First off, congratulations are in order, FOR ME, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
Since 2013 (!!!) I have been trying to read 70 books in a year, and this was my year, I finally did it, great jerb. (But seriously, I am very happy about this.)
More so than any other year, my reading fell into three camps: African-American history and the case for reparations; isolated young women and their female friendships/relationships; quasi-respectable thrillers/beach reads. Over the past few years, I’ve generally become less interested in male authors (although I typically make an exception for sci-fi/alt-history/apocalyptic narratives). I find it especially grating when men try to write with any kind of authority about what they think it’s like to live as a woman. I get sort of sad when I think about how much media I’ve consumed that was created by and for men, and how that’s assuredly shaped me in ways that I don’t even realize.
All that being said: here are the best books I read in 2017:
Homegoing — Yaa Gyasi (10/10)
YES, you read that right: ten out of ten. Tracing the history of slavery through a family tree, starting in 18th century Ghana to present-day NYC, this book is a powerful case for reparations. Right before I started reading this, someone told me this book is sad, and boy were they right! Sad, yes — and also a work of art.
Behold the Dreamers — Imbolo Mbue (9/10)
Pretty pretty depressing. If you are at all interested in a look at how hard it is to be an immigrant in the US, I think this book gives a realistic picture of both why people want to move to the US and how difficult it is to achieve a measure of success or happiness there as an immigrant. A timely book, given Trump’s insistence that immigrants are bad people (or however he’s erroneously describing them) (he is not smart).
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body — Roxane Gay (9.5/10)
One line that stood out to me from this book: “My body is a cage.” What a line. We are trapped in our bodies, but also, we ARE our bodies. Get it? You get it.
Similar books, in some way, that are also recommended: The Hate U Give — Angie Thomas (9/10); We Were Eight Years in Power — Ta-Nehisi Coates (9/10); Swing Time — Zadie Smith (8.5/10); The Underground Railroad — Colson Whitehead (8.5/10); Underground Airlines — Ben H Winters (8.5/10); The People Are Going To Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore — Jared Yates Sexton (8/10).
Marlena — Julie Buntin (9.5/10)
“Tell me what you can’t forget, and I’ll tell you who you are.” DAMN. What an opening line! (Would I literally kill someone to be able to write a line like that?) This was the best of the “lonely girl/confusing female relationships” books I read this year. Is the “Lonely girl” genre a precursor to the “suburban ennui” genre? Hmm.
Other lonely girl recommendations: Pull Me Under — Kelly Luce (9/10); We All Love Beautiful Girls — Joanne Proulx (8.5/10); History of Wolves — Emily Fridlund (7.5/10 — only recommending this because other people seemed to really like it); The Burning Girl — Claire Messud (7/10 — ditto).
Sweetbitter — Stephanie Danler (9/10)
Excellent, even when infuriating. The writing really captures what it’s like to be living on your own in your early twenties. It made me nostalgic for a time in a city that I’ve never lived in, which is some kind of magic. But also the main character falls for a guy who is so clearly terrible for her that it can be pretty eye-roll-y to read those parts. Also all the wine talk — that will never not seem super pretentious and terrible. SORRY!
Also about being in your early twenties and trying to “figure it out”: The Futures — Anna Pitoniak (9/10)
Little Fires Everywhere — Celeste Ng (9.5/10)
Okay, believe the hype — this book is great. As a point of reference, the writing (and genre) reminds me of Meg Wolitzer. Also, as I have said, probably too many times, suburban ennui is a fave genre, so this book really did it for me.
Class — Lucinda Rosenfeld (9/10)
Despite getting increasingly unrealistic re character motivation toward the end of the book, there are a lot of very sharp observations here about race, gender, and, yes, class. Have you ever mentally tied yourself in knots trying to make sure your reactions aren’t offensive? So has almost everyone in this book! And probably most people reading this book.
Also somewhat similar and recommended: The Nix — Nathan Hill (9/10); The Devil and Webster — Jean Hanff Korelitz (9/10)
Thank you, Jones Library! Thank you, 2017!