Books I read in 2017

  1. Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller. A relatively short and easy read about the author’s process toward intimacy in relationships, both platonic and romantic. It does not explain his methods or give the reader any strategies, but does point out that in his case anyway, the block to trusting others was realizing a deep sense of low self-esteem that caused him to keep walls up and push anyone away who got too close. The author is clearly religious, and brings up his faith sometimes, but as an atheist, I found his faith very easy to work with and not cloying.
  2. Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman by Richard P. Feynman. I liked this one so much the first time around, I read it again. I still love the way he played with ants. Original review in 2013.
  3. Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation by Aisha Tyler.
  4. Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart.
  5. Astoria by Peter Stark. I read this only after I saw Part I of the play in Portland, based on the book. I have tickets for Part II coming up January 2018, and will likely read the book again before I see it. This is an epic story detailing John Jacob Astor’s attempt to establish a fur trade empire on the Northwest Coast of North America. He privately financed two parties, one by sea and one by land, that aimed to set up a trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River, with the full support of President Jefferson. Only a few years after Lewis & Clark, I had never even heard of this expedition, which is the one that found the route that ended up being the famous Oregon Trail. I read the book because, while they failed to establish a new capital of commerce in 1810-1813, the little settlement they named “Astoria” survived, and is only 45 miles away from me right now. This book is well written, fleshing out the larger than life characters involved, the nearly-incomprehensible challenges in the journey, and the many deaths that naturally befell the would-be conquerors. Bonus: more back story details to John Day, one of the men in the overland expedition. The book was published in 2014, and thus the author makes efforts to portray Native tribes and individuals accurately, such as explaining what exceptional traders they were before Europeans showed up, and shrewdly bargaining (whereas Lewis & Clark complained about how stupid they were, but that was probably to cover up embarrassment at not being able to swindle Native traders).
  6. (short story) The World of Shadow by Kate Hamer. Lovely, lovely little sad story. A boy has a miserable life with an unsuccessful and overbearing, angry father. He meets a girl his age in the wood one day and they play together for hours. The father and boy are forced to move away the very next day and his life, while wretched, is not completely miserable. As he looks back on his life he gives thanks that he loved, and was loved, by that girl in the wood.
  7. (short story) The Hospital by Keith C. Blackmore. Apparently an introduction story to a zombie book that I haven’t read. I’m not a zombie story fan, but I’m open to free audible short stories! This one has some creative variations on the story and plausible post-zombie apocalypse environment. It was well-written and entertaining and appropriately gruesome in the end, but the main character still manages to get away from the insane nurse, who was clearly more of a danger than the zombies.
  8. The Martian by Andy Weir. I was riveted from page one. Mark, the protagonist, is a NASA scientist and astronaut, yes, but he’s just a regular young guy who curses and questions authority. He makes fun of everything, including himself, and is deliciously upbeat despite being accidentally abandoned on Mars. The technical details are so convincing that I’m sure the author must have inside knowledge of the space program. Mark’s battle to stay alive in mind-blowingly impossible circumstances is heroic and engaging.
  9. The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner. Stegner has an immense skill for portraying characters. I was sucked into the story. This one follows the story of the Mason family from their time of meeting each other till their deaths. It’s a good look at early life in the American and Canadian West in the early 20th century. The book was hard on me, not just because the Masons lived a hard life, but because Elsa loved and tried to support her man, then died of cancer – like my mother. And Bo… was a man with tremendous dreams and potential for love and generosity, but turned into a bitter, nasty man who inspired hatred from his children. Sadly, I related to this all too well.
  10. (short story) Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson. This one is so well done! I see on Sanderson’s website it is in preparations to be made into a movie. Good choice. The “Snapshot” is a massive, expensive program owned by a city and used by the Police Department. What it can do is reproduce, to a molecular level, the city itself on a given day. Everything is there, in a cavern below the city, including buildings, taco trucks, blades of grass, and humans. Officers on Snapshot duty live on the outskirts of the city, in hopes of never confronting a copy of themselves when they are in there. They go back to a date in history, and place themselves at the scene of a crime, in hopes of getting important details that will help them capture the criminal in real time.
  11. The Way of Kings, Stormlight Archive I, by Brandon Sanderson.
  12. Words of Radiance, Stormlight Archive II, by Brandon Sanderson.
  13. The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe
  14. (short story) Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson. Can you believe I did not realize that this one, and Snapshot were written by Brandon Sanderson (author of the Stormlight Trilogy that I loved so much I read them twice already) until I wrote this list of books I read this year? The stories are clearly different and did not remind me of each other, and yet I enjoyed them all – clearly one mark of a great author. In a post-apocalyptic future, there are regular humans, and Epics, human-like beings who somehow have a power. This guy’s power is the ability to self-replicate, to split and reproduce, by the hundreds, maybe thousands. The protagonist cannot understand where the matter comes from: it seems like it isn’t possible, but he discovers that the more copies of the Epic Mitosis are out there, the weaker – and dumber! – they all are.
  15. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
  16. Copper Sun by  Sharon M. Draper. I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while. It’s clearly written and educational, and I began to think it would be perfect for a middle-schooler. Turns out, it’s categorized as a young adult novel. Maybe my kid recommended it as the result of an assignment? In any case, the topics were harsh, but laid down in soft words. Brutality was easily seen between the lines for anyone’s who has lived awhile.
  17. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I’ve been meaning to read this one for decades. Since it’s publishing in 1988, the author has gained something of a guru quality, particularly on that literary bastion, facebook. It was with great disappointment that this, too (after I just read Copper Sun), turned out to be a book for middle-schoolers. I felt the same disappointment when reading The Little Prince. The lessons are beautiful and perfect and vital. The setting is rich, the characters just right. For anyone who needs to choose a path in life, be she 8 years old or 28, it’s good.
  18. A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
  19. American Fascists by Chris Hedges. Chapter one sets the stage for the whole book by explaining that there is a dangerous “dominionist” movement among Christian right extremists. Hedges explains that his father was a minister and that he is a deeply faithful man. In other words, his intent is not to cast doubt on faith, but to isolate and expose a branch – but a powerful branch – of Christianity that threatens to shake the foundations of this country and could likely be the greatest national threat we have ever faced. Hedges shows how the Christian right infiltrates politics and the media, then uses tried and true fascist rhetoric reminiscent of Orwell’s newspeak and the xenophobic fervor of WWII, to frighten vast numbers of Americans into believing that there is a war underway and that they are surrounded on all sides by people who want to eliminate Christianity and Christian morals. He provides current examples (it was published in 2007) to back up his case. All the central chapters provide example after example of why extremist conservative Christianity is bad…but I’m not sure it all supports the premise of chapter one. It’s all shocking and familiar, since I am from an extremely religious family. Though I haven’t personally seen or experienced every example, I have personally experienced most of them. Update: 2020 I read this again. This time, chapter one was chilling. The first couple times I read this book, I could follow his logic, but couldn’t buy the idea that it was a current threat on the level he was suggesting. After Trump, I realize everything he warns against actually IS happening, and I’m witnessing it. Christians may not appreciate this book because he fails to remind the reader that he’s not talking about ALL Christians, just those who subscribe to the dominionist movement, and what he says is very inflammatory and uncomfortable – mostly because it’s true. Hedges does attack too forcefully for my taste, and loses some of my respect for his neutral journalist skills.
  20. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Oh, I love this story. I’ve read it before but I wanted it again. Janie comes home to scornful gazes of her old community. They titter and squawk about her, they tsk tsk and Mmmm Hmm, and do everything they can to shame her. “The porch couldn’t talk for looking.” But Janie walks proud and pays them no mind and exudes a mature confidence and solid foundation of knowing exactly who she is and what is important. Most of all, she is sad, sad as hell, and still a little bewildered by it all. Phoeby, her old friend, alone takes up for her, and heads over to welcome Janie home. Janie tells what happened. Hurston’s words are dessert. Crumbly like coffee cake and syrupy like a fresh peach. She said deceptively innocuous things – about the sky, about a smell – that made me pause the audio just to think about it. I felt the loss of Teacake too, when it was all over.

I re-read a bunch. When I’m out of audible credits, I go back through my library and pick out favourites. These included Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, The Education of Little Tree, 14, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge (I read this one at least once a year), Gone With the Wind, Callahan’s Legacy, Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune. I must have had a lot of chores to do this year, to have the opportunity to plug in so often.