Here it is: my #1 read of 2017: J.M. Coetzee's stunning The Life and Times of Michael K (1983). This novel, set during an imaginary civil war during apartheid in South Africa, shows the cross-country journey that a quiet, cleft-lipped gardener takes with his dying mother. He loads his mother onto a cart and wheels her across the country, ducking from tanks and criminals. Sneaking out of war-ravaged Cape Town, Michael K must dodge police, the military, and the elements to avoid being reprimanded. But when his mother dies, he's faced with only one thing: himself. Alone and stranded in the countryside, he scrounges through grass and dirt to survive, putting his knack for gardening, to use. He learns to live off the land, and to be totally independent from others. Most of all, he learns important lessons about what it means not to do, see, think, or say, but to simply "BE." And this is what this book taught me- and why it's #1- it taught me that you don't have to know everything, you don't have to be defined by what you've done or do, your inherent value lies in the sheer fact that you exist. Michael K spent his whole life being told he wasn't good enough by everyone around him. But the moment he was alone, new meaning sprouted in his life. He got to define himself, fall in love with himself and heal from all the false self-definitions he'd been fed. Obviously, this is what I got out of the book. If you read it, you might derive another sort of meaning. But I found this lesson to be so important. I read this book in March, when I was really struggling to define myself and caught in a limbo of sorts. I was desperately attaching myself to titles and affiliations, but still felt unmoored. While reading this book, I learned that all of that was unnecessary. I didn't need a title or some job to be deemed worthy. No one does. We can be divorced from everything and still be whole. There are just so many beautiful lessons in this novel. And Coetzee's writing is so melodic and perfect. And Michael K had such a beautiful soul. This book will stick with me forever. If you made it this far, thanks for reading this countdown.