New Year Reads: The Essential Books to Have on Your Radar In 2017

Thursday 22 December 2016, 03:00 PM

Michael Briers
Journalist , Freelance


New Year, new read? Though fitness is so often cited as the go-to New Year’s Resolution, we’ve pulled together a collection of books to help kick your brain into shape come 2017. 

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight, 2016 will no doubt go down as an historic, if disconcerting year. We’ve had Trump, we’ve had Brexit; we’ve seen underdogs triumph in the face of adversity and, frankly, the unimaginable come to pass. But for many, 2017 represents a new start — a new opportunity — to make a vow not to one’s friends or family, but to oneself, that involves some form of self-improvement — physically, mentally, even spiritually. 

It’s a cathartic tradition that can be traced all the way back to the Babylonian era, where citizens would swear before the gods to pay off their debts. Heck, sometimes that’s still the case, but the modern-day New Year Resolution as we know it is such an inclusive concept that many choose to dream up their own to-do list in anticipation of December 31st. 

From signing up to the local gym to simply spending more time with family, there’s no telling which NYR you’ll settle on, but here, we humbly present to you a list of engrossing novels to put your brain through its paces. And so, as we stand on the cusp of 2017, we’ve compiled a collection of must-read novels — both fiction and nonfiction — that ought to be on your radar going into the New Year. 

Hello, is This Planet Earth? 

Amazon Price: Kindle & Hardcover, £9.99

Yes, Tim Peake. You’re through to Houston, how can we be of assistance? At least, that’s how we imagine the conversation between astronaut Tim Peake and the ESA (European Space Agency) panned out earlier in the year, when Peake made history by becoming the first British ESA astronaut to board the International Space Station. 

Having spent more than 185 days in orbit, Peake returned home in June of 2016, and is now ready to share his once-in-a-lifetime experience with the world in the form of Hello, is This Planet Earth? My View From the International Space Station. 

Peppered with breath-taking aerial photos of cities illuminated at night, the Aurora, and awe-inspiring vistas of oceans, mountains and deserts, Hello, is This Planet Earth? is as at once mesmerising and deeply provocative. This is Peake inviting you into the front row seat of what is perhaps the greatest view imaginable: Planet Earth, suspended in the inky blackness of space. As Peake himself writes, “it's impossible to look down on Earth from space and not be mesmerised by the fragile beauty of our planet.” Now, commencing countdown, engines on…

The Glass Castle 

Amazon Price: £5.99 Kindle | £8.99 Paperback 

You’ve heard the saying that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but what of glass castles? Jeannette Walls’  heartfelt memoir The Glass Castle is a fierce, unflinching account of the turbulent relationship between her and her parents, Rose Mary and Rex, one that will soon be repackaged into a feature film starring Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, and Room breakout Brie Larson. 

But at its literary core, The Glass Castle is a nostalgic memoir in which Walls is able to find beauty amidst hardship — love amidst hate. Growing up in the Deep South, Jeanette and her three siblings were raised under deeply flawed parents whose “ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation.” What’s so immediately engrossing about The Glass Castle is not necessarily the subject matter per se, but the way in which the story is told, juxtaposing Walls’ modern-day success as a journalist with her blissful memories of a childhood that, while unconventional, wasn’t without its wistful charm. 

Having spent more than five years on The New York Times best-seller list, The Glass Castle almost recommends itself, but with a film adaptation in the works, now is as good a time as any to get acquainted with the Walls family — warts and all. 

R.J. Palacio’s Wonder

Amazon Price: £4.99 Kindle | £3.85 Paperback 

Through time, you’ve no doubt been subjected to an adult rambling on about how the years spent in school were the best time of their life. I remember. I remember baulking at such a ludicrous claim while still dressed up in uniform — the mountain of homework, the early mornings; how could anyone be expected to cherish these memories in years to come? Hindsight is 20/20, as the old saying goes. Now I, like many others, reflect on their school years with a mixture of nostalgia and innocent happiness. That’s not always the case, however. 

In Wonder, R.J. Palacio’s heart-wrenching novel, we’re introduced to August (Auggie) Pullman, a young boy born with a facial deformity that effectively prevents him from attending mainstream school — until now, that is. Palacio’s story really kicks into gear when Auggie enrolls at Beecher Prep. Facing discrimination from his classmates due to a frankly extraordinary face, Wonder is the poignant story of an outsider struggling to assimilate with everyday norms with a simple, powerful message: You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out. 

It’s a relatively short yarn, too, one that’s designed to be consumed in a single sitting and, much like The Glass Castle before it, will soon be headed for the silver screen in 2017, where Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson will headline the adaptation. 

AsapScience: Answers to the World's Weirdest Questions, Most Persistent Rumors, and Unexplained Phenomena

Amazon Price: £12.57 Paperback 

Curious as to why our bodies subject us to the horrors of a hangover? What about the ol’ 5-second rule? Does being cold really make you more vulnerable to being sick? These are just some of the age-old questions and queries that line the pages of AsapScience: Answers to the World's Weirdest Questions, Most Persistent Rumors, and Unexplained Phenomena. 

If the cover title is something of a mouthful, the content within couldn’t be more different. This is a friendly and welcoming presentation of science at its purest form, and the fact that AsapScience’s first-ever book tackles these questions in such an accessible manner — questions that have perhaps lingered in the back of your mind with no real answer — ensures this insightful novel is the very definition of unputdownable.

Whether you’re familiar with AsapScience’s YouTube channel and its subsequent art style or not is irrelevant; Mitchell Moffit and Greg Brown have crafted a quirky, informative book that is at times funny, but also refreshingly entertaining. 

American Gods

Amazon Price: £5.99 Kindle | £6.29 Paperback 

While it’s not strictly speaking a new release — Neil Gaiman’s award-winning epic first graced book shelves in 2001 — American Gods is poised for a big splash next year thanks to a live-action TV series. It’s earmarked for 2017, and has assembled some truly top-tier talent including Ian McShane, Gillian Anderson, Peter Stormare and many more.  

For the uninitiated, American Gods is a fantasy epic that chronicles  a raging battle between the old gods and the new. But Game of Thrones this is not; instead, Gaiman’s tome is a timely story in which the traditional gods steadily begin to lose believers to an upstart pantheon of deities that reflect our modern-day love of money, technology, media, celebrity, and drugs. We follow Shadow Moon, an ex-con who becomes embroiled in that very battle, and if ever there was an elevator pitch for American Gods, it would be the lovechild of Clash Of The Titans and The Grifters.

Still no word on when Starz plans to premiere American Gods at the time of writing, but rest assured, a TV adaptation is coming, lending you enough time to fully immerse yourself in Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed mythic saga. 

The Winds of Winter

Price: TBA

Is it foolish to think that 2017 will herald the long-anticipated release of George R.R. Martin’s literary sequel? Maybe. Fans of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire know all too well that the author’s sixth fantasy novel has spent an awful long time in the oven — remember its predecessor, A Dance With Dragons, first launched in 2011 — and the fact that HBO’s über-popular Game of Thrones series recently overtook its literary forebear on the Westeros timeline has left many long-time fans frothing for Winds of Winter. 

Still no word of a release window from George R.R. Martin, but considering Game of Thrones is gearing up for its penultimate season in 2017, Winds of Winter is surely — surely — closer now than ever before.

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