Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Several months ago, I decided to start keeping track of all the books I read or listened to (big audiobook fan!) beginning with 2017.
In total, I read or listened to thirty-two books over the course of 2017. Not as many as I would have hoped, but returning to full-time work has put a bit of a crunch on my reading time. That said, by far my favorite read from 2017 was Stephen King's The Dark Tower series.
A few caveats:
As the word series suggests, The Dark Tower series is not a single book, but seven and a half books (depending on how you count The Wind Through the Keyhole, which technically is in the middle of the series, but was written after the end of the series had been completed and is somewhat of a standalone).
I actually read the first book, The Gunslinger, several years ago, but then lost interest after starting the second, The Drawing of the Three. Books two through seven were read in 2017 though.
The series, which centers around a man named Roland's quest to reach the titular Dark Tower is a bit hard to characterize: it's a western (Roland is the last of an order of cowboy/ knight/ Jedis called gunslingers), it's post-apocalyptic sci-fi, it's fantasy and occasionally it's horror all wrapped into one. More than anything though, it's kind of a mess, and for this reason above all others, I loved it.
I first started reading The Gunslinger after hearing some comparisons, in terms of scale, between it and The Lord of the Rings. And while there are enormous differences between the two epics, not the least of which is how Tolkien's work never crosses PG-13 territory whereas The Dark Tower is a hard R, the thing both have in common is the impressive amount of world building each does. Nearly all fantasy books contain some amount of world building. Yet in most cases the reader gets the feeling that the world was built for the express purpose of the story, and what looks like a rich setting is no more than an elaborate movie set that disappears just outside the view of the camera's lens. Both Tolkien's Middle-Earth and King's similarly named Mid World are different though. They're fully realized worlds where historical characters and events are mentioned in passing and without explanation while simultaneously carrying weight. Even the way the characters speak (which is quite developed if it do ya fine) has a depth and richness to it. Still, if The Dark Tower's world building is impressive, what I found most impressive was the series's risk taking--even when the risks taken landed slightly off the mark.
A Song of Ice and Fire (the books upon which Game of Thrones are based) is impressive in its planning. Mysteries laid very early pay off later ("Hold the door!"). It is exquisitely plotted and this gives the reader great satisfaction. The Dark Tower on the other hand feels more like an improvisation and it makes brave turns mid-flight which I found truly surprising--especially given King's reputation as a commercial writer. The first book seems, like LOTR, almost completely disconnected from our world. From the first sentence ("The Man in Black fled across the Desert and the Gunslinger followed."), we are thrust into an unfamiliar post-apocalyptic landscape full of wizards, demons and mutants. Yet then, in the second book the series enters more familiar territory as Roland the Gunslinger crosses universes into a recognizable New York to recruit a heroine addict from the 1980s and a crippled, African-American civil rights activist from the 50s into a kind of fellowship (or, as they call it, ka-tet). By the latter half of the series, King is finding a way to integrate elements of Harry Potter, Star Wars, Marvel Comics, most of his own other books (most notably Salem's Lot) as well as the real-life story of the car accident that nearly killed him into a kind of dizzying meta-fictional soup of a series.
Several times I was left asking myself: "What the f*** is King doing?" Plot threads ended abruptly. Characters who had been built up died unceremoniously. Occasionally I worried that King would pull a LOST and waste a beloved story with a botched ending. Ultimately though, in my opinion at least, he lands the plane--bumpily but still intact.
What an amazing ride.