The Best of What I Read in 2017

Kat Li
Kat Li
Jan 12, 2018 · 5 min read

Just to mix things up, this year I wanted to try and condense my list into my top 10 books across fiction and non-fiction. Of course, what ended up happening is that fiction dominates the list (but my 2017 #1 is non-fiction!). A few years ago, I challenged myself to read one non-fiction between every fiction and even though I’ve left that rigidity behind, the habit of reading more non-fiction has stuck.

The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty.

I’d recommend to: anyone who’s curious about how everyday Americans cope with financial insecurity

Although I’d love for my top choice to be fiction, Financial Diaries is honestly the book I most recommended to other people this year (including gifting a couple kindle versions to friends!). Even though I’ve worked in fintech for several years, I found it incredibly illuminating to understand how the traditional definition of poverty fails to encapsulate swaths of the population. If you like Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, definitely give this a read.

No One Is Coming to Save Us.

I’d recommend to: lovers of the classics, Scott F. Fitzgerald fans

Imagine a modern day spin on The Great Gatsby with a black family at its center and you have Stephanie Powell Watts’s No One Is Coming to Save Us. Although there are few direct allusions to The Great Gatsby, the narrative is similarly powerful and haunting.

The Fifth Season.

I’d recommend to: fellow dystopia and fantasy fans

I only started this series this year but as soon as I began, I tore through the trilogy. They’re dark AF but it’s impossible to not get pulled in by her interweaving narratives.

The Manager’s Path: A Guide for Tech Leaders Navigating Growth and Change.

I’d recommend to: managers, aspiring managers, anyone in tech leadership

Although I’m not an engineering manager, I still found Camille’s book to be valuable for any manager in tech (it certainly gave me a good amount to think about, both in terms of how I manage others and what I look for in a good manager). This is the book I will be recommending to any newly minted managers in my life. Consider this the new go-to handbook on management.

The Way of Kings.

I’d recommend to: fantasy fans, people who don’t mind series that never end

I know, I know, again slow on the uptake to find this series. But there’s a lot to enjoy in this series (even in spite of some typical fantasy tropes). One of my favorite aspects is that the world is one in which only women learn to read and write (it’s considered unmanly) — it makes me reflect a bit on how that would play out in our own world. I have to say though, when I finished the third book, I thought the series had wrapped up nicely, only to learn there were an additional 7 (!) planned books to come.

The Bettencourt Affair: The World’s Richest Woman and the Scandal That Rocked Paris.

I’d recommend to: anyone who enjoys getting deep into the context and psychology of newsworthy events

Although I wasn’t familiar with the case, the richest woman of France (and heiress of the L’Oreal fortune) has been in and out of the news thanks to her unexpected relationship with a decades younger gay man. This book covers the tale, from start to finish of what exactly happened and why mother and daughter eventually went to court over the family fortune. What I actually most enjoyed about this book was how it made me think about what I consider “right” and “fair” in terms of family fortunes — are children entitled to a portion of it? Do parents get to decide how much, if any, to leave to future generations? How, if at all, should the state be involved?

The Sun Is Also a Star.

I’d recommend to: YA fans

Although YA with a flair of magic or at least some dystopia tends to be what I gravitate towards, sometimes there are exceptionally well-crafted real world novels (like All the Bright Places in 2015). You’ll love the characters in this book and really root for them (not just as a couple, but as individuals growing up in a tough world).

Little Fires Everywhere.

I’d recommend to: YA fans

I barely read this before the end of the year (thanks to Ellen Chisa who included it in her list published before 2018 started!) but really enjoyed it. Here was a book with real, deep characters who each had a chance to share a bit of their perspectives and context into what made them tick. A defining piece of the novel is the conflict surrounding a birth mother and adoptive parents, what parenthood means, and how culture plays into childhood. Hopefully it’ll make you question your own assumptions too.

Strange the Dreamer.

I’d recommend to: YA fans (getting a little repetitive here, sorry)

Although some parts of the story were a bit cliché, I assume true YA fans understand that’s just part of the game. The deeply sympathetic characters and the gorgeous imagery are what really make this book make the cut.

The User is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web (Voices That Matter).

I’d recommend to: product managers, people in marketing, anyone working in tech

An oldie but goodie, this is the definitive book on persona work. Outside of personas specifically, there’s a good amount of general advice and best practices for running user research that led to some intelligent conversations at my company’s book club.

Special Mentions

Alexander Hamilton.

Nope, I didn’t finish it in 2017. I continued to trudge along but given that I’ve seen Hamilton twice now, find it unlikely I’ll ever muster the energy to finish it.

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

I ordered this book the first of January 2017 and have yet to finish it too. Although I find the premise fascinating (that in spite of our tendency to bemoan the current state of the world, we’re becoming a less violent society), the text was dense and felt a bit repetitive (in that, within a couple chapters in, I was already convinced that the theory was fairly solid and didn’t know what an additional 80% of the book could uniquely offer in that regard).

Next Year (aka this year now because I’m behind in posting this)

There are so many books that I’m excited to read this year, including a few I’ve already begun. On the non-fiction front, I’m currently most looking forward to reading Team of Teams as I’ve had multiple people recommend it now. For fiction, I’m excited to start The City of Brass and The Three-Body Problem soon.

I like to host a book-based White Elephant party where everyone wraps and brings their favorite read of the previous year. This weekend we’re having the 2017 party and I’m ready to find some new books to add to my queue from it!

Kat Li

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Kat Li

Curiouser and curiouser: I ask a lot of questions and I love bad puns.