Monday, January 8, 2018

favorite books of 2017

2017 was my only full calendar year of grad school. So yeah, I read a shit ton of books. Fifty, to be exact. And if there's one thing I am, with my lists and spreadsheets, it's exact.


(only last semester's reads are pictured)
 Here are my top reads from last year: 

1. Moon Palace
by Paul Auster
Novel
This isn't a book. It's an experience. It's a story within a story, within a story. Each story more fantastic than the last. It's a story about a family of men forging their way through loneliness without women. This book serves as a reminder that literature can transport us to places we've never been, make us feel what we haven't, make us see our world differently.

2. Truth & Beauty
by Ann Patchett
Non-fiction
This is a book about a friendship between two writers: Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy (Autobiography of a Face). I read Lucy's book years ago, in Salt Lake City, by the pool while my sister and mother tanned. I remember how good it was and now, many years later, I got insight into the pain behind her words as told by her best friend. Writer friends are deep friends, I know this now. I just returned from a residency where there were so many emotional moments and days. Writers skip past the bullshit small talk and get to know each other at our cores. A friend like Ann is every Lucy's dream. I have told my friend Jen that she is my Ann Patchett. One day, when she has time to read not for school, she'll understand what I mean.

3. Ron Carlson Writes a Story
Ron Carlson
Craft book
Such a quick and easy read that I have referenced so many times since finishing. Ron Carlson tells writers to stay in the room, follow the energy of the story, don't stop. I have used his advice many times since, while reading short stories that weren't even for credit, just because I wanted to write the way he does, feel myself sweat through a story, see what happens. 

4. Fates and Furies
by Lauren Groff
Novel
A story about perspective. It is divided into two section: Fates is written from Lotto's perspective, Furies from his wife Mahilde's point of view. How many ways are there to view a story? Mathilde will turn what you thought you knew on its head (as women often do).

5. Norwegian Wood
by Haruki Murakami
Novel
A 37-year-old man remembers a love triangle from when he was 19 while he's on a plane when the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" plays. It's engaging, compelling. There's coming of age, sex, and the descent into craziness.

6. Everything I Never Told You
by Celeste Ng
Novel
The intersecting lives of  family members who live together but barely know each other. Beautiful: the way the author knits together what is said and what isn't. What we really mean and how we do or can't say it.

7. Without a Map
by Meredith Hall
Memoir
I re-read this last year. You might remember me talking about it here or here or here. The fact is, I'm obsessed with this book. In fact, this book inspired me to write about my daughter and her adoption. About who I was then, about who I am now, and the versions in between. That is what I worked on last semester with my mentor, my fantastic mentor who happens to have once been a student of Meredith Hall herself. The world is such a fucking beautiful place.

8. Safekeeping
by Abigail Thomas
Memoir (in short vignettes)
Sometimes I read a book that is new and different from anything I've read and I begin to think of writing in a whole new light. Abigail Thomas did that for me. She wrote this series of vignettes (most are a page or less) that create her story in pithy, poignant, and funny ways. She has mastered discovering what she has to say and saying it with as much brevity as possible.

9. The Chronology of Water
by Lidia Yuknavitch
Memoir
This book. This fucking book. I loved every page, every word, every scene. Lidia writes so unapologetically, so honestly. She writes the bad, the mistakes, human ugliness. Let me leave this excerpt here, this excerpt that I read again and again: 
He treated this thing I'd done - this DUI - the dead baby - the failed marriages - the rehab - the little scars at my collar bone - my vodka - my scarred as shit past and body - as chapters of a book he wanted to hold in his hands and finish (pg. 243). 

10. Birds of America
by Lorrie Moore
Short Stories
Lorrie Moore, every time I read her, teaches me something new. What it is to exist in this world, sucking in it as if through a straw, then spitting it back out as words onto a page. Her stories are hilarious and poignant and sometimes sad and always, always, beautifully written.

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