It’s that time of year again…time to talk about the books I’ve read so far in 2017. They are definitely fewer in number than this time last year, but maybe there are a few you might want to add to your own to-read list?
While the Gods Were Sleeping: A Journey Through Love and Rebellion in Nepal, by Elizabeth Enslin (***). I added this memoir to my to-read list after my trip to Nepal in November because I had seen other hikers reading it, and it was recommended by a friend living in Nepal. Enslin details life in her Nepali husband’s remote village in the 1980s, particularly focusing on her pregnancy and the difficult birth of her son. Her descriptions felt very vivid to me and I really appreciated her reflections on daily life. Still, the book didn’t always completely convince me, which is why I gave it three stars. That said, it only took me two weeks to tear through it!
March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, drawings by Nate Powell (*****). You may remember a certain president insulting a certain civil rights leader earlier this year. This inspired me to pick up the first graphic novel (in a series) based on John Lewis’ memoir (which I also read this year, see below). This first book focused on his youth in rural Alabama on up to his days participating in sit ins at lunch counters and protest marches. I don’t think I’ve picked up a graphic novel since reading Persepolis about a decade ago, but it was definitely a refreshing change!
Arrival by Ted Chiang (***). I have to admit that I didn’t read this entire collection of short stories, but rather just “The Story of Your Life”, which served as the basis for the film Arrival (which I loved). I was hoping to gain a little more insight into the questions that still remained for me from the film, but it didn’t really work out that way. The story is still wonderful, but is told in a slightly different way that wouldn’t translate to film very well. Personally, I was moved much more by the film than the short story, but if you were a fan of the movie, I would still give it a shot.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (*****). I was expecting a bit of a repeat of All the Light We Cannot See with this book — which wouldn’t have been a bad thing — but Hannah’s novel definitely came into its own. It’s a story of two sisters involved in their own ways in the French Resistance during World War II, set both in Paris and the French countryside. An absolutely incredible tale of what it means to survive and what it means to resist. While many novels set in this time period end once the war has ended, this book dares to tell the tale of the aftermath for families, relationships, friends, neighbors — and how everyone had to live with the difficult choices they had made. Very moving!
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis and Michael D’Orso (****). Lewis’ memoir offers the most solid background and commentary on the civil rights movement that I’ve ever read. If you want to get beyond the sound bytes that we’re taught in school or hear about on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, then this book offers a real behind-the-scenes look, with all the detail and complexity that such a historic and complicated period of American history deserves.
Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant (****). I really enjoyed Lean In, so when I heard the Sheryl Sandberg had written another book — this time about coping with the grief of the sudden loss of her husband — I was all over it. The book is very thoughtfully written. If you’re in the midst of grief, or are trying to support friends or family who are, this is a great resource.
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (*****). Without a doubt, if you only read one book this year, make it this one. Technically, it is a collection of short stories, but each story is so finely intertwined with all of the rest the collection, that it almost reads like a novel. Starting with a Soviet censor in 1930’s Leningrad, you see with each progressing story how his decisions rippled across time — from the gulags, to a modern day mining town in Siberia, to war torn Chechnya. For as horrible and as harsh as this period of time and these locations are, Marra’s stories are absolutely beautiful. (Also, don’t miss his debut novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.)
So that’s it so far! I’m currently about half-way through The Idiot by Elif Batuman, which I’m kind of loving for its very familiar (to me) portrayal of a girl’s first year at college in the mid-1990s. Also on my to-read list for the rest of the year are: You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir by Sherman Alexie, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Sanders, and The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein.
What have you been reading lately? Is there anything I should add to my list?