My Year in Reading; The Best of The Best

What makes a book one of the best of the year? How it stays with me. How it makes me think. The extent to which I can relate to what the author is saying as truth; the extent to which the characters live and breathe.

I have read books for the Man Booker International Prize, The Man Booker Prize, German Lit Month, Spanish Lit Month, Women in Translation Month and my own Japanese Literature Challenge 11. Therefore, some of these books might be obscure to you. But, all of them are worthy.

Here are the ten books of 2017 which stood out most prominently in my mind, which will stick with me far past this year and into the next:


1. A Quiet Place by Seicho Matsumoto (“A master crime writer…Seicho Matsumoto’s thrillers dissect Japanese society.” -The New York Times Book Review; special thanks to Dorian at Eiger, Monch & Jungfrau who sent it to me last year.)

2. Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marias 

3. The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen (shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2017)

4. The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro (by the British author who won the Nobel Prize in Literature this year, this is a mesmerizing, unforgettable book)

5. Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017, won the Goldsmiths Prize 2017, named Irish Book of the Year 2016)

6. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry 

7. Autumn by Ali Smith (shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017)

8. Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn 

9. My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent (a Times book of the year, a Guardian book of the year)

10. Fish Have No Feet by Jon Kalman Steffansson (longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2017)

A list of all the books I’ve read this year, and the challenges in which I’ve participated, will be forthcoming.

The link to each book above takes you to Bookwitty, a source which delivers books with free shipping worldwide. 


The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen (translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw): Man Booker International Prize 2017 long list


However, one afternoon something strange happened to the sky, and when the sky not only goes dark but also strange and is low and hard to read, this is a sign in itself, a sign of the worst.

The people on the island do not make the rules. The weather makes it for them, and they must cope accordingly.

Young Ingrid has an infectious laugh. She laughs all the time, until she goes away from the island to school. There, the first thing she learns is to swim; she also learns her alphabet and her numbers and sees herself in a big mirror for the first time.

You are not allowed to laugh in the classroom, for three reasons, the teacher counts on his long, thin fingers: it is disruptive, it is infectious and it looks stupid…Ingrid doesn’t understand what he means. Not being allowed to laugh when you need to is like being deprived of a leg. But life is hell, she does learn that at least, so she stops laughing and starts crying instead.

I am learning about a country of which I am ill aware: Norway. The open space must be wonderful, the sea’s power terrible, and the work arduous beyond belief. Just staying alive, and warm in the Winter, takes every day’s efforts. But, there is a certain beauty in a job well done, as only experienced,  wind-chapped hands know how to do.


photo credit here

A correctly constructed peat stack is not only beautiful, like a man-made eye-catching attraction in the countryside, it is a work of art. A slapdash, hastily built stack, on the other hand, is a tragedy, which reveals its true nature at the worst possible moment, in January, when they wade through the snow with hand-woven baskets on their backs and discover the peat to be encrusted with ice, frozen rock solid.

I loved reading about this family on their island, catching and salting the fish, rowing the færing into the Trading Post on the mainland, caring for one another, as well as unexpected children who come their way. Jacobsen gives us a magnificent picture of life in Norway, but even better, to me, is the portrayal of family. Which need not be related by blood.

He also includes themes of dreams and regret, courage in the face of adversity, and how to survive the loss of something you aren’t even aware is being taken away from you.

This is yet another splendid book in what is proving to be a very powerful long list.

Find another review at 1st Reading’s Blog and David’s Book World.

The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen
Translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw
Published by Quercus on August 16, 2017
272 pages