In no particular order and for my own sake more than anything else, here are (most) of the books I read in 2017, many happily inspired by the fantastic book clubs I’m in!
Early this year I jumped on the Hamilton bandwagon and read Ron Chernow’s 800-page love letter to the only Founding Father that didn’t get to grow old. The inspiration was the musical and I continue to be delighted by the related songs that Lin Manuel-Miranda releases.
Other nonfiction I read include a pair of books by Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman and The Man Who Loved China. He’s got a nice narrative style that made both easy and enjoyable histories, the first of the compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary and the second of an English scientist who “unlocked the mysteries of the Middle Kingdom,” as the subtitle promises.
I recently finished 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Alsan. Both were revelatory to me for the myths they dispel about their respective subjects. I happened to tie both to their holidays, too, but that was a happy coincidence that just gave me ample opportunity to reflect on my reading, especially during the month of Christmas music I allow Colin to play.
In fiction I recently read The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri because I loved her previous works; I felt this novel didn’t live up to how beautifully written The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies are, although the story of a man marrying his brother’s widow to get her out of India kept me up late reading.
I picked up both Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan and The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan to continue my “China” reading. Yan won the Nobel Prize for Literature partly for this story about a formerly wealthy landlord who keeps being killed and reincarnated as a different animal to work in his village as decades pass and China moves through its revolution and the turmoil that followed. Tan’s novel was more about the relationships between a woman and her daughter, husband, and closest friend, but the setting is pre-revolution China and through it. I really enjoyed them both.
I happened to read a couple Russia books, too, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles and Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. Gentleman was a highlight out of the year, and I recommended it if only for the mouth-watering descriptions of the food in the hotel to which our protagonist is confined after the Soviet takeover. I was inspired to pick up the classic by Tolstoy after listening to a Radiolab podcast, of all things. It’s, you know, thick, but I really do love classic literature in my bookwormy heart.
A cousin dropped Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly into my bag as we were leaving to come to China, and it is a compelling story based on truth following three women during WWII, an American socialite, a German doctor, and a Polish woman who gets sent to a concentration camp.
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie was chosen for a book club, and I think Colin and I were in the minority of people who finished it. It’s not a particularly easy book to start, but it was ultimately engrossing and led to some interesting discussion.
I’m currently about 100 pages into The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan for a book club here, the theme of the month being a “a book you’ve been meaning to read forever.” The first chapter is “The Problem That Has No Name” and it basically describes my life right now. A resolution for the new year is to take more charge of my situation here, though, so hopefully I won’t end up on a couch being diagnosed with penis envy.