Here's a short list of the top books that I read during 2017 out of the 108 books that I read. I would love to hear about the best books the rest of you read last year!
A dense novel about escapism. The narrative structure in this book is kind of insane in that while it appears to be switching back and forth between a man playing a tabletop baseball game and his everyday life and the intensely developed world of the Universal Baseball Association and the entire playerbase, you soon realize “Wait, everything going on in this game has been made up by the man playing said game for 15+ years and oh my god everything is so goddamn detailed and refined that it is kind of sad in a way” and you have to take a step back and go “...holy shit, it IS sad”. His life is so linked to this 1 man board game of his own creation that the two narratives start to bleed into each other so that his real life problems start to become part of the game, and the ingame calamity’s become an issue in his everyday life (friendships/work/sex life all begin to suffer), until they both start feeding on each other so much that it all becomes an unsettling mess of intertwined chaos. This could easily be set in modern day times by just replacing the tabletop board game with say, a videogame.
A hilarious and fascinating sci-fi book that follows the space travels of Ijon Tichy across the universe where he encounters some truly unique situations and civilizations. Each voyage he takes is broken up into different chapters, and each of these voyages could have easily been turned into an entire book on their own. They’re all memorable and unique and come loaded with satire, adventure, action and sometimes commentary on scientific and philosophical speculations (it can get pretty dark). Being funny while remaining smart is tough to do, and this book nails it...if you enjoy sci-fi you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not reading this.
This book has a surrealist mist that hangs over everything that happens that it all sort of ends up feeling like a crazy dream. While in typical Murakami fashion the writing on the female characters is a bit wince inducing at times, it’s not enough to take away from the overall quality of this book. He makes you want to live in this world he has created, everything feels so comfy and pleasant that even if there is something truly bizarre going on, you’d still be ok with it because the environment seems so appealing. The two ongoing storylines and characters never actually physically meet, but they work so well in tandem and play off of each other so well that you become heavily invested in the outcome of both stories. Mr. Nakata may not have many opinions, but he does believe you should read this book. Also it has talking cats, Colonel Sanders is a pimp, and Johnnie Walker plays a magic flute of cat souls.
Sometimes you read a book and the writing style just clicks with you. This is how it was with me and W.G. Sebald’s ‘The Emigrants’ (as well as his other book I read this year, ‘Austerlitz’). The way it moves is so smooth and delightful that it was a real pleasure to read, which is quite a contrast to what the actual novel was dealing with. The contents are often sad narratives of the lives of German emigrants during and post World War 2. The stories of these 4 individuals is so detailed and realistic, with Sebald even including photographs throughout most of the narrative, that it comes across as a very personal family history. I’m still not certain if the narrator of this book is actually the author himself (Sebald) or a fictional one making up fabricated characters, which means the believability of the stories is quite good. At this point I don’t think it even matters if any of the book is based on real people, I don’t think that’s even the point. While it is probably the most ‘standard’ book on this list, it still manages to stand out purely based on its prose and its great deal of care and attention to each individual page.
I was trying to avoid putting an author on this short list multiple times but I couldn’t do it. The way Coover’s ‘Ghost Town’ does the Western genre is a nightmare in the best way. It’s like this horrible fever dream where nothing makes sense and everything is putrid and appalling, from the environment it is set in to the characters that populate it (who appear in their corporeal forms displaying their fatal wounds and traumas). The way things melt into each other in this book is done at such a pace that it never really has time to settle and breathe from one scene to the next, which gives the whole thing a hallucinatory effect, like everything is in fast forward. It is written in this appropriate hick styled language that is playful and a blast to read while being really funny at times too. The main character doesn’t seem too concerned with what is happening before him, from the arrival of the town itself from out of nowhere in the middle of the desert, to the materializing people and the events they bring with them (typical Western clichés including bank heists, gun fights, hangings, and bar room brawls), he just seems resigned to go along for the trip, and I do mean a ‘trip’.