Here are the best books I read in 2017 out of 50 total books read. You'll find everything from spiritual to history to light and fun - and all are books I'm recommending highly.
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Here's a fun goal I didn't just meet, but exceeded: I read 50 books this year!! The goal I made a year ago was to read 40, and I am beyond excited to have made it to fifty. Not just because of the number (though it is fun to smash a goal like that, I'm not going to lie), but because books add such a richness to my life. I think they could add richness to everyone's life, actually, so I hope these goals and reviews inspire you to read, too! I know this for a fact, since it was just a few years ago where I confessed I hadn't read one book in an entire year - which made me pretty sad, as I had always been a reader.
It is through books that we are transported to other places and times. Where we can learn from other's mistakes or triumphs. Where we can be inspired to do and be better. When we're down, we can choose a book to laugh with. And with the easy access to audiobooks, we can now make use of time spent cleaning, gardening, or working on projects to laugh, learn, or even cry. Books help connect us to ourselves and others.
A new way I fit in more reading in 2017 was listening to audio books while traveling with Brian. This has become such a fun bonding time for us. We get to talk about the book, discussing different aspects. We laugh together and we've cried together as we listened to stories about movie-making, a comic-actor's life, or what it was like in post civil war Texas. I highly recommend it, if you can. (If you are like us and your car is not bluetooth enabled or have a spot to plug in your phone, use a bluetooth speaker like our UE Boom. It's easy to carry along and hear above the car noise - plus it sits right in a drink holder.)
Listening to audio books while doing routine tasks and while traveling are two of the ways I've incorporated books more into my life so that I could reach 50 books read in a year only 3 years after reading none. My other tips include always having a book to read, reading a fiction and non-fiction at the same time (to have one that fits whatever mood I'm in), keeping a list of books read to keep motivated, and watching TV less. Do you have other tips to fit more reading in to your life? I'd love to hear!
I picked a "baker's dozen" for my top books this year - mainly because I felt sad to leave the last off the list, but also because 13 just sounds more interesting than 10, don't you think? These are the cream of the crop from last year's reading list, starting with my #1 book. I picked these based on: how much I still think about the book, how it impacted me, what I learned, or how much I just plain enjoyed it. Pretty subjective, but how can you not be when it comes to books, right?
13 Best Books Read in 2017:
1 The Broken Way, Ann Voscamp.
This is a book that will stay with me for a very long time. In fact, I think I will need to re-read it regularly. It’s almost hard for me to put into words – it’s challenging, encouraging, thought-provoking, and had caused me to look at life, God, and people in a new way. There are so many things I highlighted throughout the book – here are just two of many nuggets:
What if instead of waiting for good enough things to happen to us, we could be the good thing to happen to someone else who’s waiting?
People don’t have to be good to deserve our compassion; it’s our compassion that serves good to all people.
If you have a child who had been in the 5th grade since this book came out a few years ago, you probably know about this, since it seems to be required reading. But here’s the thing: this is a GOOD book for all ages. Brian and I listened to it in the car on a trip and we both completely enjoyed it, cried, and laughed – and now tell everyone we know about it. It will be in my top 5 books for the year for sure!
We also saw the movie version of this starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. While it was condensed as books have to be, it was a really good rendition with the wonderful feel-good story intact. Plus, it's so refreshing to see a family that loves each other and is happy.
3. Brave New World, Aldus Huxley.
Oh, my gosh – this book rocked my and Brian’s world! I’m telling everyone to read this (or listen like we did – the audio book is read by the actor Michael York who does a fabulous job!), since you won’t believe how true some of these things are today. We just couldn’t believe that this was written in 1931! It’s a really interesting story too, making you think deep about many things in our society.
4. News of the World, Paulette Jiles.
This was another audiobook Brian and I listened to while traveling, this time with our daughter in tow and we all loved it! (Tip: you can get the audio book free with a 30-day free trial to audible.) I picked it for the storyline - set just after the civil war, an old man who travels from town to town in Northern Texas reading newspapers takes on the task of returning an 8 year old girl to her family after being captured by Native Americans for 4 years. And it is a good story. But the history is also fascinating, with a glimpse into the human psyche and what would make captives forget everything they'd known in just a few years living with American Indians.
It is a sweetly satisfying ending, too, which so many books today do not have - our modern culture seems to relish the dark and depraved. This is neither (though there is darkness in others like in real life) - and the happy ending is one of the reasons why it made #4 on my list.
5. The Case For Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus by Lee Strobel
This is now considered a Christian classic, but I had never read it (probably thinking I had heard it all before through other books, lol). Oh my – if you haven’t read this yet, it is so faith-affirming and so grounded in reality. Lee tackles the Jesus seminar people, and various other naysayers and firmly comes out for Christianity. So much that he turned from atheism to Christianity. It’s pretty powerful stuff. (A warning, though – if at all possible, don’t read this as an audiobook- the reader practically ruined the book with his over-dramatizations of the interviews. Sigh.)
6. America’s First Daughter, Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie.
I started reading this as a Kindle ebook last spring, but found it a bit hard to get into, even though I love fiction based on history. It wasn’t until I found the audio version on Hoopla that I picked it up again and holy cow, did I get hooked!
It’s about Thomas Jefferson’s daughter and just paints a thorough picture of the country in that time – as well as France. This was so good I listened to it every chance I got – even knitting at night to it instead of TV (which has been really lame lately, but I digress…). I found myself looking up many of the hard-to-believe things, and they actually did happen. I told Brian towards the end that I’m so glad I wasn’t born in the 1700s. I especially appreciated the authors notes at the end where they tell how and why they changed some things. Such good stuff if you enjoy history like I do.
I was encouraged by the other book by Kyle I read, Praying for Your Prodigal, and was incredibly challenged by this one. I want to be a follower of Jesus and not just a fan. I saw this in action at the last UO Ducks game we went to: fans leave early when things aren’t going well AND when things are going too well (because: boring). I want to be steady no matter what is happening around me!
8. The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story, Lily Koppel.
I really like history and this was a fun glimpse into the space program from an angle I hadn’t seen before. Also such a picture of an era it’s hard to believe existed – journalists would just walk into houses? And the pressure put on these women (and men). Wow.
9. The Happiness Dare, Jennifer Dukes Lee.
In reading this I ended up thinking about not only what makes me happy, but what makes others happy around me throughout the day. It’s sort of like personality tests or The Five Love Languages that way – what you learn applies to those you love as much as to yourself. The author encourages us to live in our “sweet spots” of happiness and starts off talking about what happiness is and why it’s something worthy of striving for (and no, it’s not just joy).
I took a “Happiness Style” test (you can to, right here) – and it’s no surprise that I’m a “Doer” (my love language is Acts of Service), but it was interesting to see that my secondary sweet spot is “Experiencer.” Surprising mainly because I don’t see myself as adventurous, but I do plan most of our vacations and want to go places. Books like this really help to clarify our personalities and those around us.
10. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women, Kate Moore.
You've probably guessed that I love history. I love knowing about all the times, places, and events that got us to this point in our own history. I also appreciate learning from the past to both be inspired or to not make the same mistakes.
The Radium Girls is a book about something I knew nothing of: radium, it's discovery, and how it was first viewed as good for you and promoting almost miracle health cures. Yes, the radium we now know is deadly. And this is the story of just how we came to know this. Radium was used in paint for clock faces to make it glow in the dark, which was very welcome for WWI soldiers in the trenches. It was years before it became known that for the women who painted the faces, it caused many health issues and even led to death.
Which sounds very gloomy, but the book isn't really - it's ultimately a story of brave women who fought to be heard in a society that didn't really listen to women. And because of their bravery, radium was classified as dangerous, and probably saved the lives of many more. I found it very inspiring.
11. The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies, Jason Fagone.
This is another simply fascinating study of a time in our recent past of a woman who made an incredible difference to our world. This story has been hidden for years - in fact the code-breaking woman, Elizebeth Smith Friedman, wasn't even allowed to talk about her part in WWII espionage ever. She went to her death never revealing the full extent of her duties.
This is riveting stuff, really! Elizabeth and her husband worked together basically inventing code breaking during WWI. I loved reading how this came about and about their love story. I also had no idea there was a "hidden war" for South America during WWII with the Nazi's trying to infiltrate the governments in the South American countries with spies. This book would make a great movie, I think, well parts of it - it covers too much for one movie!
12. The Magnolia Story, Joanna & Chip Gaines.
I feel like I’m just joining the choir in singing the praises of this book and this inspiring couple – maybe some of you are tired of hearing about them already? Here’s the thing, though – oh my gosh, we need people like them who are not afraid to take chances and follow their dreams! There are so many inspiring moments where they followed their hearts (and sometimes God’s calling), went out on a limb and did something out of their comfort zone. And because of that we get to enjoy the Magnolia phenomenon (which I totally do!). This is a quick and fun read!
13. Someday, Someday, Maybe, Lauren Graham.
I mentioned this on episode 6 of the podcast as a book that was a fun, easy read with a sweet love story. The characters were interesting and it was a behind-the-scenes look at a life I know nothing about: trying to make it as an actor. The surprising thing to me was that it was written by an actress (Loreli from the Gilmore Girls) and it was clean, funny, and smart. Lesson to not judge, right?
So, these are the best of the 50 books I read in 2017. It was a very good reading year! Are there any books you think I should read next? I'm already onto making my "to-be-read" list for 2018!
If you'd like other book recommendations, the best books from these past lists are still worthy, too:
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I too recently purchased the Kindle version of America’s first Daughter, as the reviews are amazing—— and I am having a really hard time getting into it!! So I’m encouraged that it’s not just me and I will try the audio version. Thanks Jamie!
I'm glad this helped, Rhonda - I think you will like the audio version!
Thank you for this list! I’m an avid reader and you’ve profiled several books that I’m not familiar with. I’d love to match your total of 50 books in a year - maybe 2018 is the year!
Go for it, Carol! It's amazing how motivating it is when you know there's a number goal. 🙂
Susan McCurdy says
I enjoyed reading this post. I will have to put a few of those books on my "to read" list for this coming year.
I'm glad you found this helpful, Susan!
Lindsey Thomas says
One habit I started in 2017 is getting ready for bed 20+ minutes early and then spending the last few minutes of the day reading. It helps me to fall asleep much faster and was so relaxing. My husband and I even got to read a book together using this method. I also read approximately 50 books last year but several of them were chapter books that I read aloud to my children (3 and 5).
Great idea Lindsey - I love my bedtime reading, too. And yay for 50 books no matter what kind of books they are- I counted some business ebooks on my list, because - reading! 😉