Countdown to 2018: 2017 Books

Last year, I read 11 books! This year I also read 11. One of those books is A Series of Unfortunate Events book that I started with my babysitting charge and finished on my own, so I’ve completed my usual goal of 10 books on my own, like last year. I’m glad I’ve kept up my reading pace.

Overall, I read 4 fiction books (2 classics, 2 new–same as last year!), 5 non-fiction books (1 theater book, 2 pscychology/parenting/self-help books, 1 feminism book, and 1 book of essays–overall, 2 more than last year), 1 Children/Young Adult series books, and 1 book of poetry. I increased by number of non-American authors from 1 to 2 and increased the number of women authors from 5 to 9 (a major increase!), with 5 of the 9 being women of color. 6 books were for my virtual book club with my college friends, and 2 were for other book clubs, both at work. Usually I read 1 book by someone I know, which I didn’t this year, but I did meet one of them who is a friend of a friend of a friend. 1 I read because it related to something I was writing/working on.

These stats are fairly similar to last year’s but with some improvements, especially in the women author category. Two years ago my ratio of women to men authors was 3/9, last year it was 5/10, and this year it was 9/11. I also increased in reading non-American authors and went back to my resolution to read 1 feminism book a year. I kept up my good mix of fiction, non-fiction, children/young adult books, and poetry. My resolution has been to read 1 poetry book a year, and I have stuck to that. However, one of my resolutions last year AND the year before that had been to read a biography, and I still did not do that. I also have a resolution to read 1 Thornton Wilder book a year, and I almost didn’t make it this year, but we are reading The Bridge of San Luis Rey for my book club at work, and even though I’ve already read it, I figured this would be a good one to re-read in the last few days of the year since it’s very short, thus fufilling my goal. I basically achieved all my reading goals except for biography. Next year: Continue with at least a 50:50 ratio for women to men authors and continue with my reading variety–make sure to continue to read 1 poetry book a year, 1 feminism book a year, and 1 Wilder book a year–but make sure to read a biography as well.

I also read 7 New Yorkers (2 fewer than last year, which was already down from 1 the previous year) and 5 New York magazines (3 fewer than I read last year after being down 2 from the previous year) in between each book, as well as various other magazine and website articles. Plus, every Time Out New York. Next year: Try to bring myself up to previous years’ numbers of 10 New Yorkers and 10 New York magazines a year.

This year I’ve also added a list of my online reading/writing classes, since I did a lot of reading for those as well, and the short stories I read this year. Most of these short stories were for one of the online classes.

My favorite book(s) of the year:
Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof
I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems

The List:

1. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I really enjoyed reading this one–I loved that it was all from the perspective of this smart, young woman and that even though it’s billed as a romance novel, it’s really not at all. I also enjoyed the form, that it was all journal entries, which I think worked well with the coming-of-age theme. I’d heard about this book many years ago, but it wasn’t something I really heard of people reading. Glad I read it!
Finished: February 2, 2017

2. Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof by Alisa Solomon
One of the best theater books I have read. It not only goes into the story of the original and subsequent productions but how the world arrived at a place where Fiddler was ready to be a hit. It also touches on different racial themes, including black-Jewish tensions using a middle school production in Brooklyn. A few passages were a little slow, but even Sholem-Aleichem’s life was, for the most part, interesting. At one point in my life I was asked if there was a musical I wish I had written, and I said Fiddler, not because it’s my favorite musical (I don’t need to have written my favorite musicals, it’s enough that they exist) but because its reach is so far and wide–it’s been everywhere from Japan to Israel to Poland. After reading this book, I understand now why I said I wish I had written this show.
Finished: April 2, 2017

3. Grit by Angela Duckworth
A book I read for a book club. Like other business/psych books I’ve read, it’s something that was or could have been a paper or essay that the book world saw there was money in expanding into book form. These books can be tedious to read, but, here and there, there are some interesting ideas. This is the kind of book one needs to discuss with others during or after reading or else what’s the point, and our book club used it to generate some interesting discussion topics about our own habits and lives. I would not really recommend this book unless you are really interested in the topic, but on the plus side my grit score increased by almost 10 points from the beginning to end of the his book! This probably has to do with understanding grit better, but I probably did absorb some grit from reading it.
Finished: April 26, 2017

4. I Must Be Living Twice: New and Selected Poems by Eileen Myles
When I read a poetry book, it’s usually a shorter collection or I’m reading a poem at a time. This was a larger book, so I was immersed in Eileen Myles’ words and style for quite some time, which I kind of loved. Reading poetry like this can be difficult, but it makes me feel alive in a way that reading prose does not. Plus, I got to read these poems while riding and walking around NYC, and since many of her poems are set in NYC and very specific about place, the experience of reading them here was rather sublime. I read this with my virtual book club, so I could discuss some of the poems and and the experience of reading them with a few friends who are also reading it. I first became aware of Eileen Myles as the basis for Cherry Jones’s character in the show Transparent, and then through my online poetry class. Now I know her through her work, which is even better.
Finished: June 7, 2017

5. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
You might be thinking, why did this woman read this book if she doesn’t have children, but I actually read it for a project management reading group at work. It turns out, children are a lot like people. I was surprised at how much I related to the methods and ideas in this book, and I will work on using them (or strengthen how I was already using them) in my relationships at work, with friends and family, with myself, and of course with any kids in my life. Everything is laid out very clearly and truthfully–they are fully upfront that not everything will work all the time or with every kid–and it lets you work on your skills as you read. My only criticism would be that there were one too many stories/examples in some places, but other than that I recommend this book for everyone, parents or not.
Finished: June 22, 2017

 6. The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth Trilogy Number 1) by N.K. Jemisin
I’m really glad I read it as it’s not something I would normally pick up (I read it for a book club). It took a few chapters to get used to the fantasy genre, but then everything started to gel. I appreciated main female characters of different ages, especially the older ones, because the fantasy books I’m used to reading all have kids as the protagonists. This is apparently part of a trilogy so I’m looking forward to reading the subsequent books (I’m in it now, plus I’m a completist).
Finished: August 6, 2017

7. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks
I had been wanting/needing to read bell hooks for a while. This is a short (118 pages) overview of feminism that I wish I had read earlier. There are certain subjects everyone needs to learn growing up, and feminism should be one of them. While it’s written for everyone, it’s not dumbed down and I definitely had to read passages a couple times in order to really absorb the concepts, even though they were concepts I was somewhat familiar with. This book was written in 2000 and I also wondered as I was reading how her thoughts would be different today with the advent of social media (I’ll have to look this up and see if she’s talk about it anywhere). She laments the loss of feminist communities and consciousness-raising groups, but it seems to me that consciousness-raising groups have found a virtual home on social media, especially Facebook, where people from different circles can come together and share their thoughts/ideas/feelings and learn from each other. I certainly have learned on here, at least. I recommend this book to, well, everybody. Even if you think you’re pretty well versed in feminism. There’s so much false feminism flying around. It’s good to see it all laid out here.
Finished: September 27, 2017

8. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I enjoyed this book very much, especially as the story of a young woman moving into adulthood (not quite a coming of age story but perhaps). My favorite section was when she first comes to America and lives in Philly. I may be biased because it seemed like she moved there in the late 90s, which is when I would have also been living in the Philly area and I could truly picture her there because I knew the exact location she was talking about. But also, that section had, to me, the most conflict and struggle, which made it more interesting. That adjustment period to a new culture and fighting an uphill battle and having no money, it had the most dramatic tension. Add to that all her first encounters with Americanisms, which was kind of fun. After she adjusted and went off with Curt, the story lost a little something. It became more like a description of relationships and occurrences instead of conflict and struggle. In many sections, she just seemed to be treading water, and we followed her until she realized that. I also did not find the sections with Obinze to be compelling–he’s not a character I needed to be with exclusively. He was only compelling in relation to Ifem, and I enjoyed him with her, as his relationship with him revealed his character. The characters and relationships I found most compelling were Ifem, of course, Dike and Aunty Uju, and Obinze in his relationship with Ifem. All that said, this is a great book with many great things in it, it was just a bit uneven for me.
Finished: November 12, 2017

9. Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
With any book of essays, some will be more interesting than others, and the section I liked best was the more personal one in the middle of the book in which she writes about violence against women and the trauma that goes along with that. In those essays, the book was the most vibrant and relevant. The essays are already a few years old at this point, and many can feel outdated, even after just a few years. A few really got to the meat of an interesting essay in the last couple paragraphs, and many of the essays covered pop culture material I wasn’t familiar with. I also wanted her to go deeper into the titular idea of bad feminism–her assessment of it was good, but could have been broader. Still, there was a lot to enjoy and think about throughout this collection.
Finished: December 28, 2017

10. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
I had actually read this book previously, back in 2009, and I read it again for a few reason: 1. It is the next selection for my company’s fiction book club (my idea of course) and I wanted to re-read since it had been a while. 2. Two River Theatre is doing a stage adaptation of it next month and I wanted to re-read it before seeing it. And 3. It’s 100 pages long (plus a foreword and afterward) and made for a good last minute book to read to hit my goal. I’m so glad I revisited it, especially now having read more novels by Thornton. When I read it in 2009, it was rather difficult to get through some of the sections, even though the last lines are transcendent and made up for any difficulty. But this time, knowing more what to expect and having more experience with Thornton as a novelist, it was a more interesting and satisfying read. The characters were more vibrant, and the final lines, even though I know them basically by heart at this point, were even more emotional. I’m looking forward to discussing this book with co-workers and to seeing it on the stage.
Finished: January 1, 2018

11. The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events Book 10) by Lemony Snicket
Book 10 is my favorite book in the A Series of Unfortunate Events series. It’s the book in which they find the headquarters, Violet is given privacy at an important moment, and, most importantly, Sunny declares that she is no longer a baby. It’s fitting then that this was the last book I read to my babysitting charge before she finished the series herself. I had been reading this series to her since she was 4 years old in 2012, and every time I was there at bedtime, we would read a little from the books. I’m so fortunate to have had the opportunity to read my favorite book series with her (and then her younger sister started reading them as well), and that I was able to read enough of this particular book that we got through my favorite chapter, chapter 10, in which many of my favorite parts happen. This is up there as one of the best reading experiences of my life. I then finished the book on my own, and will continue to finish the series again on my own because I’d like to read them all again.
Finished: Fall, 2017

Online Classes:
Whitman’s Civil War: Writing and Imagining Loss, Death, and Disaster (University of Iowa)
The course is six weeks long with 36 reading assignments and ran last summer in July and August. I completed the reading materials and videos over the course of a year, which is usually how I do online courses, and I’m so glad I took my time. This course was very much a journey that I took in conjunction with what was going on in our time politically–the rise of Trump, the election, and the start of the Trump presidency. Reading about a poet’s experience of the Civil War during this past year has been the most helpful thing I have done to deal with the “political climate.” It has been helpful to look back at a time that was also ostensibly divided and how people, particularly this one man although he often assumes the personas of others, lived in this divided and violent time. I haven’t emerged from this reading journey with any specific answers, but what I thought about as I finished the materials was the poet’s longing for reconciliation and what that reconciliation meant for what came in the years after the war, leading up to today, now that we have the gift of hindsight. My main takeaway is that through all these writings, reconciliation was desired so the young country could heal and move forward, but slavery never really seemed to be addressed. That may be because this was all coming from Whitman, who was still a white man even though he was from the North, and it may be because the devastation from the war was so widespread and, well, devastating, that he and many others just wanted to get to the reconciliation as quickly as possible in order to have an operational country. But now we see that that reconciliation was short lived, with people still not addressing the issues of slavery and racism. If we are going to reconcile our divided country now, how would we do it so it sticks? Is it even possible? Aside from that very large question, these readings really brought the drama of the war into the hospital, as Whitman served as a Civil War nurse and wrote much about his experiences and the people he nursed and sat with before their deaths. As Whitman said, “the marrow of the tragedy [is] concentrated in those Hospitals—(it seem’d sometimes as if the whole interest of the land, North and South, was one vast central Hospital, and all the rest of the affair but flanges).” Once again, the idea of healing. I really recommend these readings, especially as a way to deal with our current situation. The journey begins here…
Power of the Pen: Identities and Social Issues in Fiction and Nonfiction (University of Iowa)
Power of the Pen: Identities and Social Issues in Poetry and Plays (University of Iowa)
ModPo, 5th Year (University of Pennsylvania)

Short Stories

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
“A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
“The Aleph” by Jorge Luis Borges
“David Sherman, The Last Son of God” by Rion Amilcar Scott
“The Men and Women Like Him” by Amber Sparks
“The Second Waltz” by Madeleine Thien
“High Schools, or How to Be Asian American” by Matthew Salesses
“An Island is the Center of the World” by Catherine Carberry
“Migrations” by Sofi Stambo

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