The Year Behind, the Year Ahead

champagneHappy New Year! Like Teresa, and like many of you, I illumined this difficult and sometimes painful year with my reading. It was a place of respite, of interest and connection, where I could be refreshed. Here are a few of the books that stood out in 2017 because they immersed me the most deeply, or showed me a world I knew little about, or touched me, or made me laugh:

The Tijuana Book of the Dead, by Luis Alberto Urrea. These poems’ mixed English and Spanish showed me the lives of the people they were written about, with beauty and humor and grace.

Every classic I read this year! Ruth, Oblomov, Man and Wife, Daniel Deronda, The Age of Innocence, Ivanhoe, Chekhov’s stories, Measure for Measure, and more. After all these years, it shouldn’t be shocking that books written many years ago have such insight about race, class, sexual harassment, and institutional inequality. But every one I read is a fabulous thrill ride as well as a window into the human soul.

The Carhullan Army, by Sarah Hall. This brief dystopia was one of the best meditations on gender, violence, and action against the state I’ve ever read.

The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander. Other Jenny pointed out that this book is ten years old and therefore not particularly fresh. Maybe. But a lot of it was still news to me, and it’s written in a succinct, clear way that makes it a good refresher even if you know a lot about the effect of mass incarceration on black America. I am unspeakably grateful to have read it.

Hild, by Nicola Griffith. Eleventh-century historical fiction, about the early life of St. Hild of Whitby. Completely immersive and wonderfully written. I adored it.

The Wild Places, by Robert Macfarlane. Macfarlane — one of our great nature writers — travels around Britain to see if there are any truly wild places left there, or if it has been completely domesticated. A gorgeous, startling, moving book.

Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf. A quiet, plain book about people who care about each other. It was like a vaccine against this whole year.

A Kind of Intimacy, by Jenn Ashworth. A tense psychological novel about a sociopath in the company of a normal neighborhood. What happens when all the layers of deception are finally scraped away? Creepy and delicious.

Clarice Lispector’s Complete Stories. I can’t overstate how excellent, how strange, how mesmerizing these stories are. I hope I’ve convinced at least one person to try them.

The Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler. I haven’t even written this review yet, but I did read it in 2017, and it was the perfect way to wrap up the year! Another dystopia, this one compellingly plausible; our world, but worse. Butler is such a great writer.

a kind of intimacycomplete storiesour souls at nighthildnew jim crowmeasure for measure

The greatest gift I gave myself this reading year was to stick to my reading goals. I wanted to double the number of books I read by authors of color (from 12 to 24) and I did that, to my own huge benefit and enjoyment. I wanted to read 12 nonfiction books, and 12 books written before 1900, and with a little squishing of the rules, I did that, too. (I counted a couple of authors who seem pre-20th century to me, even if their novels are written in the early 20th century. Squish.) This year, I plan to do the same, and I am accepting any recommendations in the comments! (Also: THIS is the year I’m going to read Moby-Dick! Probably this summer. It’s going to be awesome.)

What were your best books? What was the best surprise you got — something you didn’t expect to like, but did? What did you rely on to help you through the year? What was the best genre book you read, or children’s book, or nonfiction book? Did you make any reading plans this year?

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12 Responses to The Year Behind, the Year Ahead

  1. Nilzeitung says:

    Thanks, i wish you the best for 2018 😉

  2. writerrea says:

    You convinced me to try Clarice Lispector. :) I bought the collection upon reading your recommendation. Haven’t started it yet, but am also glad you brought Carhullan Army to my attention.

  3. Felix Goldberg says:

    Thanks for the ercommendations, I tagged a lot of them on GR. My eigen-challenge for 2017 was to read 83 books but I only got too 67. I might have made it but changing jobs in November from a 1-2hr commute by train(s) to a 10-15min one by car wiped out my reading time and my chances…

    Anyway, the best books of 2017 for me were: The Revisionists (Thomas Mullen), The Paper Menagerie (Ken Liu), Look to Windward (Iain M. Banks), Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes), and Changing Places (David Lodge).

    Flops of the year: Amsterdam (Ian MacEwan) and a book of stories by Jaroslav Hasek.

    Most helpful book of the year: The Comprehensive ENFP Survival Guide (Heidi Priebe).

    • Jenny says:

      I hope you enjoy your new commute! And thanks for the recommendations as well. Lots of great authors there. Have a great 2018!

  4. Clarice Lispector and New Jim Crow are on my TBR.

    This year I really loved Elizabeth Taylor’s At Mrs. Lippincote’s. She is a new author to me, but I’d heard so many good things from other bloggers. She didn’t disappoint! I also really liked The Hate U Give. It lived up to the hype.

    • Jenny says:

      That’s great news. The Hate U Give is on my TBR as well, and I’ll probably get to it this year! Have a wonderful 2018 — I love your blog and always enjoy hearing from you!

  5. curlygeek04 says:

    I share your feelings about the last year, and I agree that reading helps! Like you I read more diversely and more nonfiction last year, and was surprised that many of those books ended up being my favorite. I was fascinated by Ta-Nehisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power, definitely a book outside my comfort zone. Also liked Hillbilly Elegy and Born a Crime and The Secret History of Wonder Woman.

    I share your feelings about reading classics – I’m always surprised by how relevant they feel today. This year I read 1984 and A Raisin in the Sun, both particularly relevant.

    • Jenny says:

      Those are great recommendations! I’m particularly intrigued by The Secret History of Wonder Woman, and I think I’ll put Raisin in the Sun on my TBR right now. Thank you very much! And have a great year.

  6. Happy New Year, friend, and I’m so happy for you for sticking to your reading goals. I love achieving my reading goals! If you ever want the most bananas nonfiction read of your life, can I recommend Hubert Wolf’s The Nuns of Sant’Ambrogio. You won’t believe your eyes.

    Also! I’ve read a few super interesting books about mass incarceration this year that have enlightened me and built on and past the ideas in The New Jim Crow — which is still a super important text! I hope I didn’t make it sound like I was pooh-poohing it! Anyway, those books are Caught, by Marie Gottschalk, and Incarcerating the Crisis, by Joshua Camp. They’re both really good, maybe a little denser to read than The New Jim Crow, but well worth the effort.

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