I kept track of all the books I read again this year. It's a much shorter list than last year's (44 as opposed to last year's 54), in part because I read some pretty long books. Although there's still time to finish more reading before the end of the year--my grading and travel schedules pretty much assure that won't happen. Also, I'm in the middle of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, a book I'm enjoying but one that I don't anticipate finishing any time soon.
The books that I repeatedly recommend to others tend to be non-fiction; one of this year's favorites in that genre was Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts, a fascinating portrayal of the American ambassador to Germany and his daughter's simultaneous (but very different) experiences before World War II. It's such an interesting exploration of how difficult it is to see what's happening in the present clearly. Our ability to assess wrong doing and figure out appropriate responses can be obstructed by passion, love, fear, dishonesty--which makes clear thinking during stressful times all the more heroic.
Another book I loved was Cheryl Strayed's Wild (count me among many others). Strayed unflinchingly describes her own foolishness, yet a dogged persistence to complete a seemingly impossible journey. Her ability to rethink who she is and reset her course in life are remarkable.
The last two books I'll write about are ones that I assigned to my graduate students in an American Indian literature seminar. I'd read them both before, but re-reading them gave me an even deeper appreciation for these writers. Louise Erdrich's The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse is a powerful examination of secrets and the ways that who we are can't be defined by gender or biology. Her cross-dressing main character, a woman who lives most of her life as a Catholic priest, tries to document the seeming performance of miracles by a troubled nun.
The other book I studied with my classes was LeAnne Howe's Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story. To be honest, I don't think I really understood the book the first time I read it--I just tried to figure out how the permeable boundary between past and present worked in the fragmented narrative. This time, however, the book made me think about how language can be powerful enough to change how we see the past, allowing us to transform and even redeem ourselves.
Here are the books that have stayed with me this year (in the order I read them):
- Scott Lyons, X-Marks: Native Signatures of Assent.
- Erik Larson, In the Garden of Beasts.
- James Welch, Fools Crow.
- Lauren Groff, Arcadia.
- Cheryl Strayed, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.
- Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl.
- Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.
- Sadiah Qureshi, Peoples on Parade: Exhibitions, Empire, and Anthropology in Nineteenth-Century Britain.
- Louise Erdrich, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse.
- Kate Atkinson, Case Histories.
- LeAnne Howe, Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story.