Another year, another book list.
The world seemed to change in 2017 and my book choices mirrored the sense I was trying to make of it all. The online news proved a time-consuming distraction, and my obsession with it accounts in great part for what is a shorter list than usual.
I read far less current literary fiction and fewer memoirs – my favorite genres – than I usually do. Instead, I took the time to revisit a few classics and to fill in some gaps in my literary c.v. They seemed to be the right things to have on my nightstand at the time. Their words and wisdom, messages and metaphors set the mood for my experience of 2017.
Last year, I adored Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow so much I read it twice. Nothing swept me away quite like the Count and his nostalgia. When I needed a break from the news this year, I read it a third time.
It wasn’t the kind of year in which I had an absolute favorite, but I’m inclined to say that was less about the books and more about me. And yet, it was a year of meaningful reading. For example, I finally read Aaron Appelfeld’s The Iron Tracks and Edward Lewis Wallant’s The Pawnbroker. Shame on me for not reading them earlier. They are raw and honest Holocaust stories that remind me why books like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas so fully miss their mark.
My pile for next year already towers high. At the moment, it’s filled with books by Jewish women writers and I cannot wait to read them all.
Now it’s your turn. Tell me what you’re reading (leave a note in the comments or drop me an email through my website). I love recommendations. And if I don’t get to them next year, G-d willing, there’s the year after.
And please check out my latest essay on Hevria, How To Build An Entire World In Negative Space.
Wishing you all health and happiness and plenty of time to curl up with a good book in 2018!
My Year in Books 2017
#1 The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. Man Booker Prize-winning novella about memory and regret in all their awkwardness, but I wished I could have summoned more feeling for the characters.
#2 Awakening by Kate Chopin. It’s awe-inspiring that Chopin published this bold novel when she did. It’s an important read, though I struggled as a mother with some of the protagonist’s choices. Chopin’s excellent short story “The Story of an Hour” is the perfect companion piece.
#3 You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein. I had no idea who Klein was before I began reading this (mostly) light, enjoyable memoir.
#4 The Bicycle Spy by Yona Zeldis McDonough. A story for young readers about a boy who helps a Jewish girl and her family during the Holocaust.
#5 It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. This reads like a playbook on the current political situation in America. It is hard, disturbing, and prophetic.
#6 Antigone by Sophocles. Greek tragedy about a woman who is willing to die for what’s right.
#7 Antigone by Jean Anouilh. A modern interpretation of Sophocles’ tragedy, set in Nazi-occupied France.
#8 Early One Morning by Virginia Baily. The story of a woman who makes an on-the-spot decision to save a Jewish child in Nazi-occupied Rome.
#9 Animal Farm by George Orwell. Another timely classic.
#10 Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman. Wonderful story for young readers about cereal and time travel.
#11 Food Rules by Michael Pollan. Short, interesting book of guidance for the eater.
#12 The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris. I was really disappointed in this book, which paints a one-dimensional picture of West London’s religious Jewish community.
#13 Hoot by Carl Hiassen. A nice clean chapter book about taking a stand for a cause, in this case, owls.
#14 Awake in the Dark by Shira Nayman. Psychological tales of Holocaust survivors and their children that read more like essays than fiction.
#15 The Honeymoon by Dinitia Smith. Fictionalized account of George Eliot’s second marriage and honeymoon. A lovely companion to any of Eliot’s novels.
#16 The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s possible I’m the only person on the planet who couldn’t get into Eat, Pray, Love, but I enjoyed this novel about a 19th-century, self-educated woman who defies social conventions to live a meaningful intellectual life.
#17 The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa. Novel about a family on the ill-fated St. Louis. I struggled with the language the author uses to convey different voices, which made it hard for me to get caught up in the story, and I didn’t like the ending.
#18 Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. The marvelous George Eliot’s last novel, this lengthy story is about personal moral reckoning and the individual’s search for spiritual meaning. It also offers a highly sympathetic view of the Jewish pull toward Zion.
#19 The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Novel about women who take great risks in World War II France. I enjoyed the storytelling and characters, though I found the book too sentimental for such a serious topic.
#20 Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. Three women narrate their World War Two experiences – two in Ravensbruck and one in New York.
#21 Reread A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. See last year’s list for more on that. My Year In Books 2016.
#22 The Circle by David Eggers. A dystopian novel about a young woman’s new career at the world’s largest internet company. I gave up on page 49.
#23 The Pawnbroker by Edward Lewis Wallant. A must-read about a Holocaust survivor who becomes a pawnbroker in New York. Raw and powerful and genuine.
#24 The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood. A story of two overlapping tales of infidelity. Some lovely parts, but the ending felt contrived.
#25 Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey. I got caught up in the surreal adventure of an American translator who comes to Brazil in search of her author, who has disappeared into an almond tree. Friends who read it with me gave it mixed reviews.
#26 After Abel by Michal Lemberger. I often wonder what the women of the Torah are thinking and feeling, so I treasured this story collection that imagines what happens to a number of them between the lines.
#27 Hungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner. Though I’ve never read her fiction, I really enjoyed this smart, funny, relatable memoir by the novelist.
#28 Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. I wanted to reread this in advance of the movie release. I’d forgotten about Christie’s delicious characterizations and relished them all. I still haven’t seen the film.
#29 You Learn By Living by Eleanor Roosevelt. The wrong book for the wrong time, though I felt guilty I couldn’t get through it.
#30 War & Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans. A Flemish artist fights in the trenches of World War I. A heartwrenching, beautiful portrait of one’s man’s life.
#31 The Iron Tracks by Aharon Appelfeld. A masterful story about a survivor who rides the trains through Austria in search of the man who killed his parents.
#32 Irmina by Barbara Yelin. Graphic novel that asks difficult questions about complicity in Nazi Germany.
#33 If All the Seas Were Ink by Ilana Kurshan. A gorgeous literary memoir about Kurshan’s immersion in the daily study of Talmud as she recovers from her divorce and builds a new, beautiful life.
#34 The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I adored this fable about the power of stories to help us process the dark side of human nature and to shelter us from it, too.
#35 Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. A fascinating and important memoir about white working-class America.