The Year in Reading, 2017

For the past few years I’ve kept track of the books I’ve read and done a little reflecting on them at the end of the year.

The first year, I focused on the numbers: how many, breakdowns by decade/gender/nationality, etc.

Last year I did some quick highlights and lowlights (I’M STILL MAD ABOUT HILLBILLY ELEGY).

(Both years can be found here.)

This year, for the first time, I’m going to list every book I read. This is a terrifying act of transparency that will reveal way too much, but why not be real. There are about 50 caveats and disclaimers I wanted to include, but screw it. These are the books I read this year.

(In the interest of transparency, I’ll say up front that I also read at least 50 romance novels this year. It was a 2017 coping mechanism for which I make no apology, but I won’t bother to list the titles because that would get redundant. If you’re looking to get into romance, I like Lisa Kleypas and Jill Shalvis.)

Here’s the list, in the order I read them, with some takeaways below.

The Wangs vs the World, Jade Chang

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead

The Ruth Galloway Series, Elly Griffiths (The House at Sea’s End, The Outcast Dead, A Dying Fall, A Room Full of Bones)

Stone Butch Blues, Leslie Feinberg

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot

Behold the Dreamers, Imbolo Mbue

You Will Know Me, Megan Abbott

Foe, J.M. Coetzee (DNF 60%, that’s right I couldn’t finish a short book in my field of study. No caveats.)

The Cutting Season, Attica Locke

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, Ben Montgomerey

Jazz, Toni Morrison

Binti, Nnedi Okorafor

How to Survive a Plague, David France

Case Histories, Kate Atkinson

The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America, Andres Resendez

The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert

Dust, Yvonne Owuor

The Hungry Tide, Amitav Ghosh

The Summer Prince, Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Cost of Living, Arundhati Roy

Kintu, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond (DNF 36%)

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy

Annie John, Jamaica Kincaid

Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys

Difficult Women, Roxane Gay

Howards End, E. M. Forster

A Colony in a Nation, Chris Hayes

Nervous Conditions, Tsitsi Dangarembga

One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson

Leaving Atlanta, Tayari Jones

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

Une Tempete, Aime Cesaire

Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward

A Beautiful Work in Progress, Mirna Valerio

Lab Girl, Hope Jahren

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

The Tempest, William Shakespeare

Season of Migration to the North, Tayeb Salih

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Adam Hochschild

Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor

On Beauty, Zadie Smith

The Royal We, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, Kate Moore

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, David Grann

Bluebird Bluebird, Attica Locke

In progress, plan to finish in 2018:

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley

In progress, might finish this decade:

Middlemarch, George Eliot

Takeaways:

§ If you write a nonfiction book about one of the following subjects, I will read it:

o The early days of the AIDS epidemic (And the Band Played On, The Coming Plague, The Gay Revolution, How to Survive a Plague)

o A woman taking a walk (Wild, Becoming Odyssa, Tracks, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk)

§ I was surprised by how much I enjoyed rereading Jane Eyre and Howards End (for a class I was teaching). Because I study nonwestern literature I tend to look past the canon, but I guess some of those authors were OK or whatever.

§ I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed rereading Midnight’s Children (also for a class). I’d read it twice before, early in grad school, and of course it’s monumental. But Salman Rushdie has become a bit of a celebrity punchline (see this season of Curb Your Enthusiasm) and the book is so long and dense that I was almost dreading it. But for a book that has hundreds of minor characters and throwaway plotlines, I was shocked at how well I remembered them ten years later. The Brass Monkey, Homi Catrack, Picture Singh, Fat Perce Fishwala, the Rani of Cooch Naheen, Parvati the Witch: somehow they’re in my muscle memory. The investment of getting through the first hundred pages of this book pays off; by the end, it’s a crescendo of words and images that left me breathless.

§ My standard for good nonfiction is if I grab you and start yammering on about what I was reading last night. The books that met that standard this year were: How to Survive a Plague, A Colony in a Nation, Radium Girls (do NOT read late at night, especially if you have a fear of the dentist), and Killers of the Flower Moon. (Sorry all those at whom I yammered!)

§ Most fun reading experience: The Royal We. If you’re caught up in the upcoming Royal Wedding hype, this would be a good read to feed that beast.

§ After looking back over the list, there’s one author whose books I feel driven to read all of, not because I’m supposed to but because I want to: Toni Morrison. The last few years I’ve read one of her books each summer, and I plan to continue that until I’ve made my way through all of them. I don’t want to go at a faster pace than that — I want to take my time with each one and let it breathe.

What did you read? What should I read in 2018?

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