Back in 2009 I started posting a summary at the end of the year of what I read during the year (see my posts from 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016) and people have been enjoying it, so here I present the 2017 end-of-year post. I set a moderate goal of 50 books this year but I only managed 48 as I spent a bunch of time in the first half of the year catching up with my magazine backlog. Next year I’m setting myself a goal of reading 50 books again.
For the record, I read ‘real’ books – i.e. not in electronic form – I don’t like reading off a screen. Yes, I’ve seen electronic readers – we both have iPads – but I don’t like reading electronically. Having said that, I did read one electronically this year out of necessity, and will have to read a few in 2018 electronically due to insurmountable luggage weight and volume restrictions on one of our trips. I also don’t ‘speed read’ – I read quickly and make lots of time for reading.
Why do I track metrics? Because I like doing it, and being able to compare against previous years. Some people don’t understand the logic in that – each to their own :-)
I went back-and-forth over the last few days about which book to nominate as my favorite, and I just couldn’t come to a decision, so just like in most years, I give you my favorite 3 books: The North Water by Ian McGuire, I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong, and Remarkable Books: The World’s Most Beautiful and Historic Works by DK. All three are superb books and I strongly recommend you give them a try. You can read my review of them in the top-10 list below.
Now the details. I enjoy putting this together as it will also serve as a record for me many years from now. I hope you get inspired to try some of these books – push yourself with new authors and very often you’ll be surprisingly pleased. Don’t forget to check out the previous year’s blog posts for more inspiration too.
As usual I leave you with a quote that describes a big part of my psychological make-up:
In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro!
Analysis of What I Read
I read 20,628 pages, which is an average of 56.52 pages a day. The chart below shows the number of pages (y-axis) in each book I read (x-axis).
The average book length was 430 pages, almost exactly the same as last year (429) but shorter than previous years. That’s because I again read a lot of series books where each isn’t hugely long.
I read a lot more nonfiction than in previous years, which is shown by 8 of my top-13 below being nonfiction books.
The Top 10
I read a lot of excellent books this year and I thought as I only read 48 that I’d be able to whittle them down to a top-10, but I couldn’t, so here is my top 13. If you don’t read much, at least consider looking at some of these in 2017. It’s impossible to put them into a priority order so I’ve listed them in the order I read them, along with the short Facebook review I wrote at the time.
#3; The Bone Tree; Greg Iles; 816pp; Fiction; January 10; (This is the follow-on from the fantastic Natchez Burning, which was my favorite book of 2014, and you really need to read that before this one, as this one continues the story from the next day. This book starts to pull the characters into the Kennedy assassination investigations and links to the extreme racist murders from the 1960s. It’s hard to say more without giving away some of the plot and twists. The writing is excellent, with great dialog, and the book is a real page-turner. The story isn’t complete though – that’s coming in March in Iles’ conclusion to the trilogy: Mississippi Blood. Highly recommended!)
#10; Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield; Jeremy Scahill; 681pp; Nonfiction; April 21; (This is an extremely interesting book that investigates the ongoing, autonomous U.S. military operations around the world that have been undertaken as part of the war on terror. It exposes the extrajudicial capture/torture/kill program that was created in secret by the Bush administration (and continued and greatly enhanced by the Obama administration), and operated by the CIA and various Special Forces under the JSOC umbrella in Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Somalia. It uses the case of Anwar Awlaki as the center-point of the narrative. He was a U.S. citizen of Yemeni descent, who became an Islamic teacher and, after fleeing the U.S., went on to become an outspoken proponent of violent jihad against the West. He was linked to AQAP and wrote for their Inspire newsletter. I actually downloaded one of the newsletters to read – quite disturbing stuff. It’s a huge book that’s full of factual information without engaging in partisan criticism. Scahill raises some excellent questions about the morality and constitutional legality of such a program, especially when it targets U.S. citizens for death. Whether you agree with such programs or not, the book is well worth reading. Highly recommended!)
#14; The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter; David Sax; 304pp; Nonfiction; July 11; (What a great book! As a confirmed Luddite, I was really looking forward to the various parts of the book. It covers the resurgence of vinyl records, paper and magazines (check out Stack and Delayed Gratification, both of which I subscribed too), photo film, board games, books, bricks-and-mortar retail, and analog ideas around work, education, and online companies. It’s quite clear that going all digital isn’t what people want. Very interesting, not written in a preachy or manifesto way, and highly recommended!)
#18; Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal; Eric Schlosser; 362pp; Nonfiction; August 25; (Schlosser’s book is a searing expose of the business practices behind the American fast food industry, focusing on McDonald’s and the giant beef processing companies that supply it. Although written in 2001, the industry is still much the same today (not including those chains that create and cook their food fresh every day). The most shocking thing is really how the industry has pressured the government into reducing and/or removing safety and health inspections from the beef supply chain. Once you read about the meat processing facilities, I’ll be surprised if you ever eat a frozen beef patty again. This is definitely not a go-vegetarian rant, but a level-headed, fact-based examination of how fast food is sourced, processed, and prepared. Highly recommended. (And I also strongly recommend Schlosser’s Command and Control that I read a few years ago.))
#22; What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures; Malcolm Gladwell; 448pp; Nonfiction; September 3; (I really enjoy Gladwell’s books (e.g. The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers) and this one was just as good. Rather than being a book that focuses on a single topic about how to understand ourselves and the world, this is a collection of some of Gladwell’s best long articles for The New Yorker along the same lines. It covers 19 topics, all of which are extremely interesting and thought provoking. Highly recommended! (and all his other books too!))
#23; Crystal Fire: The Invention of the Transistor and the Birth of the Information Age; Riordan and Hoddeson; 368pp; History; September 3; (This book recounts the history of the development of the transistor, from the beginnings of solid-state physics in the late 1800s and early 1900s through to the invention and fabrication of the first microchips in the early 1960s. It’s also something of a biography of William Shockley, who was arguably the central character in the transistor’s creation, along with John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, fellow Bell Labs employees and co-winners of the 1956 Nobel Prize for Physics. Hugely interesting and very readable – highly recommended!)
#27; Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty; Acemoglu and Robinson; 544pp; Nonfiction; September 9; (The book puts forth a theory that nations with inclusive economic and political institutions are much more likely to succeed than those with extractive institutions (extractive meaning that the populace is exploited by a small elite for their own gain, inclusive meaning that all citizens are treated equally and property rights are protected by law). It also explains why inclusive institutions developed in some parts of the world and not in others, with exploitative colonialism being a major historical impediment to inclusivity. Lots of interesting case studies and history – highly recommended!)
#30; The North Water; Ian McGuire; 272pp; Historical Fiction; September 26; (Excellent book! (So good I just picked up all McGuire’s other novels.) Set in the mid-1800s as the whaling industry is coming to an end. A ship sets off for the Greenland waters and many dark things happens. It reminds me of Melville’s Moby Dick, but a lot faster, and a lot more raw. Highly recommend and a possible candidate for my best book of the year!)
#31; I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life; Ed Yong; 357pp; Nonfiction; October 1; (What an excellent book! Thanks to Buck Woody for the recommendation. The book explains all kinds of fascinating things about bacteria and our microbiomes, the history of their understanding by science, and how the quest to rid ourselves of them is futile, and in quite a few cases, actually harming people that live in developed nations. More interestingly, it also introduces many scientists who have identified beneficial bacteria and used them to help solve medical or environmental problems – e.g. preventing the dreaded Bd fungus killing a group of frogs, inoculating a group of mosquitoes with a bacteria that prevents them carrying dengue fever, and fecal-matter transplants to help sufferers of persistent C-diff infections – poo pill anyone? Hugely interesting, and written in an entertaining manner, this book is for anyone. Highly recommended!)
#36; Days Without End; Sebastian Barry; 272pp; Historical Fiction; October 13; (This is my time reading Barry’s work and won’t be the last (already bought 3 more of his books). The book follows a pair of Irish immigrants who join the US army in the mid-1800s, take part in brutally putting down Indians, and fight in the Civil War on the Union side. Very atmospheric and a page turner. Highly recommended!)
#37; The Lighthouse Road; Peter Geye; 304pp; Historical Fiction; October 14; (Excellent novel, following a misbegotten family in early 1900s north Minnesota – starting with a young Norwegian immigrant woman. Logging, wolves, fishing, orphans, tough times, and heartbreak, lots of heartbreak. Highly recommended.)
#44; The Little Paris Bookshop; Nina George; 416pp; Fiction; November 18; (I started this last week on the day Coco died as a distraction – what could be more uplifting for a bibliophile than a book about books and a bookshop? It’s a lovely book, about a bookseller who prescribes certain books to ease his customers’ pains. He loses love, takes his floating bookshop downriver, and finds it again. Gentle read and very relaxing. And did I mention it’s about books? Recommended.)
#47; Remarkable Books: The World’s Most Beautiful and Historic Works; DK; 256pp; Nonfiction; December 25; (Merry Christmas! Just finished book #47 this year. As you all know I’m seriously addicted to books and reading – a true bibliophile. I’ve been working through this wonderful book during December reading about a few books each day. Here’s the Amazon blurb about it that describes is better than I can:<begin> A beautifully illustrated guide to more than 75 of the world’s most celebrated rare and seminal books and handwritten manuscripts ever produced with discussions of their purpose features and creators. From ancient masterpieces such as The Art of War written on the leaves of bamboo to the stunningly illustrated Birds of America to Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book Remarkable Books delves into the stories behind the most incredible tomes ever produced offering an insight into their wider social and cultural context and is chronologically ordered to demonstrate the synergies between the growth in human knowledge and the bookmaking process. Alongside breathtaking images of the books and manuscripts themselves close-up views draw out interesting features which are discussed in greater detail while biographies tell the lives of the people who produced them. This coffee table–worthy book is wrapped in a textured jacket with gold foil making it a great gift for those with an interest in literature and art and design. <end> I’m familiar with many of the books covered especially the illustrated manuscripts from the Middle Ages as those are of particular interest to me. It really is a fantastic book itself and I hugely recommend it!)
The Complete List
And the complete list, with links to Amazon so you can explore further. One thing to bear in mind, the dates I finished reading the book don’t mean that I started, for instance, book #2 after finishing book #1. I usually have anywhere from 10-15 books on the go at any one time so I can dip into whatever my mood is for that day. Some books I read start to finish without picking up another one and some books take me over a year. Lots of long airplane flights and boat trips help too!
- Memories of Ice: A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen; Steven Erikson; 1187pp; Fantasy Fiction; January 3
- The Wine-Dark Sea; Patrick O’Brian; 295pp; Historical Fiction; January 5
- The Bone Tree; Greg Iles; 816pp; Fiction; January 10
- Indonesia, Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation; Elizebath Pisani; 416pp; Travel; January 22
- The Life of Elizabeth I; Alison Weir; 656pp; History; February 20
- Forbidden Places: Exploring our Abandoned Heritage; Sylvain Margaine; 256pp; Photography; March 1
- House of Chains: A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen; Steven Erickson; 1040pp; Fantasy Fiction; March 27
- The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution; Francis Fukuyama; 608pp; Nonfiction; April 2
- Fresh Air Fiend: Travel Writings; Paul Theroux; 480pp; Travel; April 9
- Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield; Jeremy Scahill; 681pp; Nonfiction; April 21
- Shift; Hugh Howey; 608pp; Science Fiction; May 10
- A Night Without Stars; Peter F. Hamilton; 640pp; Science Fiction; May 25
- Babylon’s Ashes; James S. A. Corey; 538pp; Science Fiction; June 27
- The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter; David Sax; 304pp; Nonfiction; July 11
- The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck; Sarah Knight; 224pp; Nonfiction; July 29
- The Bat; Jo Nesbo; 384pp; Fiction; August 18
- The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain; Paul Theroux; 368pp; Travel; August 23
- Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal; Eric Schlosser; 362pp; Nonfiction; August 25
- The Commodore; Patrick O’Brian; 303pp; Historical Fiction; August 28
- Bleak House; Charles Dickens; 1088pp; Fiction; August 28
- The Yellow Admiral; Patrick O’Brian; 264pp; Historical Fiction; August 29
- What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures; Malcolm Gladwell; 448pp; Nonfiction; September 3
- Crystal Fire: The Invention of the Transistor and the Birth of the Information Age; Riordan and Hoddeson; 368pp; History; September 3
- The Hundred Days; Patrick O’Brian; 272pp; Historical Fiction; September 5
- Blue at the Mizzen; Patrick O’Brian; 252pp; Historical Fiction; September 6
- Book 21 / The Complete Aubrey/Maturin Novels; Patrick O’Brian; 65pp; Historical Fiction; September 6
- Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty; Acemoglu and Robinson; 544pp; Nonfiction; September 9
- Midnight Tides: A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen; Steven Erikson; 960pp; Fantasy Fiction; September 15
- Dark Intelligence: Transformation Book One; Neal Asher; 402pp; Science Fiction; September 23
- The North Water; Ian McGuire; 272pp; Historical Fiction; September 26
- I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life; Ed Yong; 357pp; Nonfiction; October 1
- Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis; Robert F. Kennedy; 222pp; History; October 4
- The Peripheral; Willam Gibson; 485pp; Science Fiction; October 5
- Dust; Hugh Howey; 480pp; Science Fiction; October 10
- Night of Knives: A Novel of the Mazalan Empire; Ian C. Esslemont; 304pp; Fantasy Fiction; October 12
- Days Without End; Sebastian Barry; 272pp; Historical Fiction; October 13
- The Lighthouse Road; Peter Geye; 304pp; Historical Fiction; October 14
- Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore; Robin Sloan; 288pp; Fiction; October 25
- Neutron Star; Larry Niven; 285pp; Science Fiction; October 25
- Archipelago: Portraits of Life in the World’s Most Remote Island Sanctuary; Middleton and Liittschwager; 264pp; Photography; October 26
- Atlas of Remote Islands; Judith Schalansky; 144pp; Nonfiction; October 27
- The Technician; Neal Asher; 503pp; Science Fiction; November 9
- Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Places; Olivier Le Carrer; 144pp; Nonfiction; November 15
- The Little Paris Bookshop; Nina George; 416pp; Fiction; November 18
- Platform Souls: The Trainspotter as 20th-Century Hero; Nicholas Whittaker; 288pp; Nonfiction; November 24
- Origin; Dan Brown; 461pp; Fiction; December 8
- Remarkable Books: The World’s Most Beautiful and Historic Works; DK; 256pp; Nonfiction; December 25
- Mrs Rosie and the Priest; Giovanni Boccaccio; 54pp; Fiction; December 27