If I’m anywhere near Union Square, I feel a gravitational pull toward The Strand and its “18 miles of books.” I go in, “just to see what they have,” which is Eileen O’Brien (mom) for “I’m not really looking for anything in particular, but I am definitely not leaving empty-handed.”
There are probably a dozen unread books in my apartment, not counting the 698 on my Kindle. I subscribe to BookBub, which is a daily email with Kindle deals for $2.99 or less, and I keep buying more books because there’s a good deal.
Whatever, I like books.
I add everything I read on Goodreads. At the end of the year, I like to look back at my year in books before deleting my whole history and starting fresh in January. This past year I read 31 books, and highly recommend seven of them:
FantasticLand is about a hurricane that ravages Florida and leaves a bunch of theme-park stranded inside the park for weeks, and they go full-savage. The concept was interesting to me and I loved the non-traditional execution. The story isn’t linear and there’s no real character development because the narrator is a journalist. Each chapter is a first-person interview with someone else involved. It’s almost like every one of them peels back a layer and highlights a misunderstanding that makes you think, “Hm, I guess this could happen?”
The Soul of an Octopus
The octopus has been described as the closest thing to an alien we have on Earth. This book is about what we can learn about consciousness from them. They’re such interesting creatures that can tell people apart, eat and regenerate their tentacles, change colors, and even solve problems.
The coolest thing I’ve learned from this book: Octopi are extremely intelligent and sometimes aquarists give them food inside Mr. Potato Head toys or pill bottles. Puzzles keep them engaged and entertained, which is good because when an octopus gets bored, it might stuff its boneless self inside a valve and flood the aquarium, just for kicks.
The Prince of Tides
I had read this book before, but it had been so long that I forgot how amazing it is. Pat Conroy (another book of his, The Lords of Discipline, is my forever favorite) has a very flowery, overwrought style I’d normally find annoying, but he did it so well that it reminds me of how Mariah Carey does over-the-top, syllable-adding vocal gymnastics and you’re like, “OK, only you are allowed to do that.” This book is funny in parts, horrifying in others, but always riveting and incredibly beautiful.
Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors
Piers Paul Read
In addition to going to the bookstore just to “see what they have,” my mom also talks a lot about “the indomitable human spirit.” No book has ever made me think of that more than “Alive,” which is about an Uruguayan rugby team surviving a plane crash in the Andes Mountains. Only 16 of the 45 passengers survived the entire 2.5-month(!) ordeal and with the lack of rations, they had to resort to eating their friends who didn’t make it. The story is so haunting that you kind of forget that it’s real.
After Trump won the election, the Internet was flooded with think-pieces about the working-class white people who helped propel him to victory. And I devoured them, trying to learn more about a group of people who I don’t see or know. “Hillbilly Elegy” is like a 300-page version of that, a sociological memoir written by a Yale Law-educated man who grew up in Appalachia. I learned a lot and gained more empathy, which, who can’t use more of that?
Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior
The way we experience the world is largely driven by the subliminal processes of our minds that we may not even be aware of. Subliminal was an interesting and educational read, but more importantly, it was an accessible one. Leonard Mlodinow breaks down an extremely heavy, complex topic in normal, everyday human language. Even the examples are easy to understand, such as a picture of 15 different drawings of a penny to demonstrate the way we naturally skim things for information and focus on the big picture, ignoring minor details.
Into the Water
Looking back at my year, there were too many enjoyable, but ultimately mediocre thrillers. “Into the Water” was not one of them. That’s an unpopular opinion, based on this book’s 3.4-star rating on Amazon, but this is the one thriller I read whose plot I still remember: A woman is found dead at the bottom of the river, one where a lot of people in town tend to die. I thought Paula Hawkins pulled off the narrator-switching effect, which is really difficult to pull off, nicely and constantly made me second-guess myself and think, “No, this person is totally the killer!”
What were your favorite reads of 2017? What’s on your list for 2018?
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