Goodreads tells me I have read 41 books as of June 30, which is a little ridiculous because the reading goal I had set for myself in 2017 was 50 books. I had intended to spend more of 2017 writing instead of reading and, uh, that hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. However, reading and (little to) no writing is better than no reading or writing I suppose…
The Books I Loved
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime is the best book I’ve read in 2017 so far. Born to a black Xhosa mother and white Swiss father in South Africa during apartheid, Noah’s very existence was proof of a crime. His stories span his impoverished childhood, rebellious nature, and his enduring love and bond with his mother, the most important woman in his life. Throughout this collection of essays, Noah grapples with trying to find his place in a world where there are no shades of gray to identity, just black and white. Hysterical at times and heartbreaking at others, I just LOVED this book.
The Books I Liked
The Biographies of Ordinary People, Vol. I: 1989-2000 by Nicole Dieker
Reminiscent of Little Women, Nicole Dieker’s The Biographies of Ordinary People tells the story of the Gruber family: Jack, Rosemary, Meredith, Natalie and Jackie. It’s a slow-paced novel that focuses on the little moments in life, the ordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people. It’s very well-written and told with a surprising grace, with spot-on characterization as they grow up during the span of the novel. I really enjoyed this, and am excited to see what Vol. 2 holds for the Gruber family.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett is about how Bert Cousins kissed Beverly Keating at her daughter Franny’s birthday party — and how that decision set off a chain of events that changed the lives of two families forever. Told over the course of five decades, the story encompasses the summers the children of the two families spent together growing up and how, as adults, a daughter’s boyfriend’s decision to use the family’s story to write, and sell, a wildly successful novel. Confronted by the fact that this act means their story is no longer theirs, the family must grapple with the consequences from decades earlier. Definitely an engrossing read.
Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
Almost lyrically written, Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan was a wonderful read. It tells the story of Yuki, a Japanese girl striving to become an artist, and Jay, the son who, in the present day, must come to terms why his mother abandoned him when he was two years old. Identity, art, belonging, and the strength of familial bonds are ever-present themes, and despite both characters being passive in nature, there was always something happening to progress the story. I was so looking forward to this after I read Buchanan’s essay in Catapult, and I wasn’t let down.
My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella
I was pleasantly surprised by Sophie Kinsella’s My Not So Perfect Life. While this book is no less formulaic than her others (Kinsella knows what she does well and sticks to it), this story of Katie Brenner and her desperate desire to make her life seem perfect and ~Instagrammable~ has a surprising depth to it that some of her other books lack. (Not a spoiler alert: Katie’s life is far, far from perfect.) There is heart to the main characters, particularly Demeter, Katie’s boss with a seemingly perfect life that I found rather refreshing to find in this book. It’s no less predictable than any other Kinsella novel, but for whatever reason, I quite enjoyed it.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki is about Nao, a sixteen year old girl in Tokyo who has decided that suicide is her only escape from loneliness and schoolroom bullies, and Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island off the Pacific Northwest who discovers Nao’s diary in a collection of artifacts washed ashore, possibly debris from the 2011 tsunami. As Ruth reads Nao’s diary, she is pulled into Nao’s world of drama, innermost thoughts, and her unknown fate. This is a novel about shared humanity and the search for home, and it made me want to read other things Ozeki has written, too.
Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter
I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s (in)famous article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” when it was published several years ago. Unfinished Business is her follow-up to that. Slaughter shares her vision for how to best address the ever-pervasive debate and struggle for equality between woman and men, family and work. She has some great ideas and points and I found myself nodding along to a decent chunk of the book, but like most books of this genre, my guess is that it’s best suited for those in a position of privilege like hers.
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State opens with a hauntingly beautiful first sentence. That sentence is followed by a novel that is equal parts haunting, heartbreaking, devastating, and powerful. Mireille, the youngest daughter of a rich and powerful Haitian businessman, is kidnapped in broad daylight by a group of heavily armed men during a visit back to Haiti. Her kidnappers demand a ransom, and Mireille is held captive for days as it becomes clear that her father does not intend to pay for her release. The horrors Mireille faces at the hands of a man who hates everything about her and what she represents are devastating, and her attempts to reclaim her identity and rebuild her life in the aftermath are even more so. This novel was a hard, but important, read.
Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
Wishful Drinking is a memoir by the late Carrie Fisher about growing up with two celebrity parents, her addictions, mental illness, and playing Princess Leia in Star Wars. It’s incredibly funny and disarmingly honest. It’s short, too; I read it in less than a day.
The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston
Assigned for reading in my AP English Literature class, The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston will forever be my favorite assigned reading. The first chapter, “No Name Woman,” is about Kingston discovering she once had an aunt in China who killed herself and her newborn daughter by jumping down a well. This chapter sets up the rest of the book, which Kingston bills as “memoirs of a girlhood among ghosts.” She writes about the myths and legends and experiences that shaped her California childhood and experiences as a Chinese-American daughter. An excellent read.
The Books I Didn’t Like
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon had so much promise, but by the end of the book everything had fallen totally flat. Maddie, the teenage protagonist, is allergic to the world. She develops feelings for Olly, the new guy next door, and, well… I can’t really talk about the rest of the book without giving anything away. Let’s just say that I had a LOT of issues with how this book dealt with (or didn’t deal with, in some cases) mental health issues, healthcare issues in general, and ableism. Also, I called the plot twist way too early in the book and I generally am terrible at predicting things like that.
NW by Zadie Smith
I get what Zadie Smith was trying to do with NW… sort of. I think. It’s the story of four adults making lives for themselves outside of the council estate they had grown up in. But the whole thing didn’t work for me, unfortunately. The first section of the book was by far the best, and I spent the rest of my time reading it wondering why the rest fell so short.
The Books Somewhere in the Middle
An American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin; The Border of Paradise by Esmé Weijun Wang; On Beauty by Zadie Smith; Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick; The Secret Currency of Love: The Unabashed Truth About Women, Money, and Relationships by Hilary Black; Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti; Swing Time by Zadie Smith; Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel