I didn’t have as much time for reading as I usually would this year. In fact, for the first four months of Baby Boy’s life, I only read one book. One! In four months! To put that in perspective, I read seven books in December. Mind you, I had a lot of free time in that nice sleepy period between Christmas and New Years, but still.
Here’s my best reads of 2017:
The Lost City of Z is the real story of Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett, a British explorer famous for his butt-kicking, hardcore adventures in unknown lands. Fawcett become obsessed with the idea that there might be the remains of an ancient civilization buried deep in the Amazon rainforest, a place he named the City of Z. Despite the incredible dangers he faced, he dedicated himself to finding Z, and the story of his journey is just incredible. David Grann is a brilliant writer, conveying the story in such a readable way that I became totally engrossed. Grann also makes his own sacrifices, determining to follow in Fawcett’s footsteps himself. If you like interesting stories from history, this book is definitely for you.
After You is the follow on to Me Before You, the bestselling book-turned-movie about Will Traynor, a young man left disabled after a motorcycle accident, and his new carer Lou. I listened to the audio book in floods of tears over the washing up, which should give you some clue as to what kind of book it is. After You follows Lou after the events of book one, and I definitely preferred it. Although it didn’t have the emotional weight that Me Before You has, Lou’s character seems more rounded and mature, and it had a more realistic, but still emotional, feel to it.
Nobody Told Me poetry could be this good! (See what I did there?) Hollie McNish was on a train travelling to Glastonbury when she discovered she was pregnant, and then spent the weekend in a tent considering whether or not she would be a good mother. She chronicles the journey of pregnancy, to having a new baby, to keeping her identity and embracing her new role at the same time, to having a toddler and all that comes with it. This book impacted me so much: in my own writing, in the way I see other mothers and the way I see myself. Every single word is so relatable, I found myself nodding along to it, occasionally saying ‘THAT’S SO TRUE!’ out loud, to myself. It is part journal, part collection of poems, and I promise you, even if you’re not into poetry, if you have children and have found yourself overwhelmed and amazed by parenthood, you’ll love this.
How Not to be a Boy I spend a lot of timing pondering how unfair gender stereotyping is for women. I am also married to a very wonderful man who doesn’t necessarily fit into all the boxes that society says he should. And still, How Not To Be a Boy really opened my eyes to the challenges that boys face when they don’t fit into the mould we’ve made for them: when they’re sensitive, when they’re caring, when they don’t like sports … Webb’s words are deeply honest, and he doesn’t shy away from exploring (sometimes painfully) his own mistakes. He writes with humour (obviously) and emotion about his own journey towards accepting who he is as a person, and gives a very persuasive, passionate argument as to why we shouldn’t tell boys (or girls) how they should behave based on their sex. I listened to the audio book, which is read by Webb himself, and contains bonus material at the end: totally worth buying if you’ve got an Audible credit hanging around.
Turtles All the Way Down follows Aza Holmes, a seventeen year old girl who gets back in touch with an old friend following the mysterious disappearance of his father. But, really, plot line aside, it’s a journey into Aza’s mind: the deep, dark, tangled web of anxiety.
I have issues with John Green’s writing (not John Green himself, who seems like a cool person). His teenagers speak like philosophers. Everything is a poignant metaphor for something else. Only, it becomes less poignant the more poignancy there is. Does that make sense? If the characters had more ‘normal’ teenage conversations, not only would I find it more believable, but the truly beautiful, meaningful moments would impact me more. Anyway, despite that, this is in an incredible peek into the world of someone suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Green writes so authentically and honestly about it. It shows how profoundly having mental health issues can impact your entire being.
Side note: I listened to this via Audible and I wish I had just read it. The narrator was quite flat and it made listening feel like a chore sometimes.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky is the real story of Pino Lella, your average Italian teenager – that is, until World War Two hits, and he finds himself on a very different path. Pino has an incredible experience – starting with smuggling Jews to safety over the Alps in treacherous conditions, and then enlisting as a German soldier, only to find himself spying on one of the most influential and dangerous commanders of the Third Reich. I won’t say much more, but it’s an incredible story, and it was interesting to learn about Italy during World War Two. Mark Sullivan interviewed Pino Lella and many others to compile all the facts for this story, and at times his writing comes across as a little bland, but it’s easy to read, and it is so worth spending time in Pino’s world.
The Gift is the last book I read in 2017, and it’s set the tone for 2018 for me. It follows Lou Suffern, a successful (and incredibly busy) businessman, husband and father. Lou often neglects his family for the sake of his career, and still finds himself running short on time, never quite managing to do everything he wants to do. One morning, he offers a job to Gabe, a homeless man that sits in the doorway to his office building. And from that moment on, his life is never the same.
The Gift went in a direction I totally didn’t expect, and I don’t want to say anymore because I don’t want to spoil it, but I found myself completely absorbed by it, desperate to find out what happened next. It’s set at Christmas time, and the overall message is the importance of time: of valuing it, and spending it wisely. And since then, everything I read seems to reflect that, which either means God is trying to tell me something, or that the message of The Gift absorbed so deeply into me that now everything else I read seems to relate to it.
And the kids absolute favourites from this year:
Oi Frog! and Oi Dog! follows the story of a disgruntled frog who does not want to sit on a log, much to the dismay of the bossy and strict cat who says he should; Clip Clop is Baby Boy’s absolute favorite and something about the rhythm of it makes him smile; Monkey Puzzle and Superworm are two excellent Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler adventures; and The Sneetches and Other Stories is my favourite Dr Seuss book, containing the story about the North-going Zax and the South-going Zax who meet in the middle and can’t agree on who should move out of the way, and a poem about a mother who had twenty-three sons and named them all Dave.
Is that enough information in one paragraph for you?
The Sneetches and Other Stories also contains the story What Was I Scared Of? which is possibly my all-time favourite story of Dr Seuss, and tells the tale of a creature who, on an evening walk, stumbles upon a pair of trousers walking around with nobody inside them, and runs away in terror. And it has one of my favourite lines from a kids book ever:
Anyway, those were my top reads of 2017! What were your best books of last year? What are you planning on reading in 2018? Let me know!