Helping Writers Become Authors

My Top Books of 2017

When you’re a writer, stories are life. You can’t create them without ingesting them. That’s why Stephen King famously said:

If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.

That’s why this annual look back at my top books of 2017 is always one of my favorite posts. For better or worse, however, this year was the “worst” reading year in my entire life, in terms of quantity. I said that last year when I’d read only 80, but this year I really mean it. I’ve topped out at just 42 books read, which for me seems like a really dismal number. The good news, however, is that amongst those 42 books were some really good ones.

Following is my list of my top 5 favorite books in both Fiction and Non-Fiction, with a few bonus writing-craft titles thrown in.

But, first, some fun stats:

Total books read: 42

Fiction to non-fiction ratio: 20:22

Male to female author ratio: 28:14

Top 5 genres: History (with 10 books), Classic Fiction (with 9), Fantasy (with 5), Writing How-To (with 5), and Historical (with 3).

Number of books per rating: 5 stars (3), 4 stars (20), 3 stars (10), 2 stars (9), 1 star (0).

Top 5 Fiction Books

1. Blood Song by Anthony Ryan—Read 3-26-17 

Loved it. It’s not as flashy as, say, Brent Weeks, but this is an incredibly thoughtful, well-realized, steady, and thoroughly enjoyable epic fantasy. The protagonist is one of those rare “good” characters that manage to be utterly sympathetic, engaging, and heart-rending (so much so that he was one of the inspirations for this post: “5 Tips for Writing a Likable ‘Righteous’ Character“). I can’t wait to start the sequel soon!

2. Among the Flames by Kim Vandel—Read 6-12-17 

Kim Vandel has rocketed onto the elite list of my favorite authors. She has a solid style, a masterful control of character and subtext (which inspired this post “4 Ways to Amplify Your Characters’ Subtext“), a way of making even mundane details interesting, and a great slant on supernatural YA. My only true complaint about this second installment in the series is that it’s too short. I could happily have handled five hundred more pages of Kate and company. As it is, I must suffer heroically through another year of waiting for the sequel. At its heart, this is a romance—and yet, there’s no romance in either this book or the previous one. And that’s half the charm. Vandel is doing what so few authors have the patience or the guts to do in creating a long-lasting, evolving relationship that relies on characterization rather than gratuitously rushed romance. Again, can’t wait for the sequel!

3. Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett—Read 10-9-17 

Sublimely hilarious, beautifully plotted (you can find my structural analysis in the Story Structure Database). Peopled with a delightful cast, most notably the charmingly heroic and lovable Carrot. My favorite Pratchett book so far.

4. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell—Read 3-13-17 

I love it when things live up to their reputations. This book is a tour de force in so many ways. Structurally, it’s amazing—which is, I think, the largest reason it’s so incredibly readable, even at its great size (you can read my structural analysis in the Story Structure Database). The characters are well-realized, the themes deep and nuanced, and the historical viewpoint certainly thought-provoking. It has its downfalls, of course (most notably its wretched portrayal of African-Americans), but overall, it’s a charmingly satirical novel that demands introspection from the reader in regard to the intervening ebb and flow of history.

5. Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann—Read 2-16-17 

What an extraordinary book. Thomas Mann—even translated into English—has such an immersive and yet easy style of writing. He’s a pleasure to read even when he’s not saying anything interesting, which he certainly is here with this deeply symbolic web of personality and history. Most interesting of all, however, is his deft use of a highly unreliable but entirely earnest non-protagonist narrator. I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as Magic Mountain (one of my top five books last year), but it cements Mann as one of my favorite classic authors.

Top 5 Non-Fiction Books

1. Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend—Read 6-6-17 

This book is life-changing. Turns out a discussion of boundaries is really a discussion about every single relationship in your life, your personal self-worth and discipline, your childhood, and your religion. The good doctors come at this from a Christian perspective, but they pull no punches in addressing the massive problem Christians, in particular, have with these issues. At every turn, they are brutally honest, logical, and biblical. The end result is the encouragement and empowerment to live a centered life, free of guilt and balanced in God’s will.

2. This Fabulous Century: 1950-1960 by Time-Life Books—Read 2-16-17 

I’ve yet to read any of this series that wasn’t interesting, but this is a standout. It’s a thorough, in-depth, and always educational overview of one of the most transitional decades in the 20th Century.

3. A Mighty Fortress by Steven Ozment—7-16-17 

This is a rapid-fire historical overview of the German people that often reads like a fast-paced documentary. I would have enjoyed a little more depth in the exploration of personalities, but overall, this is an excellent big-picture view that offers some surprising insights.

4. Rasputin: The Saint Who Sinned by Brian Moynahan—Read 5-23-17 

Like most of the world, I have always been fascinated by the murky half-myth, half-reality in which lurks the dark figure supposedly at the heart of the Romanov dynasty’s downfall. Moynahan brings clarity, forthright details, and a fair-handed approach that ultimately casts the largest share of blame on Empress Alexandra’s wrongheadedness.

5. Life Lessons by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler—Read 10-6-17 

A beautiful book with interesting insights. Nothing unforeseen, but good reminders about what it really means to live a full and meaningful life with no regrets.

Bonus: 3 Books for Writers

1. Cover Design Secrets Bestselling Authors Use to Sell More Books by Derek Murphy—Read 5-16-17 

Great advice, much of which goes against the grain, but is so sensible it makes you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. I learned much and appreciated Derek’s viewpoint. I will be approaching my future covers with a new perspective.

2. Dramatica Unplugged: The Story Mind by Melanie Anne Phillips—Read 4-14-17

Dramatica is such a complex system that it’s really helpful to break it into down into smaller chunks like this. Gave me new ideas to think about.

3. 5 Minute Book Marketing for Authors by Penny Sansevieri—Read 4-15-17 

This is an excellent primer for writers just starting out with marketing and wanting a rounded plan of action for selling books.

My Books

And if all these goodies aren’t enough to fill your To Be Read pile this year, here’s a few more! 🙂

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What were your top books of 2017? How many books did you read? Tell me in the comments!

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