The Best Books I Read in 2017

17 books you should check out

2017 was a great year in reading for me. It was the year where I read a total of 51 books, the most I have ever read in one year, that I recall. Below you will find reviews of the 17 best books that I read plus a few links to other great books from 2017 that I wrote about previously.

Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story: This was a very good comic book and its a piece of history that was published during the Civil Rights Movements. It also served as the precursor/inspiration to John Lewis’ March graphic novel series.

I liked that the Montgomery Bus boycott was told from the point of view of a everyday person who would have participated or saw the boycott in person. I especially liked the ending where the nonviolent philosophy is deconstructed for reader and it shows how you can actually live it out. You can read a digitized copy here: https://www.crmvet.org/docs/ms_for_comic.pdf

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson: Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns” is a very well written book. It tells the history of the Great Migration when African-Americans moved from the South to the North and West in the early to mid-20th Century. What makes Wilkerson’s book different from your standard historical books is that she tells the story of the Great Migration by focusing on the lives of three individuals who migrated: Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Foster. As I read this book I actually felt like I was getting to know these people and that I saw them grow in age and as a person. Wilkerson also has chapters in the book that take a macro view of the Great Migration. I highly recommend this book especially if you are not that familiar with the Great Migration as I was when I started the book.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann: Grann’s book tells the story of a string of murders of Osage Indians in Oklahoma in the 1920s and the web of people that were involved. I really enjoyed reading it. It was well researched and it read almost like an episode of 48 Hours. I also like that the author included pictures throughout the book which I have rarely seen in other historical books (they are usually on glossy pages in the middle of the book). If you like mysteries and true crime then you will like this book.

Fences by August Wilson: Fences is play number six in August Wilson’s Century Cycle. I have read every play in the cycle up to this one and it is by far the best one. I watched the film adaptation in December with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis playing the lead roles of Troy and Rose. Watching that film inspired me to read all of Wilson’s plays in the Century Cycle. As I read Fences for the first time my mind went back to the film. I could see the scenes from the film as I was reading the play. In short the film sticks very closely to the original script.

Let me get to the essence of the play, since this is a book review and not a film review. The play is about a man named Troy Maxson and the changes going on in his life. He’s suffering from what I think is a midlife crisis. He’s stuck in a dead end job and wants to move up the ladder, his son Cory wants to play football but Troy doesn’t believe he can do it, his wife Rose adores him but he has a wandering eye, he wants to take care of his mentally disabled brother Gabriel but Gabriel wants his independence, and he believes that death is always lurking around the corner. As in all of Wilson’s plays unresolved tension lies beneath the surface and at some point those tensions boil over. Get ready for a bumpy ride. I recommend that fans of the 2016 film should read this play which is the original source material.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: The first time I heard about this book was in a Book Riot-The Podcast episode last year months before it was published. This book received alot of praise and hype and was being called by some as the Black Lives Matter book. In my opinion it lived up to its hype and more. The Hate U Give is a YA novel that tells the story of Starr who is a teenager from the hood and was also the witness to her unarmed friend’s murder by a cop. Like in the Trayvon Martin murder, people call the victim a thug, gangbanger, and even suggest that he deserved to be murdered. I liked this book because it was very readable and I could not put it down. The characters and the story felt so real. Finally, I enjoyed the elements of humor in the book. When tragic events like this story happen in real life it is hard to find joy about anything. You would think a book about this subject would be more angry and sad and there are times where that it is the case however there are funny moments as well. I’m glad that a movie is in the works but until that time make sure you read this book.

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson: Another powerful book by Michael Eric Dyson. It is a very well written work that was hard to put down. Dyson draws on history, current events, and his own personal story to give a sermon on the sins of racism and the effect it has had on how White people have treated Black people in America. In some respects I would compare this book with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. The only difference is that it ends with Dyson giving prescriptions to White Americans on how to make race relations better. Highly recommend.

American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant by Ronald White Jr.: American Ulysses was a good biography of Civil War general and the 18th President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant. I learned alot about Grant’s personality and character in this book. He was an introvert, who was calm, self-less, loving to his wife, and a fighter for the rights of Native Americans and African Americans. I first learned of this book when I heard the author, Ronald White, in an interview about the book on C-SPAN’s Q&A. I was drawn to it because White mentioned how Grant cracked down on the KKK during his presidency when they violently tried to suppress African Americans right to vote. Denis McDonough, who served as Chief of Staff to President Obama also recommended the book on The Ezra Klein Show.

I enjoyed reading and learning more about Grant. This was the first biography about him that I have read. The one drawback is that the section (40% of the book) on his time during the Civil War was boring, especially the focus on all the battles. I was more interested in Grant’s role during Reconstruction and his presidency. I was very fascinated with his life post-presidency. Grant lived a very interesting life and I’m glad that I had the chance to learn more about it.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett: I first learned of this book from the podcast For Colored Nerds where the hosts interviewed the author about her work. I really enjoyed reading this book and I especially enjoyed Bennett’s writing.

I recommended the books Jane Crow and The Firebrand and the First Lady in this article, I read both in 2017.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay: Roxane Gay’s memoir Hunger is about her life as a “woman of size”. I agree with many people who have described this book as emotionally raw. She describes a tragic event that happened to her in her youth and the weight gain that resulted from it. She centers most of her memoir on what her life is like having an “unruly body”, the daily interactions with people who instantly judge her because of her size, the things that most people take for granted like sitting in one seat in a movie theater or airplane as opposed to two, her relationship with food, and so much more. Gay’s book is very powerful and I believe that it will give voice to women, people of size, and others who may have suffered similar episodes like she did and who continue to live with the memories of what happened to them. I hope this book opens the eyes of people who have not lived Gay’s life or something similar to it. I hope it makes people more empathetic towards people with different bodies. If you haven’t read this book, please do yourself a favor and read it.

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman: This was a really good collection of quotes from Stoic philosophers such as Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus and daily meditations from the authors Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman. I read two meditations a day from December 2016 to July 2017. I enjoyed learning from the wisdom of these philosophers who lived around 2,000 years ago and it amazes me that their words stand the test of time. Big takeaways from the book: Be good, accept the things you can control, realize that the outcome of things is controlled by someone or something bigger than yourself, and finally practice what you preach by living out the wisdom and teachings that you read.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid: Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel was really good and was definitely a page turner. I was hooked from the very beginning. The novel is mostly written like an autobiography where you hear Evelyn Hugo’s life unfold from the start of her Hollywood career to her latter years. Reid smartly puts short tabloid and newspaper articles throughout the book marking important events in Hugo’s life. I don’t think I have ever read a book like this before. The character of Evelyn Hugo is complex just like most humans. Just when you think you know her she surprises you again and again.

Radio Golf by August Wilson: A fitting conclusion to August Wilson’s Century Cycle. Radio Golf was the 10th and last play of the series. I really liked how it harkened back to Gem of the Ocean, Two Trains Running, and King Hedley II. Aunt Ester’s presence still lives on in this play. This play focuses on topics such as black political leadership, respectability politics, and gentrification. Lastly I enjoyed how the dialogue was different compared to the previous plays. The diction was a mix of slang from the past to more everyday talk which more or less speaks to issues of class between some of the characters in this play. The conclusion is left up to the reader’s interpretation which I usually don’t like but I think Wilson gives us a taste for how he wants it to end.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne: The Heart’s Invisible Furies was a very good novel that chronicles the life of Cyril Avery an adopted Irish boy from Dublin. I will not say much about it in this review because reading it is an experience all by itself. It is a sad, funny, happy, and sentimental book. I hope and expect that this book will be nominated for many awards.

What Happened by Hillary Clinton: Let me first start by saying that this book is not about Clinton blaming everybody but herself as has been played out in the media and her critics. This book is a campaign memoir. She talks about why she ran, what it was like running in 2016, the limitations of being a female candidate, the causes of her loss, and she talks about her mistakes and takes responsibility for them. In other words, she does the thing that people who allegedly “read” the book claim she did not do. Clinton’s book was very well written especially considering how quickly she wrote it (Feb-July 2017). I could tell it was very cathartic for her. In the book you will see that she is funny (throws some shade at times), smart, and analytical. I was very impressed with the amount of studies and data that she included to back up her arguments about how the campaign was covered. I’m glad that I read her book and I would encourage others to do the same.

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates: This was a very good collection of Ta-Nehisi’s essays from the past eight years. I had read five of them previously and my intention was just to read the three essays that I had not read plus the new essays but I changed my mind. His new essays preface the ones that he wrote for The Atlantic. He talks alot about where he was as a writer and where he stood on race relations. The new essays were so good that I felt compelled to reread the older essays. Overall I highly recommend this book to readers who are not familiar with his work and those who are. Reading these essays together was definitely an experience seeing the lines connecting as well as Coates’ evolution as a writer and thinker. I especially enjoyed the epilogue about America’s first White president.

I Am Not Your Negro by James Baldwin: I started and finished this book on the same day. The book is basically the script of the documentary which I watched a few months before starting to read this book. I would recommend watching it first before reading it. There are clips of films in the documentary that do not translate well in the book but Baldwin’s words are still powerful reading them on the page. The book also includes introductions by Raoul Peck, the director/editor, about how he created this project.

Check out my reviews of The Miss Nelson Collection, Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans, and Lincoln’s Gamble: How the Emancipation Proclamation Changed the Course of the Civil War, all of which I read in 2017, here:

Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard: Beard’s Women & Power is a collection of two lectures that she gave in 2014 and 2017 both on the subject on how women are treated and perceived in the public sphere and the historical roots of this treatment. Beard shows through her lectures that the silencing of women as well as the way we view women in power has its roots in Greek and Roman mythology. In many ways this book reminded me of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America about the history of racist ideas in America. I always knew that misogyny existed but was not fully aware of its roots. This book is essential reading.

Help local booksellers by purchasing these books at Bookshop. Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

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