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
§ 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?