Books I read (2017)
Zack Scholl — December 10, 2017
My most memorable books from 2017.
I’ve read about 15 books this year - not as many as I’d like (I read 40 in college), but I did a lot of magazine reading too (e.g. The Sun and The New Yorker). The books that I read can be classified into three major categories: non-fictional animal encounters, magical horror realism and fictional non-fiction.
The first main category are books I read in 2017 are about non-fictional animal encounters. My favorite book in this category, and of 2017 overall, is Illumination in the Flat-woods by Joe Hutto. Its the real-like story of an experiment to raise turkey’s through their entire life. I never knew how amazing turkeys were until I read this book. There is a movie by the same name that also is amazing, as they were able to recapitulate a lot which occurred in the book (i.e. replicating the experiment). I can say, for sure, that I think turkeys are amazing now. I will still eat turkey, but now with a reverence I never had before.
I started out the year reading What a Fish Knows by Jonathan Balcombe. I didn’t quite finish this book - the first chapters a good but it turns into a bit of a direct plea to save the fish instead of an account of how amazing they are. An animal book shouldn’t need to make a direct plea - the book should show enough how amazing the animals are and the reader can decide for themselves, and its a hard decision to make if you learn how awesome some of these animals are.
Another good example of animal writing is Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams is an interesting investigation of animals near extinction, circa 1985. A lot of the animals in the book have since recovered, except the Baiji dolphin, unfortunately. Despite the severe topic, its a funny and entertaining book. Adams is a funny person and he gives some levity to some of the dark topics. He is also a great everyman in the book who has lots of things explained to him in a simple way - so its easy to pick up information.
I’ve been going out to see Bison every week now. I live in Edmonton, so I’m not far from Elk Island where there is a ton of wildish bison roaming around. I’ve literally run into them on the trail. Anyways, they are quite impressive animals, and I wanted to learn more about them. I found a great book, American Bison by Steven Rinella, which goes into their history. A lot of the focus is on hunting, but hunting in a humane way which is really interesting to learn about. Its a very respectful book about the bison with lots of great information.
The next major category of book that I really enjoyed are books about magical horror realism. I didn’t realize this was a genre, but once I found it I realized it was something that I really enjoyed. Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins is my second-favorite book of 2017. The premise is bizarre, but the books twists in a much more bizarre way than imaginable. This book is to fantasy what The Matrix is to science fiction.
Another thrilling book I read was Weaveworld by Clive Barker, an epic tale that goes back and forth between reality and fantasy until they merge at the end. Great read. I actually found the previous book after reading this book and trying to find another book that matched it, to which I wrote an entire program which ended up becoming a website for people: booksuggestions.ninja.
The third major category that I greatly enjoyed is of ficiontal non-fiction. The first book I read of 2017 was Pieces of the Left Hand by J. Robert Lennon and it is a little work of genius. They are a collection of very, very short tales of a seemingly non-fictional account of the author’s life. The stories of very mundane things - stories about the locals smashing mailboxes and dinner parties. Except they inexplicably almost always take a weird and unbelievable end.
I have a soft spot for nonconformist writers like Bukowski and Hunter Thompson. I found Gonzo Girl by Cheryl Della Pietra to be an extraordinary fictional account of an assistant to Hunter Thompson. A lot of it delves into tropes about genius (drug addition is a trope that it seems to try to destroy) and sexism (which the author herself constantly proclaims and then falls right into). Still, the writing is very good.
Imaginary Imagnitude by Stainslaw Lem is a wholly amazing book - from the philosophy of a self-aware computer system to the prologues of books that have never existed (like a book about bacteria that communicate). A lot of the Polish wordplay is lost in English, but it is still funny nevertheless.
Towards the end of the year I read The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin which I saw was recommended by former president Barack Obama. It gladdens my heart that this book in particular was recommended by Obama - its about the looming destruction of Earth by an Alien race which undermines humans by attempting to destroy their progress in basic science. The importance of basic science in this book makes me think that Obama may have had similar sentiments. Anways, the book is great - its translated well from Chinese and has lots of great information about the Chinese revolution and communism. The science explainations are not bad either.
One author has been sticking out to me this year - Kathryn Schultz. Whenever I read her articles I instantly realize its her - she has an amazing knack for taking any kind of thesis and detailing a complete and thoughtful story around it. She seems to like to take strange thesis too. The first one I read was on Henry Thoreau as a hypocrite (of which I totally disagree but love the writing). My favorite from this year were How to be a know-it-all which posits that its easy to learn a little bit about everything and Fantastic beasts and how to rank them which tries to understand why its possible to make judgements about things that don’t exist.
- Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer (not finished)
- Hard Magic by Larry Correia
- Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather (not finished)
- Everyone’s An Aliebn when you’re an Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun
- Jack Reacher 61 hours by Lee Child
- True Grit by Charles Portis
- Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo by Obert Skye
- Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer