2017: A Year in Books

BeFunky Collage.jpg

The year that surpassed 2016 (possibly) in its horrendous-ness has finally come to a close! 2017 was, as always, a year of transition for me. It incorporated a tremendous amount of growth that was long overdue- my heart expanded, my hair grew longer, my patience increased (however minutely). If you were to take a journey throughout this blog, you’d see the transitions incorporated into 2017. Change plagued my year- books anchored me. Despite the changes around me- my boyfriend’s cross-country move (and subsequently mine- I’m writing from LA!), the ending of a close friendship, my work on my own mental health- books were always my confidante. Reading has been a constant for me my entire life, and 2017 has been especially poignant in its delivery of books to me. My 2017 reading list incorporated fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and more. Each reading experience felt crafted especially for me at that time.

Here’s my 2017 reading list:

  • The Dream of A Common Language: Adrienne Rich
  • Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl: Carrie Brownstein
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Wide Window
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Reptile Room
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Miserable Mill
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Austere Academy
  • Dubliners: James Joyce
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: James Joyce
  • Ulysses: James Joyce
  • The Fate of the Tearling: Erika Johannsen
  • A Gentleman in Moscow: Amor Towles
  • The Sirens of Titan: Kurt Vonnegut
  • No One Belongs Here More Than You: Miranda July
  • The Handmaid’s Tale: Margaret Atwood
  • Fates and Furies: Lauren Groff
  • The Secret History: Donna Tartt
  • The Vegetarian: Han Kang
  • Men Without Women: Haruki Murakami
  • Young Goodman Brown: Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Nest: Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
  • Caballero: Jovita Gonzalez
  • Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude: Ross Gay
  • Bartleby and Benito Cereno: Herman Melville
  • The Mysteries of New Orleans: Ludwig von Reizenstein
  • The Sunshine State: Sarah Gerard
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Mark Twain
  • The Girls: Emma Cline
  • The Clansman: Thomas Dixon JR
  • The Best American Short Stories (2013): Elizabeth Strout
  • The Dinner: Herman Koch
  • Everyone’s A Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too: Johnny Sun
  • The Gunslinger (Dark Tower 1): Stephen King
  • The Drawing of the Three (Dark Tower 2): Stephen King
  • The Waste Lands (Dark Tower 3): Stephen King
  • Wizard and Glass (Dark Tower 4): Stephen King
  • The Wind Through the Keyhole (Dark Tower 4.5): Stephen King
  • Wolves of the Calla (Dark Tower 5): Stephen King
  • Songs of Susannah (Dark Tower 6): Stephen King
  • The Dark Tower (Dark Tower 7): Stephen King
  • Sour Heart: Jenny Zhang
  • Moby Dick: Herman Melville
  • Homegoing: Yaa Gyasi
  • Birthday Letters: Ted Hughes
  • The Best American Short Stories (2010): Richard Russo
  • Human Acts: Han Kang
  • Annihilation: Jeff Vandermeer
  • Authority: Jeff Vandermeer
  • Acceptance: Jeff Vandermeer
  • Delicate Edible Birds: Lauren Groff
  • Turtles All The Way Down: John Green
  • The Best American Essays (2017): Leslie Jamison
  • It Devours!: Jeffrey Cranor & Joseph Fink
  • The Best American Non-required Reading (2016): Rachel Kushner
  • Too Far to Go: John Updike
  • The Marriage Plot: Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The Best American Short Stories (2017): Meg Wolitzer
  • On Such a Full Sea: Chang-Rae Lee
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Empathy Exams: Leslie Jamison
  • The Best American Non-required Reading (2017): Sarah Vowell

Initial thoughts on this list: damn, I read A LOT of anthologies. In my opinion, few things are better in the literary world than an excellently organized anthology/collection. Shorter pieces that fit nicely together speak more creatively to me; I take great pleasure in deriving meaning out of an anthology or collection, to investigate what exactly connects each piece into its ultimate cohesion. I tend to stick with anthologies/collections once I read one great one, and it becomes difficult to transition back to longer works after. I’ve always been a fan of The Best American series, and was lucky enough to find my own 25 cent copies at a huge warehouse sale in Gainesville, Florida! The Best American Essays and Short Stories have been favorites of mine since I was introduced my first year of undergrad. Luckily, 2017 introduced me to another Best American anthology that I’m confident I’ll keep reading: The Best American Non-required Reading. These anthologies include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, interviews, and more; the collection is put together by high school students in California, and edited by a well-established writer. I love the medley of all genres thrown together, and was especially impressed by the 2016 collection.

2017 also gave room to an incredible new fiction writer: Jenny Zhang. I regret not including the image for Sour Heart, Zhang’s short story collection, on my above collage because it truly was one of the best books of the year for me. Sour Heart is a collection of stories from different narrators, all of whom are either Chinese immigrant girls or the daughters of Chinese immigrants. The stories vary in narration (some girls are very young while others are well into adulthood), but mainly take place in New York City. Zhang’s storytelling feels fresh; she speaks of a girlhood I cannot recognize as a white girl, but writes common unifying threads of girlhood that feel achingly familiar and sad. This collection does what I love best: effortlessly collides stories together to make an incredibly moving and powerful larger story. Zhang’s characters and stories all speak to one another, and ultimately explore what it means to be a girl still having fun (as insecurely or securely as one can be) in the world of toxic xenophobia and sexism.

The three other short story collections I read this year include Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami, Too Far to Go by John Updike, and No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July. Each of these also represents strong collections, and each writer expertly maneuvered the unique art of the short story. I remember reading and finishing Murakami’s short story collection in the mountains of Blue Ridge, Georgia- I sat on our AirBnB’s deck and shedded my early-morning coat to feel the sun on my skin and I cried. I cried for the men in the story, each of whom lost and/or rejected a woman’s love, and I cried for myself, a woman loving a man. It was a tumultuous time emotionally, and Murakami’s collection helped make my pain universal- my heartache almost felt trite compared with that of Murakami’s characters. He writes such exquisite sadness. I came to Updike’s collection by way of The New Yorker: Fiction podcast- it was an episode featuring Matthew Klam reading Twin Beds in Rome. I fell absolutely in love with the Maples, the couple starring in this story, and eagerly ordered Too Far to Go: The Maple Stories afterward. This collection centers around the story of a married couple, The Maples, and follows them from newlyweds to divorcees. Updike unleashes the ugly truths that accompany long-term monogamy; the two characters spit vile at one another in the form of terrifyingly cold arguments that arise from the simplest of moments. Updike expertly narrates the tumultuous nature of marriage- the power that a partner has, and should choose not to use. If marriage were reducible to a course, Updike’s Too Far to Go would be required reading. Miranda July was on my reading list in 2016 for The First Bad Man, her novel. I was struck by July’s quirky and fresh storytelling, and her ability to craft incredibly unique characters that were still somehow personable. I LOVED July’s short story collection, and felt incredibly compelled by a few in the collection so much that I reread the collection a total of FOUR times before setting it aside for something else. Leaving July’s world felt inopportune and sad- I wanted to bask in the fantasy worlds of her characters for as long as I could.

Some solid, 4-star books I read this year include: It Devours! (I am truly obsessed with Welcome to Nightvale, and will purchase any merchandise associated, but this was a cool story), Turtles All the Way Down (a simple and very real portrayal of anxiety), One Hundred Years of Solitude (how did it take me so long to read this?!), Human Acts, Homegoing (SO good), The Sirens of Titan (I think 1-2 Vonnegut reads a year is a great thing), The Handmaid’s Tale (a must read), The Marriage Plot (Eugenides is just so good) and more. I really didn’t dislike anything I read (although I did detest some- I’ll get to that below…); a ton of solid 3-4 star choices. My two Masters courses led me to some on this list- I took a James Joyce seminar and read most of Joyce’s work. I could read Dubliners forever, and Ulysses was a once in a lifetime experience. I loved meeting Molly and Leopold Bloom, and my heart echoed that final, resilient yes at the end of the book. I then took an Early American Lit course and read some familiar titles (Melville, Twain, Hawthorne) along with some very off-the-wall reads (Mysteries of New Orleans, Caballero). I loved that course, especially for the New Mexican cowboy professor I had and the ways he challenged me. I can’t wait to be taking graduate English courses again!

Everyone’s a Aliebn When You’re a Aliebn Too by Johnny Sun is arguably the cutest book I’ve ever read. Sun’s comics of an aliebn navigating earth’s surface via relationships with earth’s creatures (bees, bears, etc.). Sun’s aliebn adventures with the curiosity I’ve had navigating foreign cities, and the aliebn’s sincere desire to connect with beings really inspired me. The book is an honest and sweet examination of how to best explore this confusing and sad reality, and encourages us to try our best. It’s a great reminder, especially in 2017.

Okay, here it is. The negative part of the post.
I’ve been waiting to read The Dark Tower series by Stephen King for YEARS. A very trusted book friend of mine adores the series, and a few more of my trusted book friends have recommended it as well. The movie’s release (the movie, by the way, is so horrendously bad) pushed me to buying the series. I read all of them- all eight books, thousands of pages… and I… hated… it.
After finishing the first novel, The Gunslinger, my boyfriend said ‘how’d you like the first and best book of the series?’ I looked at him as if I’d been stupefied. Getting through The Gunslinger was NOT a fun experience for me- I persevered because I hoped the rest of the series would get better. I did the same throughout the second book, and the third, and the sixth… and before I knew it, the books were over, and I was left full of a disappointed rage. King writes from four(ish?) different perspectives throughout the books, and one of those perspectives irked me so bad that I had to stop reading the series for a bit. King writes as Susannah, a black disabled schizophrenic woman from 1960’s NYC. This character felt so rehearsed and so unbelievable- each time King wrote ‘you honky!’ from Susannah’s voice, I cringed. It’s as if King wanted to include more than just a white male perspective, which I can respect, but instead of creating a fully-formed human being, he thrust each minoritized population into one being who quickly turned into a caricature. This alone made The Dark Tower painfully hard to read for me. On top of that major criticism, King’s fantasy throughout the books felt too Deux Es Machina- his attempt to be meta fell to pieces and the entire plot felt strung together with paper clips (writing himself into the story- WHAT?!). I was so far removed from the plot that I honestly don’t even think I could summarize how the story ended. I’ve never regretted reading something more. I so wanted to like King (I’ve never read any other King-related work), and I felt ready to love the Dark Tower. I was sourly disappointed.

And, as for my favorites of 2017? It’s a hard choice, but I’ve narrowed it down to the following: The Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, The Vegetarian by Han Kang, and Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. The majority of these choices have their own blog posts (see earlier posts for details on them), but I never got around to writing a blog post for The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer, an incredible science-fiction work that absolutely blew me away. I’m usually not a science-fiction reader, but the beautiful cover art of this trilogy pulled me in, and the pacing of Vandermeer’s writing made it impossible for me not to finish these three books at an alarming speed (all in 1.5 days!). The books are an original take on a post-apocalyptic/alien invasion (maybe? still trying to decide what the fuck is actually going on in these books, to be honest), and involve plot lines of romance, parenthood, and more. After I finished Acceptance, I spent HOURS reading reddit theory threads trying to piece together what I’d read. Vandermeer doesn’t give a lot of answers, but somehow the mystery of his storytelling does not feel frustrating. The unknowns are unknowns I’m comfortable with; in fact, I think they make the story stronger. I really recommend this trilogy- it was an exhilarating read, and I’m excited to see the film soon!

Thanks, 2017, for one of the most pleasant reading years I’ve ever had. I made it to 61 total books (I set a goal of 75) this year and plan on getting to the same in 2018. Let me know what I missed out on and what you recommend for 2018!

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