Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 in books

I read 50 books in 2017 and re-read one (A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan). I ranked them from worst to best, in my opinion. I have also included a more detailed Goodreads review when you click on the title of (almost) each book in this list. Happy reading!

50. I Love Dick- Chris Kraus Faux-feminism but actually just a pretentious tale about a woman stalking and harassing a man. I guess the feminism part is that the woman is the one doing the stalking and harassing for once? I don't know. I'm baffled how this book got the "feminist literature" distinction. It's been picked up by Amazon though and I will probably hate watch the show.

49. Milk and Honey- Rupi Kaur File under "should've stayed on Tumblr."

48. Too Much and Not the Mood- Durga Chew-Bose A really beautiful book cover and some interesting musings from an Indian-Canadian millennial woman, but overall pretty boring prose about nothing.

47. Sweetbitter- Stephanie Danler This is a book about a pretty white girl who moves to New York, lands a job she is unqualified for, and essentially bats her eyelashes to success. Might be interesting if you are into wine. There are a lot of wine references that went over my head. This is another book that has been picked up by a television network and I will probably hate watch it too.

46. South and West- Joan Didion Musings of a rich white woman who gets stuck in the South and decides to critique everything that crosses her path. I love a good snarky essay collection (Fran Leibowitz), but this read to me as condescending and lacking wit or humor.

45. Lincoln In the Bardo- George Saunders Honestly, I should count this book as unread. It was my book club book one month and I speedily read through it on Kindle, missing most of the charm and dialogue that my book club members spoke of when we discussed it. I do know a lot of people really enjoyed it and it is an incredibly unique premise (ghosts telling stories of their living lives as well as narrating their time in purgatory).

44. The Idiot- Elif Batuman My favorite part about this book was the familiarity I had with the setting- Harvard University, Harvard Square and the surrounding T stops in Cambridge/Boston. This is the story of an immigrant undergraduate at you guessed it, Harvard. She is kind of an idiot in most of the story but there are brief moments of wit. I file this under "don't pick a book because it is millennial pink colored."

43. Norse Mythology- Neil Gaiman I didn't not enjoy this book, but this was another book club book and I honestly would never have chosen it on my own. I think this would be very fun to read with a child.

42. How to Murder Your Life- Cat Marnell This book is the equivalent of watching 4 episodes of the Real Housewives of New York City with a lot of drugs. I read it very quickly and loved all the fashion and beauty name drops. It's about a beauty editor who becomes addicted to prescription drugs at a young age and her addiction is fueled by her rich family and career. The most frustrating part of this book is the fact that the author really never learns her lesson, but after reading Roxane Gay's (much better) memoir, I am learning that memoirs are not required to have a happy, lesson learned, tie it with a bow ending. Frankly, some people continue to live in misery or destruction and that is how life is. Highly recommend for a long flight or tropical vacation.

41. Race and the Making of the Mormon People- Max Mueller I had a hard time ranking this one because I had the privilege of attending a discussion with Max Mueller, which made me understand and like the book a lot more. However, if you don't have that privilege and are simply reading this book on its own, it's kind of boring and repetitive. The ideas are fascinating and important, but not a page turner.

40. Swing Time- Zadie Smith I wanted to love this because it is about ballet and female friendship and Zadie Smith is impossibly cool, but it fell short of the New York Times Book Review hype. It's hard for me to enjoy a book in which none of the characters are redeeming or likable, but I am also impressed with the books I've come across that have these. I'm still waiting for Zadie to speak to me.

39. Bluets- Maggie Nelson I wish I could write an arbitrary list loosely based on a color and have it be as good as Bluets. This is the second Maggie Nelson I've read and paled in comparison to The Argonatus. Still, it was an easy read with passages that made me feel feelings.

38. Little Women- Louisa May Alcott I know I can't judge classic literature with the same lens as contemporary, but wow, was this book boring and so silly. Some of the dialogue made me laugh out loud because of how ridiculous it sounded. The friendship among the March sisters is heartwarming, but overall I was puzzled by how many people consider this one of their favorite classics.

37. The Odd Woman and the City- Vivian Gornick I didn't write a Goodreads review for this book and remember very little from it, except that it was a collection of essays about a woman living in New York City.

36. Manhattan Beach- Jennifer Egan This was my November book club book. I loved A Visit From the Goon Squad and was highly anticipating Manhattan Beach. I had the opportunity to listen to Jennifer Egan speak about this book and as I always feel after hearing an author talk about their work, I liked the book more after. This book is the definition of historical fiction. Egan put in an incredible amount of research into this book and it shows with her detailed descriptions of the Brooklyn naval yards and the costumes worn by World War II divers. The characters were complex and well-written. I think if you've never read Jennifer Egan, you will enjoy this book more. I recommend A Visit From the Goon Squad to experience what I think is Egan's true genius.

35. Her Body and Other Parties- Carmen Maria Machado The closest thing I read to Goosebumps this year. This collection of short stories is labeled "feminist," but I was disheartened to read only the negative aspects of being a woman, and I don't consider a list of why it's hard to be a woman "feminist." Secondly, these stories are very sexual, to the point where intercourse is as common as taking a breath of air. I am not bothered by sex scenes in literature, and I consider it a talent for a writer to compose one without making the reader cringe, but this got to a point where every other page was sex.

34. Commonwealth- Ann Patchett I wrote this book off initially because I thought it was chick lit. It is similar to chick lit in that it is very easy to read and you can finish it in a day or two, but I equate chick lit to lacking substance, and Commonwealth is certainly substantive. The story is a dysfunctional family drama which reminded me of Jonathan Franzen. It jumps back and forth between family members and unfolds in the most lovely and unpretenious way.

33. Too Much Happiness- Alice Munro This is another spooky collection of short stories, but less sexy and darker. I really enjoyed "Wenlock Edge," "Free Radicals," and "Child's Play." All of these stories left me feeling uneasy.

32. Political Fictions- Joan Didion I have been trying to read Joan Didion for the past three years waiting for something to speak to me the way she seems to have spoken to every other stylish female millennial and finally she has. This is a collection of essays written between 1998 and 2000 about the presidential campaigns of the time. Didion's views are unbiased, witty, humorous, and address the actual shit show that is American politics. I read this ten days before the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States which I think added to my enjoyment of the book and dread for the future.

31. The Underground Railroad- Colson Whitehead Amazing storytelling and worthy of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I wish I had a stronger connection with Whitehead's main character, but I thoroughly enjoyed this historical adventure through one of America's darkest times.

30. The Handmaid's Tale- Margaret Atwood I'll admit I only read this so I could make comparisons with the Hulu recreation, but I'm glad I did. This book is set in the future in a world that has reverted to biblical rule and women are reduced to childbearing machines. It was fascinating to read this, then watch the television series, then see women dressed as handmaids protesting the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. What a time to be alive!

29. Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape Peggy Orenstein It is fascinating to have read this book at the beginning of 2017 and reflect on the newer landscape that we live in because of the courage of hundreds of women coming forward about sexual assault. This book is a collection of stories, interviews, and statistics about girls and sexuality from early teens to adulthood. This book left me terrified to raise a daughter and angry with the environment society has created for young women. However, change is coming and women will not be silenced.

28. The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men- Carol Lynn Pearson This was particularly disturbing and difficult to read as a woman who is active in the LDS church. Polygamy was practiced in the early church, is said to have been done away with, but certain principles remain doctrinal and have caused anguish and heartache to hundreds of Latter-day Saints. My best advice for reading this book is to make sure you have a friend, or better, a group of friends, to discuss with upon completion. The topics and stories are heartbreaking and left me with a weight on my soul that only seemed to lift after discussing with like-minded women.

27. Ready Player One- Ernest Cline Harry Potter for the digital age. This book is so much fun. I didn't get a lot of the 80's references, but it still didn't take away from feeling like I was competing in the Triwizard Tournament on a video game.

26. Life On Mars- Tracy K. Smith I am still angry about the four books that I shipped from Seattle to Boston that were stolen in transit by the United States Postal Service. Life On Mars was one of these books. I do remember several beautiful stanzas about the planets and solar system in relation to love and the human body, but unfortunately, have no specific poems to cite or verses to quote. I do know I very much enjoyed this collection by Tracy K. Smith and think you will too.

25. What Happened- Hillary Rodham Clinton I voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and my heart was broken when she lost to the buffoon who is currently in the Oval Office. What Happened is exactly that- what happened in 2016 from the Democratic presidential candidate, first woman to be nominated by a major party for president, and who should be leading our country today. I am most annoyed by criticism of this book that Hillary is too "angry" and is seeking to "blame everyone else for her loss." Hi, I would be angry too if I lost the election to Donald Sex Offender Trump. I think this was therapeutic for Clinton and necessary to process the immense loss that was 2016. It is also extremely hopeful and ends on a note that encourages us to stay active in government and push for change, which is exactly what I plan to do in 2018.

24. My Misspent Youth- Meghan Daum A collection of essays about being broke in New York City but knowing you're in the most fabulous city on earth. These essays are pretentious but darkly funny and smart enough that it was ok. I think it's important when authors coming from a position of condescension about a topic acknowledge their narcissism and Daum does just that.

23. Against Everything: Essays- Mark Greif This collection is the opposite of My Misspent Youth because it is pretentious and but doesn't acknowledge it. I still enjoyed it a little bit more because the topics were things that interest me or I've thought and wondered about (being a foodie, rap music, exercise, Radiohead). I kind of finished reading each essay thinking, "Ok but why do you get to make these critiques? Who are you Mark Greif??"

22. Moonglow- Michael Chabon Michael Chabon is a master storyteller. This is a memoir-ish novel about his grandfather's life, told from deathbed confessions. Chabon jumps from the past and present, rather choppily, but still in a way that's enjoyable and exemplary of the love Chabon has for his grandparents.

21. Letters to a Young Poet- Rainer Maria Rilke Beautiful words on writing and feeling. I stand by my Goodreads review that it is "like if your favorite sweater was a book."

20. Hunger- Roxane Gay This book taught me a lot of things, but I think the most important is that I really know nothing about a lot of people's lives. I don't know why they look the way they do, why they act or speak the way they do, and I have no idea what terrible atrocities they may have faced or continue to face. Roxane Gay speaks candidly about sexual assault, disordered eating, and body image in her memoir about her body. I think I read this at the perfect time of the year- when hundreds of women came forward about sexual assault and it finally became a national conversation. Again, women are resilient and will not be silenced!!!

19. Autumn- Karl Ove Knausgaard I fell in love with Karl Ove last year when I read the first five of his sprawling "My Struggle" memoir and in anticipation of the final installment, stumbled upon one of four of his "Seasons" quartet. I think this is an excellent introduction to Karl Ove, and paints a more likable picture of KOK than the most recent "My Struggle" publication. This is a collection of descriptions of everyday objects, loosely related to Autumn. It also includes letters to his unborn daughter which I found particularly enjoyable and heartwarming.

18. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running- Haruki Murakami I read this at the start of my own training for the New York Marathon (Murakami wrote this while he was training for it) and I loved it. I shared so many of Murakami's opinions, particularly his love of not having to interact with anyone while running. Running has become a kind of meditation for me, and long distance running is a special mental sport that requires physical strength and athletic ability, but places equal weight on personal discipline and mental stamina. You also get to experience Murakami's gorgeous prose of which I have grown so fond. Highly recommend to any runners.

17. Women in Clothes- Sheila Heti I made an early prediction that this would make my top ten books this year and even though it hasn't, I still loved this collection of essays, photos, surveys, and interviews so much. This would make an amazing gift for anyone who loves clothes or fashion. There are hundreds of women featured in this book who talk about the different stories of their clothes, personal style, and their inspirations for dressing. One of the best things from this book is a quote that I included in my Goodreads review, but feel is too good to not repeat here: "I hate when people say they don't care about clothes, because it's a lie. It's like when writers say they don't care about plot. Lie. We are always asking for something when we get dressed. Asking to be loved, to be fucked, to be admired, to be left alone, to make people laugh, to scare people, to look wealthy, to say I'm poor, I love myself. It's the quiet poem in the waiting room, on the subway, in the movie of our lives. It's a big fucking deal."

16. Let My People Go Surfing- Yvon Chouinard I have huge respect for Yvon Chouinard and the Patagonia brand after reading this memoir. Founder of the outerwear brand urges readers to stop buying shit we don't need and, even the stuff he's making. Chouinard places his family, the well-being of his employees and the preserving the earth at the top of his priorities. I am still guilty of buying things I don't need, all the time, but I have stopped myself several times this year after reading this memoir from buying another dumb tshirt or sweater. I try to contemplate the lifespan of an article of clothing before I buy it, have made an effort to recycle and use less paper products and avoid waste in general, and get outside more. I think that's what Yvon would have wanted.

15. The Collected Stories- Lydia Davis This collection of short stories is smart, poignant, and a great example of doing a lot with a little. Some of Davis' stories were half a page long, but still conveyed meaning and evoked deep emotions and thought. This is a wonderful little book about feelings.

14. A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women's Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 Laurel Thatcher Ulrich is a brilliant historian, writer, and teacher. I had the immense privilege of attending her Sunday School class in the Cambridge First Ward. Laurel is passionate about women's rights and her knowledge of feminism in the early church seems endless. The research and gathering of diaries, photos, quilts, and other artifacts to produce A House Full of Females only increases my admiration for Laurel. I finished this book feeling proud of the wonderful heritage of the Relief Society and especially proud of the Mormon women of the early church who were mothers, homemakers, feminists, and defenders of women's rights amidst a patriarchal environment.

13. We Should All Be Feminists- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie My favorite book I read last year was by Chimamanda, and this year I read two more of her works. Though both were very short, both were absolute gems of books and should be required reading for everyone. This book is based on a TEDx talk Adichie gave about what it "feminism" means today.

13. Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie "How do I raise my baby girl to be a feminist?" was the question Chimamanda was asked before writing this book. These are her answers. They are succinct and important. Another short little book that packs so much on every page.

11. String Theory- David Foster Wallace My year wouldn't be complete without a little DFW. This is a collection of every essay Wallace has written about tennis. I have yet to find a better essayist than David Foster Wallace. Every topic he covers he is able to produce informative, hilarious, and thought-provoking prose that I am reminded of every time said topics enter my life. He was a true genius and I look forward to reading more of his work in 2018.

10. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life- William Finnegan A memoir of surfing. I tried surfing for the first time in the summer of 2016. I tried again this year. I'm terrible, but I'm fascinated. I want so badly to be good at it, but my body and swimming ability make it difficult. William Finnegan's memoir about his life as a surfer from a small boy to grown adult is beautifully written. You can feel Finnegan's passion for the sport on every page. I finished with a new appreciation and admiration for surfers and a reverence for the ocean.

9. The Argonatus- Maggie Nelson Maggie Nelson tells the story of forming a life and family with gender fluid Harry Dodge, their struggles to have children, and what it means to be a mother. Nelson joins her personal experience with the thoughts of theorists on sexuality, gender, and the institution of marriage. Motherhood is motherhood, regardless of how your baby comes to be your baby and/or who you love. It is a beautiful, heartbreaking, and maddening process.

8. The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds- Michael Lewis This is a book about the guys who brought us Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. It is a book about friendship, love, loss, education, success, and failure and how two brilliant men joined forces to change the way we think.

7. Arbitrary Stupid Goal- Tamara Shopsin Tamara Shopsin grew up in Greenwich Village during the 1970's. Her parents ran a restaurant whose menu rivaled The Cheesecake Factory's in length and diversity. This book is an easy read about Shopsin's life and includes a bunch of great cartoons and drawings by the author and from articles and magazines of the time. I loved reading this.

6. We Were Eight Years in Power- Ta-Nehisi Coates This is a collection of essays written during Obama's presidency, as well as a final epilogue entitled "The First White President" about you-know-who. Coates is unapologetic in his prose and often critical of Obama, but always respectful and always admiring. Every essay is thought-provoking and powerful and forces Americans to address the white supremacy and racism that continues to divide our country today.

5. The Sympathizer- Viet Thanh Nguyen The story of a Vietnamese double agent living in Los Angeles. The writing in this book is amazing and Nguyen uses figurative language in ways I've never read. I described it in my Goodreads review as "a punch to the stomach" and I stand by that claim. I am always drawn to diaspora type novels, because I love to read foreigner's descriptions of American stereotypes and customs as they often echo my own immigrant parents. I read this book early in 2017, but have recommended it to so many people and loved it so much.

4. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City- Matthew Desmond Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction, Matthew Desmond follows families living in the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee and writes about their struggle to survive amidst poverty and the constant threat of eviction. This book made me re-think poverty in the United States, particularly where it occurs and who it affects. The stories of the people Desmond interviews are heartbreaking and you feel a strong connection to each family. Desmond combines years of research and vivid prose to expose wealth inequality in the United States and the determination and hope people display in the face of inescapable poverty.

3. Between the World and Me- Ta-Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me is a stunning memoir written for Coates' son. It is a reflection on being black in the United States, what it means for Coates and what it now means for his son. The author reflects on his own childhood in Baltimore, moving to New York City, and working as a writer. Over and over Coates warns his son of the inequality that will always face him because of the color of his skin and how he must be twice as careful and twice as good because his life depends on it. I am so scared to be a parent, but my fears seem minuscule compared to the fear black mothers and fathers have for their sons every day in this country. This book is humbling, beautifully written, and so important.

2. The Nix- Nathan Hill If you've asked me for a book recommendation I've probably recommended The Nix. I still think about this book- its complexities, characters, how it weaves perfectly together, and how it was eerily prophetic of 2016-2017. I also want everyone to remember this was Nathan Hill's first novel! What a masterpiece! This book takes place in the past and present and jumps between the main character's (college professor and failed writer, Samuel) and his mother who abandoned him (Faye). There is a lot going on, but I promise (without giving away the ending) it's not confusing and all comes together so brilliantly. This was my favorite fiction I read in 2017.

1. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York- Robert Caro After reading this book, you will never think of New York or visit the city again without thinking of Robert Moses. This book is enormous, but outstanding. It is the best biography I've ever read and probably the best non-fiction book I've read in my life. Robert Moses was brilliant, power-hungry, charming, and ruthless. He defied the public and the press and masterfully orchestrated the building of New York City and Long Island without ever holding elected office. Robert Caro is a talented writer and paints a picture of Moses which leaves you torn between lauding and loathing and wonderfully tells the story of his rise to power and his arrogant fall from the top. (I have added this to my all-time favorite books list.)

There you have it- my year in books from the worst to the very best! I hope you enjoyed this compilation. It has become my favorite New Year tradition. 2017 was a weird year full of great and terrible things. Reading has always been a favorite activity of mine, but in recent months, I've found it helps take my mind off troubling things in the world, but also inspires me to make changes to better myself and lift those around me.

I get asked a lot for book recommendations and I love to give them. I urge everyone reading this to join Goodreads! It's a great way to see what your friends are reading, what they thought about certain books, and record your own reading progress. I also find so many new titles and authors on Goodreads.

Thanks for taking the time to read (or scroll) through my list. I would love to hear your favorites from 2017 in the comments. Happy New Year! Here's to many more books in 2018!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"we won't go away, welcome to your first day."

A few weeks ago the New York Times had an open submission for people planning to attend the Women's March on Washington on January 21. I did not get to make my NYT debut, but I still wanted to share part of my submission:

Are you attending the Women's March on Washington? If so, what is motivating you to participate?
I am attending the Women's March because Donald J. Trump's campaign and election ignited a fire within me that I did not know was there. My rights as a legal immigrant and woman feel threatened as they never have in my whole life. I am participating because I love this nation and the freedoms we enjoy and want to demonstrate that love. I want to meet other like-minded women, learn their stories, make new friends and build alliances, because I think the relationships between smart and brave women in the United States will be more important than ever before. A man who jokes about sexual assault, mocks disabilities and fears individuals who are not like him holds the highest office in our land. Despite these horrors, if it was not for Donald Trump’s election, I might not be participating in the first political demonstration of my life on January 21. Through my tears shed on November 9, after Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, after Michelle Obama’s final speech and President Obama’s farewell speech, I made a promise to myself that I would learn more about my government and to quote our beloved 44th President, be an “anxious, jealous guardian of democracy.” Participating in the Women’s March is a small step before many I plan to take these next four years in guarding our democracy and honoring the legacy of so many brave men and women before me who have felt the same fears and worries as me. I am motivated by my immigrant mother and father. I am motivated by every time I proudly check the “F” box when identifying my gender on applications and forms. I am motivated by the women in my life who have taught me, comforted me, believed in me and loved me. I am motivated by the woman who was the first female presidential nominee in the history of our country. I am motivated by the man who will be formally appointed the 45th president of the United States of America on January 20, 2017.
I attended the Women's March on Washington and it was a beautiful day. I marched with one of my best friends and though it was just the two of us, I felt like I was marching with thousands of friends. The energy was so positive and contagious. I laughed a lot and sporadically shed some tears because I was so moved by the number of people, not just women, who felt the same way as me and wanted to do something about it. 
I chose a quote by James Baldwin to write on my sign. I think this quote most accurately and eloquently exemplifies the danger of a Trump presidency. There were some really incredible, creative, funny and thought-provoking signs and my regret was not capturing more of them.
I had worries, especially after hearing about the violence that occurred on Inauguration Day, that there might be anti-march protesters, but I really only witnessed a very tiny group with hateful and disgusting signs, and I was too far away from them to hear anything they were saying. Overall, everyone was so warm and happy. If you bumped into anyone, you were always met with an "I'm sorry!" Also the D.C. Homeland Security Director reported there were no arrests from the Women's March. Cuz women get it done :) It was also the second busiest day in Metro history, the first was Obama's 2009 Inauguration :) :)
I left the march feeling inspired, empowered and excited. The biggest takeaway for me was the importance of not ending my activism when I got on the bus back to Boston. Speaker after speaker emphasized the necessity of taking the energy and outrage we've felt since November 9 back to our communities. We need to continue to speak out against this administration's policies that are contrary to our beliefs in what is right and good for our nation. I believe women's rights, minorities rights and climate change education are just a few things that are positive and only benefit and make our country stronger. I want to continue to advocate for these things and look for opportunities to educate myself and make my voice known.
The Women's March was my first political demonstration and judging by the latest actions by our new president, it probably will not be my last :)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 in books

I read 36 books in 2016. I ranked them from my least favorite to favorite, included a little bit about what I liked about each book, a tiny summary and when you click on each title, you can see my more detailed review on Goodreads. Happy reading!

36. Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks- I tried really hard to say something positive about every book on this list, but there's a reason this one was my least favorite of the year. It's so bad! It's blatantly anti-drug propaganda that has little to do with reality. The diary entries might be written by a teenage girl, but most likely an overprotective mom. I'm sure this was written with good intentions, but it's so poorly done, it's laughable.

35. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi- A beautiful story about a neurosurgeon making the most of his final years on earth, but it was obvious his skills were in the operating room and not the written word.

34. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany- So really not the best writing at all and you can't compare it with any of the original seven but I was so thrilled to be back with characters I had grown up with.

33. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot- Really fascinating topic in medicine but I was left with a lot of questions about who exactly is Henrietta Lacks?? Also it seemed the author was very intent on proving that she got "the real scoop" and was different than any other journalist who ever tried to write about Henrietta Lacks, which was annoying.

32. Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed- Advice collected from Cheryl Strayed's website This book made me appreciate my miniscule problems and how fortunate I am. Strayed broadly took a "do what makes you happy" approach for a majority of her readers' problems, and for some of them this mentality was a good solution, but for many it only seemed selfish.

31. Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire- This poet inspired some of the lyrics of Beyonce's "Lemonade" album. I didn't feel much reading these poems, but poetry speaks to everyone so differently, so I shy away from not recommending this, as it might change your life?

30. The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook- My favorite part about this book was learning about what went on to create my favorite songs of the 90's and early 2000's. It does destroy the illusion of artists' "writing" their own music.

29. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez- Definitely not as good as One Hundred Years of Solitude. I also have little patience for womanizing main characters. This is a story of unrequited love and a man who lost the love of his life so he deals with it by sleeping with as many women as possible.

28. The White Album by Joan Didion- Still waiting for Joan to speak to me the way she's spoken to every other cool literary Instagram girl on my feed. This is a collection of essays about Didion's life and cultural observations in California. Like Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The Year of Magical Thinking, there were some wonderful gems, but overall I was left wanting more.

27. Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinov- Witty, but nothing revolutionary. Read Thinking Fast and Slow before you read this and if you still want more, then pick this one up.

26. The Secret History by Donna Tartt- I loved The Goldfinch so I gave this one a try. Goldfinch was full of lengthy descriptions of seemingly mundane things and so was The Secret History, but this time I found them less beautiful and more boring. The plot is interesting although the characters are horribly pretentious. It's still an engaging and dark story about a group of students at a small college in Vermont

25. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut- This reminded me of Catch-22 but a much funnier and time-traveling, outer space version.

24. Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick- This was mostly an obligation read as it was chosen by my book club, however I did vote for it in an attempt to learn about the city I now inhabit. This is an excellent account of the Battle of Bunker Hill, however Nathaniel Philbrick really goes into minute details of things as trivial as names of mistresses and meals eaten. Some of these details I enjoyed but many I found unnecessary. I am also not big into American history, so I felt like I was doing reading for a class. But I think if you do enjoy learning about history, this is one of the more enjoyable and entertaining historical accounts written.

23. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit- Or Feminism if You are a White Middle to Upper-Class Woman. The first essay of which this book is named was amusing and funny, but that was one of the few I enjoyed fully. This collection of essays had some bright moments but it fell short of all the high praise it has received. I think this is a very nice introduction to feminist ideas but should be coupled with more substantial and diverse feminists.

22. My Struggle Book 5 by Karl Ove Knausgaard- So far my least favorite Knausgaard. This one is so whiny and it seems all of Karl's problems could be fixed if he would just stop acting like a misogynistic pig and stay faithful to his partner. There are still gems because it is still Knausgaard and he is still excellent at writing about writing, but I really had no patience or sympathy for his artistic struggle in this one.

21. If This Isn't Nice What Is?: Advice for the Young by Kurt Vonnegut- A funny collection of graduation speeches all of which are exactly how you would imagine a Kurt Vonnegut commencement address would be.

20. The Long-Winded Lady by Maeve Brennan- Another collection of essays about New York City. Some were boring, some were great. All made me want to move to New York.

19. My Struggle Book 2 by Karl Ove Knausgaard- Brilliant beginning, boring lengthy middle, excellent thought-provoking end. Book 2 deals with Knausgaard's personal and professional relationships and struggle to maintain relevant in a constantly changing literary world.

18. The Fran Lebowitz Reader by Fran Lebowitz- To read if you love New York City, think it's the best city in the world and/or think New Yorkers are better/cooler than everyone else. I adhere to all three standards so this book was a hoot for me. It is a combination of the short story collections Metropolitan Life and Social Studies. It's very pretentious and silly, but Fran Lebowitz is 100% aware of it.

17. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery- Oh what a delightful book this was. I can't wait to share this with my children some day. I loved the main characters, Paloma and Renee, and shared their affinity for Japanese culture and was equally fascinated when Kakuro Ozu moved into the building. This is a sweet story of friendship with little gems of wisdom.

16. My Struggle Book 4 by Karl Ove Knausgaard- Here's another person's description of Knausgaard since I've already given you two: Knausgaard's brooding Scandinavian obsessiveness has a way of getting under a reader's skin, not because his life is so exciting and eventful--it isn't--but because it's so familiar. Book 4 was cool because it had nods from Books 1-3, like little gems nudging you and saying, "hey remember this?"

15. The Sellout by Paul Beatty- Kurt Vonnegut meets Dave Chappelle. (I can't take credit for that comparison). This book is outrageous and unlike anything I've ever read. It's a satire on race in America and it is hilarious, disturbing and outlandish. The main character is an African American man, who in an attempt to "put his city back on the map" enslaves another African American man and tries to re-segregate the country, starting with his surrounding towns. Yep. It's whack. I liked it, but found much of the un-PC black stereotypes exhausting. Still it is wonderfully unique and definitely worth a read.

14. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman- Really the only book you need to read about social science/psychology. All about systems 1 and 2 and how they help us make decisions, form biases, opinions and anticipate. Makes you change the way you think about thinking. (P.S. Michael Lewis's new book is 50% about Daniel Kahneman!)

13. Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong- I wish I read more poetry this year. I have very simple criteria for poetry: if it makes me feel (happiness, sadness, joy, pain, longing, loss, etc.) and I can return to it many times, I think it is good and worth reading. Night Sky with Exit Wounds did exactly this. Most of the poems dealt with family, war and romance and often I read stanzas which made me audibly gasp or sigh (another good sign for poems). As I read more poetry, I am able to revise my definition of what it is to me. For now: poetry is putting into words the most exact feelings of the heart and impressions of the soul.

12. The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan- The story of how a small bombing in New Delhi in 1996 influences the lives of its victims' families, friends and how a traumatic event can determine the entire course and choices of a human being. I was reminded of Nabokov's Lolita, in which the author is able to bring humanity and decency to one the most vile literary characters, Humbert Humbert, a paedophile. Mahajan mirrors Nabokov by illustrating the life of a terrorist and how one is not born with hate and has fundamentally human physical and psychological experiences which can cause an individual to perform the most inhumane acts of violence.

11. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson- This is a book almost all of my most well-read friends have read and loved and I finally read it. It took me a while to really appreciate the subtlety of Gilead, but in its subtlety lies its beauty. These are the words of a Christian preacher to his son, and while it does not push a Christian agenda, it does radiate a light that is so simple and elegant, I can see why so many people consider this a favorite.

10. Purity by Jonathan Franzen- Purity has a cast of zany characters who I was so fascinated with and needed to know their life stories. I was not fond of the main character Pip, but the story was intriguing enough for me to speed through the pages. Franzen always seems to weave "hot topics" (i.e. global warming) into his novels and this time he chose to put a spotlight on computer hacking and its effects on modern-day journalism by creating a Julian Assange-like antagonist. Strong writing, not my favorite Franzen, but still one of my favorites of 2016.

9. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Hochschild- This was the first book on my "How Did Donald Trump Win the Election and Who Are the People Who Voted for Him" shelf. Arlie Hoschild is a scholar from Berkley, California who traveled to the Lousiana Bayou to interview and learn from individuals who identify with the culture and ideals of the conservative right. Perhaps the most surprising part of this book to me was how some of the ideas and philosophies of these people were actually similar to mine and how much I could empathize with the struggles they were facing after eight years of the Obama administration. Another important lesson I learned was that not all Tea Party members are confederate flag bandana wearing hillbillies- most are honest, hard-working, patriotic Americans looking to create a better future for themselves and their children. This book is eye-opening and I hope to read more like it in 2017.

8. Frantumaglia by Elena Ferrante- This is a collection of letters and interviews between Elena Ferrante and publishers, editors and reporters collected from her earliest works to present-day. The first half of the book is primarily on Ferrante's first two novels, which I haven't actually read, but surprisingly I got so much from these pages as she talked about her writing process, where she draws inspiration and the importance of feminism in her writing. The greatest lesson I learned after reading Frantumaglia was the amount of labor, pain and love that goes into writing a novel. I am inspired to write and read more after reading this.

7. Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace- The more DFW I read, the more I lament the loss of a man so attuned to the idiosyncrasies of American culture and could put his observations so perfectly into words. Can you imagine what he would have to say about the 2016 election?? LOL. This is a collection of unrelated essays that are wonderful, brilliant and hilarious.

6. The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante- I began the Neapolitan Novels at the end of 2015 and read the concluding volume in the series at the very beginning of 2016. Ferrante is incredible and has captivated the world with the tumultuous relationship of Lila and Elena. Lost Child finds the two women in their adulthood where much has changed with marriages, separations and children, but many things remain exactly as they were when Lila and Elena were losing their dolls in their childhood neighborhood in Naples. Ferrante has captured the intensity, emotion and strength of female relationships. I laugh at speculation that Ferrante is actually a man, because no man could ever write so eloquently about women, their passions, fears and loves, as accurately and perfectly as the woman behind the name "Elena Ferrante."

5. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance- This book made nearly every 2016 list I read and I thought it was an excellent memoir and so relevant in today's political climate. J.D. Vance grew up in Ohio Appalachia, true hillbilly country. Vance tells the story of how he overcame the mess that was his childhood and adolescence and achieved the American dream, but how he would not have been able to accomplish anything without the love and stubbornness of his hillbilly family. This was the second book on my "How Did Donald Trump Win the Election and Who Are the People Who Voted For Him?" shelf. This book does not answer that question explicitly, but it shed light on working class America and the philosophies and ideologies that are born in communities like Ohio Appalachia.

4. My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard- I found the first book in Knausgaard's series to be the most sporadic and unpredictable, which was part of its initial charm when reading it. Once you realize he lacks the normal memoir formula (childhood, adolescence, adulthood, death), you can let go and enter a world that is both foreign (geographically and culturally) and familiar (universal human experiences- love, loss, growing up, etc.)

4. My Struggle Book 3 by Karl Ove Knausgaard- Book 3 of Karl Ove Knausgaard's 6 volume biography was my favorite so far. I have yet to read Book 6, but I will say the best thing about these books is Knausgaard's ability to write honestly. I find many memoirs and biographies are either too heavily self-aggrandizing or self-deprecating. Knausgaard writes about his life and writing process in a way that is completely human and normal, void of flattery and flowery prose. I loved Book 3 because most of it dealt with Karl's childhood and teenage years, which he touched on in his first book and were my favorite parts. Book 3 was like an extension of everything I liked in Book 1. These are books about writing books, but I think it's a testament in itself that I have read five and still want to read more.

2. Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer- I still can't stop thinking about this book. Contemporary fiction is my favorite genre and Foer is one of the best in the game. Having read Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I was prepared for some weird sex scenes, but not nearly the amount of pages JSF devoted to gross teenage boy sexual exploration. I want to wholeheartedly recommend this book to everyone because I truly loved it, but don't want you to think I'm a creep because of said parts.  Besides that, Here I Am is an incredible story about the Blochs, an upper middle class Jewish family. Julia and Jacob, the husband and wife, feel distant in their marriage and much of the book centers around memories from Julia and Jacob's earlier years as a couple. Their sons are Max, Benjy and Sam whose quirks and intellectualism I found hard to believe sometimes, but could entirely be how the children JSF associates with are like. An unexpected natural disaster occurs in Israel and JSF delves into Jewish-American relationships and the state of Israel, much of which I found fascinating, particularly the rituals and traditions. JSF's greatest strength is his ability to write people- their feelings, thoughts, relationships, fears, etc. You can't read this book without smiling or nodding at the striking familiarity of it all.

Between any two beings there is a unique, uncrossable distance, an unenterable sanctuary. Sometimes it takes the shape of aloneness. Sometimes it takes the shape of love.

1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie- My favorite book I read this year was about a Nigerian immigrant woman named Ifemelu. Ifemelu moves to the United States for school and leaves behind her longtime sweetheart, Obinze. In the United States Ifemelu learns what it means to be black for the first time in her life. My parents are immigrants, and one of the most striking things I found when reading Americanah were the common and even identical observations they make about American culture and citizens. Many parts made me laugh or smile, while others reminded me of my own prejudices and racism I have thought or said at some point in my life. This is an important book to read if you are a feminist and/or find yourself appalled, outraged or disturbed by the explicit racism that still exists today. Here are some favorite lines:

"Why didn't she just ask, 'Was it the black girl or the white girl?"
Ginika laughed. "Because this is America. You're supposed to pretend that you don't notice certain things.

She recognized in Kelsey the nationalism of liberal Americans who copiously criticized America but did not like you to do so; they expected you to be silent and grateful, and always reminded you of how much better than wherever you had come from America was.