For better and for worse, the past year has changed me. I am, perhaps irrationally, convinced that we are living in the midst of the apocalypse. Yet despite my perception of impending doom, 2017 was the best year of my personal life. To some, the concept of a work-life balance is a myth. I’m fortunate enough that it is my reality. Many people will tell you soul mates do not exist. I’ve somehow managed to find mine. The majority of people will never complete a New Year’s resolution. They will tell you it’s impossible. As of today, I have achieved my goal.
In 2016 I read two books; Girl Boss by Sophia Amoruso and Down the Rabbit Hole by Holly Madison. I was reading constantly, but my literary intake was limited to the number of free New York Times and Washington Post articles allotted per month. To say I was addicted to the news would be a huge understatement. The political climate and coverage had me ridden with anxiety and in desperate need of a distraction. Reading was the most productive form of entertainment.
In early January I was devouring romantic thrillers at a record pace. It was like I was learning to read for the first time. During a phone conversation with my mom I suggested that perhaps I’d start doing book recommendations on this blog. She discouraged me from doing so. Who would want to take book suggestions from someone who doesn’t read? She had a good point, which I took as a challenge.
That month I decided that my resolution for the year would be to read 50 books. This would appear like a tangible goal for someone who has spent the better half of the last decade blogging. After all, it is said that in order to be a good writer, you must also be an avid reader. The truth was that I was far from well-read.
Several things have happened as a result of my book binge. For starters, I have become far less anxious. I’ve learned to compartmentalize the White House. I’m passionate about politics, but I can’t spend my entire day reading Politico.
When I couldn’t escape to a vacation destination, I could still experience the world. The brilliant Kevin Kwan transported me to Singapore in the spectacular Crazy Rich Asians series. If you have not read this series, you are doing yourself a disservice. It’s candy in the form of literature. I studied abroad at Cambridge as Nancy Feingold in Plum Sykes’ Party Girls Die in Pearls; a pleasantly cheesy 1980’s mystery novel. I once kidnapped my crush and took her on a nightmare road trip through Brazil via Perfect Days by Raphael Montes.
I’ve undoubtedly become more prolific, a word that I added to my vocabulary after reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids. Her memoir allowed me to see the city I live in a different way, through the lense of a twenty-something artist in the late 1960’s. I am of the belief that the best memoirs read like novels. By that standard, Ariel Levy’s The Rules Do Not Apply is a masterpiece. She has a way to telling her story of loss in a way that is objective, to the point, and utterly gut-wrenching. Reading about the experiences of others has improved my ability to tell my own stories.
My knowledge of intersectional feminism has expanded. Most of the books I read were written by women, this was intentional. Dope queen Phoebe Robinson woke me up with You Can’t Touch My Hair. I wanted to bulk order her book and distribute it to all my white friends. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wasn’t a breezy read, but I am better for reading it. It’s an important story about America’s relationship with race; through the perspective of a non-american black woman living in the United States. Ellen Pao’s Reset had me sobbing on the train. Her words opened my eyes to the sexism that women, particularly those of color, face in venture capital. I cried three times reading Gloria Steinem’s My Life on the Road; as I learned of women who have spent their lives fighting for gender equality. The setbacks we’ve endured over the past year have felt unbearable, but stories of resilience are comforting.
Perhaps most importantly, I have given myself an entrance into better conversation. I can speak at length about Roxane Gay’s 2017 releases. Her memoir Hunger was the most talked about book of the summer; the story of her weight, starting with her being gang raped at 12. Heavy shit. If you’re on twitter, you’ve heard of it. Gay also published a short story collection called Difficult Women, which is less discussed but equally cutting.
Some of the most powerful stories are told through fiction. Gabrielle Zevin’s Young Jane Young is a story about the sexism within a congressional sex scandal. It’s the kind of story that forces you to reevaluate how you’ve judged a situation. Young love forms in the midst of a civil war in Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. The novel served as a stark reminder that we are only safe by chance.
For the first time in my life, I am that condescending person who tells you the book is better than the movie. For example, Madeline Martha Mackenzie would never have cheated on Ed in the book version of Big Little Lies. As someone who related deeply to her character, this killed me. On a positive note, the soundtrack was phenomenal. The casting was brilliant. However, why random infidelity? Infuriating! Speaking of Liane Moriarty, The Husband’s Secret was better.
Some books are like dipping into a hot bath, tranquil and relaxing. How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry is best read by the fire. It’s just as heartwarming as the title suggests. Others are as easy to binge as a season of the Office. I read Paris for One by Jojo Moyes and Mud Vein by Tarryn Fisher under 24 hours.
Some stories serve as an out-of-body experience. I became the accidentally pregnant and in love teenager Nadia Turner as I read The Mothers by Brit Bennett. I am left speechless after finishing Educated by Tara Westover. I found the characters in Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld so dynamic I was genuinely sad to leave them after the last page.
There were a few books that literally pained me to get through. My attempt to re-read George Orwell’s 1984 was a total failure. I avoided all dystopian fiction until November, where I gave in and read the beloved apocalyptic novel Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins. This turned out to be a terrible decision, I simply hated it. Another difficult book for me to tackle was A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. At over 800 pages, it was by far the longest book I read. Not only was it lengthy, but it was also emotionally draining. In order to finish it in a timely manner, I downloaded the audiobook. This allowed me to finish in just two weeks, putting me only slightly behind on my reading goal. If you’re into depressing things, you’ll love this book.
Prior to my book binge, I was a regular podcast listener. In fact, my 2015 resolution was to become a podcast person. Though there was definitely some merit to my newfound obsession with NPR, my head was constantly clouded with noise. This made it difficult for me to be creative. As a writer, it’s imperative that my mind is clear as often as possible. I ditched my podcast app for a library card; which is how I got most of my books in 2017.
Small adjustments were made to my life in order to achieve my goal. For example, most of my reading was done during my lunch break. My strategy was to eat at my desk, so that during my break I could visit a cafe, order a tea and read. It’s part of my day that I always know will be good. As a result i’m on a first name basis with several baristas. I’ve made sure to always carry a bag that could fit a book. This made the 40 minute subway rides to happy hours in the West Village drastically more enjoyable.
In the last year I have evolved from a person who simply did not read to a reliable source for book recommendations. My conversations are often more captivating than before. Friends have been made through a shared love of reading. I have become more cultured, empathetic and articulate. I have found my pastime for years to come and the savior of my sanity. What started as an effort to alter my entertainment consumption quickly escalated into a life changing experience.
Thank you to those who supported me through this literary journey. You held me accountable. Special thanks to Shannon Hussey who suggested a fair bit of the books I read. Sophie Vershbow and Random House for the many gifted books. The librarians at the Queens Public Library in Astoria, who hand selected some of my favorite books of the year. Blakeley Shaw for editing this for me. Thank you also to Erin Cooper, Selin Bozkaya, Kat Rubio and everyone else who recommended books to me this year. I appreciate you.
Next week i’ll be sharing my entire book list with candid notes + thoughts on each one 🙂