2017 Roundup: Books

Books remain at the heart of the media I consume – not perhaps the most significant by volume, but certainly by the effect they have on my life. I completed 22 books in 2017: short of my 2016 total, but a respectable number.

Here are a few books I read this year that had an impact on the work I do and how I live in the world.

Upstream, Mary Oliver. (175 pages) I remain enamored of Mary’s poetry, but her essays affect me just as deeply. This new collection is full of important reflections, and her tone even in this longer form is as parsimonious as poetry.

When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chödrön (150 pages) It was my first time reading this classic and oft-referenced book reflecting on mindfulness, dealing with difficulty, and the work of a life. Pema writes with grace and depth and it’s well worth reading and re-reading. (Krista Tippett says she always has a copy with her, “because things are always falling apart!”)

Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown (194 pages) It feels like Dr. Brown has reached a new peak in her books with Braving the Wilderness. Strategies, advice, personal anecdotes, and wide implications for all of us – especially those of us who struggle to responsibly teach young people while still voicing our opinions on the state of society.

Beartown, Fredrik Backman (432 pages) Backman writes beautifully, and is skillful at writing at multiple levels simultaneously – just as Wilde could write a play with plot but still had pithy lines on every page, Backman can tell a powerful story while reflecting deeply on wider culture. This book, which touches on toxic masculinity, youth sports culture, and small-town vibes, seemed to have as much impact on my own approach with students as any non-fiction book I read this year.

Norse Mythology, Neil Gaiman (281 pages) My background in Roman culture left me fascinated by the similarities and differences with Norse mythology, with which I am less familiar. Neil always writes compellingly with clarity, wit, and I was fascinated with the balance he strikes between his own tone and the tone of the original Norse myths – the sound is distinct from any other Gaiman writing I’ve enjoyed.

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Amy Krouse Rosenthal (317 pages) Amy was one of the most joyful writers I’ve ever interacted with, and her joy spilled into her children’s books and adult books as well as so many other projects, from films to something like live-art experiments. Such joy. This is her final memoir, released shortly before she died from cancer. This book has a remarkable creative component – you can actually interact with the author and other readers via text as you read the book.


Every year I am surprised by what books speak to me, and by what books I’m not thinking about even a few months later. I hope you find some books among this list that speak to you!