From Lab Girl by Hope Jahren on January 1 to Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick on December 31, I read 162 books in 2017. I’ve tried to read more nonfiction in recent years, and I was happy to see that about a quarter (40 books) of what I read this past year was nonfiction. As I looked through my 2017 reads to pick out my favorites, I noticed that about half of them were nonfiction! I intended to go through my initial list of favorites to get a top ten list for the year, but when I saw that I had 17 books, I decided to keep them all for a top 17 in 2017. If I’d shortened the list to 10, I think I probably would have ended up with even a higher percentage of nonfiction.
In no particular order, here are my favorite nonfiction books that I read this year:
- Blessed are the Misfits – Brant Hansen
If you’re a Christian who has ever felt too introverted or too analytical or too skeptical for today’s church culture, do yourself a favor and read Brant Hansen’s books. I also recommend his podcast.
- Hillbilly Elegy – J. D. Vance
I wouldn’t read this as a way to understand Trump voters, and I’m glad I read this memoir that felt both familiar and foreign to me before I heard that political rationale.
- Team of Rivals – Doris Kearns Goodwin
This was my longest book of the year, and I could have read twice as many pages about Lincoln and his Cabinet. This is one I’ll definitely reread in future years.
- H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald
I kept hearing this was a book about learning the art of falconry, and I had no interest in it. Then I saw some quotes from the book on social media, and I decided to give it a try. The falconry bits are beautifully shared, and the rest of it being grief memoir mixed with some bits of a T.H. White biography and thoughts about our relationship with nature somehow worked perfectly for me.
- Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult – Bruce Handy
This is a nostalgic tumble down the rabbit hole with classic children’s literature. It had my name all over it and lived up to the promise of the subtitle.
- The Guns of August – Barbara W. Tuchman
My interest in the world wars came out of nowhere the last few years, and I’m glad I finally read this book about the beginning of WWI. This is one that people always suggested to me when they found out I hadn’t read it.
- West with the Night – Beryl Markham
Read this for vivid descriptions of Africa in the early 1900s from a female aviator who was ahead of her time.
- The Undoing Project – Michael Lewis
My inner psychology nerd geeked out throughout this study of a friendship that produced research that changed the way we think about how we think.
- The Vanishing American Adult – Ben Sasse
I’ve seen this touted as a parenting guide or a way to explain what’s wrong with millennials, but for me, it was more of a reminder to think about why we do what we do and thoughts on how to live intentionally. I enjoyed the entire book, but his section on learning from books and choosing books to revisit throughout life made me think about how I can get more out of my reading.
My favorite fiction reads of 2017:
- Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson – Lyndsay Faye
I love Sherlock Holmes, and this book captures him perfectly as far as I’m concerned.
- The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne
I had no idea I’d enjoy this epic about an Irish gay man’s life so much when I started it.
- Lure of Oblivion – Suzanne Wright
I grabbed an advance copy of this before realizing it was the third book in a series. I read it anyway and enjoyed it so much that I then went back and read every book I could find by the author. They were all really good!
- The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid
I keep reading Taylor Jenkins Reid and never understanding what others love about her books, but this one won me over. I fell in love with Evelyn Hugo and her reflections on the old glamour of Hollywood.
- Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
The author describes this as “traveling Shakespearean theatre company in a post-apocalyptic North America”, and that pushed me to finally read it. I loved the way multiple viewpoints were linked together in part through a comic.
- Radiance – Grace Draven
This is like someone plucked the perfect fantasy romance template from my brain. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author!
- Kulti – Mariana Zapata
This is a romance about professional soccer players, which doesn’t really seem like something I’d like, but it grabbed me with the slow burn romance and grumpy,
slightly mysterious hero.
- Making Faces – Amy Harmon
This romance is sweet and bittersweet with lots to say about appearances, sacrifice, mortality, and friendship.
I spent a good chunk of the year feeling like I wasn’t reading nearly enough books that really spoke to me, but I felt like things got better in the last quarter of the year. My numbers seem to support that feeling because about half of my favorites were read in the last two months of the year. I really need to work at making time for books that sound like ones I’ll love rather than holding off on them and saving them for some other day. Often, the more a book sounds like something I’ll love, the more likely I am to hold it back for years before reading it. It’s like I think I’m prolonging the enjoyment, but I end up irritated because the book doesn’t live up to my long-term anticipation or because I do love it and wish I’d read it sooner.