Best Books I Read 2017

The year’s not over and it is possible I might still read something I love, but I don’t want to wrap up in January. I want to leave this year behind. It was a difficult year. It started good and then went downhill from February on. I wrote about my eyes because that affected my reading/blogging the most but I had so many other unpleasant, weird, and other ailments. That’s why I was hardly present during German Literature Month and why I didn’t blog/visit in June/July, and most of November/December. Even so, I’ve read a lot of books I absolutely loved. Most of them during the first months of the year. Those are also the books I didn’t only like while reading, but still remember vividly. I’ve also read a number of books I didn’t review and while some were good, I would have forgotten all about them, if I hadn’t written down the titles in a notebook. I’m not sure why they were gone so completely, as some, like Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Pastor’s Wife, made an impression. I probably had too much on my mind.

Be it as it may, here are my “best books” of the year, including the links to my reviews and short excerpts from the reviews:

Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto

From my review:

Banana Yoshimoto has a knack for capturing fleeting beauty, for using unusual, eccentric characters and situations. She’s also known for writing about death and the influence of the dead on the living. This book contains all of that and more. Because it is longer than most of her other books, the reader has time to get fully immersed in this world. I was sad when I finished the book. It reminded me of a time when I was twenty and, like Yotchan, knew that many of the people and places I loved would possibly not stay in my life forever. It’s peculiar to look back and remember this odd clarity. Maybe this happens to most people at that age. Like Yotchan, I enjoyed the company of some people and at the same time I knew, I would move on.

Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf

From my review:

I loved the story, which is first sweet then bittersweet, but what I loved even more was the beautiful, luminous writing. In most of his sentences Kent Haruf uses the conjunction “and”. Not only once but often two, three, even four times. This gives his sentences a leisurely pace, a gentle, tone that works so well with the peaceful fictional small town, Holt, his favourite setting. I don’t think he would get away with the overuse of the conjunction, if he didn’t pair it with a very precise vocabulary. All of these elements are present in the first sentences already. That’s why I quoted them. If you like the opening paragraphs, there’s a good chance you’ll like the rest as well. He maintains this pace, the use of descriptions, the gentle tone and mood until the last paragraph. It looks so simple, but it’s very skilful writing.

Benediction by Kent Haruf

I didn’t review this. I read it right after Our Souls at Night and was surprised to find out I loved it even more. So much, in fact, that I wasn’t even able to write a review. That happens sometimes.

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore

From my review:

It’s not often that a title is so well-chosen or that it does double duty like in the case of Moore’s eponymous title. Yes, the book is about loneliness, and it’s about the last hope to find love. But it’s also a description of utter despair and suffering and that’s alluded to in the title as well. After all, “passion” is also a reference to the “passion of the Christ” or his final suffering and martyrdom. We find in this book the same doubts, the same “why have you forsaken me feeling”, only Judith Hearne, being human, has another fate awaiting her.

Magnus  by Sylvie Germain

From my review:

I’m afraid, I could only scrape the surface of this beautiful and complex novel. I’d say it’s one of the best books on war and memory and the importance to remember our own story and the history of our society. For such a sophisticated novel, Magnus is surprisingly captivating and suspenseful. There are two powerful twists that I didn’t see coming. Truly a tour de force.

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

From my review:

Obviously, this novel spoke to me because it shed light on some questions I had about my family’s history, but even without that, I would have loved this book for its minute details and because it focused on  aspects of the war that are often just briefly mentioned. I can’t think of any other novel that focuses on the invasion of Paris and the early occupation. Most other books either focus on the fighting or on the resistance. I also liked how critical she seems of human behaviour. All too often historical WWII novels or period movies choose to show how people grow under the circumstances, how they overcome their pettiness and selfishness, turn into heroes. The shared tragedy brings out the best in them. While I’m sure, this is true for some, for many it isn’t. Since Némirovsky experienced what she described, I’m pretty sure, her description is more realistic than the idealized versions we usually see. In her book, the Michauds are the only people who seem to grow morally under the circumstances.

The War by Marguerite Duras

From my review:

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. I’m familiar with Marguerite Duras and love her writing but I still thought this would be just another WWII memoir. It isn’t. Most memoirs fous either on the war – on the battle field or the home front – or on the camps. I don’t think I’ve ever read a memoir by someone who was waiting for someone and about the challenges of the return. There’s so much going on in these pages. Every day, there’s a new anxiety regarding her husband and every day the people in France find out more details about the war. The French sent 600,000 Jews to the camps. One in 100 came back. They didn’t know any details about the camps until the end of the war. Other arresting details capture that for France the end of the war also meant the end of the occupation. Or what it was like to see Paris at night illuminated again.

The Grass Harp by Truman Capote

From my review:

I remember how I surprised I was, years ago, when I read that Harper Lee and Truman Capote had been friends since childhood and that she helped him with his book In Cold Blood. While I haven’t read Breakfast at Tiffany’s, thinking of that novella and other elements of Capote’s life, made me assume he was from New York. I realized then, that I had been mistaken. Reading The Grass Harp, makes it obvious where Capote comes from and, given the close friendship with Harper Lee, it’s not surprising that this slim book has a lot in common with To Kill a Mockingbird. Maybe it inspired Harper Lee. The stories and the writing are different, but there are many similar themes; childhood, friendship, authority, love, justice, money, society, death, outsiders, life in a small town, the South, the role of women and African-Americans . . .

A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor

From my review:

A Wreath of Roses caught me by surprise for many reasons. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did and certainly wasn’t prepared for something as sinister. But there was also a small disappointment. I didn’t appreciate the somewhat circular structure and the way it ended. Those who have read it will now what I’m talking about. But don’t get me wrong, it’s a minor reservation. Otherwise, this is one of Elizabeth Taylor’s richest and most nuanced novels. It combines a wonderful cast of characters with a tone and mood that is at times acerbic but mostly bitter-sweet and melancholic. An interesting combination, for sure. In spite of the somewhat puzzling ending, A Wreath of Roses has become one of my favourites, together with Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont and A Game of Hide and Seek.

Crime Fiction

The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn

From my review:

This book is so eerie. It made me feel uncomfortable from the beginning. The last thing I would want, is to share an isolated house with a brooding, taciturn stranger. Not even the descriptions of the beautiful fjord made me ever forget what this would be like. And in Allis’ situation at that. She’s really done herself a huge disservice in doing what she did back home. Her life is shattered and the things she did has left her very vulnerable. While she hopes things can only get better, the reader senses from the beginning that the house on the fjord might not be a safe haven. There are too many sinister indications that something’s wrong, and that Sigur might be hiding a secret of his own.

The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

From my review:

The Devotion of Suspect X is a very clever novel. It’s as subtle as it is complex, told in a cool tone and infused with a gentle, melancholic mood. I absolutely loved it.

A Quiet Place by Seicho Matsumoto

From my review:

I followed this character with great fascination and astonishment, but for the longest time I didn’t understand why this was called a crime novel. It’s clear from the beginning that Asai’s wife wasn’t killed. So why was this labelled crime? I can assure you, it’s labelled correctly but I won’t tell you why.

C’est toi le venin (not translated yet) by Frédéric Dard

From my review:

I absolutely loved this novel. Some of it is predictable but there are still enough surprising twists and the end is chilling.

Like Simenon, Dard relies heavily on dialogue. There are just a few descriptions here and there to create a mood and atmosphere. That’s why reading the book feels a lot like watching a movie. It has immediacy and a pretty brisk pace.

Non-fiction

I read a lot of nonfiction and some of the books I read were great (to name but a few – The Lonely City, The Things You Can see Only When You Slow Down, Pema Chödron’s books, The Curated Closet, The Cool Factor) but I didn’t review them, that’s why there’s only one title in this category.

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

From my review:

I never thought I would love The Diary of a Bookseller so much. I discovered Shaun Bythell ‘s book on Jen Campbell’s YouTube channel. She knew him because she interviewed him way back when she wrote The Bookshop Book. Possibly he was also a contributor to her Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops. Shaun Bythell is the owner of Scotland’s largest secondhand bookstore. His shop has over 100,000 titles. He’s famous for being more than a little cranky, a bit like Dylan Moran’s character in the TV series Black Books (if you haven’t watched that yet, do yourself a favour and watch it. It’s so, so funny). If you read the diary, you’ll agree, that he has reasons for being cranky. My goodness. It’s unbelievable what some customers do or say.

While 2017 was a bit of catastrophe for me, it wasn’t such a bad year reading wise.

 

Should anyone wonder about the photo – it’s a view from my bedroom window and a total one-off as we hardly ever get snow, which surprises most people as they think snow is common in Switzerland, but unless you live near/in the mountains, it’s not that common. We get a day or two but not even every year. I took this picture early in the morning, one week before Christmas. I woke up to this view but a couple of hours later, it was already gone. The movie enthusiasts among my readers might enjoy knowing that the film producer Arthur Cohn lives in the high building you can see in the back in the middle of the photo. 

69 thoughts on “Best Books I Read 2017

  1. Sorry to hear about your ailments, especially your eyes. I hope all is better now. What a fabulous list! I also loved Our Souls at Night. And I have the Duras book sitting in front of me on the coffee table. Hopefully I will get to it in the new year.

    • Thanks, Melissa. It was a rough year. I’m fine now. And thanks about the list. Looking back it was a good reading year. Shorter than usual but some wonderful discoveries. The Duras is amazing. I hope you’ll like it too.

  2. Sorry to hear about your difficulties this year Caroline. I hope that 2018 is better. I have not read any of your list of favorites but they all look good. I will try to get to Diary of a Bookseller but n the upcoming year.

    Have a very Happy New Years!

    • I hope 2018 will be better. It wasn’t easy.
      I hope you’ll like The Diary as much as I did but you couldn’t go wrong with most on the list.
      A very Happy New Year to you too.

  3. What an interesting assortment – I’m glad you were able to find so many satisfying and revitalizing stories when you were most in need of them. What *would* we do without stories. I love the view from your window. It’s so nice to see what other people “see” on a regular basis (when not looking at books, that is). Good reading to you in 2018!

    • Thank you so much. I’m glad you like the window view. I always enjoy seeing that too.
      You wouldn’t think that I live only five walking minutes from the city center.
      Stories are important. I agree.
      Good reading next year to you as well.

  4. I hope those health issues will be behind you in 2018. Many of those titles are new to me, but A Wreath of Roses, Suit Francaise and The Grass Harp are three books I have loved too. I have The Diary of a Bookseller tbr.

    • Thanks, Ali. I hope so too. It wasn’t life threatening but it took so much energy.
      I think you’d like most of these books as well and you’ll certainly enjoy the Diary. I’m looking forward to read your thoughts on it.

  5. Let’s hope 2018 sees you clear of those ailments and back to full health Caroline. Banana Yoshimoto was a new author for me this year but I loved what I experienced so will be back for more.

  6. A Quiet Place made my top ten list, too, although I haven’t posted it yet. I would love to read Moshi Moshi and The Devotion of Suspect X, long sitting on my shelf.

    I’m sorry your year was so tough. I wish for you every good blessing for 2018 (where hopefully I can get my blogging self back as well). xoxo

  7. Hi Caroline, so glad to hear from you again. I love this post. I am also glad that we read ‘The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne’ together. 🙂 I am adding other books to my list.

    I hope with all my heart that you would begin to feel better. I am sure 2018 is going to be kinder to all of us. Anu Boo and I are sending you love. 🙂

    • Thank you, dear Deepika. That was such a coincidence about Judith Hearne, wasn’t it.
      I’m pretty sure you’d like many of the books on the list.
      It was a tozgh year for many of us. I hipe yours will be better and love to you and Anu Boo. 🙂

  8. I really hope 2018 is a massive improvement on 2017 for you Caroline.

    I loved Our Souls at Night so I’ll have to read Benediction as you rate it even more highly. I know exactly what you mean about not being able to review books you really love.

    Gorgeous photo!

  9. I do hope 2018 is much better for you. It sounds like the only way is up!

    I thought A Wreath of Roses was brilliant, and the Brian Moore has been on my shelves for years and years.

  10. What a wonderful list. I must spend more time with it, and pick out some for my own reading. Certainly the Sylvie Germain is an amazing book and i am so glad for the recommendation. I probably need to return to Haruf. I read one of his years ago, at the wrong time for me, and he’s remained marked by that. I love your photo. I should post some winter wonderland pictures, too, ugh.

    • Thank you, Andrew. I hope you’ll find some other books you’ll like.
      I love the way Haruf writes, his sentences. It really mus5 have been the wrong time or not all of his books are as good as these.
      The snow on the picture barely lasted four hours. But I love snow pictures. I don’t envy you. I really don’t like the cold. It’s warming here since a couple of days. 13C. Not too bad.

  11. I also enjoyed Suite Francaise and Our Souls at Night. Marvelous, marvelous books that have stayed with me. I hadn’t read Kent Haruf’s other book, but I will look for it on my next trip to the bookstore.

    On your recommendation, I have watched a few episodes of Black Books. It’s the perfect show for a laugh after a long day at work. 🙂

    I’m currently reading Longbourn, a novel from the point of view of the servants of Pride & Prejudice. (A “downstairs” take on Pride & Prejudice if you will.) It’s very engaging thus far.

    Best wishes for 2018!

    • I’m certain you’ll love Benediction. It’s so beautiful. I’m glad you enjoyed Black Books. It’s silly at times but so funny.
      I have Longbourn on my piles. I’m glad you like it. I should finally read it. It’s such a great idea for a book.
      All the best for 2018.

  12. Happy New Year Caroline. I hope this one is a much better one! I have to agree that 2017 was a real crap year and even the holidays were difficult, so I am ready to move on. It’s good, though, that you had so many great reads. I really must read Wreath of Roses now as you are the second person to call it a favorite from last year. I am also interested in those crime novels so have made note of them. Beautiful view outside your window!

    • Happy New Year, Danielle. 2017 was crap. I know now what you had to go through – thank you so much for the card and lovely bookmark. I hope mine arrived too.
      I’m sorry this happened. I will write an email soon.
      You would like A Wreath of Roses, I’m sure of it.
      Thanks for the kind words about the view. I enjoy it. One wouldn’t belive we live close to the center. It’s a fortunate location.
      All the very best to you for 2018.

  13. Beautiful post, Caroline! Loved your favourite books list! I want to read Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night. I have never read a Banana Yoshimoto book. So I want to read Moshi Moshi. Magnus by Sylvie Germain looks wonderful from your review. I have wanted to read Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française for a long time. My book club friends keep recommending The Devotion of Suspect X. Glad you liked it. Loved the picture you have shared! So Christmas-y and so winter-y and so beautiful!

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on your favourite books from last year. Hope you have a wonderful reading year in 2018! Hope also that the tough times are behind and 2018 is a wonderful year for you overall. Happy New Year!

    • Happy New Year, dear Vishy. Thank you so much for the wishes and I’m glad you like the list + photo. The snow was shortlived but it was beautiful while it was there.
      I’d say, you can’t go wrong with any of the books on the list and I’m sure you’d love the ones you mention. I hope you will try Banana Yoshimoto. Iled Moshi Moshi very much but Kitchen is another favourite. Kent Haruf’s book is so beautiful. I watched the film with Redford and Jane Fond and like that too.
      I wish you a wonderful 2018, lots of wonderful books and everything else you could wish for.

      • Thanks so much for your wishes, Caroline! So nice to know that the snow was beautiful! The photo you shared is so beautiful! I will add Kitchen also to my TBR list. Can’t wait to try my first Banana Yoshimoto. Love Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. The film version of Kent Haruf’s book looks wonderful. Will try to watch that too. Hope your New Year has started well.

        • My New Year is going well although we are having a fierce storm. It just ripped the satellite dish from the roof. Never seen anything like it.
          I’m looking forward to hearing what you think of Banana Yoshimoto and Haruf. I think you’ll enjoy the movie too. I hope to visit your blog soon. 🙂

  14. What a beautiful view, Caroline. I too thought Switzerland had a lot of snow everywhere. Germany was the same way when I lived there.
    A great list you’ve compiled here. I love Kent Haruf’s writing too, and Plainsong is one of my favorite books. I’m putting off reading his other novels because I know that’s all there is. So sad that he is gone.
    2017 seems to have been a tough year for many of us. Here’s to a happier, healthier New Year.

    • Thanks, Carole. We hardly ever get snow and this too had melted a few hours later. I actually like it. We had a lot of rain though. It was quite warm suddenly. In the mountains, of course there’s snow but we’re on an altitude of barely 300 meters.
      I wanted to pick up Plainsong right after finishing these two but then held back. Something to look forward to but possibly this year. Yes, sad he’s gone.
      What a year, right? I wish you a very healthy and joyful 2018.

  15. Absolutely not such a bad year reading wise. I’m sorry though about the problems the year did present. Let’s hope 2018 does better by you.

    Haruf is your writer isn’t he? Two on the list, not bad.

    I’m being a bit careful with reviews of that Matsumoto, but good to see it here. It’s definitely on my radar – one to keep an eye out for perhaps for later in the year.

    Happy new year!

    • Happy New Year, Max.
      2017 was definitely not my year but at least reading wasn’t shabby.
      I want to read more Of Haruf. His voice and tone and sentence structures are brilliant. I highly recommend the Matsumoto too.

  16. Great list – I haven’t read any of these! Plenty of food for thought. I have Moore on the shelf, many more look like I should explore them. Thanks Caroline.

    Hope you have a great reading 2018, with no more “off field” problems.

    • My pleasure, Ian. Let me know how you like them should you try any of them. The Moore is outstanding.
      Thanks for the wishes. I wish you a marvelous reading year as well.

  17. Fascinating list.. having lived at Belsen concentration camp just after the war, I’ve never felt strong enough to read Suite Francais though it’s been waiting for me on the book table for the last five years or so !
    The Grass Harp has always been one of my favorite re-reads… ” the person to whom everything can be said” seems like the perfect expression of true love …
    And loved your snow scene..

    • Thank you, Valerie. I can imagine that that would make it difficult to pick up books like Suite Française. It can’t imagine what that must have been like. It’s a wonderful book though.
      The Grass harp is such a gem. A perfect quote!
      Thanks about the snow scene. It was so brief but beautiful.

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