- Shogun by James Clavell
I grew up seeing this book on my dad’s bookshelf and was always curious about the book with the samurai sword on the cover and curious title. This year I finally sat down and read it. What a joy it was to read. No book I read this year had as much duplicity, tension, adventure, ninjas or pillowing as this one. It was an incredible story with immense characters, and Clavell managed to completely immerse readers into the beauty of Japanese culture and customs. I will look to read the rest of Clavell’s work, as this book proved to be one I will never forget.
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
I cannot tell you how often referred someone to this book. Its focus is foundational for each one of our lives, and the self-study of habits that it encourages is something that resonates with me as a former pack-a-day smoker and 10-drink-a-day-at-the-least kind of guy. Habits do not define a person, but what can define a person is a habit of deciding not to improve one’s habits. This book breaks it all down really well, and offers great ways to understand how to start your tomorrow with a new set of tools to build the life you always wanted.
- Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
This book is a stomach turning bloodbath and it blasts lead through guts you never knew you had. In all honesty, I almost put this one down after maybe the fortieth obscene raid through an Indian village. But I didn’t. And for some reason, even though I finished the book disgusted and mostly unsatisfied, I am glad I saw it through. The Judge is just behind Shogun’s Toranaga for my favorite character of the year, and no other author writes with as much bleakness or poetry as McCarthy. He’s a resolute, unabashed author that I can’t help but admire.
- Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
This book is on everyone’s list for Book of the Year. For good reason. It’s an incredible portrait of a forgotten era, and an important reminder that bloodstains and ghosts litter much of our country and past. Grann is an amazing writer, and his follow up research in Osage County is as revelatory as it is infuriating. If you haven’t read it yet, just pick it up before someone spoils it for you.
- Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Nancy MacLean
Much like Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, MacLean’s Democracy in Chains is either an ambitious revealing of ghastly modern day, oft-unspoken political truths, or it is an orgasmic exhibition of unreliable reporting on her end, and confirmation bias on mine. Naturally, I’ll choose to say it’s the former. The premise is that James Buchanan and other like-minded economists developed some ultra-right ideas at the University of Virginia and George Mason, among other universities, and these ideas were so anti-government and pro-business that a guy named Charles Koch just happened to fall in love with them. After all, what business does the government have regulating business? It’s an important question for our current day, and I do believe that MacLean does an excellent job of avoiding sensation when describing the nuances of Buchanan’s positions, despite her book’s racy title. Perhaps you’ll read it and disagree with me, but I do believe this book explains a lot of our current political climate where business comes first, and compromise is… wait, what’s ‘compromise?’
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
This book is reminiscent of two other ‘girl coming of age in a bygone era’ books I love: To Kill a Mockingbird and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. However, Smith’s narrative arc goes a bit longer, and of course this one takes place in a Brooklyn neighborhood instead of the dusty, hot south. It’s a wonderful story. Katie Nolan is right up there with my favorite characters of the year. I read this and see firsthand the power and mystique ‘America’ held in the minds of hardworking immigrants, and I feel I am proud of this country and I am proud of the people who make it great. And I feel hopeful. And I feel respite from my millenial cynicism, where America in 2018 looks like a pitiless, economist-driven war-machine hellscape with no honor, and no justice.
You can see all the books I read in 2017, and all the books I’ve read since 2015, on ‘the notched bedpost.’