2017 Reading list

This is a list of the books I've read so far in 2017, most recent first, with brief reviews.

Past years' reading lists: 2016 | 2015 | 2014

8. Swing Time by Zadie Smith (finished 2/17)

This is the second novel I've read by Smith (the other is her debut, White Teeth), and it's fantastic. Widely considered one of the best books of 2016, it's the story of a two black British girls, told in the first person by one of them (who goes unnamed), following them from childhood to adulthood, exploring their separate paths. Lots of great commentary on race, identity, and celebrity culture. Beautiful prose from Smith, as always. Swing Time's narrative does slog slightly near the middle, but it picks up pace again quickly.

7. Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero by E. Paul Zehr (2/13)

A fascinating book in which Zehr, a kinesiologist and neuroscientist, breaks down the various physical abilities of Batman—including strength, speed, and martial arts ability—and demonstrates whether it would be possible for someone like Batman to exist in the real world, and to fight crime the same way Batman does. Short answer: yes, but not for very long.

6. Career of evil by Robert galbraith (Finished 2/4)

The third book in the Cormoran Strike series, this may well be the best. While more of a character drama than the first two novels (by virtue of the fact that the reader is now more familiar with the characters, cares about about them more), Career of Evil is still a spectacular mystery. Like the second book, I felt chastized by the end of the book for not having solved the mystery myself—so detailed and geniusly placed are the clues Rowling peppers throughout the book. I'm amazed by Rowling's ability, a decade after The Deathly Hallows, to once again have created a series for which I can't wait for the next installment.

5. Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Finished 1/30)

This is an important book. Hirsi Ali is a Somalia-born former Muslim who underwent female genital mutilation, escaped an arranged marriage, gained Dutch citizenship, and became a member of Dutch parliament. And, oddly, despite the fact that she is a feminist icon her life is often in danger by virtue of the very things she bravely speaks up about, organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center have put her on facist-style lists, further increasing the threat to her life; they label her an anti-Muslim extremist, when in reality she's dedicated her life to reforming Islam for the benefit of both Muslims and non-Muslims. Infidel is essentially the autobiography of the first several decades of her life. Beautifully written, and full of insights into a culture we in the West often refuse to understand.

3 & 4. the cuckoo's Calling & The Silkworm by Robert galbraith

It's no secret by now that Robert Galbraith is really J.K. Rowling, and it's also no secret that she knows how to write detective fiction. Crime fiction isn't a genre I usually read, but both these books are delightfully entertaining: the prose is crisp, sometimes beautiful; the characters, especially the lead, Cormoran Strike, are deep and fascinating; and the mysteries are complex yet logical, especially the second one, after which I was kicking myself for not having solved. The third book Career of Evil is currently in the hands of a friend, but I'll be diving into it as soon as I get it back.

2. The Underground RailRoad by Colson Whitehead (finished 1/10) 

When I was in elementary school in Ohio, we toured an historic house that was once a part of the Underground Railroad. When the tour guide first told us about the Railroad, I remember feeling awe at the idea that people had actually managed to build a railroad underground, to dig tunnels and build tracks and somehow get engines under there. Then the tour guide explained the metaphor, and I admit to being disappointed. I imagine I wasn't the only kid who when they first heard of it took the concept of the Railroad literally, for in The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, that's exactly what it is: a literal railroad, underground, built by slaves, replete with stations and station masters and conductors. This book, for all its necessary darkness and brutality, is a certain kind of magical. It's almost as if, by taking the metaphor out of the metaphor, the metaphor becomes even stronger. No wonder it won last year's National Book Award for fiction. Required reading.

1. Moonglow by Michael Chabon (finished 1/5) 

Michael Chabon is a wonderful author, capable of writing anything from gay mob stories, to original Sherlock Holmes mysteries, to epic novels about the creation of a fictional comic book character. His newest novel, Moonglow, is the story of his grandfather. Largely fictional, the novel is presented as a memoir, and it often becomes impossible to guess which details are real and which are made up. A wonderful story about V2 rockets, Jewish heritage, mental illness, and the hunt for an errant cat-swallowing boa constrictor.