Now that we’re in 2018, it’s safe to talk about my best books of 2017. I made the mistake of sharing my favourite reads of 2016 before Christmas and then read All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan, so lesson learned; do not write end of year favourites when there is still time in the year.
In keeping with my previous yearly round-ups, most of the books I read were written by women. What started as a conscious effort has become second nature. I rated more books five stars on Goodreads (you can find me here) this year, than the previous two combined. I’ve been more selective with my choices, especially when it comes to advance reader copies, which explains it. I read less crime fiction than I have in a long time, which is something I’ll be writing about soon.
Some of these books made me laugh. Some made me cry. Some managed to do both. They all made me think. They all made me want to seek out people who had read them, so we could discuss the stories at length.
A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume
When I reviewed this back in September I struggled to get past “this book, oh this book” and that’s still true. A Line Made by Walking is a haunting story about one woman’s love of art and her experience of mental illness. Sara Baume has a way of getting under your skin and never leaving. Go read it.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
I’ve mentioned my love of Roxane Gay numerous times; her writing is thought-provoking, raw, confronting and necessary. The subtitle A Memoir of (My) Body sets the tone of Hunger – this is Gay at her most vulnerable and also most powerful.
Hunger is an exploration of the trauma following rape and sexual assault, food as comfort and crutch, sexuality, and the reality of being a fat woman, particularly a fat black woman, in today’s society.
Spare and Found Parts by Sarah Maria Griffin
In the aftermath of the Turn, a world changing event where our reliance on computers comes back to bite us, Nell is trying desperately to live up to the achievements of her father and deceased mother. But post-apocalyptic Dublin is a lonely place when you’re scrambling to figure out who you are and what you can contribute to the good of society. When she finds a mannequin hand, Nell has a moment of inspiration – what if she builds herself a companion?
Spare and Found Parts is strange, wonderful and beautifully written. Nell Crane will forever have a special place in my heart.
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman*
This is story of Frances, Jet and their brother Vincent. Frances and Jet will be familiar to fans of Practical Magic, they’re the Aunts. Here we see them grow up, discover their powers and grapple with the curse that has haunted the women of the Owens family since 1620.
The Rules of Magic is the perfect blend darkness and light; full of humour, while being heart-wrenching. Vincent, in particular, is someone I won’t forget about in a hurry.
I’ve struggled with Hoffman in recent years, but this is a return to form. It lived up to all my expectations and then some.
An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison
As a world renowned clinic psychologist, Kay Redfield Jamison literally wrote the book on manic depression, Manic-Depressive Illness which she co-authored with Fredrick K. Goodwin. A few years later Jamison spoke about her own illness in An Unquiet Mind, changing how many view manic depression.
It’s easy to see why. As someone who has experience of manic depression (she makes a strong case for her dislike of the switch to the term bipolar disorder) from both and clinical and patient perspective, Jamison’s memoir is a unique look at psychiatry, the first-hand experience and how the two do or don’t meet.
Himself by Jess Kidd*
Mulderrig isn’t a particularly welcoming village to outsiders, something Mahony discovers early on. Mahony is determined to find out what happened to his mother, an event the residents of Mulderrig want left untouched at all costs. But someone knows the truth and Mahony isn’t leaving until he finds it. Aided by the flamboyant Mrs. Cauley, Mahony sets about questioning everyone about their whereabouts on that fateful night. But, much like Mulderrig itself, there is more to Mahony than meets the eye…namely the dead. But will they help or hinder him?
A must read that is as breathtakingly creepy as it is full of humour. Kidd weaves a web of magical realism around a mystery with its roots firmly planted in Ireland’s dark past.
My Lovely Wife: A Memoir of Madness and Hope by Mark Lukach
I’ve mentioned Mark and Giulia Lukach on before. I shared Mark’s initial article and an interview with both he and Giulia in some ‘this week I’ve been reading’ round-ups. At the time I would have liked to hear more from Giulia about her experience and while that’s still true, I’ve a new found appreciation for Mark’s perspective.
As an exploration of the changing power dynamics within a relationship and marriage when one person has a mental illness, I know I’ll be re-reading My Lovely Wife, probably multiple times.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
I’ll have a full length review of The Argonauts once I figure out how to do more than gush about it, endlessly. Gorgeous, glorious and thought-provoking come to mind, but they don’t truly do it justice. My copy is covered in tabs and I know I’ll re-read it multiple times and gain something new with each reading.
Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt
Roe v. Wade may have been over forty years ago, but access to abortion in the US is constantly under threat from Republican politicians. Pollitt makes the moral case for abortion. She takes on the personhood arguments and places lived experiences of women front and centre.
This book completely changed my thinking on the phrase “abortion on demand” and reminded me of its pro-choice roots.
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Frances and her best friend Bobbi regularly perform spoken-word poetry together at literary events around Dublin. When they attract the attention of Melissa, a photographer and journalist, Bobbi is drawn to Melissa and Frances finds herself falling for Nick, Melissa’s husband.
Conversation with Friends is an intimate look at relationships, life and figuring out who you are. I read it in September and it’s still on my mind. It’s that good.