2017 Reading Round-Up!

I made it before the end of January! My annual round-up and entirely personal ranking of books I read last year, based on: level of language thrills, new thoughts, angst/joy/love when reading it; how long it will stay with me; how enthusiastically I would press it into your hands or buy a copy for a friend. I read 25 books (abandoned 5, see below). This list includes nonfiction and fiction only. (I did read poetry, but don’t include as I don’t read poetry cover-to-cover. It’s more like periodic scavenging to satisfy some spiritual craving I find in a poem or two. I also know too many poets to rank poetry books!):

Some quick stats on the 25 I finished:

Fiction (novels and short stories): 12

Graphic novels: 2

Nonfiction – memoirs, personal essays and interviews: 9

Nonfiction – history, biography: 2

I read authors from: USA, UK, Italy, South Africa, Pakistan, Canada, South Korea, France. Five in translation.

Books by women: 16 (62%)

Books by men: 10 (38%) (one got counted twice as it was a man interviewing a woman)

Years of publication span from 1954 to 2017

Despite the fact that I’ve always been a hungry reader of fiction, and am learning to write it myself, I was surprised to find my favorite books I read last year would be classified as nonfiction. I’ve been asking myself why that is – it’s partly a testament to the difficulty of writing fiction that will stick around with the reader. I think it also has to do with the times – I consume so much media, I’m requiring books to get straight to the point rather than taking the time to ponder narratives and metaphor (I’m sorry to admit). I could blame the internet, etc., but there are ways to preserve your concentration. My feeling in the “current climate” is that I want to know what a writer has learned: be direct, we don’t have much time! 

I noticed my description of my favorites all included a physical reaction on my part. I think that’s what I’m chasing, an actual shift in my body, which I know is a tall order, and not anything you can categorize. There’s also the not-insignificant development that the memoir and essay genres have fully blossomed in the past 10 years. It’s also an exciting time in that regard.

The books I abandoned:

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado – this debut collection of short stories got a lot of buzz last year and seemed right up my alley, but I couldn’t get into it. Read about half.

Partir by Lucía Baskaran – Part of my search for an untranslated book in Spanish that will inspire me to bring it into English. This felt very much like a semi-autobiographical first novel. I wasn’t too interested in what happened and put it down – it sounded like a journal (young woman having doubts about her current relationship, alternates with the telling of her move to Madrid to study acting). Read about half.

La acústica de los iglús by Almudena Sánchez – See above. Highly recommended by a Madrid bookseller. A talented young writer, slim collection of short stories. Surrealist, sad. I read about half of it.

Corazón tan blanco by Javier Marías – I was enjoying this well enough. Not sure why I set it aside, will give another chance. I read about a third.

The Third Sex – A non-fiction book about transgender culture in Thailand, written by a UK professor who lived with a transgender performer and her family for a year. I got about halfway through and must have lost interest. It’s an interesting world, but I wasn’t keen on the writing style (a bit corny).

Without further ado, my 2017 books, with apologies for any typos, and for inconsistent graphics: