Bay Reads - Jan/Feb 2018
December brings ‘best of’ lists for a wide range of products and services, but the only lists I most anticipate are the best books of the year. I enjoy comparing the books I’ve read with the ones I’m not familiar with.
Two of my favorite books of 2017, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, appear on almost all lists this year. I’ve mentioned both books in earlier Shoofly articles which are available in the archives.
Previous articles about book lists mention that I have a journal that I started in 2008 listing all the books I have read. In addition to the title, I note the author and the first sentence. That first sentence says a lot about what’s to come in the story. I read mostly novels and short stories, but nonfiction books also capture my interest.
This past year was one of my best for reading. Listed below are a few of my favorites:
— News of the World by Paulette Jiles describes the journey of a hardened veteran of multiple wars and a child captured and raised by a Kiowa tribe. The child remembers nothing of her life wearing dresses or speaking English. The love and trust that develops between them during their arduous trek across the lawless post-Civil War West brought tears to my eyes.
— Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout is set in the small Illinois town that was the hometown of Lucy Barton, whom we first met in Strout’s previous book, My Name is Lucy Barton. Strout is one of my favorite writers, and this novel doesn’t disappoint.
— Persuasion by Jane Austen was published 200 years ago in 1817. As with other Austen novels, there are worthy heroines who prevail over greed and vanity. None of Austen’s novels are quick reads, but they are certainly worth the effort.
— Swing Time by Zadie Smith traces the friendship of two girls growing up in public housing in London from childhood into middle age. They meet in a dance class and bond over the movies of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Dance and music play a large role in this book.
— Miss Jane by Brad Watson is a fictional account of an ancestor of Watson’s who grew up in rural Mississippi with a handicap that made an ordinary life impossible for her. Jane lived to an old age without bitterness or complaint. Her attitude in overcoming her handicaps was inspirational.
— Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng starts with the death of a teenage girl. Lydia is the favorite child of Chinese parents who expect her to achieve what they were unable to. This book reads like a mystery while telling how loving families can completely misunderstand each other.
— The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben and The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman will change how you look at the natural world. According to Wohlleben, trees in the forest are social beings who nurture each other and communicate danger through secretion of scent or sound vibrations.
I risk boring my friends with information from The Genius of Birds, and force my husband, John, to listen while I read stories of navigation, nest building and feats of intelligence. These two books are remarkable.
- Autumn by Ali Smith
- Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
- Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
- The Power by Naomi Alderman
- Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
- The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choices Shapes the Animal World—and Us by Richard O. Prum
- Grant by Ron Chernow
- Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr.
- Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser
- Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
- White Tears by Hari Kunzru
- Ill Will by Dan Chaon
- In the Distance by Hernan Diaz
- Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin
- Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
- Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India by Sujatha Gidla
- The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost by Peter Manseau
- The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein
- Extreme Cities: The Perils and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change by Askley Dawson
- Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics by Kim Phillips-Fein
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
Blameless by Claudio Magris, translated from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel
The Burning Girl by Claire Messud
The City Always Wins by Omar Robert Hamilton
Cockfosters by Helen Simpson
The End of Eddy by Édouard Louis, translated from the French by Michael Lucey
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
Frontier by Can Xue, translated from the Chinese by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping
Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
House of Names by Colm Toibin
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci, translated from the Finnish by David Hackston
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac, translated from the Spanish by Roy Kesey
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell