My favourite books of 2017 - Lucy L. Austin

My favourite books of 2017

As I was looking at the list of my favourite books of 2017, I was struck by how different each one was from the other. Some were biting, others beautiful; some were tangibly descriptive, others were so honest and stripped back, by the end of the chapter they had me feeling naked. 

One thing all of the books did have in common, was that they weren’t my usual taste. That might be why I responded so strongly to them. Some I read because they received excellent reviews, some because I thought there might be useful elements for my writing and others, I read purely to mix things up.

The best compliment I could give an author/book, would be to describe how it will stay with me in the future. Looking at the edit, it was clear each book had something unique to offer that resonated with me, leaving a distinctive imprint. It got me thinking that if each book were to leave a physical imprint on me, rather than a mental/emotional one, where would it be on my body? So, I categorised my favourite books of 2017 into parts of my anatomy. Go figure.

I was surprised at how many books I enjoyed, but didn’t find a place here. I also read quite a few ‘classics,’ as well as books published from previous years, so I was limited with that I could include. Confession, one of the books below was published in 2016, but I read it this year. I absolutely had to include it, I couldn’t bear not to – apologies!

I do love a recommendation or debate, so feel free to comment away 😊.

•    Nestled in my brain, was Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. In the first few pages, I nearly gave up reading this (which is something I rarely do), because I couldn’t get a handle on it. After a bit of perseverance and I’d established the concept, I was drawn in by its distinction and whimsy. I doff my hat to Saunders for his vision and execution. You have to admire the chops of someone with the innate belief they can not only pull a book like this off, but also do it bloody well. Saunders’ emotional ping-ponging, played me from hilarity to despair so deftly, I couldn’t help but marvel and quietly fangirl him. The hyper-consciousness of the concept, language and content allowed me to enjoy it in an observational, Brechtian way, which I loved. I struggled to think of other fictitious examples which provoked the same response, so for me, that made it a winner. 

•    Lodged in my throat, sometimes difficult to swallow, was Feeding Time by Adam Biles (2016). Navigating through inappropriateness and socially-charged tension points like the mistreatment of the elderly, familial abandonment/disregard and paedophilia/grooming, made this compelling, if sometimes awkward, reading. But it was the beautiful construction of the prose, and wit sharp and astute (that I’m far more used to hearing than reading) that will keep me choking on his words. In a good way. I love it when I when I want to re-read sentences to enjoy them again, and Biles had me re-reading at least a few times every chapter admiring his mastery.

•    Reverberating in my heart is Hunger, by Roxane Gay. Though other books tugged more generously at my heartstrings, the sheer transparency and poignancy of Gay’s writing was like looking into pockets of her heart. The content, was at times, difficult to read. The cringe-worthy anecdotes of humiliation, the raw, depressive honesty and candour made me look at my perceptions of the sliding scales of people of size, as well as my demons with food. The intimacy and pathos in which she talks about the devastating acts of violence was humbling, and the consequential effects had me silently wishing for justice. Separately, I enjoyed Gay’s paradoxical musings – ‘I don’t know why I do that, or maybe I do’ –  which for me, typifies our often complicated relationship with ourselves, and something I recognise all too familiarly in myself!

•    Hiding in my underbelly, as vulnerable as the heroine, is Eleanor Oliphant Is Fine by Gail Honeyman. As Eleanor began slowly to bloom, engaging with others and the world – but on her terms –  a warmth started to bloom in me. The characteristics of Raymond, his mother and the older gentleman’s family, aren’t depicted in books often, or perhaps that’s just the kind of books I read. People with their good nature without agenda do exist, and should be dramatised/captured in fiction. The exploration of the humanity of others (and ourselves) was the triumphant takeaway for me, as well as its unlikely heroine.

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