I always loved to read but couldn't find time in college until my second semester of my senior year. I had a pretty rocky year but one of the consistently great things for me this year was books. In 2017 I wanted to read more, set a goal of 100 books, and ended up reading 130 amazing books, all of which taught me something, improved the way I think, or changed who I am.
2017 in books
I made a favorites shelf on Goodreads for books I liked but then wanted to make a subset of books that really changed my life, so I made a shelf called "cream" because of "cream of the crop" but also because I was really into the Wu Tang song C.R.E.A.M. at the time. Although I'm just now realizing that likes and favorites would've been better names... fuck.
Anyways, here are the 30 beautiful books I put on my cream shelf this year, with a short one line review:
- If you're interested in math, music, art, and how consciousness arises from unconscious things, then read GEB by Douglas Hofstadter
- If you're interested in an informative and insanely detailed history of 19th century Arabs read The Arabs by Eugene Rogan
- If you're interested in how American pop culture manifests in the Middle East (rap in Palestine? Lionel Ritchie in Libya?) read The Sheikhs Batmobile by Richard Poplak
- If you're interested in an epic clash between good and evil and some of the best character development I've ever read in manga read Monster by Naoki Urasawa
- If you're interested in the dangers of machine learning and algorithms and recognize the importance of socially conscious computer science then read Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neil
- If you're interested in an examination of happiness from a psychologist's perspective and a very funny book then read Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Todd Gilbert
- If you're interested in a thoughtful and loving doctor's writing in his last years fighting terminal cancer then read When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Thought I made it through tear-free but then his wife's epilogue made me cry a little.
- If you're interested in how marketing has changed fashion via a bunch of case studies then read The End of Fashion by Teri Agins
- If you're interested in the best depiction of depression I've ever read (sans maybe DFW) then read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Don't read it if you're not doing so well recently though.
- If you liked Ender's Game (smart kids fight each other and aliens in space) and if you're interested in a more psychological version of that with an even smarter kid then read Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card
- If you want to read about mortality, and finding peace in death and authenticity in life then read The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
- If you want a beautiful answer to the question of the meaning of life from a man who has suffered with dignity and nobility then read Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
- If you're interested in the dichotomy between Nietzschean weight and lightness or if you just dig beautiful writing on love then read The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
- If you want to read about the various ways in which love can be laughable and horrifying then read Laughable Loves also by Milan Kundera (short stories!)
- If you like to read about incredible insights distilled from very simple, common things then read Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace. If you are curious about my undying and deep love of David Foster Wallace this is a good first book to introduce him.
- If you want to read some heavy shit about how communities are formed and the choices we make that determine who we are & what we want to be, if you're interested in fantastic characters showing what it means to be brave and to be forgiving then read Beartown by Fredrik Backman
- If you're interested in the toxic relationship with success & family and feelings of inadequacy and anxiety, or if you're interested in one of two authors I've read this year that I think use short abrupt sentences well, then read Chemistry by Weike Wang. Chemistry is also a hilarious book and I want to be her friend.
- If you're interested in healthcare systems across the world and what lessons America can learn from them then read The Healing of America by T.R. Reid
- If you're interested in addiction, in American loneliness, in the default mode, in being earnest, and in nourishing and life changing literature, then read Infinite Jest by DFW. Seriously please read Infinite Jest it will make me very happy.
- If you're interested in an 8 page essay/book/speech on the importance of actively combatting your defaults, the purpose of a liberal arts education, and the complexity of simple things then read This is Water by DFW. Probably the best intro to how DFW thinks and his genius in writing and in thought.
- If you're interested in the most insightful essay on tv and fiction for understanding DFW's fiction or some bomb ass narrative pieces then read A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again also by DFW
- If you're interested in a children's book about the importance and beauty of art then read The Artsy Smartsy Club by Daniel Pinkwater. It is one of two things that pushed me to doing my art history minor and spawned my original interest in art.
- If you are interested in love and interesting people and the CUTEST story ever then read 等一個人咖啡 by 九把刀. I've read this book over 20 times.
- If you are interested in the history of rap or some great pictures and diagrams and the best reviews of anything I've ever read then read The Rap Year Book by Shea Serrano. I am greatly indebted to this book because it changed how I listen to and enjoy rap. Also I aspire to his level of reviewing skill.
- If you want to learn about the economics behind the drug business, then read Narconomics by Tom Wainwright
- If you're interested in some good, important YA about the structural oppression and the hate we give as a society, then read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and then listen to some Tupac.
- If you're interested in the folly of man and the capability of people to make decisions independent of supernatural forces, or if you're just into an intense, well drawn manga then read Billy Bat by Naoki Urasawa
- If you want to read about the dangers of blind faith in technology and the stupidity of man and how we should cope with it, then read Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. Also has the one of the best ending of any book I've read.
- If you're into the weight and meaninglessness of human existence and want to feel some crushing sadness followed by the most uplifting and hopeful speech ever then read The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. It is my favorite Vonnegut book; it fucked me up so hard.
- If you want to read about a good man who genuinely cares about the poor and the discarded of America and if you want to know how to love those who have no use, then read God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
My favorite three authors:
Vonnegut, Kundera, David Foster Wallace
My favorite book:
My favorite fiction not IJ, because honestly the comparison is unfair:
The Sirens of Titan? Tough one though...
My most frequently recommended books:
Chemistry, Beartown, The Sirens of Titan
My favorite non fiction:
The Rap Year Book
This year, next year
So far I've been pretty goal oriented with my monthly reading (inspired by the Warren Buffett + Bill Gates talk I went to in January) and every month I read books about some topics or by a specific author, so my read shelf has a lot of distinct blocks.
My chunked history of the year:
On the Middle East (4), by A. Lee Martinez (6), on fashion (1, looking for more recs!), by Kundera (4), from the Strand (~15), from Econtalk (4), on healthcare (2), on communication (2), on business & process (5), children's books I used to really like (4), by Vonnegut (7).
Chunks I'm interested in for next year:
By Shakespeare, Russian literature, wuxia, on specific artists (Manet, Goya), Infinite Jest
It's been a great year of books. Looking forward to another in 2018!