There are some books you can’t keep quiet about. Some books open out before you and subsume you so wholey you cannot be but filled with some evangelical zeal to hold forth upon them. To grasp by the lapels and shake thoroughly every person you come across insisting that they too read these books. Because they too must bask in the highs and shiver in the lows and no descriptor nor summary but for a perfect replication of each and every word will do justice to that which these books have wrought upon you. They too must read and understand, in a way no one else who has not read these books can.
Here are my top 10 books I read in 2017.
A small disclaimer before I start. I have decided that this list won’t include any books that are in any way connected to my day job. When you work on books and know their authors, you can’t include one without including them all. And then keeping my list to a mere 10 would be somewhat impossible. So if you’re wondering why I didn’t choose any books published by my beloved Gollancz, that’s why.
So here we go.
No. 10: The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell.
I was on tour as this book claimed its shelf space, trooping up and down the country, wandering through stacks, scrutinising workaday bookshop-ware as my poor belaboured colleague signed his merry way through mountains of books bearing his name. I think I lasted about three bookshops before I finally gave in and bought myself a copy? After myriad thumbings-through and chuckling at many a page.
Those of you who’ve followed my channel for a little while might be aware that I spent many a good year working in what felt like the majority of London’s bookshops. And thus in this book I couldn’t resist a vicarious journey back into those dusty halls.
Shaun’s book is - as the title would suggest - a diary of his life as a bookseller. He starts the diary, on a random day, and takes you through a year. With caustic wit he details the trials and tribulations: the customers demanding 40p off a tome who’s weighty price is all of 2.60, the eccentric staff members, attempting to persuade him of the delights of only marginally squashed food, fresh from the co-op bins, and the crushing days when he doesn’t sell even a single book. If you’re a fan of Dylan Moran in Black Books, this is something you’ll really enjoy, and as an ex-bookseller I’d love to make it compulsory reading for every simpering-customer who prattles over the counter to you that bookselling really must be the best job in the world.
No. 9: Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff.
Very out of character, this is the only YA book to make my list this year. I picked it up back in February and instantly fell in love with it. It is the story of an island of women, and as it unfolds you explore the barriers that have stood against them, the horrors some of them have suffered in societies where men are more privileged, and you relish the relationships that tie them together. Like Atwood, with mythic, fairytale notes; I’m definitely going to acquire a copy of its sequel Naondel to read at some point this year.
No. 8: Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky.
The reason I’m not holding this book up to the camera is I don’t own a physical copy. It should in itself be testament to how great this book is that I read it entirely on my tiny and very broken phone screen.
I’d been meaning to read this book ever since it won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2016 but I knew it contained spiders, and I really dislike spiders. This book is so brilliant though, that I top-10-ed it, despite spiders.
In the future humanity is all but lost, wars have pared us down to a few desperate ark-ships, sent out blindly, in the hopes of finding something, as humanity sleeps away the eons in suspension, waiting. We follow a dual narrative, accompanying a ‘classicist’, who is dragged from sleep in disorientated gasps, for brief glimpses over the milenia. And then we look down on a new planet, a planet upon which spiders have evolved. We check-in over generations and visit innumerous Portias and Biancas and Fabians, and we watch these spiders evolve society and religion and even question whether males should be so wholly subservient to females. This book put me in a bind I couldn’t previously have imagined, did I really want humanity to live on, if it meant the destruction of new civilizations?
No. 7: This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay.
This is another diary, it’s six years of Adam’s life as a junior doctor. And it’s hilarious. Adam has a brilliant manner of writing and recounts stories of patients and doctors that make you cringe and giggle. But I also think you’d be hard pressed to not come away from it furious. Adam is no longer a doctor, he tells you that right at the beginning. And when you read this book you wonder how anyone sticks it out. How anyone puts in those hours, sacrifices their relationships, pours every last ounce of physical and emotional energy into it with so little support. It’s a book I think everyone should read; how our government has been allowed to continually chip away at the NHS to the detriment of both staff and patients is beyond me.
No. 6: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge.
This book is a perfect treatise on the systemic racism still rampant throughout society. Reni looks at historical narratives, unacknowledged privileges, feminism that only serves white women. And unless I simply read aloud from this book I will not do justice in expounding upon it. I highly recommend everyone goes and reads it, it is brilliant for illuminating and giving words to the uneven starting platform, and continual harrying throughout life, that people of colour face.
No. 5: Baking with Kafka by Tom Gauld.
This is a collection of comics and you might have seen some of them previously as they often feature in the Guardian and New Scientist magazine. I loved these in particular as lots of them were bookish, but I’m just completely captivated with Tom’s art style and humour. I’ve basically bought this book for all authors, and publishing-people, and friends-who’ve-ever-held-a-book-once… And I’m personally trying to track down everything Tom’s ever penned.
No. 4: Stories of Your Life and Others (Or Arrival, for those who got a movie tie-in) by Ted Chiang
This was definitely the year of the scifi short story for me. I was introduced to this collection by the story that inspired the Arrival movie and although that is brilliant I thought there were others in this collection even better. The ideas contained herein completely astounded me, particularly those that touched upon concepts of language and religion. I would often finish a story and need to pause afterwards to contemplate, to try and fail to take in all that Ted had touched upon. He doesn’t waste a word in drawing out these quick tales and yet there are such complexities within them.
No. 3: The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu.
Yes, more scifi short stories. I was actually recommended these by Kitty G, after I told her how much I loved Ted Chiang. In particular, of the stories contained in this collection, I would recommend State Change, which - at just 15 pages- might be my favourite thing that has ever been written. It sketches a world in which people’s souls take the form of an object outside their body, and accompany them throughout their lives. Our main character’s soul is an ice cube and she terrified of it melting. You can read the thing in its entirety on Ken Liu’s website and here. I found it paradigm altering and perfect in every word.
No. 2: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin.
Yes, I know I’m really behind, 2017 was the year most people were extolling the last in this series and I’ve just got through the first. Well, I’m here to tell you that everyone was else was right, it’s brilliant, it deserves every award and accolade that has been heaped upon it and more.
It is a fantasy in which the world is constantly on the edge of annihilation, with earthquakes that rack the strata and kill huge swathes of the population. There are people called Orogenes, with the ability to sense and control earthquakes, but they are treated with fear and hostility, harshly controlled and sometimes simply killed outright. Our story weaves together multiple threads in an utterly perfect way to tell a harsh but fantastic tale. It is poetic, it has a beautiful non-traditional romance, it’s a brilliant BAME writer, writing brilliant BAME characters and I’ve never read a fantasy that has better illustrated the cruel realities of living as someone whom society has deemed beneath them.
And finally, my favourite book I read last year? I’ve cheated and I have two. They are... The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers.
My favourite TV show is Joss Whedon’s Firefly and when I started The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet this book brought back everything I loved about that show and more. Both are essentially a ragtag group of misfits end up on a spaceship together, apparently that’s my optimal story, guys.
I read for character first, plot and all else can follow after, and for me it was characters that lead both Becky Chambers’ books. I would have always said I was more of a fantasy reader, less of a scifi reader, and I often find ‘alien species’ quite, well, alienating, but somehow Becky managed to win me round. I just loved all her character so much, and whether they were escaping mysterious pasts, dealing with forbidden romances or trying awkwardly to make friends, I just longed for them all to be happy.
I think a lot of my reading had grown quite dark and this was basically a hug in book form. It was happy characters, being lovely to one another, and generally having jolly adventures in space, all while exploring lots of leftwing ideas I want to be commonplace, like ‘should you curse disability’, differing gender identities, or types of relationships. They have swiftly become books I read over and over and I can’t wait for Becky’s new book Record of a Spaceborn Few, which comes out later this year.
So those are my top of books of the year, let me know if you’ve read any of them, if you have thoughts, and what were the best books you read last year that I should get on to.
Other than that I’ll see you in my next post. Bye guys.