30 years ago or not?) and lets the story unfold competently throughout.
19. “All Our Wrong Todays” - Elan Mastai
In the reading of “All Our Wrong Todays”, my feelings jumped back and forth constantly. At times, I felt like I was reading the best book of 2017 and at times I felt like I might have been getting conned previously. It’s a roller coaster affair and to be completely frank, I’m not even entirely sure it all makes sense. There’s quite a bit of science that falls somewhere between the “scientific mumbo jumbo” of Star Trek and the “basically accurate” science of “The Martian.” Mastai is quite clever in both his dialogue and character development, however, and that tended to carry the book through its weaker points.
18. “The Stranger in the Woods” - Michael Finkel (Audible)
I read a couple of articles on this story (about a man who lived in the Maine woods with no contact to the outside world, beyond the houses he broke into for supplies, for 25 years) when he was captured in 2013 and I’ve been fascinated with it ever since. Finkel’s book is Krakauer-ian in nature though perhaps with a little less flare that Krakauer. At times, it felt like a longform article would have sufficed but perhaps that feeling is due to my familiarity with the subject matter in the first place.
17. “Uncanny X-Force” - Rick Remender
The first comic book/graphic novel to make an appearance, “X-Force” was a darker, edgier look at the X-Universe than “Astonishing X-Men” (see below) but that works quite well for the characters assembled in this team (Wolverine, Angel, Deadpool, etc.). If there’s a weakness, it is in the inclusion of Fantomex whose storylines were always my least favorite of the book.
16. “The Winter Over” - Matthew Iden (Audible)
What should have been a complete throwaway airport read turned out to be much more interesting thanks in large part to the author’s choice of setting (the South Pole research facility). Part mystery, part thriller, “The Winter Over” uses its setting brilliantly to heighten the tension and transform fairly generic characters and situations into a highly enjoyable read.
15. “The Forgetting” - Sharon Cameron (Audible)
My first read of 2017, I found Cameron’s worldbuilding to be excellent and the central conceit to be engrossing. The characters could’ve been better but overall, a good read. I will say, however, I grabbed the second book in this series (“The Knowing”) a couple of months ago and for the first time ever, I returned a book to Audible. Awful. So, consider that before delving into “The Forgetting.”
14. “Good Morning, Midnight” - Lily Brooks Dalton (Audible)
I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic foolishness though this is the only feature-length book from that genre I read this year. Much like “Station Eleven” last year, “Good Morning, Midnight” is firmly in the “literary” section of the post-apocalyptic genre, focusing more on its main characters (an aging scientist at the North Pole and a young astronaut on return from Jupiter) than on the event(s) of the apocalypse (which is never spelled out). I wanted to love this one but had to settle for like instead, though it is very well-written.
13. “Missoula” - Jon Krakauer (Audible)
One of the least enjoyable books I read in 2017 thanks to its subject matter (rape and date rape in small-town Montana) but still an important, incredibly well-written book. Krakauer is one of the best at discussing difficult material with grace (he’s also one of the best, period) and he brings that skill to “Missoula” masterfully.
12. “Astonishing X-Men Ultimate Collection Volume 1” - Joss Whedon
My comic book reading as a kid was devoted almost exclusively to X-Men comics and in 2017, when I picked up graphic novels again, I went right back to that which I know and love. This was a really fun collection of comics containing a lot of Whedon-isms and pithy dialogue. I’m looking forward to reading volume 2 in 2018.
11. “Underground Airlines” - Ben Winters (Audible)
Alternative history is very hit-or-miss for me (mostly miss) but Ben Winters’s conceit (an America where slavery is still legal in four Southern states) stuck close enough to reality that after a few pages, I just about forgot it wasn’t based in fact. The narration on the audiobook is excellent, as well.
10. “Sons and Soldiers” - Bruce Henderson (Audible)
I wish Henderson’s writing was just a bit tighter throughout and the choice of audiobook narrator was mediocre (good reader, his voice just didn’t match the material) but the subject matter itself is incredible. I feel like I’m at least relatively knowledgeable when it comes to the events of World War II but I can’t recall ever having heard of the Jewish immigrants who returned to the front as translators for the military. Fascinating stuff told in a format vaguely reminiscent of an oral history.
9. “Old Man Logan” - Mark Millar
My favorite of the three graphic novels I finished this year, “Old Man Logan” was a great prep the movie Logan which was (not coincidentally) one of my favorite movies of 2017. “Old Man Logan” is a quick, easy read and for me, provided a great door back into the realm of comic books.
8. “Last Days of Night” - Graham Moore (Audible)
I had to be convinced to read this (a novel revolving around the battle between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse) as it’s not the sort of thing I usually enjoy. I’m glad I gave into peer pressure. Moore’s narrative structure is excellent and the use of Paul Cravath (Westinghouse’s lawyer) as the medium through which the events unfold keeps the story moving beautifully.
7. “Petty: The Biography” - Warren Zanes (Audible)
I confess, I didn’t know just a whole lot about Tom Petty beyond the basics and wasn’t overly inclined to learn more. Then he died and I felt like I’d missed the boat. Zanes is a fantastic writer and because of his background with Petty (his band toured with Tom and the Heartbreakers in the 80’s), he was able to get the notoriously uncooperative rock star to open up and talk about everything from his childhood to his drug abuse in the 90’s.
6. “Reincarnation Blues” - Michael Poore (Audible)
My final read of 2017, “Reincarnation Blues” felt like the spiritual cousin of “The Hike”, one of the best books I read in 2016 and an all-time favorite at that. Great concept, really strong characters that I cared about, and a highly enjoyable writing style (heightened by an awesome narration). The ending, really an epilogue of sorts, missed the mark by just a hair for me, however, and thus, “Reincarnation Blues” went from an instant classic in my book to simply very, very good.
5. “The Man From the Train” - Bill James (Audible)
This book is bonkers, y’all. James, the father of advanced stats in baseball, became interested in some murders that took place across America in the early 20th century (pretty normal, right?) and posited that many of them had been committed by the same person. So obviously he and his daughter began researching the murders and ultimately...they solved the cases. BONKERS. James is a very dry, efficient writer and that style serves the subject matter brilliantly and he avoids gratuitous details when possible if that’s of concern to you.
4. “Boy 21” - Matthew Quick
Like “Tip Off”, this book has been sitting on my shelf for years. I randomly grabbed it and took it on a flight this summer as a backup to another book I was struggling through. Once I started reading, I flew through it in, like, an hour and loved every page. A great, genre-bending read focusing on one of the more original coming-of-age stories I’ve ever read.
3. “The Last Boy” - Jane Leavy (Audible)
Okay, one more for the, “been sitting on my shelf for years” group. I love Mickey Mantle and every tall tale that goes along with his legend/myth. As such, I have resisted actually reading Leavy’s book for fear that it would further prove him to be the terrible person that he kinda was. (Never meet or read about your heroes, right?) While Leavy’s book pulls no punches, she presents a biography of Mantle unlike any other I’ve ever read, made complete by her memories of/notes on a two-day interview she did with The Mick in the early 80’s. “The Last Boy” is in the pantheon of great sports books and a MUST read for any Mantle fan.
2. “On Writing” - Stephen King
This is the best book Mr. King has ever written and, of course, that is saying something. Moreover, this is the best book on the creative process that I’ve ever come across. Part autobiography, part how-to guide for writers, King filled every page with tips, advice, personal reflection, and self-deprecation in a no-holds-barred sort of way befitting of his persona. I’d recommend “On Writing” to anyone but it is a MUST read for anyone trying to create.
1. “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” - Michael Chabon (Audible)
The Pulitzer (fiction) winner from 2001, I’m not entirely sure how I missed out on “Kavalier and Clay” for so long, other than the fact that it came out while I was in college, the absolute worst time for reading anything that is not related to a class (this is just science). Per a friend’s recommend, I gave this a spin and fell in love immediately. Chabon is a master of the craft to begin with but “Kavalier and Clay” felt even more inspired than usual, blending genres and messages seamlessly, page after page. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read and one that I expect will revisit in the future.