Slightly Exhausted at the End: My Favorite Books of 2017

I received several lovely books as gifts for Christmas and tucked inside one of them was a handwritten notecard with this quote by William Styron:  “A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end.  You live several lives while reading.”  I thought this sentiment was perfect for writing about my list of books this year that have provided me with rich and deep cerebral experiences;  these are the  books I have thought about on sleepless nights, these are the books that have left me figuratively and literally exhausted.

Many of the books on this list are classics, written in the 19th or 20th century.  Only a couple of titles that were published this year have made the list.  There is also a predominance of classic British and German literature.

Mrs. Dalloway,  To the Lighthouse and The Waves, Virginia Woolf.  This was the year that I finally discovered the wonder that is Virginia Woolf.  Of the three titles I read I couldn’t possibility pick a favorite, they all resonated with me for different reasons.  I’ve also enjoyed reading her essays along side the novels.

Pilgrimage, Vols. 1 and 2, Dorothy Richardson.  I started reading Richardson towards the end of the summer and was instantly captivated by her language and her strong, daring female character.  I made it about half way through Pilgrimage before taking a break.  But I will finish the last two volumes in the new year.

Map Drawn by a Spy, Guillermo Cabrera Infante.  This is another great title from Archipelago books and a chilling account of the author’s escape from his homeland of Cuba.  A unique, eye-opening read on the mindset of those living under an oppressive, totalitarian regime.

And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos and Bento’s Sketchbook,  John Berger.  I initially picked up And Our Faces when Scott Esposito pointed it out on Twitter several months back.  I just happened to be walking by one of my bookshelves one day and it caught my eye.  I haven’t stopped reading Berger since.  I also remembered that I had a copy of Bento’s Sketchbook which came recommended by someone with impeccable literary taste who said it is one of those “must read” books.  He was not wrong.

The Quest for Christa T., Christa Wolf.  I first discovered Wolf last year when I read her Medea and Cassandra.  Surprisingly, I think of all the Wolf  titles I’ve read so far, The Quest for Christa T. has been my favorite.  I have also gotten about half way through her memoir One Day a Year which I am hoping to finish in the new year.

Effi Briest, Theodor FontaIne.  I saw a list of Samuel Beckett’s favorite books and Effi was on the list.  I immediately picked up a copy and read it.  This is a title that is worthy of multiple reads, one that indeed left me exhausted yet eager to start all over from the beginning.

Other Men’s Daughters, Richard Stern.  It is no surprise that my list includes at least one title from NYRB Classics.  I had never heard of Stern and this book made me want to explore more of his writings.  This is a tale of a marriage and divorce, but Stern’s writing is not typical of this genre in any way whatsoever.

Penthesilea, Heinrich von Kleist.  Kleist’s story of Penthesilea and her brief yet powerful relationship with the hero Achilles was captivating.  I oftentimes avoid retellings of Ancient myths because they veer too far from the original stories, but Kleist’s rendition of these events from the Trojan War deftly incorporate his own backstory with these ancient characters.

Poetic Fragments, Karoline von Gunderrode.  This was another title that I came across on literary Twitter.  For all of the negative things that can be said about social media,  it has definitely served a great purpose for me through interacting with a community of liked minded readers.  Thanks to flowerville, in particular, who has steered me toward many a great German classic that I would otherwise not have been made aware of.

Blameless, Claudio Magris.  As with other Magris novels I have read, I was impressed with the high level of the author’s erudition mixed with poetic language and intriguing plot.  Much like Compass which is also on this list,  it is not an easy read, but for those who enjoy a literary challenge then I highly recommend Blameless

A Terrace in Rome, Pascal Quignard.  I have been slowly making my way through all of  the Quignard that is in translation.  A Terrace in Rome had  all of the elements that I love about a Quignard title; it was poetic, passionate, philosophical, enigmatic, and beautiful.  I am especially eager to get a copy of Villa Amalia which Seagull Books will soon be publishing.

Compass, Mathias Enard.  This is one of the few books actually published this year on my list.  This is a book for those who really enjoy books.  My TBR pile grew by leaps and bounds collecting just a fragment of the titles mentioned by Enard in his fascinating story of a musicologist who suffers from a sleepless night.

Now I’m exhausted just thinking about these books all over again…



Filed under British Literature, Classics, French Literature, German Literature, History, Literary Fiction, Literature in Translation, New York Review of Books, Poetry, Virginia Woolf

31 responses to “Slightly Exhausted at the End: My Favorite Books of 2017

  1. Such a great list, emblematic of an excellent reading year. Woolf is definitely a writer worth discovering, I’m glad you enjoyed her. Do you have a favourite from your selection above?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I must tackle Pilgrimage at some point. Vol. 1 reproaches me from my shelf. but I was given several more books for Christmas…Where to start? Taking a couple with me on a trip, so hope I’ve made the right choice. an interesting and eclectic mix there, Melissa.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What fascinating choices, and not a set of books I think I will see on anyone else’s shelf! Happy reading for 2018! I’m doing my best-of at the end of the year, especially because I’ve just read a book that might make the cut and you never know what will come through in these last few days of the year!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m generally not one for classics-too long winded in most cases. Though there are a few that I like: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Les Miserable, Pride and Prejudice is a love/hate kind of book, and I also really enjoyed reading The Last of the Mohikans-which made me think very strongly of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, when she referenced the Indians. Your list sounds interesting though, so who knows? Maybe I might dive into classics again and see if there’s any good ones that I’m missing. The ones on your list certainly sound interesting enough!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That is an intriguing pile of books. I’ve only read Pilgrimage but it’s been lovely learning about books I’d like to read and books I’ll probably never read from you again this year.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hello, and greetings of the season! Thanks for sharing your intriguing reading with us this year – I look forward to more of the same in 2018!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Ali

    What a fabulous and unique list of favorite books! Thanks for sharing. I, too, read Effi Briest this year, and it is now one of my all-time favorite novels. I have the first volume of Pilgrimage that I would like to read in the new year. And I downloaded th Stern book to my Kindle because of your recommendation!

    I think it is always fun to find and explore new authors. Like you, I tend to enjoy British and German authors. My new “find” this year was Elizabeth Bowen. I had tried to read To the North unsuccessfully several times, but when I picked up The Death of the Heart, I could not put it down. Reading that book was one of my most immersive experiences this past year, and I intend to read many more Bowen books. Next year is the year I’d also like to tackle either Mann’s Faustus or War and Peace. In additon, I want to immerse myself in the work of Mauriac, and I’ve ordered several of his books.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed this post. Thanks again for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much! And I will have to look into Elizabeth Bowen since you have recommended her! I would like to tackle War and Peace at some point as well. I just have to work up the nerve to pick it up.


  8. A fantastic list. I love To the Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway, I enjoyed The Waves but not as much. I also read Effi Briest this year. I thought the Quest for Christa T was very challenging when I read it a couple of years ago, not unenjoyable but the reader definitely has to do some work with it.


    • I was thinkingbof reading The Voyage Out as my next Woolf. Have you read that one? And I have to tell you that I was admiring with awe your photo of your Persephone collection! I just adore their books and would love to own that many. I am taking a trip to London in the spring and their bookshop is one of the places I most want to visit.


      • I have read The Voyage out – the only Woolf novel I haven’t read is The Years. I have a copy and meant to read it this year but haven’t managed it.
        Do take time to visit the Persephone shop it’s so lovely.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. What a lovely selection of reading, Melissa, and a wonderful quote – I know exactly that feeling. Pleased to see so much Berger in that pile – which is nudging me to read more of his work!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love your choices. There are some books I loved as well, To the Lighthouse and Effi Briest, Berger and others I want to discover next year like Pamela Richardson. And I should finally start to read the Quignards I have. Should I like him, I will be spoilt for choice, As I’m French.
    The quote is marvelous.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. buriedinprint

    Such an enticing list: quite enjoyed reading it! I’ve left Pilgrimage unfinished as well, but it is such an impressive work. Somewhere, through the year, I must have missed your post on the Stern novel, which definitely interests me; I’ll have a look for that one. Here’s to plenty of great reading in 2018!


  12. That’s so interesting, how you feel about Effi Briest. I didn’t like that book at all, but i think it’s because I’d heard it compared to Anna Karenina by several sources, and the whole time I was reading it i was thinking, “This isn’t like Anna at all!” Nor should it be. Fontane writes of his own mind and culture, not of Tolstoy’s. Silly of me to mentally compare them throughout.

    I have Other Men’s Daughters from nyrb, and I’m looking forward to that especially after seeing it on your list.

    Reading what my fellow blogging friends like, or didn’t, is so fascinating! Together we make a world. xo

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Vishy

    Beautiful post, Melissa! I want to read Compass – hoping to get started soon. I didn’t know that Heinrich von Kleist wrote a book on Penthesilea! I love Kleist and I love Penthesilea and I can’t wait to read this book! Pilgrimage by Dorothy Richardson – you have only hinted about the book but it is casting a spell on me already. I will add it to my wishlist. Thanks so much for sharing your favourites list! Glad you had a wonderful reading year in 2017! Hope you have a great reading year in 2018! Happy New Year!


  14. Such an interesting list, Melissa! And I love that William Styron quote… so true! Happy 2018!

    Liked by 1 person

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