Well, we made it. But we haven’t got much time before your internet service provider charges you extra to look at free WordPress blogs, so we’d better get moving.
2017 was a year. It was a year that was graciously one day shorter than its predecessor, so there’s that. It was a year of blah blah blah blah blah. Let’s move on, shall we?
Please enjoy this year’s list of fifty-odd books, albums, and places I discovered in 2017. Per usual, these are all things that I suggest you discover for yourself, and I have worked to make it relatively easy for you to at least begin to do so. Books have links to excerpts (when available). Albums uniformly include videos and Spotify links. Places link to web presences and should be read as a sort of photoessay. Non-credited photos taken by yours truly or #mywife (and used with permission).
17 books for 2017
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (2017)
I read this book twice. Once on its own, once while listening to the 166-narrator audiobook (incidentally the only audiobook I’ve ever listened to). George Saunders’ first novel. Postmodern historical fiction. Won the Man Booker Prize. Just read it already, what are you waiting for?
Zeroville by Steve Erickson (2007)
This year’s gateway book. The first of seven Steve Erickson books I read this year, and the best of the lot. Kind of excited to see what James Franco will do with it.
One of the Boys by Daniel Magariel (2017)
The first book I read this year (as an ARC), motivated in part by a George Saunders blurb. Brutal and horrifying. Five stars.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (2017)
This book is equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming, and exceptionally written.
What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Amirah (2017)
My favorite short story collection from this year. I started an International Reading Club at my library where we read a short story set in another region of the world and then discuss it over some snacks from that region. “Light” from this collection was the first story we read.
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2017)
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay anthology, one per year of Obama’s presidency and one in the aftermath of what’s-his-name winning the presidency, is both depressing and thought-provoking. A lot of these essays are available online. Read some or all of them.
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2017)
The title really says it all. A quick, important read.
The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (1953)
One of those books I’ve been meaning to get to for years. The longest, eighth best book I read this year.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
Really enjoyed the show Hulu made out of this, so I read the book with the visual realization fresh on my mind. Would recommend both.
Basketball (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano (2017)
Shea asks the questions you didn’t know needed to be asked, like “Who would have the better 1997-98 season if they changed places, Karl Malone or a bear?” then answers them definitively. Hilarious and fantastically illustrated.
Sister novels, and the second and third of what I would call masterpieces by Steve Erickson.
The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon (1956)
A book about the West Indian immigrant experience in ’50s London. Another candidate for my International Reading Club.
Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Nicole LeBlanc (2003)
Narrative non-fiction. Nicole LeBlanc spent ten years with this family and put together something extraordinary. Reads like a trainwreck.
X: A Highly Specific, Defiantly Incomplete History of the Early 21st Century by Chuck Klosterman (2017)
Another really good book of essays that you can find the majority of on the internet.
The Prank by Anton Chekhov (1882)
A self-selection of Chekhov’s comic stories. This was my introduction to Chekhov and I loved it. I tried to read a different compilation, The Essential Tales of Chekhov, afterwards and just couldn’t get into it, so I think this is where I have to stop with Chekhov.
Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut (1952)
Vonnegut’s first novel, and the last of Vonnegut’s published works for me to read. Not his best and not his worst. He hadn’t yet found that vintage Vonnegut voice, but you can see it in there peeking out. I read this after reading Ginger Strand’s The Brothers Vonnegut, a biographical account of Kurt and his brother Bernard’s time at General Electric, which is really the backdrop on which Player Piano is satirically set.
NOTE: Next year I’ll be participating in Book Riot’s 2018 Read Harder Challenge. It’s an opportunity to beef up on my Reader’s Advisory skills by foraying into genres I haven’t traditionally gravitated toward. I mentioned last year that, since I wasn’t participating in any challenges this year, that I’d have the opportunity to read some of the more time-consuming novels I’ve been putting off. I knocked Augie March off that list, but several others remain unread. Fortunately, a couple fit the criterion for the Read Harder Challenge, so I will almost definitely read them in 2018.
17 albums for 2017
Looking at this list, I tended to stick to what I knew this year. A lot of my favorite artists put out new albums, and so that took up a good bit of my album-listening this year. A lot of these albums are really good, but I’m not sure anything from this year will ultimately impact my all-time favorites list. But that’s just me.
This is also the year I primarily started using Spotify, which has both altered the way I listen to music and the amount of music I listen to. Spotify is both a discovery tool AND gives me access to pretty much any artist, album, and/or song I can think of. The result, for me, has been a tendency away from listening to albums and towards listening to individual songs.
All this to say that maybe I’m not the best authority on albums here in the year 2017 (but maybe check out my playlists?). Nevertheless, these are my seventeen favorite album discoveries of the year.
Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings (1973)
american dream by LCD Soundsystem (2017)
MASSEDUCTION by St. Vincent (2017)
I like to read the title of this album as “Más seduction”. Happy Birthday, Johnny knocks me out every time.
Sleep Well Beast by The National (2017)
Guppy by Charly Bliss (2017)
Indie pop. Twee AF.
Power, Corruption & Lies by New Order (1983)
Abandoned Mansion by Dr. Dog (2016)
Lotta Sea Lice by Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile (2017)
Yours Conditionally by Tennis (2017)
Science Fiction by Brand New (2017)
Goes to show that the 2004 version of me is still in there somewhere. I will defend this choice as necessary.
Colors by Beck (2017)
Antisocialites by Alvvays (2017)
Rocket by (Sandy) Alex G (2017)
Hug of Thunder by Broken Social Scene (2017)
A Dream in Sound by Elf Power (1999)
I did a bit of exploration of the Elephant 6 label this year. Let this be its representative.
Everything Now by Arcade Fire (2017)
This album is difficult to rank. If you turned this into an EP, it’d be pretty solid. As a full-length, it’s hit or miss. Not sure whether my enjoyment of Put Your Money On Me is ironic or not. We saw them perform at an under-booked Pepsi Center this year, and I genuinely don’t know if the under-booking was orchestrated by the band as some sort of statement on consumer culture, or because nobody liked the new album. Either way, we wound up in seats way more expensive than what we paid, and I experienced one of my favorite live performances of all-time. Ultimately, the concert is probably why Everything Now gets a spot.
The B-52’s (1979)
NOTE: I’ve created a playlist with all of the videos I’ve included in this section for ease of access. Here it is:
17 places for 2017
2017 was one of the grimmest years on the darkest timeline that is American history, but for me, somehow, it was a year of successes. After a second year of teaching kids math, I returned to the library world, and am both loving and kind of kicking ass at it. After I started the new job, we bought a house. Its location is pretty much as close to ideal as it gets, as you will see from what follows. Since moving, I also bought and paid off a new car, and completely paid off of my student loan debt.
(I would accept a less personally successful 2018 if we could turn the House and Senate next November. No matter how good things have been for me as an individual, I’ve woken up every morning in 2017 angry and ashamed at the direction American leadership has taken.
I don’t know what I’m supposed to call this place for short. Their website is sojournerbeers.com. Am I supposed to call them Sojourner? Anyway, I call this place Intrepid. Hands down my favorite new brewery in Greater Denver. Incredibly inventive and flavorful beers, including a Turkish Coffee Stout and the best IPA I’ve ever had, their Basil IPA. I have both met realtors here and taken my coworkers here for Happy Hour. Pairs well with First Friday Art Walks.
I spent time in three different metropolitan areas (metropoles) this year, and food halls were a common bond between the three. My favorite four were as follows, in the following order:
Krog Street Market, Atlanta, GA
Conservatory Underground Beer Garden & Food Hall, Houston, TX
I have an ideal version of what a food hall is supposed to look like: an abundance of food vendors with an interesting, reasonably priced variety of options; a local beer selection that you can carry around with you; ample communal seating at which to eat and drink.
Atlanta overall had the best food halls. Krog Street is my representative here, but Ponce City Market was also pretty fun. It checked all of the boxes and provided the best overall atmosphere. To get there from where we were staying in Cabbagetown, we had to walk through this amazing graffiti-filled tunnel:
So it gets bonus points for that.
Conservatory in Houston was also pretty great. A kind of grungy, literally underground food hall, it also checked all of the boxes. It has a communal space but it also has walls. We sat in a booth in the corner of a room on the other side of four arcade games, drank beer, and ate some incredible Vietnamese food.
I think Denver is still in need of food halls that check all of the boxes. The Denver Central Market has a really fantastic selection (the shakshuka at Izzio is one of the more memorable meals I’ve had this year). Curio emphasizes cocktails and has a lacking draft list, and the inside communal space is claustrophobic. The outdoor patio, which you have to really commit to, faces the most contentiously gentrified street in Denver. Stanley Marketplace is overly compartmentalized, without enough emphasis on communal seating. You are going there to eat at Annette OR Denver Biscuit Company OR Stanley Beer Hall, not to eat a biscuit sandwich while getting a flight from the beer hall. We just had our office holiday party there, and it still isn’t entirely clear to me as to whether we should have taken beer from Cheluna into the communal area. I also did library outreach at the Stanley when The Big Wonderful had their Summer market there, so they get bonus points for letting us have a White Elephant there without too much trouble, and for helping to create this photo:
I’m really hopeful that Zeppelin Station will be Denver’s first food hall to really check all the boxes (NOTE: Avanti mostly serves Dogfish Head), and won’t be surprised to see it at the top of my list next year.
We went to The Real Dill‘s pickle distillery for their five-year anniversary party back in May. We screen printed anniversary shirts, ate pickle pizza, won crowlers from Spangalang, and drank a lot of pickle-inspired drinks. Needless to say, it was a pretty great time. Kelly captured my enthusiasm fairly well.
Sawyer Yards, Houston, TX
A lot of things about our visit to Houston blew me away. The aforementioned Conservatory was one of them. The weather was another. It snowed in Houston for the first time in eight years the day after we got there. Then the next four days were the four most beautiful days in Houston weather history*. On one of those beautiful days, we went to Sawyer Yards, a campus of artist studios and small businesses, including Holler Brewing Co., which, along with City Acre, was among the best new breweries we visited. We happened to be visiting during one of their monthly markets, where vendors set up outside with this incredible art wall as the backdrop and most of the artists’ studios are open. It is such a wonderful celebration of Houston’s arts and culture, and it was the Houston experience that blew me away the most.
(*using my personal sample of ~7,700 days)
Disclaimer: Kelly won us tickets to this.
Velorama was part bicycle race, part marketplace, part music festival. I didn’t much care about the racing, and anyway it was seemingly completely separate from the market and music, so I am judging it as a Festival by an incomplete set of metrics. We also realized a little too late that several Drink RiNo breweries were selling crowlers that you could take into the festival. But the real reason we went, to see The New Pornographers AND Wilco perform on the same stage, was an all-timer. (Arcade Fire’s show this year, as I have mentioned, was another all-timer.)
This one’s a two-for-one. I really love our new neighborhood. Just to the south on either side of us, right off I-70, are these twin parks, two blocks long and a half-mile wide, with lakes in the middle of them. It’s really surreal to be walking on a trail around a lake twenty feet from a major interstate highway.
We went to Kachina for Easter, and went back for our anniversary. It’s a great space with really good Southwestern food, including Navajo Tacos made with fry bread. Probably my favorite new restaurant in Denver. Kachina is inside the Maven Hotel, which also has a gallery (see below) and a cocktail bar inside of it, both of which have contributed to the overall Kachina experience. The alley behind The Maven is being developed into a “micro-district” called Dairy Block. I’m really excited to see how this area evolves in the next couple of years.
(NOTE: Yes, that was a transition-by-Kelly-gesturing-towards-things. Now prepare for a transition-by-fry-bread.)
Kind of cheating on this one because there are so many different places I love at 44th & Lowell. Since moving, Tocabe has become our go-to restaurant. Think Chipotle but with fry bread (!!!). Scratch Burrito is really inventive and delicious and has a great tap selection. Ragin’ Hog has some awesome barbecue and probably the best stew I’ve ever had. Billy’s Inn had me at potato boats and won Kelly over with their decor (see below). I grocery shop at Safeway and get gas at Safeway Fuel using my Safeway card. I haven’t even been to Mago’s Magic Shoppe but it can only add to this intersection’s credibility.
Did a little birthday bowling here. A twelve-laner, really great atmosphere, great animations. On West 38th Avenue in Wheat Ridge pretty close to Colorado Plus. Will go again, and again and again, for the rest of my life.
The name says it all. Mexican hamburgers walking distance from my house.
Neighborhood coffee shop and bakery with a personable staff. Also great for finding last-minute gifts.
Representative Tennyson Street restaurant. Tennyson is a very good street for food, and wildly undercovered by Denver food journalists, which for me is ideal. Vital Root is an insanely good vegetarian/vegan restaurant, and a really interesting space, complete with patio herb garden, children’s play place, and three different types of water on tap.
Odyssey is very difficult to get to. It’s off of a hiking trail, but you have to cross a street and walk (or I guess drive) to the back of this network of warehouses. So not convenient, but a good space with good beer and usually a food truck on hand.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back with fifty-four new discoveries for 2018, if 2018 will have me. I’m also blogging for my library now. We’ll see if any of that effort transfers over here.