It seems that the Content People Crave from my blog is not makefile configurations or bookmarklets, but book reviews! It’s true, I read a lot, and I try to read more and more deeply and widely regardless of how busy or rich my life becomes, so it makes sense that people want to hear what I have to say about what I read! I considered Tinyletters, which are all the rage, or some separate blog entity dedicated to my book habit, but my public writing has sat at this blog for a while so I figured I wouldn’t mess with a good thing.

Inspired by Anand Sarawate’s semi-regular book notes, I think the short summary style will work best for me. I’ll probably do it a few times a year in addition to the year in review, and this first one wil be a little long because it’s a bit more than a full quarter of book reading. So, without any further ado, the First Inaugural Book Log for the Year of 2017:

  • Shockaholic, Carrie Fisher. Carrie Fisher wrote this after the success of Wishful Drinking, so it can be seen as an addendum, with more of a focus on her ECT (shock therapy), mental health, and memories. There are lots of interesting stories in this one, and I listened to the audiobook so it was like Fisher was just telling me stories, so quite enjoyable.

  • Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher. This one was stronger than Shockaholic, and a bit more coherent. Maybe because this was the one she turned into a show, but I enjoyed her performance of this in the audiobook more than Shockaholic as well. Another enjoyable listen, Fisher is a strong storyteller and thoughtful about her relationship with fame, addiction, and family. Recommended.

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie. I can’t believe I hadn’t read this book sooner! Won the National Book Award amongst much other acclaim, and is set on the Spokane Indian Reservation and nearby town of Reardon, WA. I also listened to this as an audiobook, which was great because Alexie performs the book emotionally, I found myself laughing and crying just from his reading. But! I would recommend reading the physical book as well, because there are lots of drawings and illustrations that strengthen the main character’s narration even more (if that’s possible). brilliant book. Recommended.

  • Sleepless Nights, Elizabeth Hardwick. This book was a gift from a friend. I had never heard of it prior, but soon found Hardwick’s fingerprints in every book I read after. This is a nice kind of waking dream of a novel, I felt like it was an aspirational mirror. Recommended.

  • Swing Time, Zadie Smith. Zadie Smith, being brilliant as always, writing about two young black girls growing up together, and also dance. Not her best (the later chapters, in particular, felt incomplete and incoherent with the earlier ones) but still lovely. Recommended.

  • The Sun Is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon. Lovely, delirious falling-in-love story between two teenagers, Jamaican-American Natasha and Korean-American Daniel. Good YA makes you wish you were going through all the excitement and misery of falling in love for the first time, something I learned from reading this book. Recommended.

  • Mom & Me & Mom, Maya Angelou. I listened to this audiobook of Angelou describing her relationship with her mother, her mother’s life, and their life as adults together. Maya Angelou is obviously an amazing woman, and her deep love for her mother comes out. I loved this exploration of mother and daughter as independent and yet inextricable women. Recommended.

  • Letter to My Daughter, Maya Angelou. Spoiler: Angelou does not have a daughter – we are all her daughters and this is dedicated to all the women Angelou sees around her. Like I said before, Angelou is obviously amazing and I try to read everything I can get my hands on by her, but I wouldn’t read this first. Some of the content is identical to Mom & Me & Mom, which, in my opinion, is a superior book.

  • The Mothers, Brit Bennett. This book has deservedly gotten much acclaim. The women in the story are complex and challenging, and Bennett’s writing is great. The part I liked least, in fact, were the actual “mothers” who exist but are never really meant to be or do anything? But the story is perfect and the characters are stunningly well-writen. Recommended.

  • Virgin and Other Stories, April Ayers Lawson. I was underwhelmed by these stories. Some are good in an edgy-seedy way.

  • Delancey, Molly Wizenberg. Disclosure: I have eaten the pizza at Delancey, and it is delicious. Having seen the restaurant, thriving, years later, and knowing all the things that followed in Wizenberg’s medium-public life, reading Delancey may have been more bittersweet than intended. But Wizenberg is a lovely memoirist, which I knew already from her blog, and she did a good job stringing me along with all the ups and downs of starting the restaurant! I also learned to sauté dates in olive oil as a delicious snack.

  • The Good Immigrant, Nikesh Shukla. A collection of essays on being BAME (black, asian, or minority ethnic – a UK acronym I didn’t know about!) in the modern age. These essays (some of which I’d read before, like Riz Ahmed’s) highlighted the difference between asian america and asians in the UK, where they have the spectre of colonialism and some different kinds of power structures to grapple with than asian americans or black immigrant americans – made me feel very thoughtful about the different modes and means by which oppressions can feel foreign or familiar. Quality of the essays varies but it’s a nice collection and range of experiences and voices.

  • Homesick for Another World, Ottessa Moshfegh. I had read a few of the essays, and enjoyed but didn’t love the style (too gross? too matter-of-fact?). When Moshfegh came and did the reading, I totally understood how these stories could come out of her, but still didn’t feel the kind of foaming-at-the-mouth passion other fans who had read Eileen and McGlue felt about these stories - I feel like I’m missing something.

  • The Princess Diarist, Carrie Fisher. Listened to the audiobook of this one, and would recommend only because she gets her daughter (the actress Billie Lourd) to read her old diary entries from when she was filming Star Wars, which is in retrospective a really lovely and emotional gesture.

  • What I Know for Sure, Oprah Winfrey. These are a collection of Oprah’s column in O Magazine, “What I Know for Sure”. It’s kind of cheesy and trite, but kind of covers the gamut of Oprah-related questions you might have in a platitude-y way. For Oprah fans only, but would also recommend reading only while listening to the much more thoughtful Making Oprah podcast.

  • Difficult Women, Roxane Gay. Brilliant stories. Some are hilarious, some are horrifying. Each one is devastatingly true. Recommended.

  • The Grownup, Gillian Flynn. I got this story for free with my Book of the Month membership. It was kind of spooky, I guess. Obviously not Gone Girl-level of thrilling, considering it was only like 100 pages long.

  • The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama. I’m kind of ambivalent about it - this highlighted how measured Obama was in the leadup to his presidency, and made me kind of thoughtful (now that we are in the next presidency) on whether that was the right strategic? moral? choice.

  • Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson. I loved Brown Girl Dreaming, but found this one less dreamy and nostalgic than that. I felt there was more emotional terrain laid out across the characters than was actually covered? but Woodson’s writing is really lovely and evocative snapshot of a Brooklyn that I love hearing about but rarely read about.

  • The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison. The title essay is really brilliant, and the rest are just riffs on this examination of empathy – I do agree with critics that it reads a little self-flagellation-y, but some of the essays cover really challenging ground (I don’t care for the endless consideration of the time she got punched in Mexico, but I understand the impact).

  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid. This book really stunned me! I’m glad I had never heard about the movie starring Riz Ahmed, or the review on Goodreads that made me feel dumb for missing all the really heavy symbolism. The style of “let me describe my life to you, dear stranger” is a little cheesy and contrived, but this is a great book, great story great character great writing. Recommended.

  • Springtime, Michelle de Kretser. This was a short mystery-ghost story (not a spoiler, the subtitle is “A Ghost Story”) I picked up wanting a good spooky nighttime read. It’s not particularly spooky, but still entertaining.

  • Sunset City, Melissa Ginsburg. I read about this book in a review that collected “edgy unruly women writing seedy murder mysteries about women!” but didn’t love this one. But I do eat up any kind of tawdry-underexamined neo-noir plot, so yeah, I did that this time as well.

  • How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Mohsin Hamid. Can I just copy and paste Roxane Gay’s review here? No? OK - this is a good book prefaced at every chapter by a dumb book. That’s rude, I actually kind of liked the narrative schtick of “you get rich by stifling everything that makes you you, stuff it deep down, never expose it” because that is kind of the cultural signal that I feel like is endemic of Asian-ness and brown-ness, at least it felt very familiar to me.

  • The Price of Admission, Daniel Goldin. I have to be honest, I only read this book because I heard there was a section about Jared Kushner in it (that section was short). The author spends each chapter driving home through many monotonous anecdotes how nepotism and money-driven admission to higher education is. I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know? But I don’t regret working through it to find all the different axes by which people gain access to this kind of elite club. I felt that the chapter about Asian American admissions issues did a fair job capturing the range of struggles in that community. I understand why the author didn’t do this, but I wish he had spent more time exploring those communities and other communities of color that have to work so hard to be let into these elite institutions.

  • How to Make White People Laugh, Negin Farsad. Disclosure: I read this book because the title made me laugh! And I’m not even white! This book is funny, but occasionally plodding - I like Farsad’s voice but the pace was occasionally off? Some of the sections are brilliant, and Farsad has a great observational eye.

  • Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon. Honestly, I liked this a little less than The Sun is Also a Star. But I still loved it. Yoon has a great YA style? The stories are exciting, all the characters are rich and grow in the story. I mostly am soured based on some events during the back half of the book that I wouldn’t have written, but the story is still brilliant and amazing and it’s a great read. Recommended.

  • Exit West, Mohsin Hamid. Recommended.

  • Re Jane, Patricia Park. A YA Korean-American retelling of Jane Eyre. Kind of shallow. The book is not too old but some of the pastiches of New York Asian-ness and academics rang untrue for me.

  • Lab Girl, Hope Jahren. Hope Jahren sure can write! Her blog was a great motivational force during my first few years in grad school, so I expected great things from the book. The book, however, is totally different from her blog! It’s much more measured, and pensive, and really meandering - I listened to the audiobook and read the physical copy (because I love it and it’s amazing), and I feel like you should only do so while sitting near or looking at or shaded by some large plants or trees. As someone who doesn’t care for biology, Jahren does a great job describing both the science and beauty of biology, and as someone in STEM academia, Jahren does an amazing job describing the struggles and joys of scientific research. Recommended.

  • Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance. I didn’t know anything about this book except that people talked about it for a while? And I read it, and J.D. Vance is a good writer, and he has really worked hard through a lot of challenging circumstances. But I didn’t really like the prescriptive vibe that wove it’s way through the narrative, especially at the end.

  • I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This, Nadja Spiegelman. I downloaded this audiobook because I was going on a long light rail trip and it was available from the library. Turns out, Nadja Spiegelman has Very Interesting Parents (you can google this for yourself), so a memoir exploring the relationship between mothers in her family had lots of great material! My one-sentence description is “an exploration of memory and its failings and how it colors relationships between motehers and daughters”. Really lovely concept and execution.

  • Redefining Realness, Janet Mock. I already knew from interviews and essays that Janet Mock is amazing, but this memoir makes incredibly clear how amazing she and her life have been. This memoir details Janet’s childhood and path through coming out and transitioning. What I liked is how she interwove her narrative with acknowledgments of the tropes, common statistics, and the privilege she had throughout her story, to highlight the range of trans experiences and how her experience is just her own and is not The Trans Memoir. A good introductory story for people wanting to learn more about the experiences of trans women of color.

  • Too Much and Not the Mood, Durga Chew-Bose. I feel like there is a style of meditative essay that doesn’t get written as much as it should? Something more meandering and less purposeful than The Empathy Exams but not as plodding as Anais Nin’s diaries… Chew-Bose’s writing is like being in an extremely lucid dream where I am the most elevated version of my intellectual self. I don’t really have any criticism for it except that there isn’t more of it, or more like it in this world. Recommended.

  • R is for Ricochet, Sue Grafton and S is for Silence, Sue Grafton. I kind of paired these together because they both kind of felt like filler - Grafton started trying some new styles (I guess after writing 17 of the same thing you start to get bored??) and I reacted pretty negatively? Although upon reflection I still enjoyed reading them. Only recommended if you read A-Q first??

  • Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, Sara Farizan. This one is a YA novel about growing up Persian-American and also lesbian. The plot is enjoyable but simplistic, and there is some uncomfortable language and biphobia that made the story feel more pedestrian.

  • Private Citizens, Tony Tulathimutte. This book is pitched as some sort of coming-of-age-millennial-satire-of-silicon-valley or something. True, but people keep forgetting to remind me that it is set like ten years ago! Hardly anyone has a smartphone and apps are barely a thing. The book is a pitch perfect narrative, it’s somewhat self-deprecating in its cleverness but also really kind of generous and sweet to its characters. I did take a little issue with the character of Roopa, who I guessed was Indian-American but written way too “white new age” in a contradictory way and so rang less true than the others. But the writing! the story! This book is really thoughtful and clever in style. Recommended.

  • Dark Matter, Blake Crouch. I feel like I saw this book on a bunch of lists and didn’t know anything except it was science fiction and people seemed to like it, so I requested it from the library but never wanted to read it. After about a year of requesting the book from the library, recieving it, and not reading it before I had to return it, I finally read it! It was pretty entertaining. It didn’t make me particuarly thoughtful about any existential or social ideas, but it kept me on the edge of my seat. I hear this one will be a movie, and it’ll be a good movie too.

  • One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter, Scaachi Koul. People keep saying this book is funny, but I don’t agree at all – I found it sad and thoughtful and caring but not particularly funny (two essays made me cry!). To me, the book is a reflection on growing up Indian-Canadian and navigating familial and social issues as the child of immigrants and a brown person in white spaces. Some of the essay hooks are not wholly original (yet another essay entitled Fair and Lovely…) but they are all deeply introspective and artfully written. Recommended.

  • Tender Wings of Desire, Harland Sanders. Sorry! I heard on Twitter that KFC had released a fried-chicken themed romance novel for free on Amazon, so I promptly bought and read it. It was, as you’d expect, fairly shallow and underwhelming. There was much less fried chicken than expected. I don’t regret trying this but don’t recommend others pick it up…

  • The Border of Paradise, Esmé Weijun Wang. I’d been meaning to read this gothic family drama for a while, and I’m so glad I did! I didn’t know anything about the book before picking it up, which I think is the best way to read this book – the book surprised me with every chapter at the ambition and range of the story and narrative structure. Loved reading this one. Recommended.

  • How to Murder Your Life, Cat Marnell. Cat Marnell wrote a lot of essays that made me uncomfortable for xoJane and Vice, and her full-length memoir made me even more uncomfortable! In great detail, she describes the ease and frequency with which she oscillated between addiction and recovery while building a great career in magazine writing. This was really hard to read, but I think that’s kind of the point.

  • 300 Arguments, Sarah Manguso. This is another one of those “well it was available for download from the library right before I boarded the plane so…” I didn’t know anything about it except that it was popular. It appears to be some sort of navel-gazing (not in a bad way!) collection of thoughts from a writer? People can’t seem to decide if it’s prose or poetry, but it’s kind of neither? I went through it thinking “Each of these would make a great writing prompt!” The thoughts range from one sentence to a few pages, and somewhat disjointed. It’s certainly an interesting read.