The start of 2017 found me at my parents’ home in California, drinking Irish coffees by the fire and plowing through Me Before You by Jojo Moyes in 24 hours. Next, I grinned my way through the genius satire of The Sellout by Paul Beatty… I haven’t read a book that made me laugh out in ages. I read Psycho by Robert Block and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in January, too.
The real highlight of my reading this year, though, was its theme. January’s Women’s March inspired me to pick up We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and to spend the year reading only books written by women. I’d felt sad and helpless since the election three months prior; buying and sharing women’s books felt like a small way to make a stand against an administration that’s openly attacking my access to health care, contraception, a safe working environment, and Truth, generally. With the seemingly endless months of #MeToo and dialogue around feminism, my reading project became more than a way of supporting female authors. It was an education.
There’s no shortage of incredible lady literary talent in the world, but as with most (every?) industry, there’s a lack of balance in publishing, weighted heavily in favor of men. I found the trouble with buying female-authored books was largely promotional. Because of my work on Call Me Ishmael, I’m quite plugged into the publishing world. My Twitter feed is made up of author interviews and book reviews; my Instagram, of publishing houses styling new releases on flat lays beside a steaming cup of tea. Since I started my Year of Reading Women, I began to notice that the majority of these photos, podcasts, interviews are honoring books by men. Also interesting: The front table of bookstores. This year I took notice of which authors get real estate on the displays near the entrance to bookshops. Often, I found those tables stacked exclusively with titles written by men.
This isn’t only a brick-and-mortar problem. Here’s the front carousel of featured books on Amazon right now:
It must be said that this isn’t all bookstores. Many, many independent shops make a concerted effort to share and promote diverse books. In particular, the larger chain bookshops and airport stores are where I noticed this problem.
All that said, my reading this year brought me some incredible books. Marlena by Julie Buntin was sad and beautiful. The Leavers by Lisa Ko has been on mind for months since I read the last page. Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan was a masterpiece. White Fur by Jardine Libaire was sexy. The Power by Naomi Alderman was the best thing I read all year.
Amidst all the protests and calling my senators this spring, a graphic novel called Calexit by Matteo Pizzolo was published. I love my homestate and #resisting so broke my females-only rule to read this one. I loved it. It was a beautiful rallying cry and I’m on the edge of my seat for the next installment. Bitch Planet Volume 2 by Kelly Sue DeConnick scratches the same itch as Calexit and is smarter.
For the sake of honesty, here are the two other books by men I read in 2017: Final Girls by Riley Sager and Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. Sager actually duped me; he’s a man writing under a woman’s nom de plume (🙄). John Green had a new book out and I found myself with it on the subway one day and just started reading.
Re-reading Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume was nostalgic and lovely. Her words make me feel awkward and twelve years old. Devotion by Patti Smith wasn’t my favorite but I read it on an airplane and it was short and different and I’m glad I read it. The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware and Shark Club by Ann Kidd Taylor and Startup by Doree Shafrir were just fun. I’d only recommend In the Woods by Tana French if you like reading a longish book that you’re very involved in, only to get virtually zero satisfaction from the ending. My newfound Didion obsession (Have you seen the documentary? Heaven.) continued with South and West by Joan Didion and I think Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie should be required reading for everyone. It’s like a workout for your compassion muscles.
Leading up to our wedding in October, I was interested in reading about marriage. I made my way through California by Edan Lepucki, Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith, and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. I enjoyed all three, but The Year of Magical Thinking left a particular mark on my soul and though it’ll rip your heart out, I think everyone should read it. Also, my cousin Hannah read from two of my favorite books at our wedding ceremony: The Watchmen by Alan Moore and David Gibbons and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger and even though I didn’t re-read them this year, they should be mentioned here. Here’s a picture of me reading before the wedding:
For my 30th birthday in December, Logan and I jumped into a rental car with our newly adopted darling Matilda and drove out to Montauk for a reading and writing weekend.
I did more reading than writing and finished Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor along with Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott and a book of poetry called How the End Begins by Cynthia Cruz.
Art in general and books specifically brought me a lot of peace and happiness this year. I think the world would be a better place if we’d all read more fiction and less news. Let me know what books you read to keep sane in 2017 in the comments or @stephkent most places on the internet.