Books I Read in 2017

If you’re looking for other end of year reviews, please refer to my book lists from 2014, 2015, and 2016.

I spent a lot of time this winter holiday thinking about this list and whether or not to dedicate the time to it. While I’m a voracious reader, I’m a laborious writer (this process requires about two full days of writing). In reviewing previous lists, I was reminded that it is the act of archiving in and of itself which is the joy and the purpose . We ingest so much disposable information in our daily lives and feeds that it’s easy to let it waft on through. But books, and the stories or facts within, are intended to be more deliberately consumed. This list serves as my annual touchstone, with which to go back, remember, and effectively deliberate on that reading.

“I am a part of everything that I have read.” 
 — Theodore Roosevelt

Now, there’s no doubt that 2017 has been a dumpster fire of a year in many senses. But somehow I was able to pull 54 books down, likely to serve as a more effective distraction from the news.

As always, I am a firm follower of the The Rick Webb Reading Methodology, which states:

“Don’t try and read what you, or others, think you should read.”

Ellen Burstyn, when interviewed on her approach to self-care, talked about how she appoints herself with “should-less days” — days she sets aside “where there’s nothing I should do.” I believe Rick’s methodology applies the same level of grace and self-forgiveness to the joy of reading.

Some Readers by Callum Grenillo

After looking back on everything I’ve read this year, here are my standout favorites:

The List, in chronological order:

  • Version Control by Dexter Palmer — A perfect sci-fi book that blends time travel and mystery with a dash of Rashomon-esque narrative. Excellent for anyone who is even mildly interested in the ethics of self-driving cars, what we’ll do when technology can mimic people (and world leaders), and whether or not pay-to-play dating services really want people to meet each other.
“Being is always becoming; people change and stay the same. What is true for bodies is also true for selves: even the most honest person has many faces, none of which are false.” 
Dexter Palmer, Version Control
  • Settle for More by Megyn Kelly — Keep in mind that this was in January, long before she interviewed white supremacists on her own show. I’d heard that she was originally a lawyer, and transitioned into television and wanted to hear her story on how she got there. Upon reviewing her progression this year, I’d prefer Oprah’s latest missive to this.
“It’s never too soon to start the life you want.”
 — Megyn Kelly, Settle for More
  • Giant Days (No. 2–5) by John Allison — One of my favorite comics that I frequently gift to female friends. This series explores the nuances and depth of female friendship while following four (vastly different) college roommates through a range of difficult subjects from depression, to sexuality, breakups, and realities of sustaining those relationships. I’ve always loved this series for its heart, diversity, and humor that it brings to serious subjects.
  • The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales — Originally purchased because of the intriguing title and promise, completed only through a sheer act of willpower and hope that the writing will get better and the plot evolve beyond a poor Die Hard ripoff. Spoiler Alert: It did not.
  • How to Kill a Unicorn: How the World’s Hottest Innovation Factory Builds Bold Ideas That Make It to Market by Mark Payne — In a world where consulting companies are coming for agencies metaphorical lunch, it’s important for me to understand the processes that contribute to their longstanding success. Fahrenheit 212 have successfully developed projects deeply similar to some on the cutting room floor of my career. I wanted to understand where they were able to garner that success, where we were not. Based on this read, the answer is quite clear — they have an unparalleled rigor across their process and ruthlessness with their own ideas.
“There is no shortage of creative solutions to unmet needs, only a shortage of profitable ways to provide them.”
 — Dr. Sam Ladner, referenced in How to Kill A Unicorn
  • The Cormoran Strike Series (№ 1–3) by Robert Galbraith (J.K Rowling) — Mystery has never been my genre but this dark series set in modern London fully converted me into a fan. J.K Rowling has an immense skill in building characters that you feel like you know deeply while persistently wanting to know more; these characters are distinctly human in their imperfections but lovable all the same. This series was voraciously consumed to a range of birdsongs and raindrops on vacation in Costa Rica this year.
“Suicides, in his experience, were perfectly capable of feigning an interest in a future they had no intention of inhabiting.”
 — Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo’s Calling
“One mellows almost without realizing it — a compensation of age, because anger is exhausting.”
 — Robert Galbraith, The Silkworm
  • The Fate of the Tearling (№ 3) by Erika Johansen — An excellent close to a much loved series and soon to be made film. While I felt like this series started out with much more hope around what a socialist utopia could be (much of the series feels like a thought experiment), it is well grounded in the realities of human nature. Personally, I love that it takes a woman to set it properly in motion.
“The mistake of utopia is to assume that all will be perfect. Perfection may be the definition, but we are human, and even into utopia we bring our own pain, error, jealousy, grief. We cannot relinquish our faults, even in the hope of paradise, so to plan a new society without taking human nature into account is to doom that society to failure.”
 — Kelsea Glynn, The Fate of the Tearling
Eleni Kalorkoti
“Sanity is a valuable possession; I hoard it the way people once hoarded money. I save it, so I will have enough, when the time comes.”
 — Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
  • Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson — A series of humorous essays and observations from a blogger-cum-author detailing her experiences with depression and anxiety. While this came highly recommended from a friend, and I’d loved So Sad Today last year, I picked this up filled with hope. In the end, the humor was not to my taste.
“Depression is like … when you don’t want cheese anymore. Even though it’s cheese.”
 — Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy
Illustration from Are you an Echo?
  • Are you an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko by Misuzu Kaneko and Toshikado Hajiri — My friends Alex and Kate regularly read poetry. I’d always thought of myself as not being a fan, but realized that I’d never given it an honest shot. This collection is from a female poet in Japan in the 1930s. While her circumstances (fled an abusive husband) and grisly death (contracted syphilis from said husband) are tragic, the writing feels simultaneously spiritual, human, existential and ageless.
“Snow on top
must feel chilly,
the cold moonlight piercing it.
Snow on the bottom
must feel burdened
by the hundreds who tread on it.
Snow in the middle
must feel lonely
with neither earth nor sky to look at.”
 — Snow Pile by Misuzu Kaneko
  • Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed — Picked up because I’d loved Cheryl’s reflections in Wild, and because I’d never read any advice columns in the past. Now I am completely obsessed with her fair, sensible, and lovingly crafted advice and am regularly consuming podcast as well.
“No is golden. No is the kind of power the good witch wields. It’s the way whole, healthy, emotionally evolved people manage to have relationships with jackasses while limiting the amount of jackass in their lives.”
 — Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things
Margherita Morotti — Pocket Catharsis
  • The Great Library Series (№ 1–2) by Rachel Caine — Picked up after months of struggling to get fully invested in a book or a series and was finally engrossed in a story. This series blurs the line between science fiction and fantasy by building a dystopian world where individuals can only own ‘Blanks’ (think: Kindles) and it’s illegal to own physical books. The lore of the Library of Alexandria is well imagined here, with a little bit of 1984 / Fahrenheit 451 with a dash of Harry Potter in that a group of friends study together to become ‘librarians’.
“There are three parts to learning: information, knowledge, and wisdom. A mere accumulation of information is not knowledge, and a treasure of knowledge is not, in itself, wisdom.”
 — Scholar Wolfe, Ink and Bone
“Books spoke mind to mind, soul to soul across the abyss of time and distance.”
 — Jess Brightwell, Paper and Fire
  • The Black Mage Series (№1–4) by Rachel E. Carter — I think I spend a lot of time exploring new series simply based on the premise that there’s a bunch of teenagers who go to a school of magic. Essentially, this is a quest for the next Harry Potter. I will find it, eventually.
“The people who tell you what you want to hear are the most dangerous enemies you’ll ever meet.”
 — Darren of Jerar, First Year
  • Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky — Highly recommended by my good friend Rick, and one of the few topic-driven non-fiction works I read this year (did I mention that 2017 is a dumpster fire?) Because of this book, I now know the art of effectively tipping (*cough cough bribing cough cough*) hotel staff, the art of the upgrade, and mini-bar fleecing strategies. All of which have been effectively put to work this year with great success.
Master Keaton, finding his way out of an impossible situation.
  • Master Keaton (Vol. 1) by Naoki Urasawa — Picked up on a weekend excursion to Kinokuniya. This longstanding series follows an Oxford-educated archaeology professor who moonlights as an insurance investigator. Obsessed with this very Japanese Sherlock Holmes meets Indiana Jones, and would have consumed the whole series in quick succession if wedding budgets allowed.
  • Neon Soul: A Collection of Poetry and Prose by Alexandra Elle — Again, I was working to explore more poetry and found this writer via a friend’s feed. A short collection focussed on love and letting go. I would read more poetry if I knew it all resonated like this.
who taught you not to give to yourself, that loving yourself first was a sin? 
and how will you unlearn the destructiveness of filling them to the brim 
when your cup is bone-dry and paper-thin?
 — the unlearning by Alexandra Elle
  • The Wonder by Emma Donoghue — This year was a year of many slumps, and that included an extended break from reading books. This one, with its curious premise pulled me in straightaway. In 19th Century Ireland, a war-trained nurse must go to observe a girl who claims to be able to survive without food in order to determine if it is indeed a miracle. Its simplicity and focus drew me in (as well as the writer’s reputation: Emma Donoghue also wrote Room); I left satisfied.
“Like small gods, children formed their miniature worlds out of clay, or even just words. To them, the truth was never simple.”
 — Lib Wright, The Wonder
Hope Gangloff
  • Assassin’s Fate (№3) by Robin Hobb — An excellent close to a series of ~15 books published over the past 20 years. For fans of Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, David Eddings or George R.R Martin, this is absolutely a series to consider picking up. While it can be quite hard to keep all of the characters loveable, this closing book does fan service by tying up all storylines neatly.
“Killing myself would put an end to all other possibilities. And more than once in my life, when I thought death was my only escape, or that it was inevitable and I should surrender to it, I’ve been proven wrong. And each time, despite whatever fire I had to pass through, I found good in my life afterward.”
 — Fitzchivalry Farseer, Assassin’s Fate
  • Legends of the First Empire (№1–2) by Michael Sullivan — Picked up thanks to a newfound love of the NYPL and a love of his former series. This one focuses on the politics of a bronze age tribal clan and how it would approach a war with the far more advanced Fhrey and Rhune (Elves and Dwarves respectively, a Tolkien-esque tradition). The depth and breadth of characters rival Marion Zimmer-Bradley’s Mists of Avalon.
“If given a choice between a potentially great hardship and doing nothing, people gravitated toward what was most familiar and comfortable. That was why leadership was needed. To do what was necessary rather than what was easy.”
 — Michael Sullivan, Age of Myth
“Many…no, most…of our choices are driven by fear: fear of death, fear of humiliation, fear of loneliness. But it’s how we respond to fear that matters. It’s what defines us. What makes us who we are.”
 — Persephone, Age of Swords
  • The Field Study Handbook by Jan Chipchase —Anyone who knows me well knows that I am *such a fangirl* of Studio D, so when I found out this was to be published I had to have one. One of the biggest mistakes that our industry makes is in its reliance on data and desktops; both shackle you to a reality and a story that is devoid of people — and people are who you are ultimately designing for. This is an ultimate field guide for design research, with contents ranging in everything from job descriptions to deployment strategies and applications. Far and away my favorite for the year.
Job Description for ‘Fixer’ in Jan Chipchase’s 524-page Field Study Handbook
“Only expectation has value as currency. This coin is worth more than others because people think it is. They expect it to be. The most important things in the world are worth only what people will pay for them. If you can raise someone’s expectation, if you can make them need something — that is the source of wealth. Owning things of value is secondary to creating things of value where none once existed.”
 — Edwarn Ladrian, doing a great job of explaining the role of advertising in Shadows of Self
  • The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos by Anne Carson — I got married this year, so around mid-year I started seeking out essays for appropriate readings or invocations for our wedding. I picked up this series because of its lovely title. Unfortunately, these essays were told from the perspective of a scorned woman about her marriage that fell apart because of a philandering husband. Needless to say, this was not useful inspiration for our wedding readings.
“You used to say: “Desire doubled is love and love doubled is madness.” Madness doubled is marriage I added.”
 — Anne Carson, The Beauty of the Husband
Congreso Gombrowicz
  • The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson by Ralph Waldo Emerson — Again, maybe not the best choice for romantic wedding readings, but I wanted something more non conventional versus a Shakespeare or Lord Byron.
“Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which it is composed does not.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Touch by Courtney Maum — Far and away one of my favorite books this year. Inspired by listening to an interview on one of my favorite podcasts (The Brand Hole), I was intrigued by the author’s background as a former brand strategist. It follows a renown trend forecaster known for predicting ‘the swipe’ working for a large tech company (aptly named Mammoth) on defining the ‘digital future’, while all of her intuition is pointing in another direction.
“Our smart devices have been sculpting the way we think and act and love each other, we’re not fully ourselves without them anymore.”
 — Sloane Jacobsen, Touch
“Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.” 
 — Supreme Court Judicial Decision on Same Sex Marriage, referenced in The Knot’s Guide to Wedding Vows & Traditions
  • Night Film by Marisha Pessl — A truly bizarre and haunting thriller discovered through the recommendations section of the NYPL and wholly out of my typical comfort zone. While centered around a murder mystery, the most intriguing aspect for me was that it was centered around a reclusive cult film director. Reading it made me feel a bit mad at times, much like the characters.
“To live in this city for any extended period of time required masochism, moral flexibility, skin like an alligator’s, and mad jack-in-the-box resilience — none of which these faux-confident twenty-very-littles could even begin to wrap their heads around.”
 — Scott McGrath on New York, Night Film
  • The Queen’s Thief Series (№1–4) by Megan Whalen Turner — Another NYPL discovery, this simple series is based in what feels like ancient Roman times (there’s slavery, oracles, temples, and magi) and centered around three different countries competing for control of a reimagined Mediterranean. While some are individually enjoyable, this series didn’t stand out.
“Eddis stared at him for a long time, knowing that forgiving someone because you have to is not forgiving him at all.”
 — Megan Whalen Turner, A Conspiracy of Kings
Uncomfortably Happily
  • Uncomfortably Happily by Yeon-Sik Hong — A massive autobiographical tome released by Drawn & Quarterly and inked by a South Korean artist. I think, as city dwellers, we all fantasize about what life in the countryside would be like. Due to financial pressures, Yeon-Sik Hong and his wife did just that. Across 500+ pages, Hong depicts with brutal honesty their trials, tribulations, and eventual successes over the course of several years. There is not one fixed storyline or narrative, you are wholly on the journey with them across these pages. Personally, I love the boldness of his work — but the book is also punctuated with beautiful depictions of the tranquility (and harshness) of nature.
  • The Answers by Catherine Lacey — An odd story about a woman who is selected to be the ‘emotional girlfriend’ of one of the most famous men on earth who is attempting an experiment in which he engineers the perfect relationship.
“…the strain of trying to see the person I’d fallen in love with inside the person he had become. Now I know this just comes with love, that there’s no way to avoid seeing a person gradually erased or warped by time, but the first time I realized this with Paul — it felt apocryphal.”
 — Mary Parsons, The Answers
  • Wonder by R.J Palacio — Picked up because I’d seen a trailer for the movie in the theater. It’s a simple, feel-good read — worth investing in just to reassure yourself that other people are capable of empathy.
  • Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan — A dramatic unraveling of family secrets spanning several generations. The story focuses on two young sisters who travel to America from Ireland, and the consequences that come from some of their choices when one becomes pregnant. This book had me doing a lot of research on the practicalities of becoming a nun in one’s old age.
“For a certain kind of girl, with a certain kind of mother, an aunt would always be the preferred confidante. An aunt could see you as you were. A mother could only see you as she wished you were, or once imagined you would be.”
 — J. Courtney Sullivan, Saints for All Occasions
Spinning, by Tillie Walden
  • Spinning by Tillie Walden — An autobiographical graphic novel that captures all of your average teenage angst coupled with the stressors of being in the closet. The story follows the authors journey to near-Olympic level skating, while wrestling with the inherent femininity and sexualization of the sport. The artwork is gorgeous, and the story is stark, simple, and beautifully crafted.
  • Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner — After a much-delayed consumption of The Casual Vacancy BBC Miniseries, I was craving some more British small town drama. This had it in spades, with a solid mystery and distinctive characters to boot.
“Yet the mind must chew on something, else it will chew on itself.”
 — Susie Steiner, Missing, Presumed
  • Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott — Far and away one of my preferred books on management to-date, especially as someone who manages a team all with distinct needs and associated nudges. While I don’t think there’s much beyond additional anecdotes and application methods from the First Round Review article, it’s a great primer on a more modern management approach from the woman who helped pioneer it at Google.
“Shifting from a traditional “talent management” mind-set to one of “growth management” will help you make sure everyone on your team is moving in the direction of their dreams, ensuring that your team collectively improves over time.”
 — Kim Scott, Radical Candor
  • Clash of Kingdoms (№1–2) by Erin Summerill — Pretty standard teen lit fare: fearless girl with a bow has to save the kingdom, oh by the way she has some very rare magic powers too. It was great brain-clearing material as I entered the winter break.
“Trust is a delicate thing, so easily broken and not so effortlessly repaired.”
 — Erin Summerill, Ever the Hunted
  • Boundless by Jillian Tamaki — A collection of illustrated short stories by one of my favorite artists, gifted to me by my loving husband. What I love about this collection is that you can see that the artist is starting to explore new genres, many of the pieces focus on speculative fiction. What if there was an alternative Facebook? What would you do if you shrank away to nothing? My favorite focussed on a cult obsessed with a 6 hour audio file that leaked on the internet called ‘SexCoven’.
Two pages of the story “Sexcoven,” from Boundless (2017).
  • Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design by Debbie Millman — I loved this collection of essays on design, especially because the author has such a strong perspective of brands and what they can do. Each one had its own design flair, so I imagine this would be far more enjoyable to read in a physical format rather than my preferred kindle screen.
“It seems that as a culture we are held captive by the comparisons we make between ourselves and others; many of the people we admire or despise, similar to the brands we collect or cringe at, not only signify our beliefs but have come to define them.”
 — Debbie Millman, My First Love

This post is part of a larger effort in exploring consciousness in how I consume content. If you’re interested, follow along here.