Our Favorite Reads of 2017!
Last year I read a ton of books… this year, not so much. I started a lot of books but I wasn’t able to finish all of them. Maybe it was the general malaise I felt / feel about what is happening in our country or maybe my obsession with true crime podcasts filled my drive time / audio-book time.
Of the books I did manage to read all the way to the end, these were my three favorites:
1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter navigates the duality of her world, between her working class family life in a poverty-stricken neighborhood and her experiences with her wealthy private school friends. When one of her best friends from the neighborhood is killed, Starr’s life is turned upside down and she must reconcile the two spheres she’s been living in. I got to walk around in Starr’s world during one of the hardest times of her life and I feel lucky to have spent time with a smart, funny, loving character who chooses to speak up for the injustice she witnesses.
2. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
You may have heard of Lindy West from the episode of This American Life: Tell Me I’m Fat where she talks about being trolled on the internet about her weight and how she chose to fight back. Shrill is a memoir about misogyny, fat shaming, falling in love, being a writer, and much more. West’s voice is powerful and cuts through the bullshit about what’s “appropriate” to talk about.
3. The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman
Goodman once again sets her suspenseful story in the Hudson River Valley, this time focusing on two married writers who move back to their college town and into the historic, unnerving house of their former professor. As always, the writing is clear and crisp with a bit of supernatural mystery thrown in to make this an easy and fun read.
I set out to read over 30 books in 2017 and only finished 10. My goal for 2018 is to finish 25 books, which feels very ambitious after having just typed the previous sentence...
Finding time to read has been a struggle ever since we opened the shop - but I still read whenever I can! Here are my favorites from the past year:
1. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (2010)
I cannot believe it took me seven years to get around to reading this book - and now I recommend it to everyone I can. Set in a future Africa, this novel turns the conventional fantasy narrative on its head. Onyesonwu is a would-be sorceress in search of a teacher, but as an outcast child of rape it is difficult for her even to find a friend. When she comes into her power, she sets out on a quest to find and destroy her father, and the consequences of her journey go beyond anything she envisioned. Mixing the biting humor of Onyesonwu’s narration with stark commentary on the brutality of ethnic violence and weaponized rape, Okorafor transports us and transforms us.
2. China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh (1992)
This multilayered sci-fi novel follows “Rafael” Zhang, an engineer in New York, in a future America dominated by China. The story is mostly from Zhang’s perspective, but also from those whose lives he connects to around the world. Zhang and his friends negotiate the tensions between individual expression and the good of the community, the difficulty of living in an inherently unfair world, and the importance of finding and spreading peace. Ahead of its time both for featuring a gay protagonist and for its uncanny (and unnerving) predictions of our future, this book will remain with you long after you finish it.
3. On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder/How to Fight by Thich Nhat Hanh (both 2017)
These two slim volumes provide outsized advice on how to live and function in present-day America. In the first, Timothy Snyder provides twenty actions for resisting the advance of tyranny, and the necessary historical context from the past century to understand how tyrannical governments have taken power and held it. The second, by Zen Buddhist and spiritual writer Thich Nhat Hanh, teaches us how to maintain our peace in the face of suffering, struggle, and real anger at injustice, and how to channel negative emotion in a positive way. Neither of these books offers easy solutions, but both offer us a path to work toward a better world, from the personal to the local to the global level.
I’m looking forward to reading more this next year - right now I’m in the middle of Pale Fire by Nabokov, just starting Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (beginning a new series in the world of His Dark Materials), and about to begin A Short History of Reconstruction, by Eric Foner - and beyond that in my stack are Chimimanda Adichie, Ursula K. LeGuin, and more Okorafor. Hope you join us in making 2018 a year of reading!
What book are you most looking forward to reading in 2018?