My summer reading list was a bit ambitious. Let’s be real, it was basically un-readable and even as I kept adding books to the list, I knew I wouldn’t be able to tackle everything plus any new books that were suggested to me. No doubt, I made headway, finding books of varying subjects a great resource this year – much better than in years’ past when I was overwhelmed, reviewing constantly and not able to really dig in to much (see, 2011). Below are some of my favorites this year:
1. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah
I can’t remember when or how I first heard of this book but just knowing that Adichie had a new book out this year captured my attention. Americanah is the story of Ifemelu, an incredibly intelligent, strong-willed Nigerian woman, who emigrates to the United States to go to university – a transition that resulted in several struggling years near poverty that drastically modified her worldview. This book is an examination of race, of place, of struggle and identity that I couldn’t put down.
2. Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland
I’ve loved Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing since her first collection of stories, Interpreter of Maladies, came out in 2009. It went on to win the Pulitzer prize that year, and also – me, as a fan. Lahiri often writes of India, of immigrants and their descendants, the weight of family and culture and the conflict in between. The Lowland follows two brothers raised in Calcutta, who grow-up virtually intertwined but divide amid politics, academia and ultimately, an ocean. As is typical in Lahiri’s narratives, the twists and turns arise unexpectedly, but fuel you through to the end that is never what you expect.
3. Taiye Selasi, Ghana Must Go
I discovered this book + author on an MSNBC segment and knew this was a book I had to pick up. Ghana Must Go revolves around the death of Kweku Sai, who dies in Ghana, deeply regretful for the abandonment of his first wife, Fola, and their four children, after losing his job as a surgeon. As the family, who had moved on without him in Baltimore, reunites in Ghana for his funeral, the past comes to present. The set-up may sound typical of American movie fodder, but Selasi has a talent for storytelling and detail that moves this book far beyond the typical and into the extraordinary.
4. Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
By far, the best book I’ve read this year. Donna Tartt is one of those authors who I’ve wanted to read for a long time, but never have. Tartt’s latest work takes place in Manhattan where 13-year-old Theo Decker is viewing The Goldfinch (it’s eponymn, a real-life piece by painter Carel Fabritius) with his mother at the Met, when she is killed in a attack on the museum. What follows is the unreal story of Theo’s life after the death of his Mother and his relationship to this small, but incredibly powerful painting. I’m now moving Tartt’s previous works, to the top of my must-read list.
5. Jeremy Scahill, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield
This is an incredible book about the war on terror – where it started, who the players are and what the terror landscape really looks like in the Middle East. At it’s core, is the story of Anwar al-Awlaki and his son, Abdulrahman, who were among the first American citizens killed by targeted, CIA drone strikes and the evolution of US involvement, for better or worse, in terror-related defense in countries like Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq (among others). Scahill is an incredible journalist and this was an eye-opening read that started me on a whole new reading list.
6. Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide
Full disclosure – this book was published in 1999. Somewhere between the Syria in genocide and Power becoming the new U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations – I realized I knew nothing about the history of genocide, and this, arguably, is its primer. Power delves into the definition and evolution of the word – the life’s work of Raphael Lemkin, who lost much of his family in the Holocaust and the instances and debates over instances of genocide in the past 100 or so years. Well-written & well-researched, this, like the Scahill book – left me feeling exhausted and motivated, and also hopeful that with Power as an Ambassador, some headway might be made.
7. Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala
Malala Yousafzai, known around the world simply as “Malala,” – is a 15-year-old girl who stood up for girls’ rights to education in Pakistan, and was almost killed in the process. Her memoir, I Am Malala, was published this year, less than a year after she was shot in the head by members of the Taliban in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. The memoir details the evolution of girls’ education in Pakistan, including the school Malala attended, established by her Father, why they were targeted, and an account of the shooting. The youngest person ever to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this past year, this is a book you must read.
8. Katie Quinn Davies, What Katie Ate
I talked a little bit about this book, which was technically published in late 2012. I salivated over not only the gorgeous photography — anyone can take a picture of food, but this girl can style food in such a way that everything looks appetizing, and also like it fits exactly into the most perfecting setting where it should be consumed. I’m not an especially big fan of cookbooks – but this, and a string of others in the genre, are really changing the way I think about these types of books. Less a struggle for perfection, and more a delicious meal for all to enjoy.
And, as usual – there are quite a few books I didn’t get around to reading in 2013, that I’m definitely starting on first thing in the new year. Click “Continue Reading” for more! And please share your favorites of 2013!
+ Jesmyn Ward, Men We Reaped
A few years ago, a friend gave me Jesmyn Ward’s book, Salvage the Bones, and incredible story about a family enduring Hurricane Katrina. In her most recent work, Men We Reaped, Ward contends with her own life and the deaths of five young men close to her heart. Though their causes of death are varied, and commonly attributed to people in poverty, they are also more commonly attributed to men of color and in trying to make sense of living while the men around her are dying, Ward questions the state of her community, of her family and of her place in the world.
+ Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries
Catton, at 28, is the youngest winner of the Man Booker Prize for her book, The Luminaries. I admit, I didn’t realize it was 848 pages when I bought the digital version – but thank goodness, because this would’ve been difficult to carry around. Set in New Zealand in the 1860s, The Luminaries follows Walter Moody, a young man who has come to make his fortune in the goldfields and stumbles instead into a secret meeting of 12 local men discussing a series of unexplained events. The reviews are varied, but I am excited to delve into this historical fiction and see what the fuss is about.
+ Laura Lawson Visconti, Seeing is Believing
I discovered artist Laura Lawson in connection to her gorgeous wedding video (more specifically, a fantastic Free People dress that she used as a wedding gown). This is a slimbook (a mere 51 pages) – detailing Visconti’s diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease of the eye that will eventually take her sight. It’s a true story of loss, of hope, of being an artist and of God’s great influence on her life. This is probably the best $5 you’ll spend this year.
+ Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
I admit, I was first drawn to this book for it’s cover. Designed by Christopher Brand, it’s a pretty blue to orange ombre with two bare trees and sparse orange stars. Lovely. It’s also Marra’s debut novel – the story of people during the Chechen Wars: a young girl who is hunted by the government after watching her Father dragged off for a crime he didn’t commit, a doctor. Allegedly, this is also on the President’s reading list (or, he’s gifting it – who knows?)