I recently published a lengthy post reviewing my 2017 year in books, but I thought my top eight deserved a post all to themselves. Here are my absolute favourite books that I read last year (many published in 2017, but some others older). Let me know if you read any of these last year and what you thought of them!
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
I just absolutely LOVED THIS. I can’t believe it took me this long to read Irby’s work! This collection of memoir-ish essays is perfectly up my alley. I didn’t even know she was bisexual until I was partway through the book. Where have I been? The book’s hilarity was matched only by its unwavering frankness while Irby tackles topics as diverse as growing up poor, awkward strap-on sex, depression, reality TV, dating, race, her bitchy cat, being fat, her parents’ deaths, changing relationships in your 30s (ie, your drinking pals become suburban moms), etc. I found myself laughing out loud a lot but also wowed by how she gets to the heart of things and voices emotional truths. It was also really cool to actually see Irby’s life develop as the essays moved (or so it seemed to me) from earlier parts in her life to closer to the present. I listened to the audiobook which is read by Irby herself and I would definitely recommend this format. She has a great expressive voice and her dry delivery totally adds something to the experience. In 2018 I am hoping to get to her previous essay collection Meaty.
Things to Do When You’re Goth In The Country by Chavisa Woods
This stunning collection of short stories was mind-blowing: beautifully written with honesty, generosity, insight, inventiveness, and a strong sense of voice. These stories hit me in that sweet spot that the rarest of fiction does for me, where the characters and the world and the feel seem at once intimately familiar and as if I’m seeing them for the first time. Most of the stories feature queer characters although refreshingly none are focused on queerness. (Including the most speculative of them, which is about a trans guy who wakes up one morning with a miniature version of a piece of the Gaza strip happening on his head). It’s so lovely to read strange, sometimes science fiction stories about various stripes of queer characters that aren’t about coming out or being queer, where most often being queer is entirely incidental, but also casually present when it’s relevant. Here’s a taste of what these stories are about: Baptists over 60 talking sex. Tweens make friends with a homeless woman living in a cemetery mauseleom. A queer writer returning to her Midwest home to crime and strange floating green orbs. A lesbian takes ecstasy with her schizophrenic girlfriend at a Mensa gathering of people with super high IQs. (Goodreads review here with my favourite quotations from the book)
Next Year For Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson
Next Year For Sure was one of those books that I devoured, unwilling to leave the world of the novel for the “real” one unless I absolutely had to, and resentful at the daily existence of life like making food and going to work that interrupted my ability to read non-stop. Next Year For Sure is about a long-term cis straight(?) couple named Kathryn and Chris in their early thirties. They’ve been together for nine years and are the kind of couple others envy. But something isn’t right, in both their relationship with each other and in their own senses of self. This begins Peterson’s really luminous, complex look into an intimate, romantic relationship and how Kathryn and Chris’s journey leads them to exploring polyamory and other kinds of relationships to deal with their shared loneliness. I also read Chris as exploring being on the asexual spectrum, which is another layer to the journey. If you like character-driven novels, Next Year For Sure is perfect: full of authentic, nuanced, flawed characters, richly drawn with compassion and generosity. (Full review here)
Meanwhile Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy by Transgender Writers edited by Cat Fitzpatrick and Casey Plett
What a knock-out of an anthology with a huge variety of incredibly inventive, hilarious, and moving science fiction and fantasy stories by trans authors! I was totally blown away by how great the stories in here were. There were honestly only a few that I didn’t love in this 500 page book. It’s an astoundingly good collection. I must accept that I will never be able to express in words just how great it is. From tear-inducing sci fi stories about an epidemic and a wonder drug that brings people back from the dead to futuristic BDSM erotica to zombie revenge stories, there is a little bit of something for everyone who likes speculative fiction. Other stories include: an alien spawns from an egg and is an exact replica of the non-binary person who found it; body switching takes on new significance for a queer trans woman and her disabled cis partner; a salty trans woman is the first recipient of a uterus transplant and finds herself mysteriously pregnant; and more! (Full review here)
A Place Called No Homeland by Kai Cheng Thom
An incredibly powerful and beautifully written and conceptualized collection of poetry, this book is. They’re the kind of poems that feel alive on the page; you can tell they have strong roots in oral poetry traditions and spoken word performances, but they’re also not the kind of poetry that doesn’t translate to paper. They are tough and tender meditations on family, race, being trans, femininity, trauma, relationships, community, sex, books, and love; basically, all of that really difficult and really beautiful stuff in the world, and everything in between, Kai Cheng Thom writes about it from her specific position as an Asian Canadian trans woman. Some of the most impactful and gorgeous poems are addressed to her fellow trans femmes. She writes:
“dear white gay men:
you are neither the face
of my oppression
nor the hands
of my salvation”
“All i want is to turn my lungs into a glass instrument and let them sing glory to my sisters”
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
This is the kind of character-driven SF that I love: heartfelt authentic characters, interesting tech, unique and imaginative world-building, and a story that kept me never wanting to put the book down! I find the alien species Chambers invented so fascinating (and decidedly queer in how it questions every assumption we have about what is humanity and what is normal). There’s a lot in this second book in the “Galactic Commons” aka Wayfarers series about artificial intelligence, but more about what any sapient being has in common: a quest for purpose. The two main characters are Lovelace, an AI who has ended up rebooted in a pseudo-human body despite the fact that she was made to live in a spaceship, and Pepper, a cheery human engineer with a past as a genetically engineered slave for an alien species. Chambers’s narrative is mostly internal, not-action based as some people might assume for science fiction, and it is beautifully moving and optimistic. While Lovelace’s story in the present is trying to figure out how to live as a ‘human’ who was made to be something else, Pepper’s story is escaping her horrible situation in the past and reckoning with one part of that journey that was never resolved. The ending made me cry, but tears of joy.
Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
Son of a Trickster is Haisla and Heiltsuk author Eden Robinson’s first fiction book in seven years. This novel is SO worth the wait. It’s about Jared, an Indigenous sixteen-year-old burnout who drinks too much and smokes too much pot and lives with his complicated mom, who he can’t trust to not bail on him and the bills or to not beat up guys who admittedly deserve it. But Jared is not a stereotype and not what an outsider might think: he’s an incredibly compassionate person, to the point that others take advantage of him, and a person simply in search of not wanting to hurt or be hurt. All this coming-of-age story is incredible in and of itself, but the small magical touches that Robinson has sprinkled throughout the story suddenly burst to the forefront of the narrative in a totally unexpected way at the end, making you glad this book is the first in a new trickster trilogy. Son of a Trickster is, like all her other books, hilarious, in Robinson’s trademark dark way. It contains startlingly beautiful passages like
“Close your eyes. Concentrate on your breath. Remember that you were not always earthbound. Every living creature, every drop of water and every sombre mountain is the by-blow of some bloated, dying star. Deep down, we remember wriggling through the universe as beams of light.”
What can I say about this trilogy that is one of the best (possibly THE best) series I’ve ever read? I didn’t plan it but I ended up reading all three books in 2017, which made for a great experience because I didn’t even have to wait for any of the books to come out. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy is an incredibly unique, inventive fantasy series with a cast of complex, fascinating characters (human and sort-of-human); the cherry on top is its incredible diversity, with queer and trans people nonchalantly included and majority Black characters. I especially appreciated the degree of unlikable the main woman characters was. I almost hesitate to even call it fantasy, since it’s leagues ahead and more innovative and imaginative than any other fantasy I’ve ever read that it’s hard to even compare to any of the run-of-the-mill medieval Europe inspired fantasy. It’s expertly plotted, with breath-taking twists and turns, and is wrapped up in what I would definitely say is the best final book in a trilogy I’ve ever read.
Runner ups for my favourite books I read in 2017 include: The Change Room by Karen Connelly (blog review here), It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sigiura (Goodreads review here), Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang (blog review here), Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers (Goodreads review here), The Albino Album by Chavisa Woods (Goodreads review here), Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (Goodreads review here), and I’m Just A Person by Tig Notaro (Goodreads review here). Can you tell I read so many amazing books last year?