I set (what I thought was) an ambitious reading goal for myself in January 2017: I wanted to read 52 books. One book every week seemed challenging and exciting, but I was well through my quota by early summer. I pushed ahead, aiming for an even 100 but it’s looking like I will fall short of that renewed goal.
Looking for a recommendation? Read Samatha’s picks here: I Read 75 Books in 2017 & These Were My Top 10
Still, a grand total of 75 books (and counting) is not too shabby. It helped me learn a lot about myself and the world around me. Here are just a few things I picked up:
YA is not just for teenagers
Not only were the “young adult” novels I read this year well-written with vivid characters, they were also imaginative and eye-opening. I find that when authors write a teenager, those characters are automatically more vulnerable; teenagers haven’t always learned to control their emotions and impulses, so YA books often feel more raw. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, was one of the more important novels I’ve read about the Black Lives Matter movement, and the young protagonists in American Street (Ibi Zoboi) and Wonder (E.J. Palacio) were so open and honest as they dealt with big problems—disability, immigration, and the struggles of growing up. YA should never be equated with immaturity—and I would be hard-pressed to find a YA novel that was only for “kids.”
Train delays aren’t the end of the world
It’s also not the end of the world to arrive early or have to wait at the doctor’s office for your appointment. With a book in my bag (always), there was something to look forward to and occupy my brain during otherwise irritating delays. There were a few weeks when I arrived places very early (bordering on an hour) because I couldn’t put down my book—Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (By the way, if you ask me for a recommendation, chances are I will start by asking if you’ve read everything Adichie has ever written).
“Non-fiction” does not mean “non-narrative”
I was a fiction-or- bust reader—picking up non-fiction felt like choosing to read a textbook. Not so. Finally reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was not only informative and educational, but was also an empowering story that was stronger than even some fiction I’d read. In fact, the characters were even more impressive because they were real. Other non-fiction I recommend? Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, an analytical yet emotional look at growing up in Appalachia, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, an expansive look at how race has shaped American history, told through letter from a father to his son.
I am not such a bad sleeper
I always assumed that my inability to fall asleep was related to insomnia or other sleep issue. Turns out, it was probably more related to spending hours watching TV or scrolling through my phone in the dark before finally closing my eyes. Reading even five pages before bed helped me feel calmer, sleepier, and many mornings, more well-rested. Short stories, essay collections, and poetry were especially helpful during this time (I tend to read multiple books at once). I recommend The Wrong Way to Save Your Life, by Megan Stielstra or Courage Is Contagious, a collection of short but powerful essays on the impact of Michelle Obama.
Seek out authors that look different than you and have different experiences
Don’t judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a book (a little bit) by its author. Rather than seek protagonists whose experiences mirror my own, I’ve chosen to widen my lens. This year, I’ve read several books about the immigrant and refugee experience (including Imbolo Mbue’s heartbreaking Behold the Dreamers); I’ve read several books whose characters grapple with mental illness (I can’t recommend Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman enough); I’ve followed family sagas through their rich, complex histories (Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, is one such multi-generational story). Despite the chasm between their lives and mine, the underlying humanity makes each feel both eye opening and intimate. This diverse reading list has helped me better understand our world—I have a deeper understanding of the news because of the knowledge gleaned from these authors.
Reading your favorite childhood book is quite literally like being wrapped in a warm blanket
Even if you feel like you have so many books to read that you couldn’t possibly re-read a novel you’d read as a child, do it anyway. Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, has been a favorite of mine since I was in elementary school. I brought my worn copy with me to college and read it in one night freshman year. I reread it again this year, knowing it might put a dent in my reading goal, and was amazed that the magical world still made me smile and laugh and tear through the chapters… even though I knew how it ended.
Publish date often has no bearing on timeliness
Like many avid readers, I get easily caught up in the current Times bestseller slate. It’s easy to forget the books gathering metaphorical dust on my TBR list as I skip over them every month in favor of their buzzier peers. However, I finally picked up The Handmaid’s Tale this year and could not believe its prescience. It felt as contemporary as any other dystopian fiction being published in 2017, and the fact that Margaret Atwood had crafted a novel that stood the test of time made it even more impressive and engrossing.
It’s okay to put a book down
Repeat after me: Put down bad books. Don’t feel pressured to LOVE a book just because it’s getting rave reviews and takes the top spot on everyone’s “Must Read Books This Year” list and has a stunning cover. Sometimes, a book isn’t for you. You don’t relate to the character, or the location, or the writing style isn’t right. Sometimes, a book is right for you, but you’re not reading it at the right time. Put it down; come back to it later. Or close it forever. Gift it to your enemy and hope they hate it also. But don’t read bad books. You’ll just regret time wasted that could have been spent reading good books.