Friday, 15 December 2017

Top Ten Books of 2017

At the end of 2017, I wistfully look back at the end of 2016 and how amazing my reading year was. This year was tough in terms of reading because, honestly? I'm so tired. This year I finished a 10,000 word dissertation, completed my degree and started a new one, moved city, visited friends all over the country. Usually the summer gives me the time to read as much as 15 books in a month, but this summer was different. I was so mentally exhausted from the sheer amount of academic reading and work I ploughed through in the first half of the year, that I didn't read as much.

That's not to say I didn't read at all, because I did, and I read some great books too. I just started noticing I wasn't picking up my book as much, and it was taking me longer to finish a 300 page book than it usually was. It kind if upset me, but I knew I that I just needed this time to slow down. I haven't read 100 books yet, but I'm incredibly close and so I'm hoping I can get there by the end of the year.

A few honourable mentions before I begin go to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, Chavs by Owen Jones, Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis, Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters by JD Salinger, and Poet in New York by Garica Lorca. All of these were way up there, but didn't quite make the list.

10. Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
This is a novella that King and Chizmar released mid-year, and I wasn't expecting much from it because I didn't seem to be enjoying much of the King I was reading anymore. But this was fantastic and I read it in less than a day. I just couldn't stop. Something about it reminded me of those King books I used to love and get completely lost it - and this novella had it. It's about a girl who one day meets a mysterious man on a clifftop, and that's all I'll say. Find out the rest yourself.

9. Rules of Attraction - Bret Easton Ellis
Number nine is actually every Bret Easton Ellis book ever because I read the entirety of his works in 2017. But for some reason, Rules of Attraction was the one I had the most fun with, and so it's this one that's made the list. It's a campus novel, following three narrators as they go through college, meeting each other, drinking too much, partying and sleeping with whoever they want. It's funny but also depressing, and the little references to his other novels make it so worth while for people who love cameos.

8. The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky
This book actually screwed me up. It's the first thing I ever read from Dostoevsky and I'm actually glad I began with this one. For those of you who don't know, I'm really intrigued by the idea of the uncanny and doubling. Freud talks a lot about it which is quite interesting, but most of the theory on this comes from stuff about the Gothic. Anyway, in this story, a man discovers that his exact double is working at the same firm as he, but he's better than him in every single way. It's an amazing existentialist extravaganza and gave me a mental breakdown but I loved it.

7. The Autobiography of Malcolm X
A story that has stuck with me ever since I read it. Malcolm X is a figure you see talked about everywhere, but I think very few people know about his backstory and his journey to becoming the person seen in the media. This book gives you that insight, dealing with his time as a teenager in the ghetto, and about his religious experiences and trip to Mecca. All of it was fascinating, especially from a race relations point of view. I couldn't stop reading because his journey was captivating and took him to so many places, and it allows you to confront points of view you might not necessarily agree with, but want to learn more about.

6. The Master & Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
I can't even sum this novel up into words, but I'll try. It's a Russian absurdist novel about when the Devil comes to the city and starts messing with everyone's lives, and there's also a love story going on between a writer in a mental institution and the Margarita, and there's this whole Jesus and Pilate subplot and it's absolutely crazy but one of the best written things I have ever read. You just need to read this, as crazy as it sounds. It will change your life.

5. Julius Caeser by William Shakespeare
I saw this play performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in the summer and it was probably one of the best productions I've ever seen there. I went back and read the play and it was just one of the most exciting, complex and engaging Shakespeare plays I've read. It's both a hopefully and tragic story showing the rebellion led by Brutus against Julius Caeser. It is followed closely by Anthony and Cleopatra which I didn't like as much, but this play is now up there as one of my favourite Shakespeares.

4. Selected Poems 1923 - 1958 by EE Cummings
I told myself I wanted to read more poetry in 2017, and so I did. I'd had this collection on my shelf for the longest time, and I was really feeling in the mood for it. Cummings poetry is so unique in that he refrains from using punctuation and capital letters, opting for poetry which looks as though it has been scrawled messily onto the page. But the rhythm it evokes is absolutely wonderful, and Cummings voice is both cynical and romantic in a way that I really needed at the time. He writes a lot about romance, war, and patriotism, and is one of the best American poets of the 20th century. If you haven't read his poetry before, I would recommend this collection as a way to get into it. It was absolutely stunning.

3. Inferno by Dante
More poetry! I joint read this with a close friend and the two of us fell in love with it. Dante's Italian classic epic poem is about a man who gets taken down through the circles of hell and finally to Satan himself. I'll be honest, it was actually terrifying. My edition came with a map which showed you all of the circles he passed through as he described them. Once he got to the centre was legitimately shaking because it was so scary. But the translation I had was wonderful, and the story has been an inspiration for so many modern stories.

2. Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
I would read this book at 1am in the morning. I would read it whilst I was eating. I would read it whilst I was walking. This novel was freaking incredible and I didn't want it to end but at the same time I couldn't stop reading because I was so addicted to the writing, the setting and the characters. McInerney was writing around the same time as Bret Easton Ellis and the two were casual friends. This novel is about a young, aspiring writer living in New York who can't resist the hedonism around him. It is actually the best thing in the whole world. At first I was sceptic because it's written in second person, but once I was in, I was IN. It's so good. You just need to read this now okay.

1. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
THIS BOOK. Obviously, it is the best thing I have read all year. I remember being half way through and reading it at the train station and just being completely blown away by what I was reading. Some of the sentences were just so beautiful that I had to underline them and write them down somewhere. This is about a black man living in New York in America, and having to navigate the city amongst the battle for Black Civil Rights. It is an incredible novel, filled with the existential tones of Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, as well as taking the jazz age and space of New York in with it. It contains probably one of the most powerful speeches I have ever read in my life. You need to do yourself and favour and read this incredible book because I will never stop talking about this for the rest of my life.

So there you have it, the best books that I read this year. I highly recommend looking at every single one of these books, because they have stayed with me for the best reasons. Though I wasn't really happy with my reading this year, on reflection I find that I've still discovered some gems that have influenced my reading life for the better.

I hope everyone has a good year and that you read some incredible books too. All the best for the books ahead.

Rachel x

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