Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Complimentary copies of some of the books mentioned below were provided by the publishers.
Every year I make a list of ten frontlist titles I desperately wanted to read, but didn’t have time for during the calendar year. This year I fell way behind on my reading and will wind up far short of my one-hundred-book Goodreads Challenge, so there are plenty of titles to populate this year’s list.
Before I get to that, I should note that I read four books from last year’s list: Underground Airlines by Ben Winters, We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal, and The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale. I also read Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale from my 2015 list. Unfortunately, none of them lived up to my expectations, which was a huge bummer. Hopefully, these books will fare better.
Note: All of the book descriptions are from Amazon and are shortened and/or paraphrased to keep the word count down.
Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben
As the host of Radio Free Vermont–“underground, underpowered, and underfoot”–seventy-two-year-old Vern Barclay is currently broadcasting from an “undisclosed and double-secret location.” With the help of a young computer prodigy named Perry Alterson, Vern uses his radio show to advocate for a simple yet radical idea: an independent Vermont, one where the state secedes from the United States and operates under a free local economy. But for now, he and his radio show must remain untraceable, because in addition to being a lifelong Vermonter and concerned citizen, Vern Barclay is also a fugitive from the law.
Bill McKibben is an environmental activist, which is part of what initially attracted me to this book. I also love reading about political renegades who reject the status quo. And this book is set in New England, which checks yet another box for me.
Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land
Milly’s mother is a serial killer. Though Milly loves her mother, the only way to make her stop is to turn her in to the police. Milly is given a fresh start: a new identity, a home with an affluent foster family, and a spot at an exclusive private school. But Milly has secrets, and life at her new home becomes complicated. As her mother’s trial looms, with Milly as the star witness, Milly starts to wonder how much of her is nature, how much of her is nurture, and whether she is doomed to turn out like her mother after all. When tensions rise and Milly feels trapped by her shiny new life, she has to decide: Will she be good? Or is she bad? She is, after all, her mother’s daughter.
I love mystery and suspense novels, but after a while, they tend to run together. This looks like anything but your typical cookie cutter suspense novel. I’m dying to know where this goes–does Milly turn out to be a serial killer or a sympathetic character? Or a sympathetic serial killer? So many possibilities!
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Fourteen-year-old Linda lives with her parents in the beautiful, austere woods of northern Minnesota, where their nearly abandoned commune stands as a last vestige of a lost counter-culture world. Isolated at home and an outlander at school, Linda is drawn to the enigmatic, attractive Lily and new history teacher Mr. Grierson. When Mr. Grierson is charged with possessing child pornography, the implications of his arrest deeply affect Linda as she wrestles with her own fledgling desires and craving to belong.
I’ve had this book sitting on my review stack since January and I still haven’t gotten around to reading it. I know it’s received mixed reviews, but my interest was piqued when it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King & Owen King
In a future so real and near it might be now, something happens when women go to sleep: they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze and go to another place, a better place, where harmony prevails and conflict is rare. If they are awakened, the women become feral and spectacularly violent. One women, the mysterious Eve Black, is immune to the sleeping disease. Is Eve a medical anomaly to be studied or a demon to be slain? Abandoned, left to their increasingly primal urges, the men divide into warring factions. Some want to kill Eve, others to save her. All turn to violence in a suddenly all-male world.
Horror really isn’t my thing. In fact, I’ve never read any of Stephen King’s books. A couple months ago, I watched the Netflix adaptation of Gerald’s Game and didn’t sleep for a week. It was not fun. But this book intrigues me. I’m interested to see how two male authors grapple with gender issues in this crazy fictional world that seems like it’s an allegory for some uncomfortable truths of our own.
When the English Fall by David Williams
When a catastrophic solar storm brings about the collapse of modern civilization, the Amish are unaffected at first. But as the English become more and more desperate, they begin to invade Amish farms, taking whatever they want and unleashing unthinkable violence on the peaceable community. Seen through the diary of an Amish farmer named Jacob as he tries to protect his family and his way of life, When the English Fall examines the idea of peace in the face of deadly chaos: Should members of a nonviolent society defy their beliefs and take up arms to defend themselves? And if they don’t, can they survive?
The ethics and practicality (or lack thereof) of pacifism is something that interests me. Plunging a nonviolent society into a hyper-violent world is an interesting way to explore the virtues and limits of pacifism through fiction.Better Luck Next Year: 10 Books I Didn't Have Time to Read in 2017Click To Tweet
Moral Combat by R. Marie Griffith
From gay marriage and transgender rights to birth control and abortion, sex is at the heart of many of the most divisive political issues of our age. The origins of these conflicts, historian R. Marie Griffith argues, lie in sharp disagreements that emerged among American Christians a century ago. From the 1920s onward, a once-solid Christian consensus regarding gender roles and sexual morality began to crumble, and thus the culture wars were born. Moral Combat is a history of how the Christian consensus on sex unraveled, and how this unraveling has made our political battles over sex so ferocious and so intractable.
Observing the insanity and incivility of public discourse in the political sphere over the last two years–especially concerning issues of sex and gender–has made me want to learn more about the history of these issues. How did we get here? I think this book will be a good starting point to answer this question.
Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson
As the country grapples with racist division at a level not seen since the 1960s, one man’s voice soars above the rest with conviction and compassion. In his 2016 New York Times op-ed piece “Death in Black and White,” Michael Eric Dyson moved a nation. Now he continues to speak out in Tears We Cannot Stop―a provocative and deeply personal call for change. Dyson argues that if we are to make real racial progress we must face difficult truths, including being honest about how black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted.
I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about this book. I have the audiobook and I’m hoping to listen to it after finishing What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s memoir of the 2016 election.
The Evangelicals by Frances FitzGerald
Evangelicals have in many ways defined the nation. They have shaped our culture and our politics. Frances FitzGerald’s narrative of this distinctively American movement pieces together the centuries-long story for the first time. Evangelicals now constitute twenty-five percent of the American population, but they are no longer monolithic in their politics. They range from Tea Party supporters to social reformers. Still, with the decline of religious faith generally, FitzGerald suggests that evangelical churches must embrace ethnic minorities if they are to survive.
Much like Moral Combat, I’m hoping this book will shed some light on the history of the religious movement I was raised in and has played such a huge role in shaping American politics today. With what’s going on in our country today, this feels more urgent than ever.
Inferior by Angela Saini
In Inferior, acclaimed science writer Angela Saini weaves together a fascinating—and sorely necessary—new science of women. As Saini takes readers on a journey to uncover science’s failure to understand women, she finds that we’re still living with the legacy of an establishment that’s just beginning to recover from centuries of entrenched exclusion and prejudice. As Saini reveals, however, groundbreaking research is finally rediscovering women’s bodies and minds. Inferior investigates the gender wars in biology, psychology, and anthropology, and delves into cutting-edge scientific studies to uncover a fascinating new portrait of women’s brains, bodies, and role in human evolution.
This book wasn’t on my radar until it snagged second place in this year’s Goodreads Choice Award for science & technology books. Gender biology is something I’m intensely interested in and I’ve written about my problems with the prevailing paradigm. I’m really interested in what Saini has to say about it.
From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty
Fascinated by our pervasive fear of dead bodies, mortician Caitlin Doughty set out on an immersive global journey to discover how other cultures care for the dead. She contends that the American funeral industry sells a particular–and, upon close inspection, peculiar– set of “respectful” rites: bodies are whisked to the mortuary, pumped full of chemicals, and entombed in concrete. She argues that our expensive, impersonal system fosters a corrosive fear of death that hinders our ability to cope and mourn. By comparing customs, she demonstrates that mourners everywhere respond best when they help care for the deceased.
I’ve always had very negative feelings about how our culture deals with death. The way we sanitize the whole thing–shuffling away bodies into closed caskets or pumping them full of toxic chemicals and painting them to make them look almost alive–gives me the heebie-jeebies and I have always hated the idea of my body being disposed of in that way someday. I’d like to learn more about the burial and mourning rituals of other cultures and glean wisdom from them. I think we could do with a change.
Which 2017 books do you most want to read in 2018?