Choosing my non-fiction favorites of 2017 was hard, y’all. I had a difficult time narrowing it down to ten, and then picking my favorite top three was damn near impossible. It was just a really fantastic nonfiction year! My top three (I think?) are listed first, and everything else is listed in alphabetical order.
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie (2017)
Alexie’s mother, Lillian, died in 2015 at the age of 78; he wrote 78 essays and 78 poems to work through his complicated grief. It’s beautiful and devastating (Alexie actually stopped mid-book tour for his own mental health and will not be doing readings from this book anymore). I read it in one long sitting.
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore (2017)
Young women in New Jersey and Illinois went to work in watch factories, painting a radium on watch faces to help with the war effort. To get a fine enough point on their paintbrush, they were instructed to put the brush tips between their lips. They were informed that the radium was safe; in fact, it was one of the healthiest things to handle. Then they began dying in horrifying, disfiguring ways.
Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat (2007)
At the age of four, Danticat was left in the care of her aunt and uncle in Haiti while her parents immigrated to New York City. They sent for her when she was twelve, so she came of age in a foreign land. Back in Haiti there was dangerous political unrest, and her father kept urging his brother to join them in the States. What happened when he finally did left the family shattered.
I’m usually set to go with my year in review posts on January 1, but I have been BUSY lately. I’m trying my hardest to finish a king-sized quilt in time to enter it into my first ever quilt show (and of course I’m doing everything at the last minute…though in my defense, this thing has been a work in progress since June). My apologies for the late start!
I had a pretty good year in reading in 2017, though I must admit I was more partial to my nonfiction reading. Still, there were definitely some standouts. In an unlikely twist of events, two westerns won my heart in 2017. The first three books listed are my favorites of the year; everything else is listed in alphabetical order:
The Son by Philipp Meyer (2013)
Spanning three generations, The Son is a Texas-sized story about the rise of the McCullough family. The earliest generation battled Comanches and Mexicans to keep their ranch, while the last generation in the book battled environmentalists and fellow oil tycoons to hold on to their vast fortunes. I listened to it on audiobook, which gave me the added delight of listening to Will Patton and Kate Mulgrew narrate some of the story. It’s a gorgeous book.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (2015)
Civilization has long since collapsed, and the world is on the verge of ending again. Essun, a woman with secret abilities that are feared by all, is now just trying to pick up the pieces of her life. Her husband has murdered her son and kidnapped her daughter, so she’s on a quest to find them. It’s a really smart, mesmerizing book to lose yourself in.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles (2016)
Captain Kidd is hired to take a young orphan girl from Wichita Falls to her surviving relatives San Antonio; she was recently rescued from captivity with the Kiowa Indians and doesn’t understand her old life anymore. They’re an odd pair who form a unique bond along the way. It’s a quiet but entertaining book that was a finalist for the National Book Award.
I read a lot of really great nonfiction books in 2016! I actually think I had better luck with nonfiction than fiction. The first three listed are my top three favorites; everything is listed in alphabetical order.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016)
When Breath Becomes Air focuses on Kalinithi’s a career as a neurosurgeon, which was cut short by a rare and terminal form of lung cancer. The memoir — which he was still striving to complete at the time of his death — offers reflections on life and death. In doing so, he reflects on past interactions with patients who had been on the receiving end of bad news that came from him. It’s a gorgeous book.
The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing (2016)
Mixing memoir, biography, and art history, Olivia Laing explores the different meanings of loneliness in New York City through the lives of different artists who lived there. The essays offer beautiful, elegant explorations of human interactions (or the lack thereof).
So Sad Today by Melissa Broder (2016)
Steeped in dark humor, So Sad Today is a collection of autobiographical essays by Melissa Broder. She writes about her struggles with extreme anxiety low, self-esteem, and addiction, but she also throws in some off-the-wall essays about sex and relationships. There’s one essay in there revolving around sexting that had me going, “This woman is completely nuts. I love her.”
These were my favorite ten fiction reads of 2016. The first three are my absolute top picks; everything else is listed in alphabetical order.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (1985)
Lonesome Dove remains my biggest shocker: I was extremely reluctant to pick it up, but it ended up being my favorite book of the year (and one of my favorite books, like, ever). At face value, it’s about a ragtag group of cowboys that drives a massive herd of cattle from South Texas to Montana, but it’s also about bigger ideas like duty and friendship and mortality. And it’s a helluva wild adventure.
The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya (2015)
The Big Green Tent is about an unlikely trio that bonds as LORLs — Lovers of Russian Literature — an informal school group led by a popular but subversive teacher. They come of age in 1950s Moscow under the threat of Stalin, where brazen independent thought is dangerous. The book follows the boys throughout the rest of their lives. It’s a modern version of the classic, sweeping Russian novel (but way easier to read).
The Gringo Champion by Aura Xilonen (2017)
I feel kind of weird putting The Gringo Champion on my 2016 list because it won’t be out for a couple more weeks; I got an advance copy. It’s an immigration story that’s unlike any other immigration story I’ve read, in the most surprising and refreshing way. I’ll write more about it on its release day, but I will say now: OMG, the vocabulary in this book is insane! And the author was only nineteen years old when she wrote it!
2016 was kind of brutal, no? (My personal low was when my beloved cat died while I was away on vacation. The second half of the year wasn’t much better.)
It shows in my reading. I was either too unfocused to really concentrate on anything, or too busy to commit to books that actually managed to grab my interest. My blogging also suffered. I went through a ton of audiobooks thanks to my work commute this semester, but if not for that, my stats would have been way dismal.
In 2017, I want to get back into the swing of things. I want to get better at DNF-ing books that don’t click with me (something I did actually get better at in 2016). I want to reread more books. And I want to get back into the head space (and life space) to do more actual reading. If December was any indication, I’m already getting back there.