Read in 2017

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).

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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)

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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)

2016 in pictures

There has been a lot of talk about how awful 2016 was. Certainly, we lost some amazing musicians and celebrities. But are we—am I—letting my ongoing grief, anger, and shock at the election color my sense of an entire year of my life? I decided to check in with myself.

For years, we have made calendars. Every month contains a photo or two from the children’s lives that month in the year prior. As I went through 2016’s photos, I saw other pictures, not including my family (though all about them), that reminded me of some of the good in the past year.

In 2016 I got to go to Austin, Texas and Doha, Qatar for the first time. I got to go home to Seattle for a long visit. I got back to L.A. and fell in love with California again. I joined the flower committee and in church and learned a little bit about arranging flowers. My uncle-by-marriage built raised beds for us and we grew abundant and gorgeous vegetables at our place on the St. Lawrence River. I drew a lot and got a lot better at drawing. I cooked and shared food—fancy and plain—with people I love.

As I think about my resolutions for 2017 (more words, less weight, as ever, but how to write that so it sticks—so the words stick and the pounds melt?), I see that I have to add travel to the list. Even just going to a neighboring village has the power to bring me joy. Kayaking is a big summer pleasure, but one of our best summer days of kayaking came when we drove upriver forty minutes and kayaked in a less familiar spot. Why, even a rotten day of jury duty in Newark was brightened by the sight of one of the gorgeous Victorian brickfronts in that tumbledown city.

In any case, following the “no babies, no pets” rule, here are a dozen of my favorite images and memories from the year just past.