My Favourite Books of 2017

Ok, there are still a few days left in 2017 and I will probably read at least a couple of books between now and midnight on December 31st. I’m in the middle of Virgina Woolf‘s A Room of One’s Own and I am really enjoying it (Thanks, Oiselle Nesters for the gift!). Here were some of my favourites from this year divided into fiction and non-fiction.

Top Fiction Books:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I love ‘good’ science fiction; yes, that is different for everyone, but to me, it is just believable enough that I could picture myself as part of the story. Maybe it was the setting, making Toronto feel like a glamorized, international city. Maybe it was the way the story was knit together from past to present. Maybe it was that there was no hope for recovery or for returning to what was before, but there was hope for the things that matter in life – love, connectedness, and a sense of purpose. Mandel’s strong character development made this my favourite story of 2017.

 

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This is set to be a major motion picture in 2018 and I understand why. This book drew me from the moment I read the first page and made me feel like I was part of the ‘Oasis.’ Following the science fiction theme, this book too felt real (yes, I don’t like when science fiction goes too far and really should be called fantasy). Set in post-climate change in a ‘Google-Run’ virtual world the founder of the ‘Oasis’ dies and leave his fortune to the person who can solve the puzzle.  For anyone who grew up in the 80’s playing arcade games, you’ll love this book.

 

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Thank you to my friend Lynsey for this recommendation. I read this in the fall during a stint in Portland while training and did not get much work done the first few days I was there! I just couldn’t put this book down (but, hey, also so good for recovery purposes!). Apparently, I am enthralled with literature set in India, it just feels magical. The story weaves together four primary characters who become an accidental family, plus a host of secondary characters. While fiction you have to think that some of the atrocities did take occur in India once upon a time. Laugh, cry, and be thankful for where you live.

 

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. I bought this book to read while I was at the Maccabi Games this summer in Israel and it was a perfect read. While recently written it draws you back into a time long ago, into an old New York City, into a place of magic. A story about hope, love, learning to be dependent despite needing independence, I loved the blend of Jewish and Arab history (very timely since I ended up in Jerusalem for a week!).

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. I stole this book off the shelf in the guest room at my friend’s house in Ottawa. It was so good that I read it in one day and then had to give it to another friend who loves dogs (hence stole not borrowed!). The story is told through the eyes of a dog, through the eye’s of ‘man’s best friend.’ Bad things happen to great people, but there is always hope and always a new day, and always a furry friend to love you when you need it.

 

Top Non-Fiction Books:

 

The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis. My supervisor gave me this book six months before I read it. I do not know what held me back from reading it given that I have always enjoyed Michael Lewis’ writing. For some reason, I thought this book wasn’t going to pique my interests. I was so very wrong (my supervisor does know me very well). After my time racing at Hebrew University in Jerusalem this book meant even more to me (so, hey, maybe karma was looking out for me). I loved this book so much I cried when it ended! The story of the friendship between Amos Tversky and Danny Kahneman reminds us of how good the simple things can be. Fiction and non-fiction this was my favourite book of 2017. This book is for everyone who wants to understand why we think and act the way we do.

 

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. I read this just after I read The Undoing Project. This book sat on my shelf for almost three years. I had read the introduction a few times and, to be honest, I thought it was boring. After reading Lewis’ book I could not wait to start this. What I thought was going to be a heavy read about mathematics and psychology was written in plain, simple language. It was meant for someone read for enjoyment, and you learn a lot along the way. I loved this and could not put it down. I recommend reading these two books in the order I have them listed, a piece of advice I received from someone who often gives me book advice.

 

The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I read Mukherjee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Emperor  of All Maladies, in about three days. When this book came out I was equally excited to crush it. The Gene did not win a Pulitzer Prize but it is still an awesome book. Mukerjhee almost writes in what I will call science-prose. Similar to Kahneman who also writes beautifully in simple speak, Mukherjee takes really complicated scientific ideas and makes them so easy to understand. This was a fascinating read starting from the earliest of histories about the gene, to the challenges we face unlocking this Pandora’s box of science, to the beauty of Mother Nature who designed this complicated and very tiny thread of information.

 

The Laws of Medicine: Field Notes of an Uncertain Science by Siddhartha Muhkerjee. Yes, I said above how much I love Muhkerjee’s writing and I grew up with two doctors so I have an affinity for the medical arts. This is more like a novella than a true book. It was a quick, but important, read that really helps you appreciate how challenging medicine is. Take this totally opaque structure and guess what’s going on inside. Ok, sometimes you can peak in, but only in black and white, and with a film that somewhat distracts your view. Medicine is hard. Accurately assessing is almost impossible. Read this an appreciate just how awesome the doctors around you really are (or maybe you need a new doctor!).

 

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. I picked up this book at an AirBnB I stayed in with the girls on a road trip in Beaverton. It was also more like a novella than a proper novel, and I thought it would be really cheesy, but Pausch was brilliant. Computer science guy, father, husband, great writer. He weaves the story of football through his lecture through the idea of a head fake – a situation in which someone believes that they are learning about one thing, but are really learning about something different. At the end the ‘head fake’ of his last lecture, whoa, tear-jerker. Just read it. It’s quick. It makes you feel good. And it reminds you to cherish your days because we never really know how many we have left.