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A Book Look: Best reads of 2017


By Kate Hayden,

My planner, work desk and home coffee table are scattered with little notes.

“Math Tools for Journalists,” reads a scribble in last week’s planner layout, next to a list of last-minute holiday to-dos. “Fugitive Pieces,” I wrote in April, underneath a note about the upcoming Charles City High School prom. 

Coming May 8 2018
What I’m most excited about for next year: Coming May 8 2018.

I write down a good deal more book titles than I ever get around to reading, but I keep searching anyway. 

While there are good, book-loving devotees online who chronicle the book industry today, I always find my favorites are recommendations from friends and family. So here you are, Floyd County: with the help of your neighbors, here are (some of) the best books Floyd County read in 2017.


  • George Cummins: “The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared,” Jonas Jonasson; “City of Thorns — Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp,” Ben Rawlence; “The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot,” Blake Harden (the true recounting of a North Korean pilot who defected in an MIG-15 after the war’s end. Provides much needed background on the current impasse in the Korean Peninsula, Cummins said); “An Appeal to the World — The Way to Peace in a Time of Division,” the Dalai Lama. “In his diplomatic style, the Dalai Lama questions the nationalistic trends like Brexit or pulling out of climate agreements, NAFTA, and other trade agreements, etc. with a stroke of the Presidential pen. … It is a quick read and a book that I hope world leaders would read and implement,” Cummins said.
  • Kristin Hall shared a few children’s books: “The Most Perfect Snowman,” Chris Britt; “Snowmen at Night,” Caralyn Buehner; “Red and Lulu,” Matt Tavares; and “Thanksgiving in the Woods,” Phyllis Aldures.
  • Thomas Nelson: “The White Donkey,” Maximilian Uriarte. The book is the only graphic novel submitted this week, a story of a Marine in the Iraq war and PTSD. “The author also writes a weekly comic called ‘Terminal Lance’ which is one of my favorite things.”
  • Jennifer Nance: “Homegoing,” Yaa Gyasi. “I love listening to books during my long commutes and the narrator, Dominic Hoffman, was more than generous with his unique style of story telling. The book follows the generations of two women born of the same mother without ever meeting … Absolutely worth the read, but definitely worth the listen!”
  • Trudy McKeag: “East of Eden,” John Steinbeck; “All the Ugly and Wonderful Things,” Bryn Greenwood; “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Margaret Atwood.
  • Bret Spurgin: “Basketball (and Other Things),” Shea Serrano. “‘Which Dunks are in the Disrespectful Dunk Hall of Fame?’ [is] my favorite chapter of any books of all time.”
  • Robert Pittman: “The Power,” Naomi Alderman. “Great piece of science fiction that flips who is stronger, man or woman.”
  • Gene Hall: “Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency,” Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. 
  • Jaime DeBruyn: “Prisoners of Geography,” Tim Marshall (“Super fascinating look into the limits placed on world societies by natural geographical variables and how it impacts and motivates political climates and strategies around the world”); “Anatomy of Terror,” Ali Soufan (“Great analysis and overview of the rise of Al-Qaeda, IS and what it took to make the conflict into what it is today”); and “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus,” Nabeel Qureshi (“My fav of the year. I learned SO much about Islam from this book, and LOVED the narrative.”) Whew. Put things in perspective: Jaime’s list is much easier than a worldwide plane ticket and 4+ doctorate degrees.


  • “A House in the Sky,” Amanda Lindhout. Jaime DeBruyn hooked me up with this story and it was a spirited read about difficult circumstances. Lindhout is a Canadian journalist and was freelancing in Somalia when she was kidnapped with an Australian photographer just days into their arrival.
  • “The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap,” Stephanie Coontz. First published in 1992, I read the 2016 edition. Coontz examines misconceptions about American families of the past and the social-political implications for our future. Sounds heavy, but the writing is smooth, intrepid and stacked with sources for the skeptical eye.
  • “Crazy in America: The Hidden Tragedy of Our Criminalized Mentally Ill,” Mary Beth Pfeiffer. I purchased it to read the true account of an Iowan woman who blinded herself while incarcerated, but her story is just one chapter of a nation-wide crisis. This book is painful. 


  • “The Widows of Malabar Hill,” Sujata Massey, Jan. 9. Mystery set in 1920s India, based on the historical first female lawyer in Bombay.
  • “Sadness is a White Bird,” Moriel Rothman-Zecher, Feb. 13. A young man tries to reconcile with two Palestinian siblings before he goes to serve in the Israeli army.
  • “Macbeth,” Jo Nesbo, April 10. A modern Shakespearean adaptation places Macbeth as a paranoid police inspector in a violent drug war.  
  • “Barracoon,” Zora Neale Hurston, May 8. True story of Cudjo Lewis, the last known survivor of the Atlantic slave trade when Hurston interviewed him in 1931. (I am SO EXCITED FOR THIS BOOK.)

Here’s to a 2018 full of new books and new ideas!