January 4, 2018KR BlogBlogReading

Difficult and Devoted: My Abbreviated 2017 Reading List

Another year has come and gone. As always, I wish I had read more—to have spent more hours of this year alone, in the quiet, with nothing but a book, some tea, and a cat or two to keep me company. To have passed more of my time in reflection, in imagination, and in the beauty of words.

Any regrets aside, when I look back at my books read in 2017, I feel heartened by what I experienced on the page. So once again, I’m presenting my (abbreviated) reading list to showcase some of my favorite and/or most startling books of the year:


The first book I read in 2017, and one of the books I most recommended to aspiring writers working on novels covering epic timespans or multiple generations:
by Yaa Gyasi

The first story collection I read in 2017, and the most difficult (in all the best ways):
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

A book I read for work that taught me about one of nation’s founding librarians. Bonus: I later “met” the author when I unexpectedly came across an actress portraying Eastman in a reenactment tour:
Portrait of a Librarian: William Howard Brett by Linda Eastman

The wildly strange but bizarrely compelling feminist cult classic I finally read after watching the pilot of its recent television adaption:
I Love Dick by Chris Kraus

The book I approached with unabashed literary and financial voyeurism:
Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin

Image result for mischling novelThe simultaneously horrifying and magical book that, much like Tony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See did a few years ago, reminded me yet again that familiar territory can be made new again by the right writer:
Mischling by Affinity Konar

A careful re-read to see how Ishiguro unveiled this world’s sickening reality. For your own emotional well-being, I suggest not reading this immediately after Mischling:
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

The book I read before traveling to Mexico City and seeing Kahlo’s home for myself:
Frida Kahlo at Home by Suzanne Barbezat

The startling, breathless, stream-of-conscious autobiographical novel I read after watching Nelly, the film adaptation, at the Cleveland International Film Festival:
Whore by Nelly Arcan

My favorite (never mind that it was the only) vampire book read in 2017:
Fledgling by Octavia Butler

The book that too often sent me down an uncomfortable memory lane while recalling my own awkward adolescence:
The Idiot by Elif Batuman

Image result for what it means when a manA story collection full of magic and wonder, which includes one of my favorite stories that Mid-American Review published back when I was on staff:
What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

The book that made me reconsider the landscape of the writer’s brain:
Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer by Peter Turchi

My favorite novel in translation read in 2017, and one that strongly reminded me of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series:
The Door by Magda Szabo

A novel of exquisite prose:
Marlena by Julie Buntin

The book I checked out from the library in an attempt to re-envision constellations, to find my way by the stars, and to unearth a new perspective on a driving metaphor in my own novel:
The Stars: A New Way to See Them by H.A. Rey

Image result for the little book of starsAnother celestial book, and one that often surprised me with its delightful prose (“Our Galaxy, it seems, is a mess”):
The Little Book of Stars by James B. Kaler

The book I read for pure, bizarre pleasure—because sometimes you’re in the mood for a bonkers story set in a candle shop and told in all caps:
Don’t Kiss Me by Lindsay Hunter

The memoir that made me view my own body anew:
Hunger by Roxane Gay

The graphic novel I read during the dead heat of summer:
Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi

American essays I read on a plane—the kind of essays that make me want to write:
Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss

The book I read leading up to the total eclipse, and that made me fear the dark abyss:
Blindness by José Saramago

The book I read with admiration and shame and fury and love:
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The book that washed over me in waves of oddity and beauty:
The Seas by Samantha Hunt

The slender novel that slayed me with its artful construction and lyricism:
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Image result for speaking americanThe graphic book that details how where we’re from affects how we speak (and also taught me about gems like Cabbage Night):
Speaking American: How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk: A Visual Guide by Josh Katz

The book that made me laugh and laugh and feel stabs of sadness and then laugh some more:
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

The gorgeous memoir I admired for its structure, its repetition, its heart:
Hourglass by Dani Shapiro

The book that took me far too long to read (despite my research interests in virginity) because I had to take breaks as its revelations of how women’s bodies are viewed, judged, and legislated in this country enraged me:
The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti

The book by a Cleveland author that made me laugh out loud multiple times. Bonus: I first met the author in person at a local coffee shop when he overheard me leading a writing group:
Seriously…What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew by Ken Schneck

The beautifully strange little book that is a must-have for casting spells in a Walmart:
The Walmart Book of the Dead by Lucy Biederman

The book that made me think about the creative process and the subtle mental evolution of our literary efforts:
Devotion by Patti Smith

The penultimate story collection I read in 2017, and one that brims with realistic anxiety:
You Should Pity Us Instead by Amy Gustine

Image result for from here to eternity doughtyThe book authored by my favorite death queen who’s not afraid to confront the taboo (“All that surrounds us comes from death, every part of every city, and every part of every person”):
From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty

The poems that shook me hard:
Hard Child by Natalie Shapero

As of this writing, my last book read in 2017, a gift from my husband that I read on the couch while snow came down outside:
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang