I read 78 books in 2017, and it was wonderful. Time to read has been the greatest surprise of post-college life, because reading is important to me as a person and it’s obviously important to humanity. And so, here are, in the order I read them, my literary highlights from the year!
A Girl From Yamhill – Beverly Cleary
The autobiography of the author of the Ramona books! This is actually only the first installment of autobiographies by Ms. Cleary (I think there is at least one more, maybe two), but this one reflects on her childhood and adolescence. Her life, as she tells it, is very different from what I would have imagined from the woman who created Ramona and Beezus, Henry Huggins, Ralph S. Mouse, etc. She writes in a very matter-of-fact way; it isn’t very flowery and could even be called pessimistic. She uses this very matter-of-fact writing style to illustrate her simple, unaffectionate childhood. This book wasn’t strikingly life-changing, nor was the writing remarkable, but the story wasn’t what I would have expected and I loved learning about this author’s early life and inner thoughts.
This is Awkward: How Life’s Uncomfortable Moments Open the Door to Intimacy and Connection – Sammy Rhodes
It’s no big deal, he goes to my church (just kidding, it’s kind of a big deal. I’m a huge fan). Sammy Rhodes is the RUF campus minister at USC (Perhaps the only good thing about USC??). He is a hardcore introvert and a very real writer. He writes about how awkwardness is essential to relationships in humanity. The content can be hard and heavy, but he lightens it well with some humor and realism. His writing style makes him seem personable and relatable, which is funny because he also talks about how he often dreads social events. He uses the hardness from his life to help and share with others. I underlined like half of the book because it was all great.
Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets – Sudhir Venkatesh
This was recommended by a professor in college and I finally read it like two years later. The author is, obviously, a sociologist, but he writes in a way that is easily understandable by normal people (like not sociologists). He studied a specific gang in Chicago over several years and describes and observes well the changes that occurred in gang life over all this time. He was very close with a member who was high up on the totem pole, who let him be in charge for a day (hence the title). It was clear from reading this book how much he loved these people he worked to study, from whom he was so different. Gang life is something I know very little about, and this book was so fun to read. I felt like I could travel to Chicago and go be best friends with these gang members because I had seen them in their real-life moments – not true, but it was amazing to learn about gang members as people and what gang life is like day-to-day.
High Fidelity – Nick Hornby
There’s also a movie for this book, but I’ve only read the book and it was amazing. The main character is a classic clumsy middle-aged British man who makes a fool of himself often, always putting his foot in his mouth, yet he desires a real and deep relationship. It was hilarious and relatable and heartfelt (and also the love interest’s name was Laura so that’s not a bad thing). I just got another book by Nick Hornby and my expectations are very high because of how much I loved this one.
Heartburn – Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron may be one of my favorite humans to have ever existed. She wrote When Harry Met Sally, While You Were Sleeping, You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, Julie and Julia, and some others…but she also wrote this book. From what I know, it’s somewhat autobiographical. Nora Ephron has this amazing way of not taking herself too seriously and using humor to get through life. She is talented at pinpointing very specific yet relatable feelings. My favorite quotes from the book: “The nurse gave me one of those withering looks that are meant to make you feel as if your thoroughly understandable rage is only female hysteria.” and “And the only thing that might have made it even more satisfyingly melodramatic and masochistic would have been to be lying in the bathtub; nothing like crying in the tub for real self-pity; nothing like the moment when every last bit of you is wet, and wiping the tears from your eyes only means making your face even wetter.” I love Nora and I love this book. It is a pleasant surprise every time I read it.
The Language of Flowers – Vanessa Diffenbaugh
One of my favorite things to do with fiction is to open a book and start reading it without knowing what it’s about. This book came on good recommendation (although I don’t remember from where – it was just on my list and I decided to read it) and after reading the first page, I knew it was going to be good.
It’s about a girl who has grown up in the foster care system, and it starts on the day she turns 18 and is on her own. It’s a little dark, but in a good way. The character made a lot of choices that made me cringe but I was rooting for her the whole time. The author did a wonderful job with her characterization – she seems (to me) pretty accurately portrayed for a person who has grown up without a steady caretaker or the love of a family. She has some social deficits and naivete about some things and knows too much about others. She loves plants and flowers and gets a job working with a florist, who teaches her the Victorian meanings of flowers (hence the title). Every time I had to put it down I wished I could keep reading it. After finishing the book, I just sat and thought and said, “wow.” It was well-written, suspenseful, heart-wrenching at times, and lovely.
Kids Like Us – Hilary Reyl
This book is a young adult fiction book about a boy with autism spending the summer in France. I have some quite mixed feelings about the way people with disabilities are represented in TV, movies, books, etc., but Martin is characterized well. Reyl gives him some traits of someone with autism but makes it clear that Martin is one person with autism, not the entire population of the spectrum. In the story, Martin goes to a “gen-ed” school and develops relationships with his same-age peers, all typically developing (his friends at home are all from his school and have special needs/social deficits to some extent). He experiences many classic teenager situations, and his narration is charming. It was not a difficult read but very thought-provoking.
- Object Lessons – Anna Quindlen: sentimental, down-to-earth, coming-of-age
- Gilead – Marilynne Robinson: steady, wise, hopeful
- The Dud Avocado – Elaine Dundy: story was funky – I just like this title
- The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein: lovable, creative, sad
- Many Things Have Happened Since He Died – Elizabeth Dewberry Vaughn: thought-provoking, haunting, elegiac
Hooray for 2018 and for reading new books!