Have been regretting (is that possibly the right word?) not posting this earlier. This is my fourth year of keeping track (you can read 2016 here).
2017 was not a great reading year. Looking back, I see a lot of books that I didn’t much enjoy, which seems a terrible shame. The number of books is pretty consistent with prior years—right around thirty; am already at eleven for this year, so on pace and hopeful. (Summer is coming.) I did do some very serious re-reading and much of that was great, especially Middlemarch and this was the first year that I kept track of re-reading, which means page one to the end with intent, not a focused skim or a few chapters as I often do for teaching.
Nineteen of the twenty-six new books were by women. Only six of the twenty-six by people of color—I must do better! I keep thinking I am doing better (three of eleven so far). Amazing how we delude ourselves. Only ten of twenty-six were fiction.
I loved Marcy Dermansky’s novel and adored Zami, which is burned on my heart now, but the two books that really stood out for me in 2017 were Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, which I listened to on audiobook. The performer, the Cambodian-American actor Francois Chau, has a beautiful voice and read the Vietnamese words and names, to my ear, flawlessly & beautifully which really made it all the more engrossing. The book is overlong and ungainly in parts, but it’s also a masterpiece: a real work of genius.
Much smaller in scale and also amazing was John Hampson’s 1931 novel, Saturday Night at the Greyhound. My friend the novelist Jon Michaud recommended it to me. I began it and then put it down. I was gripping but cruel. Then I thought, “Wait! This is a novel about mean people. What if I just read it as if it’s about mean people?” Somehow, that unlocked it for me—I think I was imagining it as much sweeter than it is. It’s anything but sweet. Pitiless, cruel, and a masterpiece.
Here you go:
1. Marcy Dermansky, The Red Car (fiction)
2. Graham Greene, The End of the Affair (fiction)
3. Miles Malleson, Yours Unfaithfully (drama)
4. Jacqueline Woodson, Another Brooklyn (fiction)
5. Robin Coste Lewis, Voyage of the Sable Venus (poetry)
6. Lauren Elkin, Flaneuse (nonfiction)
7. Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele, Queer: A Graphic History (graphic nonfiction)
8. George Packer, The Unwinding (nonfiction, audiobook)
9. Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of Poetry (nonfiction)
10. Sarah Manguso, 300 Arguments (experimental nonfiction)
11. Audre Lorde, Zami (memoir)
12. Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In (nonfiction, self-help)
13. Bing Xin, Letters from a Chinese Student at Wellesley: 1923-1926 (memoir; in translation)
14. Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad (fiction)
15. Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer (fiction, audiobook)
16. Lee Child, Die Trying (fiction)
17. Reed Karaim, The Winter in Anna (fiction)
18. Vera Brittain, The Dark Tide (fiction)
19. Julia Kristeva, Hannah Arendt: Life is a Narrative (nonfiction; in translation)
20. Olive Schreiner, Women and Labour (nonfiction; kindle)
21. Stevie Smith, The Holiday (fiction)
22. Claire Dederer, Love and Trouble (memoir)
23. Vera Brittain, Chronicle of Youth (diary)
24. Sarah Ruhl, 100 Essays I don’t have time to write (essays)
25. Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life (nonfiction)
26. John Hampson, Saturday Night at the Greyhound (fiction)
Re-read in 2017
1. Nella Larsen, Passing (fiction)
2. Jessie Fauset, Plum Bun (fiction)
3. Virginia Woolf, Between the Acts (fiction)
4. Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse (fiction)
5. Judy Blume, Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret (fiction)
6. Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas (nonfiction)
7. George Eliot, Middlemarch (fiction, kindle)
8. Nella Larsen, Quicksand (fiction)