Saturday, December 9, 2017

All The Stars: My Most Favorite Books of 2017

This is Mt. Hood at sunrise. I pulled over on my commute the other day to take this picture.

Mt. Hood is my place. It's a lot of people's place, of course, but that doesn't make it any less mine. It is, as you can see, somewhat near where I live, but it's not like I live THERE.

I'm trying to shoehorn this photo into this blog post by saying that most reading is like this view. Wonderful. But not all the way there. Good enough. Yet not as perfect as it could be.

This is Mt. Hood from the side of the mountain. (That's me and my sister a good 40 years ago.) This picture was taken on the north side of Mt. Hood, at about 6,000 ft. elevation, at a place that is very special to my family. We scattered my parents' ashes right here. My love for this place is what causes my heart to lift every time I see the peak on the skyline from town.

The Beyond-Five-Star books are like that. I can't live there, but I've been there a lot. Really good books are glimpses and reminders of what it's like to read one of those books that cracks my heart right open. In a good way.  Out of the over 200 books I've read this year, these are six that just bowled me right over. When I finished these books, I hugged them.

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart.
I picked this up at the library on my way home from seeing Penny Kittle, writer of Book Love and founder of the BookLove Foundation, speak. She booktalked several books, including this one, and I got all of the ones that were available at the library to read that weekend. This one stood out in so many ways. It's middle grade at its best, which is to say just as full of heart and struggle and growth and loss as any other great work of literature. 

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah.
I listened to this on audiobook, and it was definitely the way to go. Trevor Noah's voice and accent, his humor and storytelling abilities, make it feel like he's really just talking to you. This is not like any sort of celebrity biography I've ever read, in large part because it ends well before he becomes famous. There's no name-dropping or awkward sex stories. Instead it is exactly what is says: stories about growing up in a time and place when kids like him were not supposed to exist. It's also a very moving tribute to his mom--yes, even the story that starts with her throwing him from a moving vehicle. I actually bought a copy of this book for myself, which is something I pretty much never do.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
This was a re-read, part of the summer Book Love Facebook book club. It's a book that holds up well to re-reading, as it allows you to move beyond plot and the gorgeous pyrotechnics of Alexander's wordplay. This is a beautiful coming-of-age novel, with a young man who faces many losses beyond the obvious one. He also starts to forge his own path, figuring out who he is and how to live comfortably within his own skin while still maintaining relationships with those who love him, but might still see him as the child he once was, not the young man he's becoming.

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy
I know that Dumplin' is still her famous book, but I love Ramona even more than I love Dumplin'. She's seriously poor and seriously smart and seriously trying to keep it all together. Her entire life continues to be affected by the destruction of Hurricane Katrina early in her childhood. Her comfort with herself as a lesbian is being challenged by her attraction to a boy. There is a LOT going on in this book, and Murphy handles it all deftly and with tender respect. The setting is vivid and memorable without being gimmicky, and oh, Ramona swims. What's not to love?

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertali.
Wait, what, another YA contemporary with a bright and fierce teen girl at its center? And they both were the best of the best?  Well, yes. I was rooting for Ramona with all my heart, but I freaking AM Molly. I mean, I didn't grow up in a complete rainbow household and have to choose between two boys, but her entire approach to romance (treat any crushes like a shameful secret) is exactly the one I employed for the first, oh, thirty years of my life. I could just relate SO HARD to her. Her insecurities, her defensive strategies, her love of crafting and baking...I feel like she's the sister of my soul.  

Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet.
I love E. B. White. I had a boxed set of his children's books that I read over and over as a kid, and when I got older I tracked down old New Yorker essays. I read Elements of Style for his contributions alone, I started reading James Thurber because he was White's colleague, and I've read a biography or two along the way. This book is an engaging and fascinating look at his life. It's also a work of art and practically bristles with creativity and life. I would love it even if it were about someone I'd never heard of. I would love it even if it were presented in traditional nonfiction form. The combination of subject matter and innovative narrative make it absolutely stunning.

What books spoke to you this year?


  1. I haven't read any of the books you listed here, but they are all books I am hoping to read soon, especially Trevor Noah's "Born a Crime". I have watched some of his segments on the Daily Show previously and I'm interested to hear stories about his experience growing up within Apartheid. Aside, one of the most thought-provoking books I read this year was Go Set a Watchman because it made me re-evaluate To Kill a Mockingbird, think about the idea of idolization, and question trusted characters' views.

    I like the pictures, by the way, the mountain looks beautiful!

    claire @ clairefy

  2. I’m a huge fan of Some Writer and Melissa Sweet. Could any bio of White be any more perfect?

  3. I love your photos! The only one of these I’ve read is Upside, but the others are on my TBR list. I especially want to read Born a Crime because I love Trevor Noah’s TV show. He’s hilarious and smart and has the best accent.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  4. I read Ramona Blue, The Upside of Unrequited, and Born a Crime. I loved them all as well! I totally agree that Born a Crime was perfect on audio....that's the way I took it in as well. A friend of mine told me just last night that I need to pick up Lily and Dunkin so between the two of you, it looks like that book will be coming up soon!

  5. The only one of these I've read is Upside. Now I need to get with the program and read the others!!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

  6. The only one I have read is Upside, and I agree, it was fabulous! I DO want to read the other books on your list though- especially Trevor Noah's, I adore him! So glad that you loved these!

  7. Reading your thoughts and what you related to in the characters and situations is like getting to know my sister in a really amazing way. Thanks for sharing your inner self, Wendy. So inspiring for so many!

  8. I read two of these, Ramona Blue and Upside, and enjoyed them both. I actually added Lily and Dunkin to my TBR after reading your review. It sounds like something I could love too. Those pictures are beautiful! Thanks for sharing them.

  9. I read The Upside of Unrequited just now, and I really loved it. And those photos are tickling my travel bones.


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