I hope your year is off to a great start. I've been more excited about this new year than recent ones. Something about a fresh start and goals and ideas and some more free time this month has been great to look forward to. I've loved having a reading goal the last several years and I didn't meet it (or closely follow it!) in 2017. I started several books that I hope to finish this year, but I also felt myself consuming plenty of news and not diving into books. My to-read list continued to grow though and I hope to read more this year. Below, I included the books I enjoyed most in 2017. Some were read, some were listened to. I've written brief descriptions but would recommend all of them. I hope you find one (or more!) you enjoy too.
Days Without End: I first heard of this book when I glanced at the Man Booker prize longlist in the late summer (studying English literature briefly in the U.K. tends to help with my to-read list as former English-students and I keep in touch on what we're reading and prizes like these tend to add some books to our lists) I'd loved Sebastian Barry's A Long Long Way and On Canaan's Side. I didn't enjoy this one quite as much as those, but it was still a beautifully written novel taking place during the Indian American wars and Civil War.
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A powerful and sad book. Learning about Rob and how he escaped poverty to attend Yale, the positive changes he made in his community after graduation, and his shift to drug dealing before he was murdered is tragic and outlined how hard the road out of poverty is, and how societal factors can stand in the way of pursuing the American dream.
The GrownUp: A funny, brief, fast-paced ghost story. Fun for a rainy afternoon.
The Sound of Gravel: There are an endless amount of well-written coming-out-of-poverty stories illustrating resilience. In 2016, Hillbilly Elegy fell into this category for me. The Sound of Gravel was equally powerful in working oneself out of poverty and outlines the strength of the author leaving a polygamous sect.
Dakota: A really beautiful book about South Dakota. I started it sometime in mid-2016 when I realized my Mom and I would be traveling through the state for a couple of days while driving to California. Despite dropping it in a river in Vermont before departing (and it growing slowly moldy) I somehow held onto it and finished it over a year later. It's a beautiful collection of thoughts and reflections on the state's history and people. If you like poetry or feel a strong connection to place (even places you've never visited!), I'd recommend it.
We Were Eight Years in Power: If the election of Trump or the history of racism in the United States even remotely interests you, this book is a great and deep book to digest. Fun tip: the title does not solely refer to Barack Obama's presidency but refers originally to Reconstruction.
I Am Malala: I mistakenly figured I wouldn't learn more about Malala from this book after loving the film He Named Me Malala, but I was wrong! It was just as great as the film but longer.
American Boy: Larry Watson is great! I loved Montana 1948 and thought this novel taking place in Minnesota in the 1950's was just as great. It reminded me of some kind of symbolic novel that would be assigned (and I would love) in high school English class. He has such a simple and direct way of writing and storytelling. While I loved it, I think I'd recommend his books to men more than women.
First They Killed My Father: So powerful. Luong Ung's name had come up a few times in my undergraduate career as she is an alumna of the school I attended. I knew of the Vietnam War, but nothing of Cambodia or the Khmer Rouge. Very sad, but a book that shines light on a very recent genocide and Luong's path to survival and being welcomed in the United States as a refugee.
The Last Campaign: I think I'll always enjoy learning about Robert F. Kennedy and the 1960's in the United States. This book breaks down RFK's presidential campaign and what it meant at the time. A journalistic and detailed look at an interesting period of American history.
Circling the Sun: While novels taking place in the United States or western world tend to be extremely popular, I love learning about a different culture of part of the world via novels. While the main character is British and parts of the novel take place in Great Britain, the story centers on Kenya in the 1920's. A wonderful story of real life Beryl Markham as she pursues life as an independent woman.
Disgraced: A powerful play focusing on stereotypes, Islam, and identity in America.
The Midwife of Hope River: A sweet novel taking place in central Appalachia during the Great Depression. Focuses on the different clients a local midwife serves. Great characters.
When Breath Becomes Air: It deserves the hype! Very powerful as it explores what makes life worth living in the face of an imminent end.
The Pecan Man: I love southern fiction, particularly books that explore themes of race. This book is a bit like To Kill a Mockingbird. A quick and meaningful read.
Just Mercy: The best book I read all year. So incredibly thought-provoking and well-written about the history of an unequal American justice system rooted in racial bias and one man's work fighting death penalty cases in southern states in the 1990s. Cannot recommend enough.
The Sun is Also a Star: A fast-paced and addictive novel detailing a love story occurring in one day in Manhattan.
Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam: I took about four years to (very slowly) read this book as it's comprised of hundreds of letters American soldiers wrote home while stationed in Vietnam. Very powerful, sad, and timeless.
Notorious RBG: A really lovely biography on Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Enjoyably humorous in parts, but mostly a wonderful look at a trailblazing Supreme court justice.
About Alice: A sweet essay to the author's late wife, Alice. Full of beautiful and uplifting words about Alice as a woman, mother, and change-maker.