Wednesday, December 27, 2017

My 2017 Reading Retrospective

Happy Holidays, everybody! It's hard to believe that this is already my fifth annual reading retrospective, but here we are. If you're new to this blog, every year, I look back at the books I read over the past year, and share the ones I enjoyed the most/found the most thought-provoking. The books weren't necessarily published in that year, that's just when I happened to read them.

I tend to get into reading grooves-- this year, it seems, it was all short stories, fairy tales and memoirs. Presumably because my TBR list is informed by a lot of other people's lists, "15 Best Horror Novels" and whatnot.

This year, I read 61 books. Of them, the following were stand-outs:

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter - Oh, the joy of discovering a new author you adore. The pain of learning she passed away in 1992. This book made me want to run out and get my hands on every single thing Carter has ever written. The Bloody Chamber is a collection of short stories that are re-tellings of classic fairy tales with a feminist twist. Carter's prose is sublime; stunningly, achingly beautiful, and did I mention feminist re-tellings of old fairy tales?

Deerskin by Robin McKinley - Another fairy tale retelling, this one of a Perrault story, "Donkeyskin." Be warned, this book is a little on the slow side. Like, really, really slow. I'm the sort of reader who doesn't mind when the author lingers on the details, on the day-to-day activities of the characters. I don't even mind stories that are virtually plotless, as long as the characters are compelling. Deerskin doesn't suffer from lack of plot, but sometimes, I was impatient for something to happen. However, I love the main characters, Lissar and her faithful hound, Ash, so much I was willing to stick it out with them. Also, I feel like the mark of a great book is one that lingers in your mind long after you've finished it, and I find myself thinking of this one often.

Best Horror of the Year, Volumes 1-9 edited by Ellen Datlow - Collections of the best horror fiction culled from literary magazines and anthologies. If you enjoy genre fiction, then you know Datlow's name. The lady has an eye for great fiction. I devoured all nine volumes back-to-back, so they've all kind of blurred together for me. Vampires, zombies, Lovecraftian goodness, psychos, ghosts, and everything in between. Certainly, some years are better than others, but these are a must-read for any horror aficionado. I'm already looking forward to next year's volume.

Hunger by Roxane Gay - This book has received so much praise and hype, I can't add much to it, other than to say it was the first book I read by Gay, and I plan on reading everything else by her. I've even been reading her Outlander recaps on Glamour and I don't even watch Outlander. (Though now I've started, because I trust Roxane's taste.)

White Tiger on Snow Mountain: Stories by David Gordon - A wonderful collection of stories that are warm, hilarious, devastating, and delightfully strange. The first story in the collection, I thought, was actually the weakest, but I kept reading, drawn in by his superb prose. I'm so glad I did. If I find myself following around friends and family, reading passages aloud to them, I know I've found something special.

War Dances by Sherman Alexie - A collection of short stories, poems, and prose-poems that, like most of his works, blur the line between fiction and biography, and generally defy categorization. Alexie inhabits one of my favorite minds in the literary cosmos.

The Incest Diary by Anonymous - A memoir of one woman's lifelong abuse at the hands of her father. I don't know how to even begin to describe this book, much less rate it. It's eye-opening. It's soul-shattering. You will be sickened, you will be enraged. I think it's something every adult should read. In the year of #MeToo and women speaking out (and being believed) about sexual assault, this book couldn't have hit the shelves at a better time. If you're tired of talking about abuse, imagine how tired the victims are of living with it.

Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell - A fantastic collections that are so painfully realistic, I had to remind myself that they are, in fact, categorized as fiction. These are stories about mostly poor and working-class women, rural and urban, in stasis and in transit, told with unflinching honesty. They are stories about relationships: familial, romantic, professional, and everything in between. Also, having been born and raised in the Midwest and now living in the South, I appreciate stories told in the voices of the denizens of flyover country.

The White Hotel by D.M. Thomas - A Holocaust novel that defies description-- one part prose-poem, one part epistolary tale, one part erotica, one part mystical journey, the ending will leave you gutted. (But do I really need to tell you that, since it's a Holocaust novel?) Unforgettable.

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie - A second entry by Alexie, this is mostly a memoir, chronicling Alexie's early life in tandem with the year following his mother's death. His life has been one of hardship, privation, poverty, and illness, yes, but it has also been rich with colorful characters, with love and As with anything else he's written, he can't not tell his story without lapsing into poetry, so be prepared to flit from prose to verse and back again. He's the writer I wish I could be. I am his eternal fangirl.

Thanks for reading! I'm always happy to hear from you, and especially happy to talk books, so please feel free to leave a comment below.

If you like this poem, check out my previous Reading Retrospectives: 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013.

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