This is my second year condensing all of the reads from 2017 into one easy-to-peruse “greatest hits collection.” As you may know, I spent much of February deliberately reading books that highlighted the perspectives of writers from marginalized communities (women, people of color, immigrants, refugees, etc.). That impulse felt good, and so I carried it through much of the remaining year- and plan to keep it going! Check out the slideshow, or read on to see my notes in full.
Of the over seventy books that crossed these eyes – and, for the first time, ears! – in 2017, here are my favorites:
Between Breaths, Elizabeth Vargas
Vargas’ Between Breaths is one of the first books I read in 2017, and the first memoir on addiction I read since giving up alcohol in late 2016. Vargas details her own relationship with alcohol, anxiety, and the journey toward sobriety with visceral detail. Her story is told frankly, openly, and without dismissing the struggle that she continues to live with. As a frequent memoir reader, I have a high bar for what’s deemed “exceptional” in the form, and Between Breaths clears it easily.
Born a Crime, Trevor Noah
Buoyed by a stellar writing staff and supporting cast for The Daily Show, it might be easy to overlook or forget Noah’s strength as a writer. Born a Crime gives him the opportunity to stretch his legs and tell his own stories; he doesn’t waste a second of the opportunity. In a targeted memoir that is revealing, challenging, and – yes – funny, you walk away with a sense of the formative experiences that followed Noah to the US and informed his rapidly ascending star in the US.
Difficult Women, Roxane Gay
I managed to speak to Roxane Gay twice in 2017 without vomiting, crying, or passing out; this is an achievement I cannot overstate. How is one expected to hold her composure in the presence of such a singular writer? Difficult Women is one of two books Gay released in 2017, and full of a variety of women. In a year that so many women got to assert their power and influence, Gay gives so many of them strong, clear, and difficult voices.
Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere was released in 2017, making her debut novel not the most timely pick for this list, but her debut novel is still a captivating read. Told from the viewpoint from all five members of a Chinese-American family, it deftly weaves together the quintet of perspectives to create a gripping story. This was one of very few books this year that I had a hard time putting down once I started, and I look forward to doing the same with her new release in 2018!
Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World, edited by Kelly Jensen
I spent International Day of the Woman with Here We Are. That is to say, I sat on the couch with this comprehensive and beautiful compilation and didn’t get up (pee and snack breaks aside) until I was done. While targeted toward a YA audience, I learned something from every voice shared. Prose, poetry, and comics intertwine to create a truly inclusive picture of what feminism looks like. I can’t recommend this book enough to folx of all ages wondering what there is to know about Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year.
Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, Kevin Kwan
So yes. This is three books. But they were a trio of fun reads that showed a family of protagonists unlike anyone I’d ever read before. The first book, Crazy Rich Asians, will be released as a film next fall, and I am immeasurably excited to see it come to life. The feat it achieves in changing how Asians are represented in literature is considerable, and as someone who often doesn’t make time for fiction, these books held my attention and made me smile many times over.
Startup, Doree Shafrir
My absolute favorite part of Doree Shafrir’s debut novel? The deliberate mentions of “bro gingham” peppered through it. But in all seriousness, the startup world is one I spend just enough time in to have opinions; Shafrir’s novel plays with those assumptions, plays realistically beneath those surface assumptions, and creates genuinely compelling twists and turns in the process.
The Hate U Give, Angie C. Thomas
The mark of a strong read for me is if I check it out of the library and then buy it for my own (too big) collection. I knew before the end of the first chapter of Angie C. Thomas’ breakout YA novel of the Black Lives Matter era that it’d find a permanent home on my shelf. Thomas covers so much ground between this book’s covers- our assumptions about victims of police brutality, how these issues are talked about in interracial relationships, when and how to use our voices to create change…this book took my breath away dozens of times, and I’m already emotional at the forthcoming film adaptation. Seriously, cried thinking about it a few weeks ago.
Trans* in College, Z Nicolazzo
These lists don’t tend to have space for “work reads,” but this book – like Z – is exceptional. Framed by the experiences of six trans* students who Z worked with over a year and a half, it reveals the myriad challenges trans* students face on campus, how they navigate and cope with them, and what they need from the professionals charged with educating and supporting them. Z’s take on the topic challenges me to think about how I do my work, and invited questions in a way that few “work reads” have in recent years. Go get this book. Read it. Learn from it. And carry what you learn into practice. Your students (ALL of them) need you to.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, Samantha Irby
I’ll admit, I don’t tend to put books on this list if I haven’t finished them. But this book has already exceeded sky-high expectations…four essays in. Irby writes with a refreshing and relatable voice that grabbed me early and hasn’t let go in a manner similar to Phoebe Robinson’s You Can’t Touch My Hair did from last year’s list. Irby is equal parts hilarious and brutally honest, making this collection a vulnerable and yet approachable read. I can’t wait to finish…and my own copy is making its way to my shelf VERY soon.
*Update: I finished. My opinion is unchanged, even strengthened. An incredibly strong essay collection that challenged me and endeared me to its author in a huge way. Samantha, anytime you want a buddy to hang out inside with and do nothing? I’m up for it…despite the aforementioned assertion that this will, literally, never happen.