A look back at 2017 (in books)!


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

Second helpings of Single Serving Friends

I am an introvert, even though my social calendar and facebook photos don’t hint at it.  I struggle with the true meaning of friendship and I really don’t consider myself a people person.  I hate waking up to people, especially to people talking – even more so if they are talking to me. I make no promises that how I feel today will be how I feel tomorrow, but I am vocal about those changes and I honor all commitments regardless of my feelings. I figure what I lack in personality stability, I make up for in loyalty (or honesty about my lack there of).  And yet, about two weeks ago I reached a personal crossroad where my quantity of introductions superseded the depth of my interactions to a frightening degree.

Somewhere around that time a few things clicked for me.  I realized that I needed to get the hell out of India.  I needed to stop hanging out with people from work.  I admitted that there are a handful of people in this world whose friend I can never be. I was missing out on important family moments while in the company of people who didn’t merit my attention.  I wondered if I was happy and, if not happy, at least productive.  I unceremoniously de-friended people on facebook.  I called my grandmothers.  I phoned friends who I told myself I wouldn’t pester with my problems.  And I packed up, went to Nepal, and had a ball with two women I barely knew.

Well traveled and more worldly, these two really breathed new life into my purpose for being in India.  My idea of a good Saturday afternoon? Hearing honest stories of broken hearts, physical trauma, sensible love, personal triumph, and assured convictions in tea houses over looking centuries old pagodas. There was shopping and normalcy.  No talk of work or professional antagonisms.  There was a therapeutic exhale over ex-boyfriends, followed by facebook stalking of crushes, and discussion of global moves yet to come. Oh, the possibilities of double dipping two single serving friends! 

Not only was Nagarkot and Bhaktapur worth the trip to Nepal, but a Sunday in the Garden of Dreams resurrected the hope that friendships and relationships can be committed, but not so rigidly defined.  They can be location specific and still valuable.  And perhaps there is a term between friend and acquaintance that can better describe all the great people I have come to meet and know here.  These people who have shown me the ropes and exposed me to the wonders of this city. They who have come over to set up my t.v., bring me jolof rice, crash in my extra bedroom.  They who make home feel less like the only place on earth where I am understood.  They who share their stories sincerely, open their homes willingly, dance ‘til their feet hurt weekly and press me to address my moody interest in people daily.

Now that I’ve reflected on it long enough to choose a very deliberate direction at this fork in the road, I must say it’s a wonder that anyone hangs out with me at all.  It’s a pity for my friends that they are my friends at all.  I have personalities that aren’t split, but definitely Siamese conjoined at the nape of the neck, hence always divided of mind and predictably facing different directions.  All things being equal, I would have to say that I hide it well most of the time.  I host events.  I drop by shindigs I am invited to.  I offer to have tea.  Often.  But, I have always struggled with uninvited guests, one-on-one events that transform into group events, feigned intimacy, and fake distance.  I am a ratchet failure at these awkward, uncontrolled moments of social proximity that one must endure when the boundaries are uncertain and titles don’t send clear expectations.  Yet, I keep meeting new people who I keep calling friends.

I struggle with what this means for all my real friends at home, the loyal ones who know all my deep dark secrets.  And I struggle with what this means for a time beyond today, when social acquaintances and friends won’t look so strikingly similar.  I wonder if they’ll tolerate me when they realize all my quirks and idiosyncracies, when I move out of this house I don’t own, and go back to my one bedroom in the hood.  I wonder if they’ll understand my trust issues and if our friendship will withstand fleeting social pulses.

I wonder if they notice how they challenge me to fight my nature and inspire me to be unabashedly human.  Maybe it was the Brene Brown TED talk or the fact that I’m growing less self-conscious about my ability to be hurt and my need to love, but I’ve got Tyler Durden in my dreams whispering, “Fuck what you know. You need to forget about what you know, that’s your problem. Forget about what you think you know about life, about friendship, and especially about you and me.”

I know he’s right, don’t know who ‘you’ is, and am struggling to find a better way to say that India and I have unfinished business. Thank God for second chances.