I always start a new year with high hopes of reading ALL THE THINGS. Inevitably, I’ll set myself up for probable failure with Goodreads Reading Challenge, even though I’ve only met my reading goal once in the past five years.
This year, I was smarter. Having started the year bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and full of reading hope, I aimed to read 50 books this year. But, when fall came as I was only in the 20s, I said to myself, fuck failure, and changed the reading goal, knocking it in half, all the way down to 25, a goal I managed to pass in November, thank you very much.
Maybe that’s cheating. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s called realistic goal management or some other such shit, but it was a little tiny thing that made me like less of a terrible human this year, so I’m not regretting it, not even a little bit.
A lot of what I read this year was just ok, or it was Harry Potter, which is THE BEST, but there were a few standouts this year. I stumbled upon a few books that I couldn’t put down, that I carried around the house with me as I cleaned up the house or brushed my teeth. They’re the ones that made me cry, laugh or sometimes both, the ones that left me thinking and feeling for days after reading the final page, and the books that I didn’t want to end.
THE BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2017
To the Bright Edge of the World is set in the Alaskan frontier and tells the story of Col. Allen Forrester, who is assigned the mission of navigating the Wolverine River with a small group of men in the 1880s, and his wife, Sophie, left behind at Vancouver Barracks in Vancouver, Washington. The Wolverine River had never been fully explored before, although other men had died trying. Sophie is young and independent and the story is told through letters, diaries, military reports, newspaper articles and other correspondence, both between the characters of the 1880s storyline and modern persons who come to find their story much later.
It’s a love story, a heartbreaking story of loss, a story about exploring new places, about an expanding nation, about mischief and culture. It was, without a doubt, the best thing I read in 2017. I found myself totally wrapped up in the lives of the characters, hurting when they hurt and cheering for their success throughout the story. The story itself is beautifully written and the delivery is unique and deeply personal. AMAZON || GOODREADS
I’m not typically a huge memoir or autobiography fan, but someone sent Shoe Dog to Kuwait in a care package and as soon as I saw it, I snatched it up. I’d put it on my to-read list when I read about it in Runner’s World and devoured it in the final days of my deployment. It was the very last book I read before heading home in January.
This book is exactly what it says it is, the story of NIKE, as told by it’s creator, Phil Knight. He’s refreshingly candid in this book, starting from the very beginning when he borrowed $50 from his dad to the multi-billion dollar empire that NIKE is today. Knight talks about the band of misfits he hired to run his new company, about the mistakes he made along the way, about how his company (then called Blue Ribbon Shoes) sponsored Steve Prefontaine and about his tragic and unexpected death and what the loss of Pre felt like to Oregon’s running community. It’s a history of NIKE, but a history of running, too. AMAZON || GOODREADS
Jenny Lawson is The Bloggess and while I never read her blog with any actual regularity, I enjoyed her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, and I fucking loved Furiously Happy. I read it in Italy, on trains between different cities, in hotel rooms and on airplanes, and I laughed out loud while reading this book on numerous occasions. I even read whole pages out loud to my travel partner because it was so good and so funny and I just really, really needed to share it with someone.
This book includes hilarious stories, but it’s also a for-real look at mental health and what it means to cope with mental health problems. Lawson put to words a lot of things I’ve felt, but have never been able to explain, and she did it with an incredible amount of humor and grace. I’d recommend this book to anyone who has ever experienced depression, anxiety or any other sort of mental health thing, as well as to anyone who has ever been considered the weird girl. AMAZON || GOODREADS
I read Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent more than a decade ago and have had The Boston Girl sitting on my Kindle for actual years, finally opting to read it last month in Mexico. The Boston Girl is Addie Baum, now 85, and she tells her life story to her granddaughter, who asked her how she got to be the woman she is today. She’s the daughter of immigrants, was born in 1900, and tells her granddaughter everything – her dreams of going to college, the friendships she forges with her friends, her first disastrous attempt at love.
It is a coming-of-age story, told through the eyes of a young Jewish girl growing up in Boston and I think I loved it so much because I miss my grandmother and reading this story, which is an entire world apart from my grandmother’s Texan upbringing, made me feel closer to her, or maybe just close to the special sort of magic grandmothers tend to have. AMAZON || GOODREADS
This is another book that sat on my Kindle for way, way too long. I finally read it for my feminist book club a few months ago and it hooked me with the first sentence, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” From there, the book talks about the mystery of Lydia, her life and her death, and about her Chinese American family living in a small Ohio town in the 1970s. The family includes two parents and two kids and while they’re together, they’re also heartbreakingly separate, each living their lives apart from one another, despite their evening and morning meals together.
In addition to being beautifully written, this was also a great book club read, especially for my feminist book club. We discussed how race, sex and gender was portrayed in the book, but also how the limitations of each affected the characters. AMAZON || GOODREADS
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