Last year, my goal was to read 25 books and I ended up reading 41. This year, I upped my goal from 25 to 40. As of today, September 8th, I have read 46 books and am expecting to finish up three more within the next few days. I hope to read at least 60 books by the end of the calendar year, but that will depend on how busy my new M.F.A. life will be, a few weeks from now. With that being said, I’ve read quite a few books this year and wanted to share my top ten 2017 favorites, in no particular order, with all of you.
My Only Wife by Jac Jemc
Photo Credit: Read, Sav, Read.
This was an assigned for my Advanced Fiction Writing course that I took near the end of my undergraduate degree, a few months ago. I hadn’t heard of Jac Jemc before, so I am very grateful to my professor for this recommendation (well, requirement, but you get what I mean). Jemc’s writing style brought about tension and insight in a way that no book I have read has done before. The sentence structure choices and diction were mind boggling and left me inspired, wanting to attempt to write something unique and moving, too. The characters were complicated, contradictory, and human. They are the kind of people that I want to create in my own fiction and the kind of characters that I like to read about. This book quickly became a favorite of mine, so I highly suggest it to all of you. You can read my review of My Only Wife here.
Summary: “Ten years ago the narrator unlocked the door of a wrecked apartment, empty of any trace of his wife. As stunning as her disappearance is his response. He freezes on the facts of her, haunting his recollections. This is the story of a man unable to free himself enough from the idea of a woman to try to find her.”
You can purchase My Only Wife here.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
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When I finished this book, I immediately moved it into my “most treasured” list on Goodreads, which not too many books I read have the honor of doing. This was Brit Bennett’s first novel and, wow, was I impressed. While the story, itself, was incredible, the writing was exquisite. I want more books like this one–diverse, poignant, and flawlessly written.
Summary: “The Mothers is an absorbing and powerful novel about motherhood, female friendship and finding love with a broken heart. Brit Bennett will captivate you with her characters – who are hurting, flawed and trying to navigate the unsteady transition into adulthood. Seventeen year old Nadia Turner has her world turned upside down when her mother commits suicide and shortly thereafter, she discovers she’s pregnant with the pastor’s son’s child. Nadia finds a safe harbor in her best friend Aubrey, but as the years go by, her past decisions invade the present, ushering in a new wave of wounds. The Mothers ambitiously tackles heavy circumstances, but the hope of these young black women and Bennett’s ability to convey the ferocity of what it means have a mother, to be a mother, and to want a mother, make this novel a resoundingly magnetic and essential read.” –Al Woodworth, The Amazon Book Review
You can purchase The Mothers here.
Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
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I had read a few of Lorrie Moore’s short stories, some of which were included in this book, but this was my first time reading an entire book length collection of hers. I love Moore’s unique writing style and voice. Her characters are complicated, both likeable and unlikeable–in other words, they’re real. I cherish her dry, subtle humor and look up to her, being a writer, myself. You can read my review of Self-Help here.
Summary: “In these tales of loss and pleasure, lovers and family, a woman learns to conduct an affair, a child of divorce dances with her mother, and a woman with a terminal illness contemplates her exit. Filled with the sharp humor, emotional acuity, and joyful language Moore has become famous for, these nine glittering tales marked the introduction of an extravagantly gifted writer.”
You can purchase Self-Help here.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House
This was one of my most anticipated reads because of all of the high praise it has received from major sources, as well as from reader friends of mine, whose book recommendations I trust. Published last year, this book won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, was a #1 New York Times bestseller, and was included in Oprah’s Book Club 2016 Selection. With all of this being said, there’s no denying it’s a great book. From my own reading experience, I was left disturbed, shaken, and in awe of the bravery that those in the past embodied. This book is a relevant and important read and I highly, highly recommend it.
Summary: “Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned—Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom. Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.”
You can purchase The Underground Railroad here.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
Photo Credit: NPR
This was a beautifully expressed memoir. I wanted to read this book before reading Nelson’s poetry, to have some insights into her background. I thoroughly enjoyed her voice and the stories she so intimately shared with her readers. I was grateful for this read and am so glad I got my hands on it before diving in to more of her work.
Summary: “The Argonauts is a genre-bending memoir, a work of “autotheory” offering fresh, fierce, and timely thinking about desire, identity, and the limitations and possibilities of love and language. At its center is a romance: the story of the author’s relationship with the artist Harry Dodge. This story, which includes Nelson’s account of falling in love with Dodge, who is fluidly gendered, as well as her journey to and through a pregnancy, offers a firsthand account of the complexities and joys of (queer) family-making. Writing in the spirit of public intellectuals such as Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes, Nelson binds her personal experience to a rigorous exploration of what iconic theorists have said about sexuality, gender, and the vexed institutions of marriage and child-rearing. Nelson’s insistence on radical individual freedom and the value of caretaking becomes the rallying cry of this thoughtful, unabashed, uncompromising book.”
You can purchase The Argonauts here.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Photo Credit: Read, Sav, Read.
Much like my reading Carol, I saw the trailer for HBO’s limited series Big Little Lies and planned to read the book it was based on before watching the adaptation. I obsessively read the book, absolutely enamored, and then binged the show in a single late, late night. Though there were a handful of small changes made, I fiercly loved the series and watched it through several more times, as I forced it upon my mom and my friends. This is a must read and the show is a must watch! You can read my review of Big Little Lies here.
Summary: “Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal… A murder…a tragic accident…or just parents behaving badly? What’s indisputable is that someone is dead. But who did what? Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:
Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).
Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.
New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.
Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.”
You can purchase Big Little Lies here.
I Love Dick by Chris Kraus
Photo Credit: Read, Sav, Read.
I watched the series titled I Love Dick on Amazon Video and fell in love. I wasn’t aware that it was based on a book until after I finished the show, but immediately ordered a copy, after learning of its existence. It was a great deal different from the T.V. adaptation, but they were both excellent works of art in their own ways. I plan to read more of Chris Kraus’s work in the future and am crossing my fingers for a second season of I Love Dick on Amazon. Read this book and watch this show!
Summary: “In I Love Dick, published in 1997, Chris Kraus, author of Aliens & Anorexia, Torpor, and Video Green, boldly tore away the veil that separates fiction from reality and privacy from self-expression. It’s no wonder that I Love Dick instantly elicited violent controversies and attracted a host of passionate admirers. The story is gripping enough: in 1994 a married, failed independent filmmaker, turning forty, falls in love with a well-known theorist and endeavors to seduce him with the help of her husband. But when the theorist refuses to answer her letters, the husband and wife continue the correspondence for each other instead, imagining the fling the wife wishes to have with Dick. What follows is a breathless pursuit that takes the woman across America and away from her husband and far beyond her original infatuation into a discovery of the transformative power of first person narrative. I Love Dick is a manifesto for a new kind of feminist who isn’t afraid to burn through her own narcissism in order to assume responsibility for herself and for all the injustice in world and it’s a book you won’t put down until the author’s final, heroic acts of self-revelation and transformation.”
You can purchase I Love Dick here.
Carol by Patricia Highsmith
Photo Credit: Audiobook Store
I saw the trailer for the film adaptation of this book and wanted to read the book before watching the movie. I enjoyed the book and the film, which isn’t always the case for me. I recommend that you all give Carol (previously titled The Price of Salt) a read and a watch.
Summary: “A chance encounter between two lonely women leads to a passionate romance in this lesbian cult classic. Therese, a struggling young sales clerk, and Carol, a homemaker in the midst of a bitter divorce, abandon their oppressive daily routines for the freedom of the open road, where their love can blossom. But their newly discovered bliss is shattered when Carol is forced to choose between her child and her lover.”
You can purchase Carol here.
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Photo Credit: UConn
This book moved me. While I was reading it, everyone I talked to got an ear full about the horrors that are happening around the world, which Half the Sky opened my eyes to. This was a read that made me feel deeply sorrowful, hopeful, and empowered at the same time. I highly suggest this book.
Summary: “From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.
With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.
They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.
Through these stories, Kristof and WuDunn help us see that the key to economic progress lies in unleashing women’s potential. They make clear how so many people have helped to do just that, and how we can each do our part. Throughout much of the world, the greatest unexploited economic resource is the female half of the population. Countries such as China have prospered precisely because they emancipated women and brought them into the formal economy. Unleashing that process globally is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the best strategy for fighting poverty.
Deeply felt, pragmatic, and inspirational, Half the Sky is essential reading for every global citizen.”
You can purchase Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide here.
The Girls by Emma Cline
Photo Credit: Read, Sav, Read.
This book was full of high tension, immaculate imagery, and an accurate portrayal of adolescent thought. Cline’s characterization was breathtaking. The sensory details, the diction–I loved this read!
Summary: “Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.”
You can purchase The Girls here.
When 2017 comes to a close, I will share with you everything I read throughout the year. What are all of your favorite reads of the year, thus far? Share your top books in the comments section below.