What better way to kick off the New Year than with a look back at favorite reads from 2017? Plus, now you can take all those gift cards you received for the holidays to the bookstore and find yourself a good book to help you weather the doldrums of January!
I read a total of 44 books in 2017, which, strangely, was exactly how many I read in 2016. I’m nothing if not consistent, right?! However, this doesn’t count the five books I didn’t finish this year (they are marked DNF in the list below). I gave myself the same rule I give my kids: read 50 pages, and if you are still meh, you can quit. Nothing against any of the books I didn’t finish (in fact, at least one came highly recommended and has been well-liked by many); they just weren’t for me.
So, without further delay, here are my eight favorite reads of 2017, followed by a complete list of all the books I read last year. Happy reading, friends!
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
By Cal Newport
About the Book: “Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide the sense of true fulfillment that comes from craftsmanship. In short, deep work is like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy. And yet, most people have lost the ability to go deep-spending their days instead in a frantic blur of e-mail and social media, not even realizing there’s a better way.”
Why It’s a Fave: Technically this is a business book…but it’s easily applicable to lots of different fields, including creative work. This was the first book I read in 2017, and it changed the way I approach my work. I especially appreciated how Newport wove interesting, relevant stories with science and practical applications to make this book super accessible. This would make a great January read.
The One-In-A-Million Boy
By Monica Wood
About the Book: 104-year-old Ona befriends an 11-year-old boy who knocks on her door one morning looking to fulfill his Boy Scout duty. As he refills the bird feeders and tidies the garden shed, Ona tells him about her long life, from first love to second chances. Soon she’s confessing secrets she has kept hidden for decades.
Why It’s a Fave: I loved the writing in this book. Monica Wood has a real gift for gently revealing the nuances of human connection. One-in-a-Million Boy is funny, poignant, a little bit quirky and bittersweet; be prepared for tears with this one.
One: Unity in a Divided World
By: Deidra Riggs
Genre: Christian Non-Fiction
About the Book: “Jesus didn’t say that the world would know we are his followers by our biting rhetoric, our political leanings, our charity work, or even by our knowledge of Scripture. He said the world would know us by our love for one another. Yet it’s so easy to put others at arm’s length, to lash out, to put up walls. Deidra Riggs wants us to put our focus on self-preservation aside and, like Jesus, make the first move toward reconciliation.”
Why It’s a Fave: I know you might think this is cheating, because Deidra is a good friend, but truly, I loved this book, and I deeply value its message, especially at a time which feels, on most days, more divisive than ever. Deidra does not get all up in your grill with her message about unity and reconciliation, but instead, offers a gentle but firm approach to how we might more toward more unity in our families, communities and churches.
At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe
By Tsh Oxenreider
About the Book: At Home in the World follows the Oxenreider family’s (Tsh, her husband Kyle, and their three kids under age nine) on their nine-month journey from China to New Zealand, Ethiopia to England, and more. “They traverse bumpy roads, stand in awe before a waterfall that feels like the edge of the earth, and chase each other through three-foot-wide passageways in Venice. And all the while Tsh grapples with the concept of home, as she learns what it means to be lost—yet at home—in the world.”
Why It’s a Fave: This is one of the best travel memoirs I have ever read. If you want to travel the world but can’t quite sling a backpack on your shoulders and hit the road like the Oxenreiders did, this book is your next best option. I especially loved how Tsh’s writing offers a complete sensory experience – I felt like I was smelling, tasting, hearing and seeing right along with her. I also appreciated her honesty. Traveling around the world with three kids under age nine isn’t all roses, and Tsh lets the reader in on some of the challenges and frustrations she faced along the way.
Genre: Christian Non-fiction/Memoir
About the Book: “Blending her own experience with an intimate grasp of spirituality, Sue Monk Kidd relates the passionate and moving tale of her spiritual crisis, when life seemed to have lost meaning and her longing for a hasty escape from the pain yielded to a discipline of ‘active waiting.’ Full of wisdom, poise, and grace, Kidd’s words will encourage us along our spiritual journey, toward becoming who we truly are.”
Why It’s a Fave: I read a library copy of this book for research, but it really resonated with me – so much that I ended up purchasing my own copy just to have on my shelf. I appreciated Kidd’s honesty regarding her spiritual dark night of the soul. If you’re in a wilderness or waiting season, this is definitely one to pick up. I know I’ll be re-reading it again.
Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion
By Gregory Boyle
Genre: Christian Non-fiction
About the Book: “For twenty years, Gregory Boyle has run Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program located in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, the gang capital of the world. In Tattoos on the Heart, he distills his experience working in the ghetto into a breathtaking series of parables inspired by faith. Arranged by theme and filled with sparkling humor and glowing generosity, these essays offer a stirring look at how full our lives could be if we could find the joy in loving others and in being loved unconditionally.”
Why It’s a Fave: Hands-down my #1 favorite read of 2017, this book is a deeply moving testament to the power of love and community, even in what seem to be the most despairing, hopeless circumstances. Father Boyle is funny as heck, and his storytelling abilities are second to none. You will come away from this book not only astonished by Father Boyle’s commitment, generosity and compassion but also, honestly, astonished by the humanity of the gang members with whom Boyle makes his life. A truly inspiring and transforming read.
The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian
By Sherman Alexie
About the Book: “Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.”
Why It’s a Fave: Truth be told, I didn’t think I was going to like this book when I first started it. It’s YA, which is not my favorite genre, and it includes drawings/cartoons, which felt a little too Diary of a Wimpy Kid to me at first. But it didn’t take long for the character of Junior to grow on me. This book is FUNNY, but it will also tug at your heartstrings in a very real way. Alexie, who draws liberally from his own experiences of growing up on a Native American reservation, does not shy from depicting the relentless poverty and rampant alcoholism pervasive in the Native American culture. I read this one with my book club, and it generated a lot of in-depth discussion.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
By Gail Honeyman
About the Book: “Eleanor Oliphant struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.”
Why It’s a Fave: I love quirky (but not too quirky) fiction, and this book fits the bill. It’s smartly written, clever, funny, a little bit bizarre, and heart-warming. While I don’t like books with saccharine plots/unrealistic happy endings, I do appreciate a story, like this one, that ends on a generally uplifting note. Also, Eleanor Oliphant is different enough that it’s not likely to blend in with the many other books I read each year. In other words, I like a book that stands out, and this one does exactly that (but not in a gimmicky way).
And the rest of the books I read in 2017, in the order I read them:
[I also indicated which ones I listened to on audio, and which ones I read for my book club.
DNF = Did Not Finish; R = books I read for book-writing research]
Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey
The Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple
The Creative Habit, by Tyla Tharp – DNF
Images and Shadows, by Iris Orega – DNF
One True Loves, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
A Fall of Marigolds, by Susan Meissner (book club pick)
One Plus One, by Jo Jo Moyes (audio)
Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance
The Grain Brain Whole Life Plan, by David Perlmutter
Columbine, by David Cullen
You are Free, by Rebecca Lyons
A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben – R
Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren
The End of Absence, by Michael Harris – R
The Art of Slow Writing, by Louise DeSalvo
What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, by Haruki Murakami – DNF
Let’s Not Go to the Dogs Tonight, by Alexandra Fuller
Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang – R
Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi – DNF
Anything is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout
Upstream, by Mary Oliver
Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah (audio)
Waking Up White, by Debbie Irving
Abba’s Child, by Brennan Manning – R
Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Barbara Taylor Brown – R
A Beautiful Disaster, by Marlena Graves – R
Adopted, by Kelly Nikondeha
The Year of Small Things, by Sarah Arthur and Erin Wasinger
The Way of Hope, by Melissa Fisher
The Tech-Wise Family, by Andy Crouch
Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, Edited by Gary Schmidt
The Anthropology of Turquoise, by Ellen Mcloy – DNF
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman (book club pick)
If All the Seas Were Ink, by Ilana Kurshan
Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger
The Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes
The Raven’s Gift, by Jon Turk