What I was reading in 2017


Every December 31st, I sit down to write out and look back over the books that I read during the last twelve months. In 2016 I only managed a risible twenty-five books in total, and was then also called-out by a friend over the lack of women and non-white writers in my end-of-year list. I set out to address both these shortcomings in 2017.

Fiction (30)

  • A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula Le Guin)
  • The Tombs of Atuan (Ursula Le Guin)
  • The Farthest Shore (Ursula Le Guin)
  • Dawn (Octavia Butler)
  • Adulthood Rites (Octavia Butler)
  • Eight Worlds Of C.M. Kornbluth (CM Kornbluth)
  • American Pastoral (Philip Roth)
  • The New York Trilogy (Paul Auster)
  • Imago (Octavia Butler)
  • City of Glass (Paul Auster)
  • If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (Italo Calvino)
  • Room (Emma Donoghue)
  • The Secret History (Donna Tartt)
  • Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)
  • Underworld (Don DeLillo)
  • The World According to Garp (John Irving)
  • The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Becky Chambers)
  • Beloved (Toni Morrison)
  • Lake Wobegon Days (Garrison Keillor)
  • The Magicians (Lev Grossman)
  • The Magician King (Lev Grossman)
  • The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
  • A Closed and Common Orbit (Becky Chambers)
  • Deep Secret (Diana Wynne Jones)
  • Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie)
  • The Magician's Land (Lev Grossman)
  • Amsterdam (Ian McEwan)
  • Microserfs (Douglas Coupland)
  • Secret Water (Arthur Ransome)
  • Arrival (Ted Chiang)

Out of a total of thirty novels that I read this year, 43% were written by women, while six (20%) were written by non-white authors. Not too bad (and would have been higher if I hadn't re-read a few old favourites towards the end of the year), but I can definitely do better.

I also revisited the first two of Lev Grossman's The Magicians series because watching the TV adaptation had made me forget what actually happened in the books; and finally finished Don DeLillo's Underworld on about my fifth attempt.

Non-fiction (8)

  • Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? (Michael J Sandel)
  • Walden (Henry David Thoreau)
  • Thinking with Type (Ellen Lupton)
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Yuval Noah Harari)
  • Atomic Design (Brad Frost)
  • Far from the East End (Iris Jones Simantel)
  • Story Genius (Lisa Cron)
  • White Line Fever: The Autobiography (Lemmy Kilmister)

A couple of work-related books for once—I don't generally read much about UX these days, a habit I should probably change—some political philosophy, and a bit of Lemmy made for a nice mix. It never feels like I have been reading that much non-fiction during the year, so it's always a nice surprise to reach this point and realise that I actually managed to read a fair bit of it.

Comic/illustrated (2)

  • Batman vs. Superman: The Greatest Battles (Frank Miller)
  • Albion (Alan Moore)

I never buy comic books for myself, so these are usually Christmas presents. Albion was pretty bad, and that's speaking as a huge Alan Moore fan.


Looking back over these lists, it strikes me that I actually read quite a few putative 'classics' that I really didn't enjoy very much. Roth, Auster, Calvino, DeLillo, Morrison, Keillor, McEwan; all celebrated award-winning works that left me feeling that I must have missed something. Either that or my expectations were too high, perhaps.

The best books I read this year were the first two of Becky Chambers' Wayfarers series; The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and its sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit. Short, straightforward sci-fi with a conscience. I'm looking forward to whatever she produces next.

Matthew Pennell

Designer, developer, writer, runner, gamer, devil's advocate, INTP. Senior designer for Booking.com. Founder, Refresh Cambridge.