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Every Book I Read in 2017

Photo by Flickr user RJ
Photo by Flickr user RJ.

I kept a list of every book I read in 2017, inspired by my friend David Auerbach’s “Books of the Year” series. The end result is not particularly impressive. I finished forty books, most of which I read for pure entertainment (as opposed to edification).

However! I had a lot of fun! So that’s a win.

My final tally would have been much lower, but I downloaded the Kindle app again. Since the convenience of reading in bed skyrocketed, so did my book throughput. (Wrangling a paperback + book light while trying to avoid disturbing my partner… not ideal. Perhaps ironically, the guide on how to start reading again that I wrote ages ago gives the exact opposite advice.)

Unexpected side effect: In 2017 I read substantially fewer articles and essays than in previous years. It seems that my allocation of reading time is zero-sum. All in all, I’m happy to have traded a certain amount of enlightening longform articles for entertaining novels. During most of 2017, I felt mired in intellectual anhedonia, and that influenced my reading choices. I wanted escapism.

(Burnout from another bonkers year? All my energy being sucked up by my job? Probably a combination thereof.)

Anyway, the main point of this blog post is to publish and preserve the list of all the books I read in 2017. I considered sorting them by genre but 1) that would involve a lot of judgment calls and 2) chronological order will give you a more eclectic browsing experience. Like a bookstore! See, I’m charming, not lazy.

Fair warning: I used Amazon affiliate links throughout this post, because why the heck not. If you hate Amazon or hate kickbacks or whatever, you can Google the titles and authors.

Enough navel-gazing, here’s the list!


Slate Star Codex reviewed Shem’s novel beautifully, which is why I bought it. The book “had a touch of magical realism, which turns out to be exactly the right genre for a story about medicine.” Because medicine is “a series of bizarre occurrences just on the edge of plausibility happening to incredibly strange people for life-and-death stakes, day after day after day, all within the context of the weirdest and most byzantine bureaucracy known to humankind.”

A very strong contender for Best Book I Read in 2017. After the nuclear apocalypse, history devours itself like an ouroboros. Science becomes religion becomes science becomes religion. Human nature doesn’t improve, but it still has its moments of transcendent goodness.


If I remember correctly, Adam Elkus recommended Occidentalism as a text for understanding reactionaries and the alt-right. The book delivered on that promise.

A superb trashy beach read about being a groupie in the ’60s onward! Unabashedly femme and sentimental.

Another contender for Best. Blood Meridian is a brutal Biblical story set in the nineteenth-century Wild West, or maybe vice versa. It’s a harrowing read but HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!


A gorgeous novel about self-discovery against all odds; the protagonist is a black woman in the South circa Jim Crow. The Color Purple is full of heartbreak (I sobbed) and eventually joy.


The subtitle, courtesy of Amazon: A Powerful Billionaire, the Sex Scandal that Undid Him, and All the Justice that Money Can Buy: The Shocking True Story of Jeffrey Epstein.

I bought this in the airport and read it on a flight to NYC. That excessively long, tabloid-style subtitle relays the subject and tone of the book better than I ever could. Enjoyable read, but I would be ashamed to recommend it for reasons that should be obvious.

I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and it was free on Kindle for Amazon Prime members. I thought the book was good but not, like, amazing or revelatory.


A collection of lighthearted sci-fi short stories written by a Twitter friend. Do you enjoy mad scientists? Then you’ll enjoy My Mother Had Me Tested.

This is the third contender for Best! Kaleidoscope Century is a rollercoaster mindfuck of a story. Here’s the Amazon review I wrote immediately after finishing the book: “I didn’t bother to understand the time travel and it was still great. Not for the faint of heart, but I’ve also read much more depraved books, so IMO some of the other reviews are overblown. If you liked the movie Memento, you will like this too.”

Hintjens writes about the psychology of psychopaths — really, he’s talking about sociopaths in general, but he calls them psychopaths — as a layperson extrapolating from personal experiences. Still, his analysis is not implausible. It’s certainly intriguing. He models sociopaths as predators who pursue normal people as prey, milking their victims dry of whatever resource the sociopath wants (money, sex, emotional energy, etc). The Psychopath Code is not as good or convincing as, say, The Gift of Fear, but it’s worth reading if you’re interested in the topic.


I have a huge weakness for Grisham and will read basically any book he’s written. I love suspense, schemes that are unveiled over the course of the entire book, and legal settings. The Runaway Juror provides all of that, especially a delicious slow reveal.

I finally got around to this cyberpunk classic. The characters and plot are weak compared to, say, Neuromancer, but the world-building is FANTASTIC. Sterling explores how transhumanism and politics may end up affecting each other.

This year I developed a fondness for apocalypse and post-apocalypse settings, with a particular affinity for zombies. (It was sparked by watching The Walking Dead with my partner.) World War Z is SO FUN when you have that itch to scratch. Not every bit of the plot makes sense, as is customary when it comes to zombies, but Brooks gives you a sweeping tour of how the world might be transformed by Zed.


I can’t remember who recommended this book, but it was either David Auerbach or Adam Elkus. The ultimate “decadent elitism” spy novel. An odd but entrancing read.


I’m going to address the following five books as a chunk, because they’re all domestic noir, a genre that is basically Crazy Girl Chic meets crime thriller. I watched The Girl on the Train on an airplane and suddenly became obsessed with flawed female protagonists untangling murders or doing dark, twisted things. All of these books are excellent, especially the Gillian Flynn ones:

Sharp Objects is the best book out of the five, but Gone Girl had by far the most cultural impact. Flynn’s short story The Grownup is also great, if you just want to get a taste of the genre or her style.


I had the privilege of reading a draft of Auerbach’s memoir in order to give feedback. Bitwise still hasn’t been published, but you can preorder it. Auerbach is a subtle, fascinating thinker, and the book uses his life experiences to explore human nature and the effects that technology (specifically computing) have had on society.

Such a classic that I don’t feel like I need to describe it. The book deserves every bit of its reputation, and deeply resonated with me.

More domestic noir. Fun but not a must-read by any means.

This book was decent enough that I finished it but overall pretty mediocre. I have nothing in particular to say about it.

There is very little in-depth journalism about weddings, unfortunately, so I had to put up with Mead’s snotty attitude about people who dare to spend more than $5,000 on getting married. (Personally, I don’t intend to splash out a huge amount, but c’mon, there’s nothing wrong with throwing an expensive party.)

A horror classic that I read because my partner recommended it. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT OPEN LEMARCHAND’S BOX.

Another domestic noir novel with a twist ending. Again, fun but nothing special.


Domestic noir, domestic noir, not much to say about either title.

This sordid little novel is interesting but doesn’t live up to its title — unsurprising since the original Lolita is a masterpiece — and that annoyed me.

The premise is that there’s a zombie outbreak on the Titanic. Yes, it’s ridiculous. Deck Z is a fun read, and actually deals with the subject matter more seriously than you might expect.

Semi-survivalist thriller; great for an adrenaline rush. I stayed up all night to finish it.

More domestic noir.


Kitty Thomas novels are like if Fifty Shades of Grey were less juvenile. The genre is “dark romance,” a euphemism for “whips-and-chains erotica aimed at women.”

Cozy Christmas mysteries! A Highland Christmas was meh but I absolutely adore Agatha Christie.

Probably my longest read of the year, since it clocked in at 500+ pages. Cry to Heaven is a lyrical ode to the castrati (eunuch singers) who were the toast of the Italian opera during the eighteenth century. The book is surprisingly smutty, very chivalric, and totally gorgeous. I loved Cry to Heaven despite its lack of plausibility. If you enjoyed the movie The Red Violin, then you’d probably also enjoy Cry to Heaven.

A semi-fictional exploration of post-Holocaust trauma in the Jewish diaspora. (That was a mouthful, wasn’t it?) The Emigrants was recommended by my friend Jared Radin. It feels more like a series of thoughtful essays than a novel. I came away with a better understanding of why heritage is important to people… although I still don’t fully get it.

That’s a wrap! Every book I read in 2017, assuming I didn’t forget to write any of them down. (Which is possible, since I wrote 99% of this post before realizing, “Hey, didn’t I read Shibumi this year?”) I hope you got something out of perusing the list, and I’m somewhat surprised that you made it to the end. Feel free to recommend books that you think I should read in 2018!

Book Review: Managing to Save the World

In my experience as a reader, there are two main types of book. These types span all genres and topics. The first is steady going. I read a few pages every night, maybe a chapter — I plod through. The second type is gripping. I tear through the book. I pick it up (or open the Kindle file) and can’t put it down.

The quality of the book isn’t the distinguishing factor. For instance, I’m working on The Design of Everything Things at the moment. It’s an excellent read in terms of intellectual content, and the writing is accessible. But it’s not a rip-roarer. Who knows why? Probably my reaction is determined by something very idiosyncratic about my personal tastes. And yet, when reviewing a book, I must hope that others share my proclivities, at least a little.

pens and pencils in a messy bun
Photo, work hair, by Emergency Brake.

As an opposite example, Boss Life pulled me through quickly. So did Managing to Change the World. The latter is a primer on how to be an effective manager at a nonprofit company, written by Alison Green of the invaluable Ask a Manager blog and Jerry Hauser, who used to be second-in-command at Teach For America. Together they work at The Management Center.

Managing to Save the World, by Alison Green and Jerry Hauser

“Fundamentally, a great manager is someone who cares passionately about getting results. And that can’t be faked. If you are truly determined to get results, it becomes the fire that fuels everything you do[.]”

I’m such a fan of Green that I felt confident enough about the book’s probable quality to write this post’s intro before I finished reading it. I was right — Managing to Save the World is very good, and the advice is applicable to professionals outside of the nonprofit world.

In essence, Green and Hauser organize common sense into principles and processes. They are straightforward, presenting various concrete examples and tools. Managing to Save the World is a textbook for professional adults, complete with a summary of key concepts at the end of every chapter.

Here are some of Green and Hauser’s suggestions for managers:

  • Use time efficiently and effectively to get results. How? Well…
  • Guide rather than do. Your time should be devoted to tasks that only you can complete.
  • Learn to delegate and create a culture of accountability…
  • By supervising and following up throughout every project.

An acronym mentioned in one of the chapters represents the book’s overarching ethos quite well: “SMART goals are strategic, measurable, ambitious, realistic, and time-bound. Goals should measure outcomes rather than activities whenever possible.” Managing to Save the World is definitely a recommended read!

Book(s) Review: Five Novels I Read On Vacation

Shakespeare and Company bookshop
Photo by Alexandre Duret-Lutz.

Last week my family vacationed near Fallen Leaf Lake. During that time, I astounded myself by plowing through five novels. Here are quick ‘n’ dirty reviews of the five books, in chronological order…

Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov

Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov wrote my favorite book — yes, the one he’s famous for — but until last week I had never read any of his other works. My boyfriend bought three of them for my birthday in June, which I saved to read on this vacation. Incidentally, I only packed Laughter in the Dark, because I severely underestimated how quickly I would read it. Lolita took me ages to finish — it’s such a beautifully dense and detailed book — so I expected this one to be the same. Happily, Laughter in the Dark is much breezier.

The focus on an age-gap relationship makes the story evoke Lolita, but the resemblance is curiously inverted. First the male protagonist treats his paramour manipulatively, but quickly his disingenuous-ingénue mistress overtakes his abilities with the help of a former lover, flipping the power imbalance. Laughter in the Dark is rollicking good fun, assuming you’re tolerant of sordid shenanigans.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master's Son, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction

Adam Johnson recounts brutality and corruption in North Korea — who woulda thunk, right? — with an odd, generous spoonful of magical realism. The book is reminiscent of absurd action-movie capers, especially the second half, which comprises events after the main character ends up in a prison camp. (It was inevitable — goddam North Korea.) Surprisingly, Johnson’s eccentric treatment works.

The New York Times has a good plot preview, though I disagree with Christopher Beha’s charge that Johnson addresses his subject matter too lightly. Alas, someone always insists on taking excellent satire at face value. Wyatt Mason’s New Yorker review seemed more astute when I skimmed it.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Sea Dreams
Sea Dreams by Renee.

What can I say about The Old Man and the Sea that hasn’t already been noted? I’ll refrain from trying. Suffice it to say that Hemingway deserves his reputation.

“Fish […] I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”

Sharpe’s Escape by Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell’s series of novels about English soldier extraordinaire Richard Sharpe is set during the Napoleonic Wars. Sharpe’s Escape is just as excellent as the rest of them — well-researched, exciting, even thrilling! My only complaint is the lack of multifaceted female characters, but I’ve learned to put up with that. Any lady reader who likes books by male authors must resign herself to this deficit. Anyway, I stayed up until 4am finishing Sharpe’s Escape, which is a certain type of recommendation.

Bernard Cornwell (back) acting in And Then They Were None
Bernard Cornwell (center) acting in a theatrical production of Agatha Christie’s And Then They Were None, bizarrely. Photo by SarahSierszyn [sic].

Gallows Thief by Bernard Cornwell

We had no internet at the house by the lake, but Gallows Thief was already downloaded on my phone, so after finishing Sharpe’s Escape I jumped right into Cornwell’s story of a Regency-era investigator who strives to save a man from being hanged. See also: my comments regarding the enjoyability of Sharpe’s Escape.

That’s it! I hope your summer reading is going well too.

Young girl reading a book, Central Circulating Library at College and St. George Streets, Toronto, Ontario / Une jeune fille lit un livre. Bibliothèque centrale de prêt à l'intersection des rues College et Saint-George, Toronto (Ontario)
Photo via Library and Archives Canada.

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