Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen
I was going through a real romantic phase last January, and again in July so I re-read this twice. It’s still good, in case you were wondering.
Los sinsabores del verdadero policía, Roberto Bolaño
I don’t know how to explain this book to someone who is not already a Bolaño fan. You should definitely read The Savage Detectives first, then see if you’re addicted and go from there.
To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
You know when words just fail to describe your emotions accurately? Yeah, Virginia Woolf does not have that problem. She is so good at describing emotions that she write whole novels about a single day. Or in this case, two single days, ten years apart. And somehow it’s not boring.
The First Civil Right, Naomi Murakawa
A great analysis on how American mass incarceration didn’t start in the 1970s with The War on Drugs, but with the codification of our criminal justice system which was supposed to eliminate personal prejudices but actually codified systemic racism. This would be a great as follow-up to Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and Ava DuVernay’s 13th, because it does need some background knowledge in historical and systemic racism, as well as criminal justice reform. If you’re interested in these issues, it’s a must-read.
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
I started watching the television adaption first (not realizing it was based on a book) but let me tell you, you definitely need to read the book, because it makes a lot more sense just, like, logically. Also there is actually a thematic point, whereas the TV show seems to be more like veering off into the realms of weird impossibility. Oh, also, Philip K. Dick is hella scathing on the topic of exoticism of Japanese culture. So that’s pretty cool. Good job not being racist, Mr. Dick.
Orlando, Virginia Woolf
This is another beautiful, lyrical book about trying to express yourself despite the inadequacies of language (which Ms. Woolf doesn’t seem to have a problem with). Also, musings on gender and history and even some romantic traveling.
Emma, Jane Austen
I had never read this one before, just seen the movie Clueless. It’s actually quite good. It’s nice to read a story about a young woman who is interested in typical feminine pursuits be developed so completely and fully. Also, it’s longer than Pride & Prejudice, which surprised me.
Girl At War, Sara Novic
The story of a young woman’s traumatic past during the Balkan Wars in the 90s. This is just a really good story about a part of history I’m not familiar with. Plus, it’s a “war story” with a female protagonist, which is always a nice break from convention.
The Romantic Dogs, Roberto Bolaño
Am I cheating when I put books that I’ve read before? I would say I re-read this about every two years or so. I was reading it when I went to visit Lodz and Kalisz last May, feeling very poetic about being stuck in between.
The Open Veins of Latin America, Eduardo Galeano
A sweeping epic of Latin American history, critical to understanding the region and its relationship with Europe and the United States. Again, it’s something I’ve read before (you can study Latin American history and not read it) but it’s still just as epic and beautifully-written as the first time.
The Dubliners, James Joyce
I went to Dublin and was inspired to read James Joyce again. I was going to read Ulysses but that book is, like, REALLY hard! Holy shit. So I opted to read The Dubliners, because they are short stories and not written in the stream of consciousness of someone very high on drugs. Joyce reminds me of the romantic moments within stark and unrelenting realism.
The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
How can a book have three different female narrators, one of whom the whole mystery revolves around, yet somehow still be all about dudes? (I was not into this book, in case you couldn’t tell.) Also: a) it was clearly only published to be turned into a movie, which feels really inauthentic, and b) it’s trying really hard to be Gone Girl but falls short.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J. K. Rowling
Wow, what a mess. I love Harry potter and all, but yeah, this was a mess.
Llamadas Telefonicas, Roberto Bolaño
Short stories about failed romances, failed literary careers, and failed democracy. Kinda depressing for summer reading, now that I think about it.
The Girls From Corona Del Mar, Rufi Thorpe
A detailed portrayal of two best friends, delving into the age-old question of unreliable narrators: Can we ever really know or understand someone else as fully as we understand ourselves?
Travels with Herodotus, Ryszard Kapuściński
Kapuściński is a famous Polish journalist and this is the first travel memoirs of his that I read. He weaves his own story of being an Eastern Bloc journalist from the 1950s on with stories written by Herodotus, an ancient historian. Along the way he tries to understand how culture defines people and how we try to understand other cultures.
Half a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Ngozi’s first novel, expertly crafted from the point of view of three very different main characters. I loved Americanah because it tied together Nigeria and the U.S., but Half a Yellow Sun tells am entirely new story (for me) about Nigerian history while still maintaining Ngozi’s style and characterizations.
Signs Preceding the End of the World, Yuri Herrera
A young woman goes on a dangerous journey to find her brother, who crossed into el norte and was never heard from again. The prose has a great, almost poetic rhythm, especially impressive as I read the English transtation from Spanish.
The Shadow of the Sun, Ryszard Kapuściński
I wanted to love this book the way I loved Travels with Herodotus. But. The preface of this book decries how white Westerners lump all peoples and countries of Africa together as a homogenous continent, then precedes to do the same thing for about half of the stories. While some pieces are bouts of thoughtful and insightful reporting, others start to wax poetic about the plight of poor Africans, which is when I started to get annoyed and wonder why Kapuściński can’t follow his own advice.
Solaris, Stanisław Lem
Len is a famous Polish sci-fi author and while sci-fi is usually not a genre I read often, I wanted to give more Polish authors a try. Sent to a remote planet that simultaneously orbits two suns and is completely covered in a weird, sentient ocean-like blob creature, our narrator and the other humans on Solaris are haunted by ghosts of their pasts and can’t figure out why the planet is intent on psychologically torturing them. There’s a bit too much devoted to describing weird geometric formations, but the plot is solid and interesting and philosophical, and I loved it.
The Motorcycle Diaries, Che Guevara
For students of history, this is a really interesting stepping stone in Che Guevara’s political development. You can see the wheels of a revolutionary starting to spin. But mostly it just recounts he and his friends fucking around South America, trying to get by with their charms, medical degrees, and very little money. Whatever you do, please don’t use this book in the same sentence as the word “wanderlust”. Not because it’s not a travel book, but just because you should at least try not to be so basic.
Detective Story, Imre Kertész
How do people justify doing horrible things? Especially once they know that they were completely in the wrong? Kertész, a Hungarian author best know for writing about the Holocaust, tries to answer this with a story about a former policeman’s time working for the secret police of an unnamed South American dictatorship. (It’s Chile, in case you were wondering.)
The Round House, Louise Erdrich
Fantastic story about the complications of modern life for Native Americans, but also gut-wrenchingly suspenseful. Not in a Stephen King-way, but in a Jane Austen-way, where characters are faced with decisions and watching them confront those decisions leaves you on the edge of your seat.
Before the Fall, Noah Hawley
A very suspenseful, unfolding mystery coupled with somewhat overbearing philosophical meditations. It’s not the greatest book I’ve ever read, but a good easy-reading book for a vacation.
Number of books by women: 12/ 23 (more than half!)
Number of books by POC: 9/23 (eeek do better)
Number of books by WOC: 3/23
My goals for next year:
Read more authors of color, especially women of color! If you have any book recommendations, please leave them in the comments!