Year 2017 in books

After couple of lazy reading years in 2016 I got back on track spending more time on books and less time on meaningless stuff. I have noticed the meaningless stuff sucking more and more minutes out of my days and we all know what we are doing - checking Facebook, Instagram, whatever other scrolling habit we have - and suddenly you've spent hours doing nothing when you could have been immersed in thousands of stories yet undiscovered. 

Naturally 2017 I had to set my goals higher as I would remove one time-stealing element from my life, it being work, and I had a lot of research to do for my own book. Goodreads encourages people to take on a reading challenge and while it did get me to read more, it did also encourage unhealthy reading habits. One should not just aim for a number as this quickly translates into "short, easy books" when I should be reading complex, mind-boggling stories and non-fiction science books. I finished with 74 books out of 80, felt quite good about myself, and then met and started following people who read 100-200 books a year. Sigh.

For anyone interested, here are my top picks from what I read in 2017, hopefully some will provide as much joy in your life as they did in mine! In return I'd love some recommendations about great stories or intriguing non-fiction books.

1. John Baynes - The Heart's Invisible Furies

Last book of 2017 and by far the best one. As a lot of reviewers have said, this is a story at it's best. Characters are interesting, sympathetic, witty, sarcastic (it is about Irish people after all), the events are historical and fictional at the same time, and the story is an epic tale through the years of 1944-2015 ending in Ireland's same-sex marriage referendum. 

"Cyril Avery is not a real Avery -- or at least, that's what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn't a real Avery, then who is he?

Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from and over his many years will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country, and much more."

2. N.K. Jemisin - Broken Earth trilogy (The Fith Season, The Obelisk Gate, The Stone Sky) 

I've had the discussion about "real books" vs. "book written for a movie adaptation in mind" couple of times now and it's a complicated topic. If easy, entertainment-type of books get people to read more it's clearly a good thing, but at the same time world is missing out of great story-tellers and/or not making them famous. N.K. Jemisin is a story-teller. I can't see how these books would be brought to screen in a way that would make them Harry Potter-famous but as fantasy books these are some of the best ones I have ever read. The depth of writing, characters, plot and emotions is something else and I can only wish to be able to write like her some day.


Three terrible things happen in a single day.

Essun, masquerading as an ordinary schoolteacher in a quiet small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Mighty Sanze, the empire whose innovations have been civilization's bedrock for a thousand years, collapses as its greatest city is destroyed by a madman's vengeance. And worst of all, across the heartland of the world's sole continent, a great red rift has been been torn which spews ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

But this is the Stillness, a land long familiar with struggle, and where orogenes -- those who wield the power of the earth as a weapon -- are feared far more than the long cold night. Essun has remembered herself, and she will have her daughter back.

She does not care if the world falls apart around her. Essun will break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter."

3. Neil Gaiman - American Gods

Late to the game, I know. But then I feel like that has been the theme of this year since only now I first discovered The Dune, Philip K. Dick and 2001 - A Space Odyssey.

A problem for me as an aspiring author is to come up with an original idea. But when you read and read and read (and re-read His Dark Materials trilogy) you begin to understand there are very few original ideas. And even those original ideas are combining history, existing mythologies, fables, factoids but in an original way. Sometimes books are recycling popular stuff in a very obvious way but they can still be an entertaining and enjoyable read.

Gaiman did with American Gods these impossible - coming up with a stunningly original idea that I can just envy quietly. Who comes up with this stuff? And since it's all based in what we know of humans' and gods' histories it's even more fascinating and gripping.

Books like this inspire me to read more, to research more, to grow older before I try to tackle my first chapters as a storyteller. Experience breeds depth.

"Days before his release from prison, Shadow's wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.

Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break.

Scary, gripping and deeply unsettling, American Gods takes a long, hard look into the soul of America. You'll be surprised by what - and who - it finds there..."

Hah, and if there's one thing I found out in 2017, it's that anything related to quantum physics is quite used (almost over-used) theme in books. Yes people keep finding new angles to it but I did not realise how many stories are based on "spooky action at a distance". Even those Philip Pullman children's books (His Dark Materials) I read when I was very young, again as a young adult and third time now when I've acquired some theoretical knowledge about the topic play with the ideas from multiple aspects.

Time to get some new ideas then!