Books I read in 2016 & 2017: an analysis

In returning to my much-neglected blog, I found a post from last year languishing in drafts, a year-in-review for books I read in 2016. I didn’t finish that post or publish it, but it was an eye-opener for me. Here’s an excerpt:

I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into which authors I read this year, picking whatever was recommended and what I could get through library e-book loan and manage to read before it expired. In the end I completed 34 books, which is a disappointment. In my defense, some were long!

Of the 34, 23 were written by men. Also a disappointment.

Of the 34, only 3 were written by people of color (and two of these are Cixin Liu) (and also I should add that this is based off of VERY cursory research and I in no way intend to deny the potential non-white heritage of the 31 white-looking authors whose photos I googled).

See, nothing against white dudes, but I know there is more out there in speculative fiction (which is most of what I read), and these numbers are hardly representative of it. So I started 2017 with the goal of avoiding books written by white dudes. Not forever, right? But for the year. Maybe that would mean a glut of white dude books on my to-read shelf in 2018, but that was a risk I was willing to take.

So how did I do? For starters, I read a bunch more books in 2017: 55 total.

Of the 55 total, 17 were written by men; of those 17, 9 were (apparently) white men. However, I did slightly alter my rule to allow also allow writers from non-English-speaking countries, and if you exclude those then only 6 were white men–and of those 1 was a re-read of something I couldn’t get out of my head and 3 more were sequels, so I grandfathered them in.

Of the 55 books I read in 2017, 22 were written by people of color (and 7 more were from non-English-speaking countries).

But the numbers tell only part of the story. It’s important to have a good time reading, right? In 2016 I gave five-star reviews to 4 books (look, I don’t just go handing those out willy-nilly, okay?), with my very favorite book of the year either going to Death’s End, the final installment in Cixin Liu’s fabulous trilogy, or The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers.

In 2017 I five-starred 7 books. Since that’s the year it just was, let me just tell you why you should read all of those. They’re presented in chronological order, not ranked, because I can’t choose my favorite.

1) Fix (‘Mancer #3), by Ferrett Steinmetz. You’ll have to read all three books to get to this one, and I think you’ll thank me for it. The world is one in which magic is real, but dangerous, and it’s based on love. That sounds corny, but when you read about how the characters’ love of paperwork or video games manifests, you’ll love it too.

2) Crosstalk, by Connie Willis. You can have a procedure done that links you to one other person, so our silly young protagonist does this with her boyfriend. Except she wakes to find out that she has an unexpected connection to someone she doesn’t care for at all. And things, in typical Connie Willis fashion, get wackier from there.

3) (and 5) The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) and The Stone Sky (Broken Earth #3), by N.K. Jemisin. The only reason that the second book in this trilogy wasn’t also five-starred is that it just wasn’t quite as brilliant as the first or third. The world is super volcanic, and now someone has torn it in half, starting a Season that will probably kill everyone. But look closer, and you discover that this is perhaps a world that needed a cleanse. What it’s about isn’t even as brilliant as how the story is told. You won’t want to put these down.

4) The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. This non-speculative fiction book deals with the police shooting of a black teenager, and it’s incredibly powerful. They say reading fiction helps you empathize, and that being the case every white person in America needs to read this book. No one is an “angel,” as the saying goes, but all the characters are fully human.

6) Kangaroo Too (Kangaroo #2), by Curtis C. Chen. Disclaimer: I know Curtis. But that isn’t why I adored both books in his series. Kangaroo tells his story with such humor that all the spying and violence of nefarious plots to upend the solar system just seem like a lark. Plus he has a portal to another universe that he uses in all sorts of fascinating ways.

7) The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion, by Margaret Killjoy. This took me back to my days of living in a car and squatting in the UK, which is probably part of why I loved it. But it’s also got a great story about a killer deer god thing.

Looking at this list, there are other books from the year that I think I should have given more stars to. So honorable mentions to Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire, Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty, and The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo.

Which brings me to the other trend in my reading in 2017: Scandinavian SF, and particularly Finnish weird. I wanted to read Norwegian science fiction, but it isn’t a big genre there and I’m not sure what, if anything, has made it into English. But… I seriously recommend reading some Finnish stuff, and you can start with The Core of the Sun, which is just batshit crazy.

Happy reading! Here’s to dozens more books in 2018!

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