The 8 best books I read in 2017

While many of you may already know this, 2017 was the year I completed my honours degree in English literature. Because reading is one of my favorite pastimes, I thought it would only be fitting to welcome the new year and begin my 2018 blogging with a list of the top 8 books I have fallen in love with last year. While I have read close to 40 different novels and found many of them brilliant in their own way, the ones mentioned below had a direct impact on my life, reading and thinking. These are in no particular order as I would probably find it to be quite an effort to decide which I loved the most. They are all very different and range between memoirs to childrens literature but each are beautifully perfect in their own way.

The Child that Books Built by Francis Spufford

If you have been reading since a child and like me, remember being disappointed at the ridiculously low number of books and child could borrow from the Library at one time, then this one’s for you. Through his memoir, Spufford reminded me of all the reasons why I love reading and ignited within me a new-found obsession of being even half as good as writing as he is. There is a part in his memoir which I find myself returning to over and over, drinking up the lines like a thirsty traveller only to find that I need to read it again. Perhaps because it reminds me of myself when I was younger, or perhaps because it embeds in my mind the sweet image of a child engulfed by an armchair and weighed down by a book. Whatever it is, it’s one of my favorite quotes from the memoir.

It made a kind of intangible shoplifting possible, I realised when I was eleven or so. If your memory was OK you could descend on a bookshop – a big enough one so that the staff wouldn’t hassle a browser- and steal the contents of the book by reading them. I drank down 1984 while Loitering in the O section of the giant Heffers store in Cambridge. When I was full I carried the slopping vessel of my attention carefully out of the shop. Nobody at the cash desk could tell that I now contained O’Briens voice admitting that the Thought Police got him a long time ago.

The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington

I only read this book in the very last days towards the end of December 2017 but it has fast become one of my favorites. I remember the first time I saw it was at the Exclusive Books in JHB airport as I waited to get my flight back home. I picked it up, touched the embossed cover and read the description. For some reason which I still cannot explain, I decided to buy it in Cape Town and slowly put back on the shelf. A week or so later, my lecturer gave me her copy to read and I was immediately hooked.

Based on the life of the women who worked in the tailoring shop in Auschwitz, Adlington seamlessly blurs the lines of fact and fiction and creates a masterpiece which highlights the struggles, pain and torture that was so neatly sealed behind the Auschwitz gates. While you may find this book in the children’s section, anyone interested in the Holocaust and the impact which clothing has on human behaviour should certainly pick up a copy – I promise you will be engulfed.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I received this book the same week I had a presentation to prepare for and a final draft of my thesis to submit yet no impending deadline deterred me from finishing it in two days. Honeyman had me hooked from the very beginning and enveloped me in a world that was so real yet so simple. The novel highlights the difference between isolation and loneliness through the character of Eleanor Oliphant and is perhaps the most heartwarming, laugh out loud novel I have read in the whole of 2017. I would write an entire blog post dedicated to this novel but instead, I will just urge you to grab a copy and experience it for yourself.

What I Was by Meg Rosoff

In the span of this year I read this novel about 3 times. Rosoff had me hooked from the very beginning and her beautifully descriptive narration is something which is hard to come across. Classified as ‘young adult fiction,’ Rosoff weaves together a seamlessly beautiful story about solitude, love and the importance of friendship. Seeped in fragility and silence (two of my favorite things) the story is narrated by a 100 year old man who thinks back to the events that shaped him when he was 16 years old. I have given this book to most of my friends and each one returned it amazed and, in some way, changed.

Fireweed by Jill Paton Walsh

Another beautifully descriptive novel classified as ‘Childrens Literature,’ Fireweed is one of those books that everyone needs to read – children and adults alike. Set during WW2, it tells the story of two children who find themselves together in a world surrounded by destruction, loss and danger. The making of a home and the way in which these children were forced to grow up is both heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. If you are interested in anything to do with WW2 then I would highly recommend this novel. It’s perhaps one of the slimmest books I have read yet it absolutely engulfed me.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

I found it very hard to get through this narrative for the simple reason that it is a true life story. Harriet Jacobs wrote this novel for the white women during the time of when slavery was still prominent as a means to raise awareness. Just like Fireweed, it is one of the slimmest books yet will have you turning each page in anticipation however in this case, for reasons very different.

In this narrative, Jacobs shares the horrible circumstances she and her family and friends were put through and how she ‘escaped’ slavery. I definitely don’t want to give any more details away and, even though it might be hard to read something so raw, it is important that we do.

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

I will be the first to admit that it took me quite some time to get into this novel (more than 3 years actually). I had a copy for the longest time but for some reason, could not focus on it. Only when I saw that it was on the list of books to study for 2017, did I block out a few days in my diary and read it. Many of the books on this list are here because of the descriptions and manner of writing but this is perhaps one of the best. If you enjoyed The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy then I would highly recommend this novel.

Set on the slopes of the glorious Kanchenchunga mountain, it tells the story of Sai, her grandfather, their cook and his son Biju who goes to America to try and make a living. While the novel is rich in utterly beautiful description and metaphor, it too, is rich in loss, decay and unhappiness. If you are going to be putting this novel on your reading list, then don’t expect a happy ending.

If you need convincing on why to read this after that dreary description, then have a read below at the opening paragraphs of the novel.

All day, the colors have been those of dusk, mist moving like a water creature across the great flanks of mountain possessed of ocean shadows and depths. Briefly visible above the vapor, Kanchenchunga was a far peak whittled out of ice, gathering the last of the light, a plume of snow blown high by the storms at its summit.

If you would like to buy any of them, simply click on the name of the book. I linked them all to Loot which is perhaps the cheapest place to get books from online. The only downside is that the waiting period is longer than most (I usually end up waiting for about 3 weeks for a delivery).

Further recommendations:

  1. Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffery
  2. Middlemarch by George Elliot
  3. My Mother’s Wedding Dress by Justine Picardy
  4. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien
  5. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  6. Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

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