by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, December 30, 2017
This is my year of reading less. I only read 36 books in 2017, down from 55 last year. Two factors came into play causing me to read less. One is related to aging, and that was totally unexpected. I just can’t read for hours and hours like I used to when I was young. Partly, I have other things I want to do more, and partly because of a diminished ability to concentrate. I also read less because I chose to read less in 2017. I made the conscious decision to stop reading any book where I lost interest. I use to power through so I could add the title to my books read list. (See “Year in Reading” for my past summaries.)
I decided it’s silly to judge my reading by quantity. For decades I’ve loved increasing my yearly books read count like some folks love to brag about how many miles per gallon their car gets. At one point this year I got within 15 pages of finishing a 300-page book when I decided to quit reading. I realized I was pushing myself through the book just so I could add it to the year’s books read count. I returned it to the library.
Book of the Year 2017
I read some impressive books this year, both fiction and nonfiction, but Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Kurt Andersen stood out. Of course, 2017 was the year of Donald Trump and Fantasyland did more than anything I read to explain that insanity. Just that fact pushed Andersen’s book to the top of my list. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg also worked well to explain the nastiness of 2017.
Two other nonfiction books stood out as powerful reads, An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back by Elisabeth Rosenthal and In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi. I couldn’t get any of my friends interested in a book about healthcare costs, but it was fascinating. The Faludi book was a memoir about her learning her estranged father had become a woman and had moved to Budapest. On the surface, the book appears to be about transgenderism, but I found it fascinating because it was about identity in general. It also compared right-wing politics in Hungary to alt-right America, and that was very revealing for 2017.
Best Novel Read This Year
I read Love in the Time of Cholera for a book club. I’ve owned it for years. It was one of those books I’ve always thought I should read. I’m still not sure what to make of it. It’s large and complex and I will probably need to read it a couple more times before I start to understand Gabriel García Márquez intent for his story.
My 19th-century novel this year was Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy. Even though this story was mostly philosophizing about how to turn the United States into a utopia it was a compelling read. I can understand why it was the #3 bestseller in America for the 1800s. It’s a shame that science fiction and society has given up on utopias, favoring dystopias instead. Pessimism prevails.
I only read 15 novels this year (and a few short story collections). I’m slowly switching to reading more nonfiction. My goal in recent years for fiction is to go for quality over quantity. I can’t say that most of the novels I read this year were great literary works, but they meant something to me. Anne of Green Gables was a pleasant surprise. I read it because I enjoyed Anne With An E so much on Netflix. I reread Downward to the Earth by Robert Silverberg and I’m still very impressed. I believe it’s a forgotten classic of science fiction. I read two novels by John Wyndham this year, both were entertaining. They made me realize I like cozy science fiction.
The two most well known 2017 science fiction novels I read, New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson and Artemis by Andy Weir, were sharp contrasts in speculation. Both were page-turners, but I admired Robinson for his extrapolation and I was horrified by what Weir imagined for a lunar colony. I hated that Weir’s protagonist was a smuggler and saboteur. Jazz deserved to be thrown out the airlock without a spacesuit for her deeds. Basically, my reaction to Artemis was the revulsion of Republican cut-throat capitalism would be replicated on the Moon. Weir might be realistic, but I hope we can design better societies the Moon and Mars than we what have on Earth. If we’re just going to spread our cancerous ways to other planets I’d rather let robots have the final frontier.
I started the Bobiverse trilogy with great enthusiasm, but once again I learned that I just don’t like trilogies. We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor is a really fun science fiction story, full of recursive science fiction referencing. And even though the second and third books in the series continued to be fun, the novelty of the story wore off. I know trilogies are loved by SF fans, but I love science fiction for its ideas. Trilogies and series generally take the same idea and work it to death. (Personally, I think trilogies and series are the Big Macs and Fries of publishing.)
Best Science Fiction Read This Year
Arcadia by Iain Pears is a 2015 novel that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. I don’t want to say too much about the story because I don’t want to spoil any of its cleverness. Let’s just say Pears combined fantasy, science fiction, meta-fiction, philosophy, religion, myths, and literary allusions into one complex plot. There’s even an app version which allows readers to choose their path through the plot. Arcadia would make a terrific movie. Arcadia is a very British novel about novel writing. If you loved The Golden Compass or Cloud Atlas I’d think you’ll love Arcadia. However, Arcadia is weak when it comes to psychological substance. It’s fun but not deep.
Books Read 2017
|Leslie M. M. Blume||Everybody Behaved Badly||2017-01-07||Audible||2016|
|Margot Lee Shetterly||Hidden Figures||2017-01-27||Kindle ebook||2016|
|Nancy Isenberg||White Trash||2017-01-27||Audible||2016|
|Mary Karr||The Art of Memoir||2017-02-02||Audible||2015|
|Angela Duckworth||Grit||2017-02-08||Library hardback||2016|
|Joshua Becker||The More of Less||2017-02-11||Audible||2016|
|Bernd Heinrich||One Wild Bird at a Time||2017-02-18||Audible||2016|
|H. Beam Piper||Little Fuzzy||2017-02-19||Kindle ebook||1962|
|Fredrik Backman||A Man Called Ove||2017-02-28||Audible||2013|
|Charles Wohlforth, Amanda Hendrix||Beyond Earth||2017-03-07||Audible||2016|
|Kim Stanley Robinson||New York 2140||2017-03-30||Audible||2017|
|Robert A. Heinlein||Have Space Suit – Will Travel||2017-04-30||Audible||1958|
|John Wyndham||The Chrysalids||2017-05-12||Audible||1955|
|Kathleen Tessaro||The Perfume Collector||2017-05-18||Trade paper||2013|
|Olaf Stapledon||Star Maker||2017-06-22||Audible||1937|
|Yuval Noah Harari||Homo Deus||2017-06-30||Audible||2017|
|Philip K. Dick||The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick Volume 2||2017-07-17||Audible||1983|
|Dennis E. Taylor||We Are Legion (We Are Bob)||2017-07-21||Audible||2016|
|Dennis E. Taylor||For We Are Many||2017-07-27||Audible||2017|
|L. M. Montgomery||Anne of Green Gables||2017-08-10||Audible||1908|
|Gabriel García Márquez||Love in the Time of Cholera||2017-08-17||Audible||1985|
|Robert Silverberg||Downward to the Earth||2017-08-26||Downpour||1970|
|Susan Faludi||In the Darkroom||2017-08-30||Kindle ebook||2016|
|Robert Sheckley||Untouched by Human Hands||2017-09-15||Downpour||1954|
|Mark O’Connell||To Be A Machine||2017-09-22||Hardback||2017|
|Elisabeth Rosenthal||An American Sickness||2017-10-04||Kindle ebook||2017|
|Allan Kaster||The Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction||2017-10-04||Audible||2017|
|Al Franken||Giant of the Senate||2017-10-11||Audible||2017|
|Michael Sims editor||Frankenstein Dreams||2017-10-23||Audible||2017|
|Robert A. Heinlein||Expanded Universe||2017-10-26||Downpour||1980|
|Edward Bellamy||Looking Backward||2017-11-15||Audible||1888|
|Dennis E. Taylor||All These Worlds||2017-11-30||Audible||2017|
Reading Goals for 2018
I really enjoy discovering relevant nonfiction books like Fantasyland or An American Sickness that explain contemporary issues, so I want to keep reading more new books as they come out during the year. I read eleven 2017 books in 2017. I think I’ll aim for one new book a month.
I also want to read more quality literary novels. I’m not sure how many I can handle though, so let’s aim for three to six next year.
Even though I feel like I read too much science fiction I still enjoy it. I like discovering both new and old SF novels. But I hope to keep my obsession in check and read only six to twelve of them in 2018. One science fiction book a month at most is enough I think.
This is what I wrote for my goal last year: “My goal for 2017 is to try and read more nonfiction, especially new books. I’m not going to worry about how many works of fiction I read, but I do want to work harder at finding the best fiction possible. I also want to stop reading mediocre books.” I think I’ve done fairly well. I probably should have quit the Taylor trilogy after the first book, and stopped reading Artemis after I realized I disliked it. I kept reading hoping Weir would redeem Jazz in some way, but he just kept making her a worse person.
My reading goals for 2018 is to read with more conscious intent and to get more out of what I read. I also hope to buy far fewer books. I have a nasty book-buying habit. I tend to buy 10-15 for every one I read. I want to stop that.