A look back at 2017 (in books)!

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crushable.com via pinterest

It’s hard to start a new year without, well, properly closing out the previous one. Last year was a big one. I moved houses, changed continents, pretended to write a PhD thesis, became a mom, and reconnected with loved ones. I moved back to the DC area while public servants and politicos are under a microscope. But this town is tougher than it looks. Between Ta-Nehisi Coates book launches hosted by Sankofa Bookstore and Solange concerts at the Kennedy Center, haters are going to have to come harder. Even with all the crazy politics afoot, 2017 was quite good to me.

Despite all the changes, one thing that stayed the same, however, was my love for books. In 2017, an audible subscription and a lengthy vacation contributed greatly to my successful consumption (I dare not say “reading” since, I audio-booked it out a lot) of 50 books over the course of the year. There were countless articles and excerpts mixed in there too, but that’s neither here nor there. “I done good,” if I may say so myself. You can see the full book list here, so you can say so too.

In keeping with tradition, here are my top 5. Perhaps you’ll want to pick them up for your own 2018 challenge!

(I have to apologize in advance to you fiction lovers out there, I’m a non-fiction aficionado. Novels aren’t really my schtick.)

34556334.jpgBraving the Wilderness – Brene Brown

You should already know that anything by Brene Brown is enlightening and well worth the cover price. In this text, she explores vulnerability even further, by contrasting it with the idea of belonging.  She goes into her own family experiences, as well as a confrontation with someone who assumes she’s an NRA supporter. Yea, it’s worth reading.

 

18540613.jpgSettled Strangers – Gijsbert Oonk

This text is a really interesting read about Indian immigrants to East Africa. The premise of the book is a bit novel in that it tries to contest the idea that all Indian immigrants were success stories. Oonk brings in the notion that the stories of failure simply never get told, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. For research and for history, I see this book as a significant contribution to the body of literature about Africa’s diversity .

 

13073498.jpgUnsettling Memories – Emma Tarlo

I’m learning a lot about what I don’t know about India. Yes, you heard me. The more I read, the less I know. I had no idea that the world’s biggest democracy had a period when it suspended democracy.  Did you? During this period, there was an extensive effort to incentivize sterilization in exchange for urban resettlement for the poor. Sad, but true. This book explores it all, so get your tissues ready.

 

368593.jpg The 4-Hour Work Week – Timothy Ferriss

Anyone who has talked to me in 2017 knows how much I am fixated on retiring at the earliest possible opportunity. I discovered that that’s my lot in life after reading this book. A friend gifted it to me and it’s been a signpost of success ever since. It helps combine my inner productivity nerd and my outer personal finance ambassador, for a balanced life.

 

25744928.jpgDeep Work – Cal Newport

This book tells us to quit multi-tasking. We actually suck at it (even though we think we don’t) and it’s draining (even though we think it’s a time saver). I loved reading it and should probably re-read it every quarter, because I’m a horrible and compulsive multi-tasker. I’ve already relapsed, but you should save yourself!

 

Since there weren’t any flat out duds this year (woo hoo!), I’ll share some honorable mentions in recommended categories:

13642929.jpgI read lots of memoir & essay by people of color this year, namely Phoebe Robinson‘s break out You Can’t Touch My Hair, Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine, Trevor Noah‘s Born a Crime and Sonia Sotomayor‘s My Beloved World. This is a new genre for me, especially since most of these folks are considered too young to really have a story to tell. I mean, Phoebe is 33! Even Justice Sotomayor only writes about the earlier part of her life, pre-Supreme Court. Anywho, it goes to show that the canon is changing. Just as Roxane Gay is redefining what it means to be a Bad Feminist, so too are emergent writers shifting the meaning of what is worth writing (and hence, worth reading) and that seems to include the experiences of younger voices.

723122.jpgLast, but not least, I’ve done a lot of reading about birth and parenting lately. For any expecting parent, I’d recommend Hypnobirthing, by Marie Mongan. It helped me immensely to prepare for and to experience labor (with no medication of any kind). It worked very well for me. I also took a 5 session course to practice the techniques. Find a hypnobirthing class near you.

All thumbnail pics lifted from goodreads.com

54 Books beyond Bombay

Stack-Of-Books-BigThe year before last, I could only manage to read 48 books. Not even one book a week! #epicfailforanerd But this year, I was determined that I would finally read 52 books and Nikki would not beat me this time. Once again, I set her in my sights and she – clearly – didn’t even know it. Surely, I’d blow her book goals right out of the water. Right?

Wrong! Once again, Nikki is not even thinking about me! While I went above and beyond, tallying 54 books this year, she’s off dressing up her daughter as a lion and going on African safaris. Sometimes, she and her husband even stage a safari in their backyard and pose their costumed daughter as the lion cub that they’re spotting in the wild. I mean, it’s pretty darn cute. And creative.  Damn you Nikki! I can’t win with you…

Alas, in 2013 I spent most of my time researching Indian culture and folklore, so a lot of last year’s books were academic in nature and/or Indian in authorship. Not all, but most. So, without further ado or more Nikki acclaim, here are my top 5 books of 2013:

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Maximum City Bombay Lost and Found is my favorite book of last year. And the irony here is that it was the very first book I read. So, it was downhill from there. But, talk about dissecting a city from its inside out! This book is a literary feat. It is a page turner that’s true to the city it preaches to know. There’s drama and sex and love and violence – all representative of a city that’s meant so much to me. I can’t recommend this book enough for those of us who have been to and enjoyed today’s Mumbai.

shantaramShantaram is Maximum City’s whorish twin sister, in book terms of course. It’s the tale of an escaped convict from Australia making his way in the Mumbai underworld. It speaks of the Nigerians and Afghanis. Drug dealers in plain sight at Cafe Mondegar. And foreigners with fake passports and friends in rat infested slums. The author claims the story is all fiction, but it’s rumored to be a memoir. I can’t imagine how anyone could make up 963 pages of this stuff without some serious life experience for inspiration.

 

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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is the unsung story of Black motherhood – its efforts and short comings. The stories touched me on a personal level, as I felt familiar with the post-Great Migration characters and the inner city family drama. I don’t say that lightly though, because in my opinion contemporary Black protagonists often come off as overdramatized caricatures or underwhelmingly kitsch. Let’s be honest, we’re living in Tyler Perry’s wake. These historically accurate representations through Ayana Mathis’ words are long overdue, however.

 

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The Lonely Londoners is a short and easy read, but rich with texture and spirited characters. I came across it when researching the Indian Diaspora in literature. I read it not really expecting what I found. The author explores the recent immigrant experience in London, but not only from the Indian perspective. In fact, it’s primary characters are Caribbean immigrants. Like Mathis’ depiction, Sam Selvon gives short snippets of just how hard life can be for people who are trying really hard to make a dollar out of fifteen cents. Its characters are in a silent struggle, not in vocal rebellion. This read left me with a softer heart.

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Faces in the Water is where magical realism meets the unfortunate reality of female infanticide in contemporary India. The premise is that a little boy spends a summer at his family’s ancestral farm and discovers the water well that supplies the home. In it, he sees faces – female faces. More than one. You’d have to read the book to figure out who these girls are and how he resolves knowing how they got there. I loved this book not just because it tackles an issue that most people won’t even acknowledge, but it highlights that it’s not a practice that only occurs among the poor. And, more importantly, it empowers a male character – a young boy – to take action against injustice, to be a women’s rights activist, to be a better man than his own father.

2013 dud reads:

The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud: Where to begin? Maybe I’m just sad that this book is a book. It’s about a bunch of rich New Yorkers making asses of themselves and each other. It’s a New York reality – unfortunately – but the story doesn’t scream book worthy to me. And, I just found out that the author is a fellow alum of my high school, so I’m even more disappointed. The writing was convoluted and full of misplaced modifiers. If there’s one thing a Mustang can’t stand, it’s a misplaced modifier.

Arranged Love by Parul Mittal: Woe, the days of my life that I can’t get back! Maybe I need to have grown up on the Indian subcontinent to understand why this is supposed to be a love story, but this book is weird and lame. There are much better stories of arranged-come-love marriages. Read the Namesake and don’t waste your money or life minutes on this book!

Confession of a Buddhist Atheist by Stephen Batchelor: Some memoirs are just journal entries that people should later burn. This book is one. Buddhism isn’t a religion, so…. what’s this atheism schtick?  Hence, there are fundamental problems with this book and it’s premise. Sigh…

48 Books and a Baby

Some time around August of last year, I really got into www.goodreads.com. I’d seen that a co-worker of mine had set a goal of 52 books to read in 2012. To set the stage, Nikki is smart and pretty and – at the time – also very, very pregnant. This got me to thinking, if Nikki can handle a full-time job, morning sickness and 52 books this year, I gotta be able to read like at least a friggin’ hundred books!

In reality, it was August. I had read 10 books by then. And my ego only gets the nerve to compete with people who don’t actually know that I’m competing with them. Nikki kicked my ass.

I scaled down my goal from 100 to 52 some time around October when I finished book number 25. By the year’s end I cruised in with a cool 48 books for effort. Silent competitors never prosper… Sigh…Nikki, on the other hand, had a beautiful baby girl, who she and her husband curled into a ball and dressed up like an Anne Geddes baby all through the holiday season. (Competition aside, I thoroughly enjoyed each and every rendition.) And she read all 52 of her books.

This quest to read a crap ton of books in an absurdly short amount of time says a lot about my commitment to really stupid, stupid benchmarks. It also shows that this is something I would never do for any physical competition, because… well… I’m so nerdy, I pretend to be above all that. The positive result, however, was that I ended up reading a bunch of books I never would have picked up but for the love of competition with a pretty pregnant Hawaiian lady who turned out to also be a darned fast reader.

Here are the top 5 books of my quest to 52. Read them at your leisure:

images-1Brave New World – (Classic Fiction) How did I miss this one in high school? Or college, for that matter? I went to a women’s college. We were taught to care about fiction novels, and Natives, and the objectification of women, and sexual liberty, and code words for Marx, and “family planning”! I mean I just don’t understand how this one slipped past me.  This frightening view of our present day vices manifested at their extremes kinda sounds about as realistic as melting polar ice caps. Psshhaww, we all know that’ll never happen!

Tiger_Mom_15Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother – (Non-Fiction/Autobiography Memoir) My mother is about as close to being like Amy Chua, as Tupac is to being alive. But, I thoroughly remember my classmates who had ‘Chinese moms’ (Read the book to define the term. Don’t assume I’m being racist) and how strangely anti-social those kids seemed at the time. Like, they knew they could be perfectly normal kids, but their weirdo parents wouldn’t let them. Now, I look at their facebook pages and they look happy and well-integrated into society – so maybe their mothers were on to something. More than once I wanted to call my mother to tell her that she acts more like a Jewish dad than a Chinese mom. But, I knew she hadn’t read the book and would think that I was just being racist.

we-need-to-talk-about-kevin-book-coverWe Need to Talk about Kevin – (Contemporary Fiction) This is probably one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. While I was reading it, I was visibly depressed and often called my friends saying things like ‘I really need to finish this book. I’m pretty sure I’m showing signs of PTSD.’ It is a timely read with the most recent mentally disturbed American socially awkward boy with a gun episode known as Adam Lanza. This book seems to support the notion that these screwy kiddie killers have families that are tormented by their inability to contain these deranged seedlings. While they can see disaster coming nobody ever lends credence to the lady that says ‘my kid is really fucked up. No, really. I’m not kidding.’ Anybody who says that has got to be a bad parent, right? Or it is possible that she was handed a bad kid at birth?

What Young India WantsWhat Young India Wants – (Non-Fiction essays) You don’t need me to tell you that India’s got problems. Aside from the ones I constantly bring up over red wine, there are others that Chetan Bhagat points out in this book: a corrupt and elderly bureaucracy, high youth suicide rates, a broken education system, identity issues up the wazoo. So, just this once you don’t get to act like I’m being a jerk for saying these things, because this time I didn’t say it. Chetan did… finally!

BookEnds-by-Jane-GreenBookends – (Contemporary Fiction) I wasn’t trying to like this book, but it just kinda happened. There is a book store, love after 30, a lesbian liaison, awesome real estate and… did I mention there is book store?! Set in contemporary England, this book feels like what would happen if Ross, Rachel, Chandler and Monica moved to London and decided to open a public lending library. It’s not meant to be thought-provoking, but it’s a feel good story with a few moral nuggets of wisdom. Certainly, it’s a good read for a commute or a beach vacation… did I mention there is a book store?!

Other recommended reads:

In Our Time (Hemingway), 2 States (Bhagat), Women & Money (Orman)

Dud reads:

Bossypants (Fey) – This should be funny. It’s not.

Madras on Rainy Days (Ali) – This should be hard-hitting, but it drones on and comes across as trite. The premise is great, but the writing is poorly executed.

Three Continents (Jhabvala) – Yet another 300+ page rich-kid melodrama about how India does not hold the answers to the world’s problems (a duh!). #anotherPTSDinducingbook