My Ten Favorite Books in 2017

I read a lot, and always have. I come from a family of readers and writers and have passed the habit on. Like many of you, I read for pleasure and entertainment, as well as information. But no matter whether it's a novel, poetry, history, biography, whatever -- the writing has to be up to my standards. Which, some might think are pretty low, since my tastes are eclectic, with a healthy dose of thriller and fantasy, but not so fast. Some of the best writing in the world comes from so-called genre writers, which is pretty much anybody not considered "literary" but that term is a fluid one and getting more so all the time. As it should. I'll re-post Elmore's ten rules one of these days, do a detective/thriller and fantasy/supernatural update. But today, it's just the books that I loved, that let me keep my sanity through the circus of American politics, hurricanes, and horrific events this year. Some weren't necessarily published in 2017, I read them when I found them. These are books that aren’t just brilliantly written but touched my heart and left me feeling lucky I live at the same time as the writer that created them. In no particular order or preference, they are:

1. The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman. Ever wonder how life began for the magical aunts from Practical Magic? The secret's out, and the ever delightful Hoffman tells all. As she says, "eat chocolate cake for breakfast, read books on rainy afternoons, plant lavender, and love often." Good rules to follow, and a good book to read. Hoffman is the queen of wonder and reading Rules of Magic is a treat, lingering in the mind like memories of love and enchanting times.

2. My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent. If I had to choose one book that kept me up, astounded me and rattled me, this is the one. The amazing young Turtle Alveston and her world beneath the one we think we know in Mendocino are the creation of a writer that makes me equally envious and inspired. I couldn’t read anything for days after I finished it, because I didn’t want to break the spell. Even now, I want to suggest this for my book club, but I’m reluctant, because the slightest breath of criticism could bring forth my inner dragon. When Stephen King said, “masterpiece” he wasn’t fooling around. I love this book.

3. American Wolf, a True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee. If you’re a wolf person, an advocate or just love them from afar, you will treasure this book, and it could shake you, motivate you, and likely make you cry. I’ve worked with wolf recovery projects in the Northwest and Southwest, and Blakeslee’s story of the Yellowstone Wolves, especially the remarkable O-Six, is beautifully done and to the point. I respect his journalistic objectivity on this subject, (something I lost a while back on the same), and pulling together all the different viewpoints – from hunter, environmentalist, wolf lover and federal management, into a coherent narrative, is quite a feat, especially in the face of ignorance and profit. So well done.

4. By Gaslight by Steven Price. I deliberately avoided reading reviews of this book before I read it for myself. Charles Dickens meets William Faulkner via Sherlock was my first thought and clearly a lot of others who threw Cormac McCarthy into the mix, I found later. If there’s anyplace in the world I never want to be, it’s London 1885, because breathing and disgust could be problematic. That said, Steven Price has written a wonderful book, set there with flashbacks to the American West with his character, William Pinkerton, son to Allan, who founded the famous detective agency. His descriptions alone of fog-choked London and its denizens, make this novel one of a kind, and his depiction of William, on a quest to find a legendary thief, gives us a tortured and formidable man at the height of his investigative powers. Extraordinary.

5. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. If anyone can breathe civility into this current world by evoking a past one, it’s Amor Towles. I lost myself in the luxurious world of the Metropol hotel and Count Rostov, under lifelong house arrest for writing a poem deemed unfavorable to the Russian state. The charming and wily aristocrat is not without resources or friends, however, and thirty years seems to fly by in Towles’ capable hands, even though it did not go quite as blithely for the Count. A reminder of gentility at a time when our world today seems to have none, and delightful to read.

I’ll be back soon with my final five…didn’t want to overwhelm you. Again, these are not ranked in order of preference because all of them are excellent and I hate when one book is elevated to “best” and others are runners-up, which I find silly and unfair. Each book is unique, as is each reader.

And, that’s a wrap.

Raven