Recommended Reads: The 7 Best of 2017

Apparently this is my first post in almost two months. Coughs. So you see why I advertise myself as a “sporadic blogger”, among other things. I would promise to do better in 2018, but we all know there’s a better than decent chance you’re not going to see me again until around Valentine’s.
Since looking forward is not likely to be productive in this case, today we’re going to take a look back. We’re going to take a last gander at the journey that was 2017, and a few of the books that kept me company along the way.

What follows are my seven literary highlights of the year. Feel free to add your own in the comments!

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1. My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton & Jodi Meadows

Recommended for: Fans of the Princess Bride, Monty Python, and/or William Shakespeare. Anyone who thought the Helena Bonham-Carter/Cary Elwes film was just too depressing.

Three cheeky writers teamed up to give us this very, VERY creative reinterpretation of English history. Be prepared for fewer gruesome deaths and a lot more shape shifting. And fun. Heaps and heaps of fun.

“No horse jokes,” he said.
“My lord, I apologize for the horse joke. If you put down the book—unharmed!—I will give you a carrot.”
He brandished the book at her. “Was that a horse joke?”
“Neigh.”
“Was that a horse joke?”

2. The Man Born To Be King: A Play-Cycle on the Life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Dorothy Sayers

Recommended for: Pretty much any believer who reads

I have Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy for calling my attention to this one (quick aside: don’t you just love it when one good book leads you to another?)

What Sayers presents is a pretty straightforward dramatic version of the Gospels. Yet she somehow manages to bring the characters to life, and make me see them in ways I never did before. It is difficult to really review a book like this properly, especially since I read it towards the beginning of the year. I won’t be able to communicate how good it was. You just have to find out for yourself.

3. Are Women Human?: Astute and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society by Dorothy Sayers

Recommended for: Female people. Also, male people.

This was obviously the year of Dorothy Sayers for me. I’m not sorry.

Over the years, I’ve found myself drawn to various books that skirt between the issues of Christianity and feminism. None of them ever quite hit the spot. This volume of two easily-read-in-one-sitting essays finally changed that. “YES!” I found myself saying to the wisdom-filled pages (possibly aloud… coughs). “THIS is how it is!”

I got my own copy for Christmas, which I will no doubt be rereading and extracting excerpts from in the near future.

“A man once asked me how I managed in my books to write such natural conversation between men when they were by themselves. Was I, by any chance, a member of a large, mixed family with a lot of male friends? I replied that, on the contrary, I was an only child and had practically never seen or spoken to any men of my own age till I was about twenty-five. “Well,” said the man, “I shouldn’t have expected a woman (meaning me) to have been able to make it so convincing.” I replied that I had coped with this difficult problem by making my men talk, as far as possible, like ordinary human beings. This aspect of the matter seemed to surprise the other speaker; he said no more, but took it away to chew it over. One of these days it may quite likely occur to him that women, as well as men, when left to themselves, talk very much like human beings also.”

4. What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey

Recommended for: The down-and-out, grace-hungry soul. Also, the opposite kind of person.

My first thought when scrolling back through my 2017 book list was, “Wait! I only discovered Yancey this year?!” He’s become such a good book-friend in that time, it doesn’t seem possible. I read two of his others, as well (The Jesus I Never Knew, and Vanishing Grace). They were both fantastic, but I think this was my favorite.

One of the less pleasant quirks of fallen humanity is the tendency to forget our constant need of receiving God’s grace, and demonstrating it to others. Yancey makes you see, though, and it’s wonderful.

“Religious faith—for all its problems, despite its maddening tendency to replicate ungrace—lives on because we sense the numinous beauty of a gift undeserved that comes at unexpected moments from Outside. Refusing to believe that our lives of guilt and shame lead to nothing but annihilation, we hope against hope for another place run by different rules. We grow up hungry for love, and in ways so deep as to remain unexpressed we long for our Maker to love us.”

5. The Queen Of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Recommended for: The YA fan who enjoys being swallowed whole by the novels they read

This is the second installment of The Queen’s Thief series, all of which are incredible. The author has created a world so intricate and authentic that each book contains a note at the end to explain that they are, in fact, purely fictional. I guess the publishers were concerned that readers would mistake the stories for actual history. It sounds silly, but it isn’t. Whalen Turner is literally that good.

“I’ll be your minister–”
“Of the exchequer? You’d rob me blind.”
“I would never steal from you,” he’d said hotly.
“Oh? Where is my tourmaline necklace? Where are my missing earrings?”
“That necklace was hideous. It was the only way to keep you from wearing it.”
“My earrings?”
“What earrings?”

6. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Recommended for: Any consumer of classic literature who has somehow missed it to this point.

I try to read at least one big, intimidate classic each year. Having never tackled any Russian lit, I decided this was as good a year to try it as any. I have no regrets.

“The world says: “You have needs — satisfy them. You have as much right as the rich and the mighty. Don’t hesitate to satisfy your needs; indeed, expand your needs and demand more.” This is the worldly doctrine of today. And they believe that this is freedom. The result for the rich is isolation and suicide, for the poor, envy and murder.”

7. The Door Before by ND Wilson

Recommended for: Those who have already read Wilson’s Ashtown Burials and 100 Cupboards series.

Actually, a mere recommendation does not seem sufficient. If you’ve already read and enjoyed Ashtown Burials and 100 Cupboards, you MUST read this, their prequel. And if you haven’t already read and enjoyed Ashtown Burials and 100 Cupboards? …Well, you might want to get on that. Imagine books with the flavor of Narnia and Oz, with dashes of other classics like Treasure Island thrown in. Add a generous heap of meaning and wonder and humor and emotion. That’s N.D. Wilson.

The Door Before gave me the most pure joy and satisfaction of any of the 70+ titles I read this year.

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2 thoughts on “Recommended Reads: The 7 Best of 2017

  1. alivingpencil says:

    Elizabeth, you don’t know me, but I grew up with your mom and her siblings. This post is excellent! I am always game for book talk and loved reading not only which were your favorites, but why you chose them.
    I re-read the Brothers Karamazov in 2016; I first read it in 1986 and have many exact memories of where I was sitting when I read certain parts. I’m a bigger fan of N.D. Wilson’s nonfiction than fiction, you make me want to revisit Dorothy Sayers, and you’ve given me a couple of new authors to explore. Thanks!

    Like

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