After last year’s failed attempt at reading 52 books in a year, I’ve scaled 2017’s challenge back to 40; a more manageable target that so far I am still managing to lag behind on. I have a preference for pretty, lyrical prose that demands I take time to appreciate, which usually means I take longer than average to finish a really good book. The usual distractions of social media, Netflix and blog browsing also take their toll, but reading has such a calming influence on my mind that I am trying to cut down on my screen time and reach for books instead. Here are the books I’ve enjoyed most in the first few months of 2017.
A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
I mentioned A Little Life in my last review post of 2016 as the book that I was working through at the time, and having finished it I wanted to talk about it again. It’s a strong contender for my book of the year, and is one of the best and most affecting books I’ve read in my life. The tragedy feels relentless at points, but is interspersed with great joy and love as well, and the prose is just so beautiful. This book broke my heart, but if it had gone on forever I would never have stopped reading it.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Despite having several Atwood novels stacked in my bookcase, I’m ashamed to say I never got around to reading her most famous novel until January this year. I have a strange relationship with dystopian novels – some I love, some I hate – but The Handmaid’s Tale has landed firmly in the ‘love’ category. The current state of US politics actually make the story seem scarily possible (so much so that many Trump supporters are interpreting the new TV adaptation of the novel as a reference to his politics), and it’s impossible as a woman not to feel your throat tightening as you see what our lives could look like if the microaggressions we encounter were taken a few steps further.
Why Not Me? – Mindy Kaling
I read Mindy Kaling’s first book last year and her second picks up where it left off, moving from her childhood and ‘struggling writer’ years to an account of her life as a successful Hollywood producer, actress and comedian. The tone remains exactly the same – familiar, dry, self-aware…and funny as hell. It’s no intellectual classic but it’s the kind of book I cuddle up with on the sofa after a long day at work, quietly sniggering to myself whether there’s someone else there or not. If you enjoy The Mindy Project, you’ll love her books.
This Boy’s Life – Tobias Wolff
This Boy’s Life is Wolff’s memoir of his unsettled childhood with an abusive stepfather, recalling his acts of petty crime and rebellion, his dreams of escape, and his close relationship with his mother. It’s the timeless coming-of-age story, in which Toby (or Jack as he prefers to be known) tirelessly recreates himself and turns to his imagination in an attempt to ignore his reality. Despite his wrongdoings Jack is always portrayed as good at heart, and it’s hard not to side with him and feel hopeful that everything will work out.
Sputnik Sweetheart – Haruki Murakami
I will never get tired of reading Murakami novels, even when they’re as strange and inconclusive as this one. Narrated by a male protagonist we know only as K, the story focuses on his best friend Sumire who disappears while in Greece with her boss and friend Miu. There’s a lot of unrequited love going on, and like a lot of Murakami novels each character carries a heavy sense of isolation and an awareness that they are disconnected from the world around them. The ending is ambiguous to say the least, and I’m still trying to figure out what I think of it.
What have you been reading so far this year? Give me some recommendations!