The Last Bookstore – Los Angeles, CA
My favorite genres in non-fiction are mostly science and history, and in fiction – Science Fiction, Scandinavian Noir, Japanese Thrillers to mention a few – but I read whatever I can get my hands on and books that someone recommends to me.
In 2017, I read about 50 books (down from 62 books in 2015), here are some of my favorites of the year.
1. Homo Deus – Yuval Noah Hariri
His first book Sapiens was very enlightening, this is just as great. A stimulating read and also provocative! This isn’t about predicting the future, but a broad and intelligent look at the past of humanity and the abundance of possibilities for the future – discussing areas such as such as automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, bioengineering, algorithms, etc..and how they may affect our future. Nothing is guaranteed, but many of the ideas discussed in this book are certainly possible. This should be a must read for anyone pondering the future of humanity.
2. Artemis – Andy Weir
If you loved The Martian – you will absolutely love “Artemis”. It’s not a sequel, but still a really great, different and well written science fiction thriller.
Mankind has a colony, Artemis, on the moon in the distant future. Our heroine is Jazz (Jasmine) Bashara, a Saudi woman, extremely courageous, fierce, intelligent but sometimes makes poor choices, somewhat of a female Han Solo, a smuggler. She gets caught up in a dangerous situation and has to use her wits, talent and fitness to deal with corruption, murder, crime syndicates and more. A complex but truly satisfying story. It moves very fast and is addictive, you won’t be able to put the book down. Sure to become a movie but I don’t always trust Hollywood to do justice to the book.
3. The Wandering Falcon – Jamil Ahmad
This is a beautiful book, in the future it will be regarded as a classic and one that I recommend everyone should read. It’s a story set in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas about a boy who later gets named Toz Baz (Black Falcon). He loses his parents and goes wondering from place to place, and each place has a story to it. Sometimes the story is very raw, sad, brutal and sometimes humanizing. The stories are moving and reveal the tribal culture of a remote region that most of the world still know nothing about.
4. Exit West – Mohsin Hamid
Best book of 2017, it was the winner of the LA Times Fiction Book of 2018 and the Aspen Words Literary Prize. An amazing story of two young people living in an unnamed land, fall in love in the midst of a war and decide to migrate to flee the violence, first to a Greek island, then to the UK, and then America. Each place they go to, they face challenges, backlash and the violence they were fleeing from is following them everywhere. A fascinating book and extremely relevant in today’s world of wars, violence, refugee crises, etc. Mohsin Hamid writes very beautifully, takes you on a moving and emotional journey with his words. He’ll sure to be considered one of the greatest writers of the 21st century.
5. The Course of Love – Alain de Botton
In today’s day and age, too many people believe that love should be like a fairy tale, that everything should be how they envision it, like and want it to be. This book is a tale of Rabih and Kirsten, a story of a marriage and the everyday joys, pains, duty, betrayal and sacrifice. However, the story happens in a mundane sort of way that is more like reality. This book is really a teaching tool. The story reflects the life, turmoil and love that is part of every marriage. For those that believe there may be a perfect person for you or some sort of fairy tale partnership; this author opens your eyes to the reality that this does not happen, but that one can have hope and be content in what is.
6. Snowblind – Ragnar Jonasson
This is the first book of a brilliant new Scandinavian thriller crime series – The Dark Iceland series. The setting is an old fishing village of Siglufjördur in Northern Iceland, it has only one mountain pass to get into, during the winter avalanches occur and no one can get in or out of the town. Also, in this part of Iceland, they live in 24 hours of darkness due to the mountains hiding the sun until summer approaches. The protagonist is Ari Thor who has just graduated from police academy and takes a job in the isolated village after the retirement of one of their officers. His first adventure is a murder mystery in the town where nothing ever happens. The story is full of twists, suspense and mystery with interesting characters. The rights for a TV series have already been acquired by a British company.
7. 1Q84 – Haruki Murakami
This is the first book I read by Haruki Murakami. It was long but fantastic. He’s indeed a brilliant writer and tells very unique stories. This novel is very well crafted, the story flows incredibly well taking the reader into a mildly dystopic alternative world, an endlessly engaging one, giving the reader in turn an alternate view of his or her own world. It will keep you thinking about it long after you have put it down. I will definitely be reading more books by him.
8. Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi – Elif Shafak
This came highly recommended by my friend Umi, an avid reader, and indeed became the best book I read that year and one of my all-time favorites, one you want to read again. When I finished reading it, I wanted everyone to read it too. There are two parallel stories weaving in and out. One is set today about a middle aged American woman and Aziz, the author of the book she is reading to write a review on. The other story is of the great 13th century scholar Rumi and his relationship to Shams, the Sufi mystic that inspired Rumi to become one of the greatest poets, scholars and Sufi figures of the world today. Although it is a novel, it is rich in history and philosophy as well as literature. It will have a deeply profound effect on you as it did to me. The “Forty Rules” provide reflections that offer insight into the foundations of Sufi philosophy.
9. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra – Vaseem Khan
Another Umi recommendation that was delightful. Set in Mumbai, Inspector Ashwin Chopra is a police officer with strong morals, principles and values. Due to a heart attack, he is forced into early retirement. On his last day, a boy is found dead, his superior decides to call it a drowning/suicide and closes the investigation. However, even though Inspector Chopra is retired he follows up secretly on the investigation on his own while in retirement. At the same time, he is gifted a baby elephant by an uncle that becomes his sidekick. The story is full of humor as well as suspense, thrills and adventure. The first in the series but definitely worth the read – light, simple writing and an uncomplicated story that goes down very well.
10. Whispering Shadows: A Novel – Jan-Philipp Sendker
An Umi recommendation that introduced me to a fantastic new author. This story takes place in Hong Kong and mainland China. Paul is a retired expat journalist in contemporary China who tries to crack a murder case as he battles his own personal demons. Both a murder mystery and an account of a father’s attempt to come to terms with his young son’s death. There are some observations about contemporary China that are deftly woven into the story…politics, corruption, history, and culture that make it interesting as well.
Other highly notable ones I recommend:
The Book of Yunus Emre – Paul Smith
The life and poetry of one of the most important Turkish poets has had a tremendous influence on Turkish literature. He was a Sufi mystic and a contemporary of Rumi but wrote in Turkish instead of Persian, which was the dominant language of the time and region. His poetry expresses a deep personal mysticism, humanism and his love of God.
In the Bazaar of Love – Paul E. Losensky/Sunil Sharma
This is the translated poetry of the immortal legend…Amir Khusrau. He was one of the greatest poets of the India, his poetry, songs and verses are found everywhere today…from people singing his songs in villages in India, to Qawwals like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, to present day Bollywood and Pakistani films featuring his songs. His contribution to Northern Indian Classical music is seen everywhere also…he is the inventor of Qawwali, the Sitar and the Tabla as well.
A Couplet of Khusrau:
oh Khusrau, the river of love runs in strange directions.
the one who jumps into it drowns, and one who drowns is the one who gets across…
And another one:
I have become you, and you have become me
I am the body, you the soul
so that no one can say, hereafter,
that you are someone else and I am someone else…
The Silent Dead – Tetsuya Honda
The first in a new Japanese thriller series, this one features a female detective.
Police – Jo Nesbo
10th book in the “Harry Hole” series and doesn’t disappoint. A densely plotted thriller with twists, turns, thrills, tense moments with some new characters and some of the old memorable ones. The way the characters have changed throughout the series is brilliant and entertaining. If you like Scandinavian thrillers, this is a must read best to start from the first Harry Hole book in the series.
The Stranger – Camilla Lackberg
The 4th book in the series, the vivid narration is really great and will take to Fjallabacka, where you become familiar with all the characters, the drama and feel like you are living in that town. I heard there is a TV series made as well.
The Ice Beneath Her – Camilla Grebe
For fans of Scandinavian thrillers, a dynamic thriller.
The Complete Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi
A masterpiece of graphic novels. An exceptionally charming, funny and real account of the Iranian revolution and its aftermath, through the eyes of a young woman who lived through much of it.