There’s a reason we got into the business of editing other people’s writing. We at HigleyFox love books! If you’re like us, though, you probably don’t get as much time to sit down and read for pleasure as you’d like.
It’s that time-to-books ratio that makes picking your next read so hard. When you don’t have many spare moments, you want the book you pick up to be engaging from the start—to wrap you in and keep you on your toes all the way through. Who has time for boring books?
Naturally, boring books are in the eye of the beholder, but to help you maximize your reading time this year, we’ve decided to share our favorite reads from 2017. Happy reading!
Danielle’s Favorite Books from 2017
I love young adult fiction, and as someone who enjoys editing YA, I think it’s important to familiarize myself with some of the more well-known authors writing today. As I read, I try to not just sit back and enjoy, but to keep one ear to what’s working for me as a reader.
What are the characters doing that makes this interaction stand out? How does the pacing add to the overall enjoyment of the story? What makes these characters believable as humans? And what is it about their voice or their perspective or their internal/external conflict that’s compelling me to care about their cause?
With all that out of the way, here are two of the YA novels I loved in 2017.
Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
This was my first Jennifer Niven novel, and as soon as it was over, you can bet I kept that train running with All the Bright Places.
The book stirred up a lot of controversy when it was first published, due, in part, to its blurb on the back, and in part because people love being dicks on the internet (My favorite people are the ones who say “Oh I thought this book was going to be terrible, and since this person says it is, I’m just going to blindly follow and encourage others not to pick it up, because who could possibly have a different opinion?”).
Maybe I’m insensitive, but I thought the sarcasm was hilarious and real. While the humor may not hit home for every reader, for me, Jennifer’s (I would consider us on first-name terms, because that’s how personal this book felt to me) tone was spot on. If you’re going to write a teen romance about two awkward characters learning to feel comfortable in their own skin, laughter is essential.
The protags of the story are Libby Strout and Jack Masselin. Libby was once America’s Fattest Teen. After her mom died, she ate a lot to cope, and she ended up gaining so much weight, she had to be physically removed from her house by a crane. Jack is the other side of the coin: naturally good-looking, athletic, gifted in robotics. But he has prosopagnosia, which is essentially extreme face blindness. He has terrible self-esteem and acts like a bit of a dick because he’s trying to constantly cover up for the fact that he doesn’t recognize people—not even his own mom.
You can read the bad reviews if you want, but personally, I loved this book (and for that matter, so did Publisher’s Weekly, so there to all you haters). I loved the emotion and the characters and the beauty of it, because Jennifer Niven is an amazingly gifted writer when it comes to imagery and voice.
Part of why I loved it had to do with the fact that Jennifer understands grief. Like really gets it. I don’t know if this book would have hit me so hard if I hadn’t lost someone important to me, but every word out of Libby’s mouth about loss cut true.
“I feel the hollow in my heart that's been there ever since my mom died. Loss does that, hits you out of the blue. You can be in the car or in class or at the movies, laughing and having a good time, and suddenly it's as if someone has reached directly into the wound and squeezed with all their might.”
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
If you’re a Prime shopper like I am (I know, and I’m in disgrace), you’ll notice Amazon recommends you read this book and Holding Up the Universe together, which is how The Sun Is Also a Star ended up in my shopping cart.
I read two of Nicola Yoon’s books this year (Everything, Everything as well), and I’m not sure who does this woman’s covers, but they are seriously irresistible. I loved them both, but I chose The Sun is Also a Star as my 2017 pick because it was the one that stuck with me for days and weeks after I’d turned the last page.
First of all, this book is told from different perspectives (pretty much my favorite literary device). But it’s not just told by the boy and girl protagonists. Nicola Yoon understands that the fate of individuals rests in the hands of everyone around them. So when someone does something that affects the trajectory of the story, that person also has a chapter. It’s crazy, beautiful, intentional, and so well-done.
Then there’s the plot and the timeline. For the most part, this story all takes place in the scope of a day—the day Natasha and Daniel meet. If you’re thinking this is a set-up for every teen romance ever, you’re wrong. This one packs a punch.
Natasha’s family is about to be deported back to Jamaica—a place she barely remembers. She’s spending her last day in New York trying to get an immigration attorney to work a miracle that will keep her family from having to leave that night. Then there’s Daniel, the son of South Korean immigrants, who has his college interview that day with a Yale alum. Daniel’s a romantic, while Natasha loves science and order and wants only to live in a less chaotic space. Over the course of a day, these two strangers become friends and then more, tied together in a web of poor timing, enormous consequences, and crippling expectations.
In a way, this book reads like one of its many, wonderful quotes, so I’ll just leave you with it and tell you …
“The thing about being a fish on a hook is the more you try to get off, the more trapped you are. The hook just buries itself deeper and you bleed a little more. You can't get off the hook. You can only go through it. Said another way: the hook has to go through you, and it's gonna hurt like a motherfucker.”
… for me, this book was that hook, but that hook was absolutely worth it.
Chantel’s Favorite Books from 2017
I love true stories. Don’t get me wrong; I love fiction too. As a horror freak and loud-and-proud geek, fiction takes up a lot of my heart space. But I’ve always been drawn to the incredible events that happen to real people, or the incredible events that real people make happen.
Autobiographies of talented, troubled, and influential people; true crime stories of tragedies that have changed society; history-filled analyses of events that caused major cultural shifts — I can’t get enough. Even as a child, I spent as much time reading books like The MGM Story and Unforgettable Fire: The Story of U2 as I did Sweet Valley Twins and The Babysitter’s Club.
Here are a couple of my favorite non-fiction books I read this year.
Author Greg Sestero had the dubious honor of being the supporting actor in what is truly, in my opinion, the greatest bad movie ever made, The Room. The now-famous little movie—written by, directed by, and starring the baffling Tommy Wiseau—is hilariously bad in all respects, though sincerely intended. Sestero describes the movie as “a drama that is also a comedy that is also an existential cry for help that is finally a testament to human endurance.”
Wiseau, who is unusual-looking (“The only casting directors who’d be willing to call Tommy in on the basis of this headshot were the ones curious about what it was like to be murdered.”), obviously far older than he laughably claims to be, and of somewhat mysterious foreign origin, is a lifelong admirer of the U.S., and had the misguided confidence and ambition to follow his dream of making a very American movie.
“What I was sure of was that Tommy had something I'd never seen in anyone else: a blind and unhinged and totally unfounded ambition. He was so out of touch, so lacking in self-awareness, yet also wildly captivating. That night there was this aura around Tommy—an aura of the possible.”
The Disaster Artist chronicles the adventures of shooting the movie from the perspective of Tommy’s best friend and co-star. The book is funny, heartwarming, and honest, and even won Best Non-Fiction book at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.
This book and the movie it’s based on may be on your radar since the release of James Franco’s film adaptation. Even if you’ve seen The Disaster Artist, I highly recommend reading the book. One caveat, though; it will really enhance your experience if you watch The Room before you read the book. I will stop short of saying it’s an absolute must, but … it kind of is. Besides, no one should deprive themselves of the joy that comes from viewing The Room.
Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink by Elvis Costello
Elvis Costello is one of the most prolific musicians of all time. And after over forty years in the music business, he certainly has a lot of fascinating stories to tell. With his first (and long-awaited) book, Costello uses an engaging non-linear structure to tell the story of his life so far, and proves that his talent for writing complex, poetic song lyrics translates well into writing equally poetic prose that are delightful to read. He can even imbue meaning into something as benign as a guitar sitting in the corner: “There was a Fender Palomino acoustic lying in the corner in an open case, which, as you know, often symbolizes low morals or easy virtue in paintings of antiquity.”
Though filled with themes that are familiar in rock stars’ autobiographies—tumultuous relationships, scandals, and the inflated ego that comes from achieving fame in youth—Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink also includes a great deal of introspection and self-awareness that never devolves into navel-gazing. Costello doesn’t shy away from telling the truth about himself, even when it’s ugly and lacking the benefit of being salacious.
I will warn you that, at 674 pages, this book is quite long for an autobiography and is bursting at the seams with information that may become tiresome to anyone but a hardcore fan. But the writing itself really is worth it, even if you only have a passing familiarity with this legendary artist, and especially if you love music.
“Songs can be many things: an education, a seduction, some solace in heartache, a valve for anger, a passport, your undoing, or even a lottery ticket.”
Other Picks from 2017:
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower by Robert Graysmith
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill