My Favorite Books of 2017 (and How I'm Reading Differently This Year)

Oh, hey... remember me? Miss Accidentally Took Six Months Off from Blogging? (Oops! That's a hurricane, grad school, sickness, new job/schedule, and the holidays will do. Did I cover every excuse? =) But I'm back, at least for now, and have several things I'm excited to post about over the next few weeks. First up, as always, is some book talk.

Here we are... all alive and well! In case you forgot what we looked like. =)

I read more books in 2017 than I ever have before. In fact, I probably read more books last year than I had in most of my other adult years combined (2015-2016 being the exception.) My goal for 2017 was to read 200 books, and I ended up reading 237. I realize to most people that's an insane number and I haven't shared the number anywhere publicly because I feel like people will judge me and think I neglected my family or something. Ha! (That's only a little bit true. =) I will include the caveats that a) I read really fast, b) I read a lot of middle grade fiction, which I can usually knock out in a couple hours, and c) I have one child and no "outside" job. Beyond that, I just really like to read and it's basically my only hobby. I watch some movies with Alice and watch TV at the gym, but that's pretty much my only screen time (besides social media/checking my phone, which I admittedly do too much), but I make time to read and devote most of my free time to it, so there you go.

My favorite this year are a mix of fiction and non-fiction, as usual, and are (obviously) only a small representation of the dozens of books I actually read. I could have chosen more than this group, but these are the ones that were the most memorable or that I recommended the most.

Only the best graphics for you, my loyal readers. (#noskills)

Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart. I read this last January, and I've recommended it so many times this year! The title is meant to sound like a newspaper headline and the book is about a family of sisters (of course I always love a sister story). Even though the plot involves a stalking/harassment case and I normally steer clear of anything remotely scary or true crime related, the tone is light and humorous and fun. I really loved this. (The next two books in the series aren't quite as good as the first one but still enjoyable.)

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett. I've decided that I prefer Ann Patchett's nonfiction to her novels, and this collection of her essays was no exception. It's not just about marriage; the topics range from her dog to her writing life (guess which one of those I liked better. =) I just love a good memoir and this is definitely one of those! Of course I enjoyed the insights into her writing life/process, but the most fascinating chapter was the essay about her summer spent training and applying to become a member of the LAPD (her dad was a former cop in Los Angeles.) SO interesting.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. With everything going on in our country, I have wanted to learn and expand my understanding of racial history and relations in America. This book, following three individuals and their journeys from the South to the North and West, provides not only a balanced, in-depth look at African American history in the 20th century (and into the 21st) but also gives context to some of the issues (such as government housing) that are still a problem today. Often people assume that racism is no longer a problem (which is clearly not the case) but also wonder why minorities today are still hurt or angry over wrongs done to their ancestors. This book makes that particular issue much clearer.

First Women by Kate Anderson Brower. I love behind-the-scenes stuff (definitely a bonus features/"making of" junkie) and I especially love inside looks at the White House, so this was right up my alley. I was nervous about how it would portray certain First Ladies positively or negatively according to their political party, but I found it was pretty even-handed. Also, these women can seem larger than life and, like other famous figures or celebrities, often don't even seem real, but this book humanized them in a personal, poignant way.

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I read this book last summer, promptly fell in love with the author, and then was heartbroken to learn that she had recently passed away. I had read this article (have a tissue ready!) but hadn't made the connection that she had written it. This book is super quirky and different from anything else I've read, both in content and format, but I loved it. There's actually a feature that allows you to text along for certain music and other things she references, and I only followed along for about half of those, but they did enhance the experience. It's kind of hard to describe this outside of just calling it a memoir, so you need to read it for yourself, but it's delightful, and all the more meaningful now that the author has died.

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin. This book might be my favorite kind of memoir. Writing AND food? I've decided why I love food memoirs so much. I have always (like, since I was a little girl) loved to read cookbooks (even though I tend to read them as fiction, as in, "this would never happen in my life." Ha!) But reading about other people's rich, fulfilling experiences with food and cooking is fascinating to me, maybe because I am so shaky (literally) in the kitchen and it's fun to read about people who know exactly what they're doing with any number of cooking tools and unidentified produce. Anyway, this includes a lot of recipes (very loosely worded) and a look at the author's life in New York City (my favorite!) as a young woman. So good.

A Wrinkle in Time Quintet by Madeleine L'Engle. I'm ashamed to admit that I hadn't read anything by Madeleine L'Engle before this year (although I did read these before the movie previews were out, so I'm not that trendy =) but they have quickly become favorites. Her writing is just so beautiful and strange... in the best way. I chose this series because I loved it the most but I read a handful of her other books too and loved them all. I am currently working my way through A Circle of Quiet, reading it in small doses for maximum reflection/enjoyment, and even though I have a kindle version I'm planning on ordering my own physical copy because I'm highlighting every few paragraphs. Grab a copy of AWIT before the movie comes out! Costco has a lovely box set. =)

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. Man, Gretchen Rubin just continues to kill it with every new book. Her books have been favorites for years, her podcast is one of my can't-miss shows, and I just really love all her stuff. That being said, I think this is her most helpful book to date. It's not quite as personal or light-hearted as some of her past work, but the information is SO fascinating and insightful. Everyone should read this: spouses, parents, teachers, friends. If you have relationships with other humans, it will help you, or at least help you help yourself.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan. I put off reading this middle grade book for a long time because I was intimidated by the length (right at 500 pages!) but it doesn't feel that long at all. It's a very fast read and such a wonderful book. It follows three kids whose lives all end up intersecting because of a magic harmonica (way better than it sounds. ha!) and a lot of it takes place in Europe right before the start of World War II, which is one of my favorite eras to read about. If you have kids, I've heard the audio version is amazing and would be a good choice for "stuck in the car" entertainment.

Messy Beautiful Friendship by Christine Hoover. I just loved this. I rarely buy books but purchased my own copy of this one, which is a pretty good indication that I thought it was great. I wish everyone woman could/would read this book. Adult friendships are weird and harder than we want them to be (most of the time), and women especially can have all kinds of complicated feelings about friendship with other women. Portions of this book were like looking into a mirror of my own tortured thoughts regarding loneliness and community... and then Christine (sure, we're friends!) proceeded to destroy all my reasonings about being too afraid or awkward or whatever to reach out more. Convicting but so needed.

Honorable Mention:

Sisters First by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Bush
Capital Gaines by Chip Gaines
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
The Residence by Kate Anderson Brower
Red China Blues by Jan Wong
Between Heaven and the Real World by Steven Curtis Chapman
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold
My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl
The View from Saturday by E.L. Konisburg

So yeah... 237 books last year. A LOT. I loved watching my lists grow longer and my numbers go up, and of course I read a lot of great books, but I felt almost a frantic need at times to read or finish books, which of course is stupid because no one was putting any pressure on me but me! I want to read less this year (or at least, I've chosen a smaller number and if I exceed that, so be it) and really relish my reading experiences. I do read fast, but there's a difference in reading fast and flying through books with little to no comprehension (which I confess happens sometimes.) I also want to give myself permission to abandon more books that I'm not enjoying or even not LOVING... I know not every book is going to be a top ten winner but there were plenty of books I finished last year that I knew were a waste of time. Life's too short to read dumb books! =)

One more note: I've started a book club on Instagram! I'll be posting to my blog's Facebook page occasionally too, but most of the action will take place on IG. If you want to join in the discussion, follow along at @dashofashblog. =)

As always, if you've read anything good lately, do tell me what it was. And if you want more recommendations, I really do love giving them, so leave a comment or send a message! I never get tired of book talk!

Happy New(ish) Year! Here's to my not disappearing again. =)

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