In looking at my GoodReads list for books read in 2017, I made it through a total of 152, which is actually an incredibly high number for me considering that in past years, my recreational reading would all but grind to a halt during the school year. Leave it to a bet over dinner to be a good motivator.
Anyway, I thought I would take the chance in this post to run down a few (but not all) of those 152 books with some brief commentary with the hopes that perhaps you’ll pick up a few yourself or skip a few that you were thinking of reading.
Author who might be a bit more overrated than I’d originally thought: Geoff Johns. I checked Brightest Day out from my local library but instead of just reading those three trade paperbacks decided to go back through my Geoff Johns Green Lantern collection and read everything I had (which, admittedly, wasn’t everything–I’m missing one Green Lantern Corps trade and the “Tales of the Black Lantern Corps” trades). While I thoroughly enjoyed all of it, I found myself blowing through Johns’s stuff; moreover, I thought that Peter Tomasi’s Green Lantern Corps run was one of the best cop shows I’ve ever seen. It’s still really good and really fun comics–even Brightest Day, which was not as well-received as the other stories were–but it honestly felt more like junk food than a good meal.
Dense enough to be a weapon in Clue: George Perez’ Wonder Woman. I own the four trades that came out in the mid-2000s (and were collected into the first omnibus) and also own the second omnibus. A lot of it is amazing and Perez really took his time to craft his stories and elevate Diana to a higher level, which she so desperately needed after years of lackluster stories in the Bronze Age. But don’t go into reading the Perez WW like you go into Johns’ GL. One issue might do you for one day, as there’s a lot of text and story to pore over. There are times where Perez can’t seem to get out of his own way where the story is concerned and other times where someone else is doing the artwork and it doesn’t hold up as well. But they’re putting the omnibus material into individual trade paperbacks, which will be cheaper and really worth the purchase.
Your gateway drug to classic mythology and epics: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan. I’d read the first book last year when I was taking a course in young adult literature for my graduate program. My son has read all of the Percy Jackson books along with a number of Riordan’s other sagas and he has been encouraging me to read them. The story in this one is fun because of the way it parallels the more famous parts of The Odyssey, and I’m excited to see whether or not my son enjoys Homer as much as he enjoys Percy.
Best new update/adaptation worth reading: Harvey Kurtzman’s Marley’s Ghost. If you listened to episode 14 of the show, you heard us talk about how much we both enjoyed this adaptation. Comixology has made it available and it really makes a fine addition to your annual holiday Christmas Carol-ing.
About as underwhelming as actual adulting: Dan Gets a Minivan by Dan Zevin. Zevin wrote two great books about early adulthood–The Nearly-Wed Handbook and The Day I Turned Uncool. I have always found him to be a funny, irreverent essay writer who has a good and snarky take about being both a guy and an adult. I was looking forward to this book, which is about parenting, but didn’t find myself laughing as loudly as I had at some of the essays in his other books. But I do have to wonder if it’s a case of my having read the same material from other authors (Drew Magary, for instance) or having written about some of it myself in various contexts. It’s a cheap, fun read but can also feel like a retread of ground you’ve covered before.
Page-Turner of the Year: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Stella recommended this one and I think I read it in a weekend. Between the mystery of who’s dead and who killed that person and the way that Moriarty fleshes out a world of bitchy, backstabby alpha moms, I couldn’t put it down. The HBO series–which I watched afterwards and recently finished–was also great.
I Read This Because It’s Important: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. Don’t get me wrong here, I liked Bechdel’s graphic novel “Family Tragicomic,” but I have to say that I felt let down at the end because I went in knowing how highly regarded it is and expected to find something profound beyond just a well-written story.
Badge of Honor/Biggest Accomplishment of the Year: The Power Broker by Robert Caro. This tome, which gets into the minutiae of Robert Moses’ life as well as the various projects that he created in and around the New York Metropolitan area, is not for the faint of heart, and is almost like reading one of your textbooks from cover to cover. I mean, you’ve really got to want to learn about all of these things to take this baby on. I enjoyed it and felt a sense of accomplishment for finishing it.
Instant Nostalgia and Much-Needed Insight: The Daily Show: An Oral History as told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff, and Guests. I was a huge fan of Jon Stewart and The Daily Show for years and was so excited to finally sit down and read this book when I took it on vacation with me this summer. It’s not only a great inside look at how one of the best shows of the 2000s was put together, it’s a walk through recent history that, if you were there and remember it, will dredge up a lot of the feelings you had at the time.
Em Middleton figured out the pirate thing and I just wanted to write this here to remind Professor Alan of that because I know he likes hearing about it: Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (and go listen to episode 50 of The Shortbox Showcase while you’re at it).
About as tedious as the walk itself: Walking to Listen: 4000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time by Andrew Forsthoefel. I checked this one out because of a recommendation that appeared in my Twitter feed courtesy of my local library. The author decided to literally walk across America and talk to people. It was a great concept and the first half of the book lives up to that promise. But it really started to drag at one point and I couldn’t say that he was really (pun not intended) getting anywhere by the time he reached his end. It ground on for a little too long.
Didn’t Ruin the Movie: The Princess Bride by William Goldman. I covered the film, one of my favorites of all time, with my friend Amanda on an episode of Pop Culture Affidavit this year. This was the first time I’d read the book, even though I’d seen the movie countless times in the past 30 years. I thoroughly enjoyed the elements of the novel that were directly reflected in the film as well as Goldman’s meta-commentary and other parts that aren’t in the feature film (although the inclusion of the abandoned sequel “Buttercup’s Baby” leaves something to be desired).
Favorite YA read of the Year: The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner. I read this for a graduate class (but cannot, for the life of me, remember which one) because I had to read a contemporary YA novel and this was on the first shelf of the teen room in my local library. The cover alone was striking–a while silhouette of a girl wearing an angel’s wings as well as the outline of the Twin Towers in the title. The story is about a kid who witnesses the attack on New York on 9/11 and meets and takes care of a mysterious girl whose name he doesn’t know. As the city goes through the first few weeks of healing post-tragedy, he tries to figure out who she is while also possibly falling for her. A great read that really transcends its “YA” label.
I’m just here for the trivia: Star Wars Aftermath: Empire’s End by Chuck Wendig. Granted, this is my favorite of the three books in the post-Return of the Jedi aftermath trilogy, but I definitely found myself more interested in the bits and pieces of trivia that would give me insight into how the First Order rose from the ashes of the Empire and the origins of the New Republic and a few Force Awakens characters.
Favorite Memoir of the Year: Home Before Morning by Linda Van Devanter. I’m going to go more in depth on this one on a future episode of “In Country,” but Van Devanter’s memoir about being a nurse in the Vietnam War was the inspiration for the television series China Beach and is an outstanding perspective on the war and its history.
Favorite Poetry Book … okay, the ONLY poetry book I read this year: Splitting an Order by Ted Kooser. I really enjoy Kooser’s poetry. It’s simple on its surface yet really delves into the profoundness of the everyday. Kooser doesn’t shy away from creating sad or tragic characters, either. He’s an outstanding poet and his entire body of work is worth reading.
And that’ll do it for 2017. There’s no reading contest for 2018, but I do have a resolution to make a dent in my “want to read” list on Goodreads, so you’ll be hearing about that in the coming months.