My Favourite 2017 Books (In Order of When I Read Them)

Ended up as a top nineteen.

  • Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo – A book about hope and a couple in Nigeria who dream of having children, told from both their perspectives (full review).
  • The Lonely City by Olivia Laing – A multi-layered non-fiction book about art, LGBT history, and loneliness in New York City (full review).
  • All The Good Things by Claire Fisher – A moving and relevant novel about Beth, a young woman in prison, who is trying to document the good things in her life whilst remembering how she got where she is (full review).
  • A Line Made By Walking by Sara Baume – In the new genre ‘millenials, mental health, and escaping to the country’ sits this novel (full review).
  • The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel – A twisted story of a family with dark secrets that has hints of (and an epigraph from) Lolita (full review).
  • New Boy by Tracy Chevalier – From the Hogarth modern Shakespeare retellings series comes Othello in a single day in a Washington schoolyard, a version that gives new light to the original (full review).
  • Girlhood by Cat Clarke – The setting is a boarding school in the Scottish countryside, where everything feels more intense to the girls who live and study there, and a newcomer puts everyone on edge (full review).
  • My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent – The unnerving and intense story of Turtle, her apocalypse-obsessed father, and her fight for survival (full review).
  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – A novel about trauma and ways of seeing the world that follows Eleanor as she tries to navigate her life according to the strict rules she has set herself (full review).
  • Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney – Frances and Bobbi are performance poets and exes who are drawn into the complicated moneyed world of an older journalist and her husband in this fresh and distinctive novel (full review).
  • Good As You: From Prejudice To Pride by Paul Flynn – An account of British gay culture from the 1980s until the present day and some of the milestones in music and TV that showed change and progress (full review).
  • The Gender Games by Juno Dawson – A funny, clever, and often informative book that is part memoir and part guide to navigating gender (full review).
  • Hings by Chris McQueer – Weird and hilarious Scottish short stories feat. drink, drugs, and knees on backwards (full review).
  • A Change Is Gonna Come by various – An anthology of diverse YA fiction written by both established and new voices (my fave is a great story about living with OCD) (full review).
  • English Animals by Laura Kaye – A touching and wry novel about a Slovakian woman who goes to work in a rural English country house, gets into taxidermy, and falls in love with the wife (full review).
  • If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio – Short description: the Shakespearean Secret History (featuring a group of obsessed actors, death, and a fair amount of quotation) (full review).
  • The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst – Hollinghurst’s new book is an expected delight, the story of complicated relationships spanning from Oxford during the war to the 21st century (full review).
  • The Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee – My new ‘enthuse about this to everyone’ book, this is the story of a debauched young 18th century aristocrat who goes on a grand tour with his best friend Percy (who he is in love with) and his secretly rebellious sister and they get into a bunch of scrapes (full review).
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – A vital YA novel about a black girl torn between her posh school and the area in which she grew up.

Spite List: The Worst Books I Read in 2017

After claiming you should know what you hate, I really ought to practice it, and what better way than by moaning about things I read this year. If I’m being honest, I’ve actually left a few books off this list because I’ve already given them harsh reviews and I feel they were enough respectively. I’d say ‘no particular order’, but that’s untrue, Underworld is at the top because I disliked reading it that much.

  • Underworld by Don DeLillo – It’s too long. It’s mostly about men talking about baseball. I’m fed up of big American novels unless they’re doing something innovative. Did I mention I don’t know anything about baseball? I found the experience like talking to a very boring man who wouldn’t let me escape.
  • The Minor Outsider by Ted McDermott – If Underworld is being cornered by a man trying to tell you that politics is all a sports metaphor for many hours, The Minor Outsider was the guy who thinks his writing is better than yours but actually isn’t. Basically the main character is boring and unlikeable and I found the writing mediocre at best.
  • Higher Ed by Tessa McWatt – I didn’t so much dislike this book as I just found it boring. I picked it up because I wanted more London-set novels after having stopped living there, but it just…had no spark.
  • Prague Nights by Benjamin Black – Another disappointing boring book that I picked up because it was about an interesting city. I should learn. But I did read some quite fun books set in Berlin this year so I won’t give up all hope.
  • Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh – The main problem with this book was that it was a ‘white people in Africa’ story. Also it was slow.

Best non-2017 books I read in 2017

I know it’s ‘end of year lists’ season because I have enough of a Buzzfeed habit to now be seeing the same tweets I’ve seen all year in new lists that use the year in their title. And whilst there are a lot of reading days left of 2017, I realised that to get in more than one list of books from this year, I’d have to start now.

First up is the nebulous category ‘books not published in 2017 that I read for the first time in 2017’. I’m going for things not published new in hardback or paperback in the UK in 2017 as far as I know. Seeing as I spent so much of 2017 reviewing upcoming books or reading very new ones, this list may seem a bit random.

  • Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon – This dual biography moves between their lives a chapter at a time, not only drawing parallels but giving a real sense of the mother and daughter who didn’t get to meet. It is packed full of detail and is worth it for not feeling overwhelmed by the author’s judgements about people who turn up in their lives, unlike many biographies of Wollstonecraft or Shelley.
  • If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo – A powerful and sweet young adult novel about being the new girl at school, falling in love, and being transgender. It really focuses on finding friends who support you as well as navigating teenage life and rituals whilst dealing with your own and your friends’ secrets.
  • Room by Emma Donoghue – Obviously I’m very behind having only read Room this year, Donoghue’s incredible novel from the point of view of a five year old imprisoned in a single room with his Ma. The way that the style captures the character and his worldview makes it a crucial read.
  • Byrne by Anthony Burgess – I’m including Byrne almost solely because I’m annoyed Burgess wrote it, stopping me writing a story that has a structure that’s a Byron joke: a poem in ottava rima that slips into Spenserian stanzas and back again. You might have to specifically care about that to read it (or just be a huge Burgess fan) as it’s the story of an ageing Don Juan-esque composer written in verse.
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin – I read most of Giovanni’s Room on my birthday (1st Jan) in the bath, so it only just counts. A classic short love story about two men in 1950s Paris. If you haven’t read it, do.
  • The People In The Trees by Hanya Yanagihara – I wasn’t sure whether to include this one because A Little Life is so much better (but I read that at the end of last year), but I think her earlier novel is worth a read too. It’s about a young doctor who goes on an expedition to find a lost tribe, gains fame from what he discovers there, and things don’t go well from there. If you’ve read A Little Life, you won’t be surprised it can be horrible at times, but very interesting as well.