At the end of last week’s post, I asked for your reading suggestions, so this week I’m going to give you mine, in the form of my favorite books from the past year. It is December after all, the month of too many year's best lists, so I thought I'd throw my hat in that ring.
My favorite reads of last year weren’t all published in 2016, but that’s when I read them. My original thought was to keep it to my top five, but I failed miserably, as you will see.
Favorite books of 2016 (in no particular order):
1. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren: I loved this book about one woman’s relationship to science and to working in academia, with all its thrills and quirks and struggles.
2. Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel: A unique take on sci-fi. The premise hooked me right away: a girl is riding her bike around her neighborhood in Deadwood, South Dakota when she falls through a sinkhole and lands on a giant metal hand.
3. Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift: Short and sad and beautiful, about looking back on a love affair and its surrounding events in 1920s England.
4. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: An inventive way to tell the story of one woman’s life, and all the ways it can go right or wrong—the ways she is able to survive, and the reasons she doesn't.
5. Uprooted by Naomi Novik: A refreshing take on YA fantasy that didn’t go at all the way I expected it to (which I love in a book).
6. Kitchens of the Great Midwest by Ryan J. Stradal: If I had to pick one word to describe this book, it would be warm. The characters are excellent, it feels true to the Midwest, and I'm a sucker for a book about food!
7. In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides: One of the best nonfiction books I’ve read in a while, detailing the polar voyage of the USS Jeannette (which, incidentally, is my middle name) in the late 19th Century.
8. Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart: Historical fiction based on the true story of one of the first female deputy sheriffs. The cover art was what drew me to this one, and I’m so glad it did!
9. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler: The less said about this one, the better. Just read it. Don’t even read the blurb or the jacket copy first. Just. Read. It. (Warning: likely to induce tears.)
Looking back on my 2016 favorites got me thinking about what my reading life will bring in 2017. And that led me to take on a whole new challenge. Carmen, the bookish friend I mentioned last week, wrote me recently to propose a new reading challenge that would span the next four years: To only read books by women, people of color, or those in the LGBT community. (Basically, our imaginary reading clubhouse will have a NO STRAIGHT WHITE MALES ALLOWED sign on the door.)
I realize this will do nothing to combat the vile wave of oppression that is brewing in our country, or to hurt the people who are fostering it. But it's a way of filling my heart and mind with stories by and for the people who are underrepresented, and who likely feel the most hurt by what is happening right now. So to you lovely, open-minded straight white male authors out there who have done nothing to deserve my scorn: I'm not abandoning you. I'm just choosing to consciously focus on someone else for a change.
It will be our way of protesting the president-elect and the misogyny, bigotry, and general, all-around despicable hatred that he stands for. A protest reading list, if you will, starting the day of his January inauguration and pledging to follow it until he leaves office! We even came up with a hashtag: #theresistchallenge.
So in that spirit, here are #theresistchallenge books that are at the top of my list in 2017 (again, no particular order):
1. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James: Set mainly in Jamaica and spanning several decades, this book explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley and beyond.
2. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West: I can’t wait to dive into these feminist flavored memoir-style essays.
3. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki: I feel like the Zen Buddhism themes in this one will help keep me sane through the first year of the Trumpocracy.
4. Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin: A classic I’ve heard much about but never read. It’s time.
5. The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait: Because reading about kick-ass women kicks ass. I found it on this Flavorwire list of 50 Great Books About 50 Inspiring Women, if you’re looking to add to your own reading pile.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the above: the best books you’ve read in the last year, the ones you’re most excited to read, and if you’re interested in joining Carmen and I in the Resist! Reading Challenge. Happy reading everyone, in 2017 and beyond!