There may only be one thing that everyone agrees on about 2017: it was a crazy year. Nothing was untouched by the whirlwind of the past twelve months. Politics, conflict, and natural disasters stole many of the headlines in the past twelve months, and it doesn’t seem like any of it is going to let up as 2018 begins.
This year was also pretty intense for me personally. I finished my undergraduate degree in history and political science and moved to Jasper, Alberta for the summer. I found out I had been accepted to a Master’s program in journalism part way through the summer, and in August I packed up my things and headed out to Canada’s east coast to start school in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Working full time or attending school full time can mean giving up hobbies and activities that you enjoy. The past year I have struggled to keep up with my reading goals. I initially planned to try to read 50 books in 2017, but decided I would settle for 30 when I realized how busy work and school were going to keep me. I will also admit that television shows like Shameless, Game of Thrones, and Big Little Lies really cut into my reading time this past year.
I finished 2017 having read 33 books (a list of which can be found here https://www.goodreads.com/user_challenges/7902089), a number I am pretty happy with considering everything that was going on. I read some incredible books in the past 12 months, and I am happy that I focused on reading non-fiction – something that I have gotten more into in the past couple of years. I read about religion, war, crime, and a wide range of other topics, and I found that each book actually contributed to what I was learning about in school.
So, as 2018 begins and I start my new reading challenge here are some of the highlights of 2017 in terms of books! Keep in mind that these are not books that were published in 2017, but rather books that I read in 2017.
My 2017 Favourites:
Non-Fiction: Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden.
I am pretty late to the party on this one, and I’m sure plenty of people have already heard all about this book, or seen the movie that was made from it. Black Hawk Down is the story of the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu when the U.S. military intervened in Somalia. The book has all of the potential to be overwhelming – there are so many characters and so much history and politics involved that at first it seems like the story may lose you. But Bowden is a master at his craft. He gives each person involved such vivid description that they are easy to keep clear and distinct in your mind. Bowden also beautifully and eloquently pierces through the fog of war and gives a clear, linear description of the battle. My personal favourite thing about Black Hawk Down was the true journalistic commitment to impartiality. Bowden explains why the U.S. was in Somalia and the motivations of the soldiers fighting there, but he also dives into the complex history that created the conditions present in 1993. Black Hawk Down doesn’t read like American propaganda, it reads like a combination of military history and horror. I was devastated when I finished this book because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to find anything to follow it with.
Fiction: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue.
Emma Donoghue is one of my favourite authors. Her previous books Room and Frog Music are some of my favourites. Room, which was adapted into a film starring Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson, managed to turn some very disturbing subject matter into a beautiful story about love and family and recovery. What I really admire about Emma Donoghue is that she doesn’t shy away from tough subjects. The Wonder follows the same tradition as Donoghue’s other books. It is the story of an English nurse who travels to a small village in Ireland to meet a young girl who claims to be performing a miracle: surviving for months without eating. The novel incorporates the incredible history of Florence Nightingale and her pioneering efforts to train nurses, and also studies the impact of religion and faith on a small community. There is a real sense of mystery to the book – you want to keep reading to find out what is going to happen – but the real draw for me was the relationship between the nurse and her patient and how determined the nurse, Lib Wright, was to be great to her job.
Hardest read: Shake Hands With The Devil by Romeo Dallaire.
In many of my political science courses in university we talked about the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s. It was a subject that I admittedly didn’t know much about. I started to do a bit of research and realized how tragic and horrify the whole ordeal was. Canadian military General Romeo Dallaire was in Kigali throughout the genocide, and his experience has stayed with him ever since. Shake Hands With The Devil is Dallaire’s personal account of the genocide and the regrets he lives with now. This book wasn’t easy to read. I had to renew my loan from the library a few times to finish it. It was heartbreaking and detailed and complicated in a way that not many other books I’ve read are. As a lover of military history and international relations, this book is very important to me, and it has made me open my eyes to the realities of military intervention and human rights.
Most enjoyable read: The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
The Kind Worth Killing is a suspenseful, exciting novel. It is about two people who meet, seemingly by chance, and decide to help each other get away with murder. This is the perfect book for anyone who, like me, is waiting for Gillian Flynn to release a new novel. Peter Swanson created the kinds of characters that hopeful writers like myself hope to be able to create one day. They are complex and multi-dimension, at one moment terrifying and at another relatable. This book was fun to read. I couldn’t put it down.
Here are 10 other books that I read in 2017 that I would recommend:
1. Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer.
If you like: true crime, law, women’s rights, politics.
The hook: Jon Krakauer explores the issue of campus rape culture and how hard it is for women to seek justice after an assault.
2. Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer
If you like: American history, war/military studies, adventure, sports.
The hook: An NFL player turns down a multi-million-dollar deal to enlist in the American military and fight in the War on Terror. After he dies the American government goes to great lengths to hide the circumstances of his death.
3. The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
If you like: science, medicine, nature.
The hook: An exciting and horrifying true story about a devastating virus that wreaks havoc on the human body and how it almost caused a tragedy in Reston, Virginia.
4. The Demon in the Freezer by Richard Preston
If you like: science, medicine, nature.
The hook: The true story of the incredible scientists and doctors who eradicated one of the deadliest diseases in human history: smallpox.
5. 13 Hours in Benghazi by Mitchell Zuckoff
If you like: war/military studies, American history, adventure, action.
The hook: A recounting of the 2012 attack on an American CIA compound and diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya. The story is told from the perspective of the security contractors who defended the compound and outpost over a thirteen-hour period against hundreds of attackers.
6. Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger
If you like: sports, politics, religion, family stories.
The hook: A high school football team in Odessa, Texas spends a season training and working to become state champions. Bissinger explores the racial, political, and economic circumstances in Odessa and how they relate to football.
7. The Lion, The Fox, and the Eagle by Carol Off
If you like: politics, war/military studies, journalism.
The hook: The stories of three powerful Canadians and the roles they played in the Rwandan genocide, as well as the conflicts in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
8. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
If you like: thrillers, family stories, crime, mystery.
The hook: Two people have died in a river that runs through town. One is a teenager girl, another a single mother. The sister of the latest victim arrives in town to deal with the aftermath and becomes involved in solving the mystery of her sisters’ death.
9. Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
If you like: family stories, adventure, strong female characters.
The hook: The author of The Glass Castle wrote this true-life novel about her grandmother’s wild, exciting life.
10. Generation Kill by Evan Wright
If you like: journalism, action, adventure, war/military studies, American history.
The hook: A Rolling Stone journalist is sent to join up with a unit of American Marines who are some of the first soldiers to invade Iraq in 2003. Evan Wright witnesses modern war from the front lines of battle, and learns about the soldiers who are representing America in one of the most controversial wars in history.