Favorite Books of 2017

19:54 Mon 01 Jan 2018
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2017 was a much better reading year than 2016, but it didn’t start that way—and maybe it was just Q4 2017 that was good for reading. By the end of June, I’d only read 16 books, and while the next few months picked up a little, the real change happened at the start of October, when I flew to and from the East Coast in a week and read three books on the way out, and two on the way back[1], and that shifted me back towards reading more.

I finished the year having read 84 books, 48 of them in the last three months. And some of the books I read were extremely good.

Top Five

A Paradise Built in Hell, Rebecca Solnit (90)

A great examination by Solnit of how some amazingly positive human experiences occur in the aftermath of disaster, with a focus on how those experiences create communities—and how the behavior involved is so different from the commonly held misconceptions about how people act after a disaster.

A practical lesson from it: after a disaster you’re probably not in danger from roving postapocalyptic carnivorous gangs, and that your area is more likely to have lots of people who want to help—but you may be in danger from those who are convinced the postapocalyptic gangs are coming and are eager to “defend” against them.

You should read it.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Harari (90)

This was a wonderful overview of humanity’s history, with some great ideas that I hadn’t really considered before, such as that proto-humans might have developed language in part to be able to gossip, which helps group cohesion. Its take on the importance of memes (in the original sense) to large-scale coordination is also something I didn’t consider before in the way that it does.

Matter, Iain M Banks (90)

I love all the Culture novels, and reading this one was just a ton of fun throughout. I didn’t remember it too well from the first time I read it, which just made it more interesting as a re-read. One of the things I love about it is how it shows the vastness of the crowded Culture universe and the relationships between societies at very different stages of technological development.

The Neapolitan Novels, Elena Ferrante

I read all four this year and thought they were amazing. While I only gave one (Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay) a 90 rating, I would give that same rating to the overall series. Ferrante is so good at examining difficult and intense relationships, and at delving into the emotional messiness between people.

I loved Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay in particular because that was the volume that fully hit me with the mixture of the personal and political, the ways in which the economics, inequality, and politics of Naples burn into the characters.

A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara (90)

I feel conflicted about this one. I was deeply affected by it while reading it, and thought it was amazing, but after finishing it I started to see the strings the author had been pulling, and how melodramatic it was in many ways. That late critique doesn’t change the fact that it hit me powerfully while I read reading it, though, so I left it with its 90 rating.

Other Highlights

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (85)

An excellent analysis of the recent history of Black resistance to American racism. In particular, anyone interested in US social justice issues should study the last chapter.

Vida, Marge Piercy (85)

A great story of life on the run as a political fugitive in the US in the 1970s. It’s essentially about the SDS/Weather Underground, and is wonderful and messy in its depiction of the tangled emotional, political, and sexual threads running through the period and the movements involved.

A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar (85)

This gets the perhaps-dreaded (and wrong to even validate the notion of by using, really)[2] tag of “literary fantasy”, because the writing was superlative and haunting, and the setting similarly so. It did lose its way somewhat near the middle, but found itself again later.

The Will to Change, bell hooks (85)

An essential examination of the effects of patriarchy on men, and on the relations between genders, as well as some pointers for healing. I have some qualms about some of the cultural analysis hooks attempts, however—for example, I find her claims about the inherent violence of the term “fucking” rather questionable.

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel (85)

Gripping, fascinating chronicle of the life of Thomas Cromwell, adviser to Henry VIII, and the times of religious upheaval he lived in. Incidentally also a reminder of what a shit Henry VIII was, although such is hardly necessary.

Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (85)

This story of life in Nigeria around the time of its Civil War is heartbreaking, and an excellent examination of the various divisions that led to tragedy, seen through the lens of everyday experience.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Becky Chambers (80)

This and its sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, are wonderful science-fiction stories with a great atmosphere and a light touch with interpersonal relationships.

Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee (80)

Science fiction that reads rather like fantasy, with the laws of physics altered by belief systems that are run by/on complex mathematics, with a strong story of political machination and oppression.

The Reading Plan

Following my reading plan still cuts two ways: when I’m not particularly inclined to read, it can slow me down because I’m not in the mood for the next book; but when I am inclined to read, it helps me to read a more diverse and rewarding set of books. Overall, it’s still a good approach to follow.


In 2017 I read:

84 books with an average of 390 pages per book, an average rating of 79, taking an average of 7 (median of 3) days to read.

80 ebooks, 4 physical books.

71 fiction, 13 nonfiction.

15 books I would recommend.

20 books from book groups (5 SF reading group, 10 Books & Brews, 5 SF AiPT).

3 books that I had previously read.

8 books that have won awards I care about[3].

84 is my third-highest yearly total ever, trailing only 1998 (97) and 2015 (87). 32,784 pages is the second-highest number of pages I’ve read in a year (page count isn’t exactly reliable, but over large numbers of books/pages is probably a reasonable measure).

2017 also had the highest average rating since I started rating books in 2012, at 78.87.

I read more recent books in 2017 than in the last few years, at an average age of 12.

The List

  1. From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor.

    2017-01-12. 85%

    Excellent overview of the history of black liberation in the US, with a good analysis of systemic problems and how they persist. Also the last chapter should be required reading for anyone interested in US social justice issues.

  2. Our Lady of Darkness, Fritz Leiber.

    2017-01-25. 70%

    I wanted to like it more than I did; the ideas seemed promising and some of the descriptions were excellent, but ultimately there just wasn’t enough to it.

  3. Pond, Claire-Louise Bennett.

    2017-02-05. 85%

    Essentially plotless, but this view into the thoughts of a woman living alone in rural England was fantastically written.

  4. Vida, Marge Piercy.

    2017-03-05. 85%

    Messy, involved, intense tale of a political fugitive (essentially SDS/Weather Underground) on the run the 1970s.

  5. Company Town, Madeline Ashby.

    2017-03-06. 75%

    I liked the first half more than the second; it had a lot of promise and I like the setting, but the mix of scales in it didn’t quite work for me and I ended up wanting it to be more expansive. Good writing and a great protagonist, but the parts ended up not quite fitting together.

  6. Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi.

    2017-04-02. 75%

    Well-written and harrowing, but I found the shifting of characters made it less compelling, and the latter half of the book felt like the author was trying to wrap up the individual chapters, making them seem contrived.

  7. Babel-17, Samuel R Delany.

    2017-04-26. 80%

    A little clunky in places, but enjoyable and felt like it could have been written much more recently, and it was one of the first language-as-psychological-programming novels.

  8. Beautiful Red, M Darusha Wehm.

    2017-04-30. 70%

    Some interesting ideas about the emergence of AI in a dystopian net-dominated future, but thin in places where it needs more detail, and it felt like it just didn’t do a good enough job of solid world-building to make its story sufficiently compelling. Also, the ending is clearly very rushed.

  9. Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

    2017-05-13. 85%

    Haunted and tragic, this starts off as excellent insight into middle-class life in postcolonial Nigeria and becomes a harrowing story of the Nigeria–Biafra war.

  10. The Round House, Louise Erdrich.

    2017-05-25. 80%

    Disturbing tale of a coming of age period twisted by injustice and racism.

  11. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Becky Chambers.

    2017-05-26. 80%

    Well-written and fun science fiction in a populous advanced universe, with interesting characters and a good (if occasionally too neat) story arc.

  12. Spaceman Blues, Brian Francis Slattery.

    2017-06-03. 70%

    Some strong individual passages, but overall this felt like a book “high on its own supply”, and the fantastical elements served mainly to push me away from identifying with or caring about the character, despite it feeling like it had stylistic connection to Robert Anton Wilson and, to a lesser extent, William Burroughs.

  13. Ideas for Action, Cynthia Kaufman.

    2017-06-04. 75%

    A reasonable overview of lots of things, but its nature as overview left me feeling unsatisfied too often. Still good as a summary and possibly as an introduction.

  14. Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee.

    2017-06-09. 80%

    Excellent far-future military sci-fi, with plenty of strange concepts and a slight high-fantasy feel. The last third seemed not quite as good as the earlier parts, not sure why, but it was still very good.

  15. A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar.

    2017-06-16. 85%

    This took unexpected turns and seemed to lose its way in the middle, but ultimately the sheer quality of the writing brought it home. Fantasy in a detailed world seen mostly from a stranger’s eyes, with heartache woven throughout.

  16. The ABC of Anarchism, Alexander Berkman.

    2017-06-17. 80%

    Still a worthwhile and compelling analysis, and while some of the economic analysis is suspect at this point, I don’t think that undermines most of the key points of the text.

  17. An Untamed State, Roxane Gay.

    2017-07-07. 80%

    Searing and well-written, the first half is both extremely disturbing and convincing. The second is less so, but I’m not sure why; bits of it feel too neat even as it’s clearly deliberately very messy. The second half isn’t necessarily unrealistic, but it feels significantly less real than the first half, possibly just because ending things is hard.

  18. My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante.

    2017-07-09. 85%

    Fantastically well-written, it absolutely immerses the reader in the world of Elena and Lila, capturing not only their environment but the way they perceived it. This first volume also has a phenomenal cliffhanger ending.

  19. A Quiet Flame, Philip Kerr.

    2017-07-11. 75%

    Good, but not as compelling as the earlier ones, despite having a fascinating plot (apparently quite grounded in historical fact) and some great lines.

  20. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell.

    2017-07-21. 80%

    Racist, sexist, and classist in predictable ways, it’s nevertheless remarkably well-written, and drew me in despite those issues and the fact that most of its characters I found quite annoying. It was more also rather more anti-war than I’d expected.

  21. The Lost Child, Caryl Phillips.

    2017-07-21. 75%

    The writing is good and the conceit—ruminations on madness and parenting on the theme of Wuthering Heights—clever, but while affecting it was also somehow hollow, and I didn’t think its intertextuality enough to raise it above interesting.

  22. The Glorious Heresies, Lisa McInerney.

    2017-07-22. 80%

    Well-written and gritty, this hit a lot of the right notes about modern Ireland, even if it is set in Cork, and even though much of it hinges on the ghost-perception of Maureen.

  23. The Dark Forest, Cixin Liu.

    2017-07-28. 70%

    The characters seemed even less real than in the first one, and while the ideas remained interesting, and enough to pull me along, the characterization and writing were markedly poor.

  24. A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, Rebecca Solnit.

    2017-07-31. 90%

    Powerful, affecting, and important, this is a fascinating view of how the aftermaths of disasters can be strongly positive. It upends a lot of common views on how people behave under those circumstances, and does so fluidly and compellingly. One minor complaint is that there are some small areas that felt repetitive, but that’s not enough to take away from how good it is.

  25. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou.

    2017-07-31. 75%

    Excellently written, but the second half seemed very rushed; I thought the first half was very strong and expected to like the second just as much, but the pacing was off.

  26. The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker.

    2017-08-21. 70%

    Started promisingly, but didn’t really deliver, and it often felt that the author chose to focus on detailing sections that didn’t seem that interesting while rushing through others. I also found the ending/explanation for the connections between the characters to be overly neat.

  27. Imajica, Clive Barker.

    2017-08-27. 65%

    Just mediocre; the world-building isn’t good enough, the plot isn’t as intricate or as clever as it thinks it is, and the characters are nowhere near interesting enough to inspire the interest required.

  28. Season of the Witch, David Talbot.

    2017-08-28. 80%

    Excellent and eye-opening chronicle of San Francisco from the early 1930s to the early 1990s.

  29. City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett.

    2017-09-08. 80%

    Good, smart, well-written fantasy with a very interesting world.

  30. Darkmans, Nicola Barker.

    2017-09-11. 75%

    Very well-written, but while it was clever and intriguing, it never came together well enough for me to find it satisfying.

  31. The Girl With All the Gifts, M R Carey.

    2017-09-13. 80%

    Relatively straightforward but well-executed zombie-ish apocalypse story, one that held my attention throughout and included some twists I didn’t see coming.

  32. The World of Ice & Fire, George R R Martin, Elio M Garcia, Jr., and Linda Antonsson.

    2017-09-14. 80%

    Fun to read, and compelling evidence that there is a vast amount of background to the Song of Ice and Fire.

  33. City of Blades, Robert Jackson Bennett.

    2017-09-19. 80%

    A strong sequel, combining enough new information with the strands from the first book to be just as compelling.

  34. Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit.

    2017-09-21. 80%

    Inspiring, a polemic against the paralysis of despair, but A Paradise Built in Hell covers many of the same themes and probably handles them better.

  35. The Destructives, Matthew De Abaitua.

    2017-09-26. 80%

    Gripping near-future SF with a focus on AI and the nature of consciousness. Occasionally goes astray, but not enough to lose my interest.

  36. How to Find Love in a Bookshop, Veronica Henry.

    2017-09-29. 70%

    Halfway through I thought I’d really like it a lot, which surprised me, but the latter half wrapped up all the endings far, far too neatly. Also: Holy Heteronormativity, Batman!

  37. Central Station, Lavie Tidhar.

    2017-10-09. 75%

    Excellently written, with interesting ideas and an apparently deep setting, but the interlocked-vignette style made me too wary that there wasn’t really a “there” there.

  38. MaddAddam, Margaret Atwood.

    2017-10-10. 75%

    Good, and interesting, but throughout the trilogy I kept feeling that it was missing something that would make it truly compelling.

  39. If The Dead Rise Not, Philip Kerr.

    2017-10-14. 80%

    Bleak and hardboiled, a story spanning pre-WWII Berlin and 50s Havana, I wasn’t sure it was quite good enough, but I thought it managed a strong ending that really made it work.

  40. The Will to Change, bell hooks.

    2017-10-16. 85%

    Excellent analysis of the effects of patriarchy and how to help men get out of it. I have some issues with some of the cultural analysis, however.

  41. The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin.

    2017-10-16. 85%

    Excellent and searing polemic, one that was more nuanced and more optimistic than I’d expected.

  42. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath.

    2017-10-16. 85%

    Intense and ethereal, Plath’s description of descent into mental illness is extremely convincing while also managing to seem like an indictment of all of society.

  43. Permutation City, Greg Egan.

    2017-10-19. 80%

    Fascinating ideas and an interesting exploration of selfhood and consciousness that asks tricky questions about how far VR/digital consciousness extends.

  44. So Much for That Winter, Dorthe Nors.

    2017-10-20. 80%

    Slight and minimalist, but also sharp and insightful, and interestingly structured, a poetry/prose hybrid.

  45. Maps & Legends, Michael Chabon.

    2017-10-20. 80%

    Excellent set of essays on writing, reading, and criticism, with a particular insistent on resisting genre categorization.

  46. The Queen of the Tearling, Erika Johansen.

    2017-10-21. 80%

    Despite a fair number of common fantasy tropes, this felt fresh and well-done, perhaps because the politics are interesting. The writing is good and it pulled me along and was thoroughly enjoyable.

  47. The Invasion of the Tearling, Erika Johansen.

    2017-10-22. 70%

    Quite a disappointment after the first one. This book delves more deeply into the background of the world, which is a mistake, because the background includes a warmed-over version of The Handmaid’s Tale and time travel, as well as an unconvincing mix of technology and magic.

  48. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Harari.

    2017-10-26. 90%

    Fascinating and challenging, this overview of humanity’s history is excellent.

  49. City of Miracles, Robert Jackson Bennett.

    2017-10-27. 80%

    I felt both that this was a fitting end to the series and that it was a little too neat in places, in particular with Olvos.

  50. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver.

    2017-10-31. 80%

    Amazingly written, heart-wrenching, and haunting.

  51. Raven Stratagem, Yoon Ha Lee.

    2017-11-02. 75%

    Still enjoyable, and gripping throughout the first half, but the second half and the end seemed to lose coherence and a certain amount of suspense.

  52. A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers.

    2017-11-02. 80%

    Sweet and touching, more focused than the first one and thus very different, but with a similar emotional tone and the same still-interesting varied universe.

  53. Matter, Iain M Banks.

    2017-11-04. 90%

    I loved it. In the Shellworld it had an amazing, interesting setting; the politics among the various alien races were convincing; the lead characters all worked; and the Culture was fascinating as always.

  54. The Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante.

    2017-11-08. 85%

    Wonderful writing, writing that drags you into the world of the narrator, wraps you in the emotional vortex of her and Lila. Anxiety-inducing, perhaps because many of the insights strike close to home.

  55. The Box Man, Kobo Abe.

    2017-11-10. 75%

    I would probably have liked it more if I had to study it; it seems like the kind of book that rewards careful reading and re-reading. But I wasn’t inclined to try to solve the core puzzle of who the box man was and who was writing, and while the writing was good and the hallucinatory segments well done and the weirdness somewhat compelling, it didn’t hold together for me.

  56. The Unholy Consult, R Scott Bakker.

    2017-11-14. 75%

    I enjoyed aspects of it, but Kelmomas’s part in it, and the final Kellhus scene, really didn’t work for me, and I thought that some of the sections were definitely overly long (particularly some of the Achamian/Mimara/Esmenet stuff, which I don’t think paid off). I still enjoyed it, but it’s not quite on par with the rest of the series.

  57. Provenance, Ann Leckie.

    2017-11-15. 75%

    It started well but also slowly, and took too long to get going, yet didn’t quite manage to make me as interested in the characters as would be required in order to be satisfied with the outcomes. The setting was interesting, but not as interesting as I thought it’d be at first.

  58. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante.

    2017-11-18. 90%

    Heart-wrenching, it still has the emotional power of the first two but more explicitly addresses politics, and the entanglement and complexity of that added to the rest gives it an extremely realistic depth.

  59. Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson.

    2017-11-21. 80%

    Perhaps a little too much on the hard sci-fi end of the spectrum for my tastes, but it went to places I really didn’t expect, and I thought the last part of the book really worked well.

  60. The Stone Sky, N K Jemisin.

    2017-11-22. 80%

    A harrowing (of course) but strong ending to the series, complete with interesting revelations about the background of the world amidst continual terrible choices that everyone in the world has to make.

  61. Three Parts Dead, Max Gladstone.

    2017-11-25. 80%

    Interesting world of, essentially, necromancer/mage-lawyers, with a good plot and a strong setting. Occasionally I wondered about the plausibility of pieces, but the story moved along well enough that this didn’t get in the way. I plan to read the sequels.

  62. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara.

    2017-11-25. 90%

    Clear, unflinching, and harrowing, this hit me very hard. My only criticism is that I wish was that the wealth wasn’t so ubiquitous later on.

  63. 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, Ha-Joon Chang.

    2017-11-26. 75%

    I think this is a good book, but I’m probably not the target audience for it. I knew a lot of what it covers, and the parts I didn’t know felt like additional detail rather than revelation. Some of the details were interesting, but overall it didn’t break enough ground that was new to me.

  64. Silver Screen, Justina Robson.

    2017-11-29. 75%

    Some interesting ideas about AI and nanotechnology and biological outgrowths of those, but ultimately not able to convince me that its characters were plausible or that I should care about them.

  65. Plus, Joseph McElroy.

    2017-11-30. 75%

    This likely deserves a higher rating, as it sticks resolutely to its difficult subject matter—the disjointed consciousness (or attempt(s) at consciousness) of a disembodied brain that’s grown/growing into something larger, all the way through either its transformation or its dissolution. But while I admire it, I simply wasn’t that into it. It just wasn’t that much fun to read, and while the depiction of events felt extremely realistic, this stream of consciousness didn’t capture my attention all that well.

  66. Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel.

    2017-12-03. 85%

    Excellently written, and certainly creates a convincing illusion that you’re there with Cromwell—but I have to wonder if this is too flattering a depiction; no way to know.

  67. Immediatism, Hakim Bey.

    2017-12-03. 85%

    Fantastic, either a compelling and well-argued still-relevant wakeup call with a coherent quasi-philosophy wrapped in it, or a prank good enough to convince me—which might be the same thing, in this case. Also reminds me strongly of Robert Anton Wilson, naturally enough.

  68. Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell.

    2017-12-08. 75%

    I thought this was really excellent YA fiction; unsparing, mostly realistic, and adept at mixing early love in with the powerlessness in the face of cruelty that is so much of childhood/adolescence. It never felt like it was quite for me, though, which is why I gave it a rating of 75.

  69. The Stars are Legion, Kameron Hurley.

    2017-12-08. 75%

    Great start, some fascinating ideas, but I felt that the last third wasn’t good enough to fulfil the early promise.

  70. Field Grey, Philip Kerr.

    2017-12-10. 80%

    This seemed even darker than the previous books, perhaps because of the concentration camps. Strongly written and it involved some twists that I didn’t see coming.

  71. The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante.

    2017-12-14. 85%

    Powerful and unrelenting, like the rest of the series, and emotionally very insightful, but slightly less captivating for me than the third volume.

  72. The Quarry, Iain Banks.

    2017-12-14. 80%

    Held my interest, and felt very much like a Banks novel, although, perhaps oddly given its subject matter, it seemed a little more optimistic than I’d expected.

  73. We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver.

    2017-12-15. 85%

    Extremely convincing, and covering harrowing material, and the character of the narrator felt very real and very impressive even without the horrors she was dealing with.

  74. Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin.

    2017-12-15. 75%

    Well-written, almost dreamlike in many parts, but my experience of it was divided between thinking of it as near-universal in its treatment of love and relationships, but also from an alien time whose attitudes are difficult to engage with.

  75. Sunshine, Robin McKinley.

    2017-12-18. 75%

    Interesting in parts, and a good attempt at making a coherent world out of an “urban fantasy” setting, with some strong concepts, but it meandered too much and could really have used some editing.

  76. The Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi.

    2017-12-18. 75%

    Interesting, well-written large-scale interstellar SF with good characters and an interesting premise—but too short! The book, even at over 300 pages, feels almost like a prologue, and somehow knowing that it’s just the setup for the series makes me characters less interesting to me—I have the (possibly unfair) sense that they’re interesting enough to be major characters in a single book but not to hold up a multi-book series.

  77. Dark Orbit, Carolyn Ives Gilman.

    2017-12-20. 75%

    It started well and had an interesting setting, but the quasi-mystical direction it took, while not bad, just didn’t interest me that much, and I felt that it went astray near the end.

  78. City of Bohane, Kevin Barry.

    2017-12-24. 80%

    Very well-written, with a compelling and real-feeling setting that was all the better for a lack of exposition.

  79. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff.

    2017-12-28. 80%

    A strong double-take on a marriage, with characters that held my interest, although I thought Mathilde was the more interesting of the two.

  80. The Einstein Intersection, Samuel R Delany.

    2017-12-28. 75%

    Good, but it never really pulled me in, and the focus on myth made it difficult to sense what the rules—if any—actually were.

  81. Purple Hibiscus, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

    2017-12-28. 80%

    Another excellent and angering sketch of family life in troubled Nigerian times.

  82. The Steep Approach to Garbadale, Iain Banks.

    2017-12-29. 75%

    I enjoyed it but saw the twist coming a little far off and found my attention drifting more than typical in a Banks novel. Much of it felt very familiar from his previous works, making it seem almost like a medley.

  83. Gone Feral, Novella Carpenter.

    2017-12-30. 70%

    This story of a daughter’s estrangement from her father was good, but definitely drifted too far in places and lost my interest at those times.

  84. A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini.

    2017-12-31. 80%

    It felt very true to life, and the writing was very good, and I was absorbed by the characters and their suffering—but as you’d expect from a novel about the lives of two women in Afghanistan from the 1970s onward, it made me both angry and depressed at humanity.

[1] The Will to Change, The Fire Next Time, and The Bell Jar on the way out, So Much for That Winter and Maps & Legends on the way back, and Permutation City in between.

[2] Any genre can be of extraordinarily high quality, and “literary” isn’t really a genre so much as a kind of status marker, a claim to not being significantly “tainted” by genre. I use it here regardless because it fits so well as a description of A Stranger in Olondria (that is, because I’m being kind of lazy here), but it’s absolutely not an endorsement of that way of categorizing books.

[3] Hugo Award for Best Novel, IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, Man Booker Prize for Fiction, National Book Award for Fiction, Nebula Award for Best Novel, PEN/Faulkner Prize for Fiction, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.


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