2017 was a great year for getting married, and a less great year for reading goals. Did anyone in our marriage make their Goodreads’ goals? Err, no. 

But! There were major perks to reading slowly. I soaked in these books over weeks at a time. They were good friends and thought companions. 

Basta. Here are Marieke’s top books of 2017.

HomeGoing* — Yaa Gyasi’s gorgeous story of a family follows Ghanaian half-sisters, one sold into slavery, the other a wife of a British colonialist. Each chapter describes the next generation of their families, at times breathtaking tragic, at times tender and sweet. It is an incredible story about race and racial struggle, from the jungles of Ghana to the ghettos of New York.

“We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must ask yourself, Whose story am I missing? Whose voice was suppressed so that this voice could come forth? Once you have figured that out, you must find that story too. From there you get a clearer, yet still imperfect, picture.”

Dispatches from Pluto — A British writer and his girlfriend from New York move to the Mississippi Delta. This book chronicles their (non-fiction) cultural tourism through charming, hilarious, and sometimes totally bizarre anecdotes. It is flat-out funny, even as it delves into the complexities of racial division, poverty, and culture. It is an oddly moving book, a book that makes you want to understand the history of your own place and love your own neighbors better.

“…it was good for different cultures to come together, and chip away at human prejudice one party at a time.”

A Man Called Ove* — A cranky man has given up on his life and is ready to die. The problem is, his enthusiastic neighbors won’t let him. This is a lovely story about community and love. It is laugh out loud funny and also tearily poignant.

“Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the greatest motivations for living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival.”

Cooked — This was assigned reading for cooking school (more on that here). Michael Pollan examines cooking in the arc of human history and civilization, from an evolutionary and biological standpoint, to cultural foodways, ecological implications, and more. It is fascinating.

“To cook for the pleasure of it, to devote a portion of our leisure to it, is to declare our independence from the corporations seeking to organize our every waking moment into yet another occasion for consumption… It is to reject the debilitating notion that, at least while we’re at home, production is work best done by someone else, and the only legitimate form of leisure is consumption.”

The Mystery of Marriage* — We read a ton of books during engagement and this one was my favorite. The Mystery of Marriage is a Christian mystic’s description of marriage. It recognizes the transformative power of lifelong commitment without idealizing it. It is a humbling but thrilling read, no matter whether you are single, engaged, long-married, Christian, agnostic, or more.

“And so must learn to love with our mouths and voices, as well as with our eyes, flesh, heart, brains, and with everything we have, right down to our toenails. There is not anything about us that cannot love, and that is not called to love, and that is not destined to be turned, conformed, and reduced to pure love. It …is the priceless deposit left by the burning away of selfishness.”

Bed and Board* — This was another gem of a book. An Episcopal priest muses on the physical realities and necessities of marriage. Is it dated? At times old-fashioned about gender roles? Yes and yes, but he is humble and apologetic and offers his thoughts as a jumping off point for more reflection and delight.

“The world is going mad because it has too many reasonable little options, and not enough interest or nerve to choose anything for good. In such a world, the marriage service is not reasonable, but it is sane; which is quite another matter. The lunatic lives in a world of reason, and he goes mad with making sense; it is precisely paradox that keeps the rest of us sane. To be born, to love a woman, to cry at music, to catch a cold, to die – these are not excursions on the narrow road of logic; they are blind launchings on a trackless sea.”

What books were your favorites of 2017? Do you have any books you’re looking forward to reading in 2018?

*There are some adult themes and language in these books.