2017 Year in Reading

Whoa, it has been so long since I've sat down to write, I think I forget how.

Quick stretch: a,mkmaoigyK;mqlkkdmghiy/T and...go.

'Tis the season to look back on the year that was, and it was SUCH a year for me it's hard to know where to begin. So I'll start where I always do, with books. 

Let us first begin by reviewing my reading goals for the year. If you'll recall, I set out the year with some pretty lofty literary ambitions. How'd I do?? Honestly pretty terribly! 

1) Less Aimless, Pointless Scrolling: Proud to share that if anything I have regressed on this front, still dedicating hours upon hours a week to looking at strangers' kitchens and babies on the internet. Better luck in 2018? 

2) More Diverse Authors: Of 55 books I read this year, 41 were by women, 17 were by writers of color and I'd love to pretend I did put in an effort to seek out other areas of diversity - i.e. sexuality, gender identity, physical ability, but much like my scrolling goaling...good intentions, poor follow through. 

3) Read More For Work: last year I read 12 books on our annual list and this year I read *13!* I dropped the ball so hard everywhere else, I'm chalking this one up to a W. 

4) Nonfiction Challenge: This was the biggie. If you recall, I set out with the intention to read one work of social justice nonfiction a month. That endeavor started with a real bang - bringing 2 of my top 5 of the year! - but pretty quickly crumbled in April, when I couldn't find my copy of The New Jim Crow and then life got kind of bonkers overall and I really thought I made it 4 months but upon reflecting today, I see it was just 3. 


So if I wasn't reading work-assigned social justice nonfiction by black transwomen...what was I reading? Let's take a look.

As I mentioned, I clocked 55 books this year - just squeaking over one a week. 42 were novels, 1 short story collection (for work!)... and I've also been savoring stories from Carmen Maria Machado's Her Body and Other Parties for the past month (and loving!) but haven't technically finished - so maybe let's say 53 1/2 books, 1.5 story collections. Of the remaining 12 works of non-fiction, there were the three aforementioned big nonfiction books + two other books that would technically fall under this category, but I read for work so won't count in my challenge, 3 memoirs, and 3 (excellent!) essay collections, and surprisingly only one book on pregnancy. Our OBGYN warned us that most books on pregnancy are written to terrify expectant parents and as someone having a very hard time managing their pregnancy anxiety (...more on that to come), I've heeded her advice and avoided the genre altogether. And in possibly the most shocking turn of events, only 10 would fall under the thriller category, down from 12 last year and most of them were perfectly fine. I'll elaborate on a few later but if there was one hole in this year's list it was a pin you to your chair, brain-twisting thriller. 

I set out on my month long sabbatical with a list of titles I thought were recommended by a particular friend, but when I brought them up to her post-trip, she hadn't read any of them, so lord only knows who suggested these books to me. Here's what I did read on that trip: Little Deaths by Emma Flint, a thriller I'd been looking forward to that ultimately let me down; The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, which was beautiful but terribly sad and not much of a vacation read...but I'm glad I read it; Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, the first of the trilogy which was pure nonsense in a very good way; When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson, which I'll get into later; and American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld which I liked but didn't love...maybe 2017 just wasn't the year for stories about intelligent women falling for the so-called charms of childish, conservative politicians. Ahem. 

I also re-read two books this year, which I don't often do. The first was Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, revisited in anticipation of her new novel, which I never actually go around to reading. But SO worth the re-read. I'd initially purchased and read this novel somewhere in Europe while studying abroad - I was v into buying award-winning novels at used bookstores during that juncture of my life, as part of my whole chic international student aesthetic - and I was always underlining phrases that stood out to me and it's painfully hilarious to go back and see what touched me as a faux-intellectual 21 year old. Usually they're the corniest lines in the book but much to my surprise, everything that wowed me from this novel a decade (...and change) ago totally stuck. Roy has a way with words and phrases unlike anyone I've ever read and the story was all the richer reading with more mature eyes. Highly recommend this one if you've yet to read! 

The other novel I reread was Judy Blume's masterpiece Summer Sisters which is flaming, beautiful, glorious trash. I first discovered this book the summer after 8th grade when I was babysitting my cousin Dani as a summer job. I had heard about the book and how scandalous it was, so every day I'd pull it off the shelf and read a few pages and then put it back right where I found it, not wanting my aunt to know I was reading it, and it was so shocking and dirty and of course I loved it and I think that really ignited my lifelong appreciation for books with lots of sexy parts. Thanks, Judy Blume! I also recommend this one, if you have like 3 hours to kill on a summer afternoon, maybe with a glass of wine, in the tub, light a few candles? I don't know, ladies, live your best lives! 

 You know it's basically impossible for me to pick a favorite book, but since you asked (no one asked), here is a rough top 5 from the year, in order of however they popped into my head just now: 

  Only found 3 of the 5 on my shelf at home...most prepared blogger award goes to me! 

Only found 3 of the 5 on my shelf at home...most prepared blogger award goes to me! 

1) Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: I'm legit obsessed with Celeste (rhyme!) and was counting the seconds until the galley arrived and it did not let me down. It's a rich, sprawling story of a well to-do family in Shaker Heights, OH and the mother-daughter duo who come into their lives and shake up the family's perfect facade. Bonus points for the 1998 setting with flawlessly on-the-nose period details, including Puff Daddy songs, bad fashion, and brown lip liner.

2) Evicted by Matthew Desmond: Assuming you've all read this already, based on my glowing review all the way back in January, but in case you haven't...hop to. And book 2b, basically same deal = Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, review right hurr. Don't let my nonfiction failure be your nonfiction failure. These books still haunt me lo these months later. Lo these whole many months!!

3) We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby: I've been obsessed with Samantha for years since first discovering her blog Bitches Gotta Eat, and this summer I excitedly purchased her book as a gift for myself and carried her along as a solo date companion, first to the pedicure chair, and then to a neighborhood restaurant where I sat and dined, alone, on the patio, under an awning as a summer storm rained down around me and I laughed and I cried and I marveled at just how brilliantly Samantha does all that I wish I could do, drawing you into a funny story before hitting you with a gut punch of vulnerability and tragedy. The first essay in this collection, a self-intro to the author's life as a poor, black, plus-sized woman by way of a Bachelorette application is a goddamn master class in personal essay writing. I literally just re-read it right now for funsies and yep, still perfect. PERFECT. 

4) Idaho by Emily Ruskovich: Slipping in just under the 2017 wire, I finally picked up this book just last week, after having it on my TBR for a full year. It was first recommended to me by Paula Hawkins, author of the international smash bestsellers The Girl on the Train and Into the Water, (did you guys know I talk to famous authors like, all the time? #brag), who is not only one of my favorite writers, but one of the smartest and best readers I know. I don't know why it took me so long to get to this, but it kind of came to me at just the right moment, as I needed a truly stand-out book to pull me out of a lull of meh stuff. Idaho is the story of a woman living in a remote mountain town, trying to piece together what happened to her husband's first wife and daughters, before he loses his memory to early-onset dementia. It skirts the line of the psychological thriller but is so, so much more. It's dark and beautiful and unlike anything I've read before. (Side note: whenever I read the author's name, I confuse her with this hot chick and am like, wow that music video girl really has a lot of layers to her, but I do believe they are actually two different people??)

5) Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka: This is cheating because I read it last year, but it came out in 2017 and this is my list, I do what I want! Full disclosure: Danya is my friend. Fuller disclosure: Her book is amazing, and you know wouldn't lie to ya if I didn't legit love it. The story of a small town in Colorado rocked by the death of a popular teen, it's The Lovely Bones + Megan Abbott + Danya's own brilliant voice. We all know it's a sign if a book makes me cry on the subway and good news, this one had me weeping on the F train. 

Honorable Mentions: Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh (a sprawling, epic novel set in PA coal country, complete with plenty of Sheetz name-drops); The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan (two brother killed by a bomb blast in a Delhi market and the aftershocks on those involved); It's Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) by Nora McInierny (beautiful, funny, sad essays by another favorite blogger); What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons (structurally unique, exploration of grief by a young writer I'm excited to see more from); The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuk (A+ historical fiction about women coming together in post-WWII Germany); History of Wolves by Emily Friedlund + The Marsh King's Daughter by Karin Dionne (theme of this year was young women fending for themselves in the Minnesota wilderness. Two very different, but equally compelling novels of self-discovery, violence, and terrible parenting against the backdrop of the icy north); The Hate U Give by Angie Jackson (review here!); and, as teased, When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson, which narrowly missed the Top 5 list only because it's part of a series so here's when I tell you to read Kate's Jackson Brodie mystery series, beginning with Case Histories. I adore this smart, sprawling, darkly funny detective novels set in England and Scotland, and realized I read one installment a year. When Will There Be Good News, book 3 of 4, may be my favorite yet.

And that, my fine friends, was 2017, by the books.

I'm powering full speed ahead into next year's list. I just began Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and have been dipping into Gabrielle Union's (delightful!) memoir We're Going to Need More Wine every evening before bed. As for my foals for the coming 365 days, I'm keeping it and keeping it simple this year:

1) Less Aimless, Pointless Scrolling (FOR REAL THIS TIME)

2) Somehow Maintain a Habit of Reading for Pleasure and Work Whilst Also Keeping a Human Baby Alive*

The end! As always, I'd love to hear your top books of 2017 or what you're planning to read next! Here's to another year of HottReading and, if I'm being optimistic...the reemergence of the ol' blog?! We shall see!

Happy New Year!

Liz Ho

* If somehow you read this blog, but don't follow me on social media, I am indeed great with child, due May 5. Oh. Em. Gee.