I’ve always been a voracious reader, but as I became a more voracious media consumer, reading became a thing that I do last as I divvied up my time between social media, TV, music, video, news and literature. In 2017, I resolved to read more and so I did. And I thought it proper to end the year with a tribute to the books that opened up new worlds and stimulated my mind this year.
Drum roll… and the winners are…
Fiction – Novel
My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry
There’s so much to appreciate with Backman’s storytelling skills. In this heartwarming prose, Fredrik Backman takes us back to the imaginary worlds we create when we are afraid, lonely, sad and defeated — whether as children or adults. He does this while keeping readers grounded to the reality and even the dysfunctions of the communities and relationships we live in, and how our imperfect humanity still makes for the perfect story of belonging and even forgiveness.
In this story, a little girl, named Elsa, loses the Grandmother she adores and considers as her best friend. As a parting gift, grandma gives the girl a mission to deliver her letters while also unlocking the mystery behind a fantasy kingdom and its brave knight. As the stories unfold in relation to her grandma’s letters and mystery being solved in the fantasy world, we journey with Elsa as she comes to terms with her own grief, with a little bit of help from unexpected friends.
Fiction – Novel
Turtles All The Way Down
Admittedly, this novel is a late addition as I picked it up as airplane reading for the Christmas trip home. And, although I read a lot of John Green being the YA-novel fan that I am, I am partial with his writing. (PS I really wanted to like The Fault in Our Stars but found it to be too much drama) I was pleasantly surprised with this book, enough to have had it contend with my book of the year. That says a lot about this piece. What made me love it?
Here, John Green tackles mental health, complex as it already is, in such a simple unassuming, and unpretentious manner. He lets us in the mind of the protagonist, Aza, as she struggled with her obsessions, compulsions and anxieties. He sets that tone in the bittersweet memories of high school where you experience your first love, your friendships get tested and you question your own existence.
The romance here is so subtle yet heartwarming — of two broken young people who understand each other really well, yet also misunderstand the signals they send, that the right time seems to never come (Yes, I know, boom!) Yet, John Green delivers their story in a way that makes you believe in the certainty of their love for each other and the forces or circumstances that they let stand in the way, whatever that means.
Deserving an honorable mention in the story is the arc around Aza’s friendship with Daisy. It was honest and refreshing, even in its handling of how Daisy (the normal friend) sometimes escapes from the stress brought about by the drama surrounding Aza’s neuroses, through her Fan fiction writing. I’m sure we all can relate to having that one friend we love and truly care for but would badly need to escape from every now and then.
I appreciated the simplicity and lightness of the story even as it takes on very complex ideas from psychology to astronomy, from grief to first love and even social class divides. It was a good authentic read.
Excerpts and Quotables from “Turtles All The Way Down”
“When observation fails to align with a truth, what do you trust — your senses or your truth? “
“We started talking to each other like people who used to be close — catching each other up on our lives rather than living them together. (By the time he paid the bill), I knew that whatever we’d been, we weren’t anymore.”
“You never really find answers. Just new and deeper questions.”
“The problem with happy endings is that they’re either not really happy or not really endings.”
Fiction – Short Stories / Anthology
In The Country
I will give Mia Alvar credit for resurrecting my love for short stories and anthologies. Now, that we have that taken care of, let me tell you why “In the Country” made the cut in my 2017 list. Mia Alvar is an up-and-coming Filipino writer who penned the stories of Filipinas all over the world and their adventures, struggles and dreams. She creates believable and relatable characters while also shining a bright light into the Filipino reality. She tells the story of the Filipina as OFWs, working mothers, housewives, sisters and girlfriends. In short, she tells MY story, and the story of my mother, my aunt, and my friends.
Mia Alvar writes in such honesty and candor, yet not irreverent. She doesn’t wade in stereotypes and cliched perspectives of the Filipina, and instead chooses to tell their story in a real way as possible, including writing about illicit affairs, gossip and in a subtle way, even the colonial mindset and crab mentality. The book does not pretend to sugarcoat the Filipino experience, and instead presents it raw – even if it stings or gets uncomfortable.
Her style is much less indignant, but Alvar’s writing reminds me a bit of Jessica Hagedorn (Dogeaters, Gangster of Love) and see her rising as a prominent voice in the weaving of the Filipino global narrative.
Milk and Honey
Kaur’s first book of poetry made me wonder how books of poetry should be read. In the two hours and one sitting I completed this book, I wasn’t exactly sure if I should be reading a poetry book like that from end-to-end or to split them across time like in tiny bites or sips for maximum effect. However it is enjoyed doesn’t change the power of Rupi Kaur’s words. Here, Rupi weaves beauty into the wisdom we all know deep inside — partly confirming, partly agreeing, partly empathizing with our own experiences of hurting, loving, breaking and healing. Some of her themes may feel repetitive but the emotions they convey are always new and refreshing even in their simplicity.
It is a beautiful read, teeming with sage advice at times and at other times like hearing your best friend speak of heartaches and triumphs.
Excerpts and Quotables from “Milk and Honey”
“You are the faint line between faith and blindly waiting – letter to my future lover”
“If you were born with the weakness to fall, you were born with the strength to rise.”
Non-fiction – Business, Biography
The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds
Reading and listening to this book is what happens when you have multiple esteemed mentors and professors sing its praises and recommending it as non-class reading. Technically, the recommender pool makes it an unofficial class reading. I heard about this book first in Leadership class and downloaded it as an audiobook just to check it out and see what it is about. After finishing the audio book, I found myself with a paperback copy, so I read it again and then again. I usually read authors back-to-back, and this would be the first trade book title that I have read multiple times nearly back-to-back.
What is it about? Put simply it is a story of a meeting and collaboration of brilliant minds, namely Nobel winner Daniel Kahneman (Thinking Fast and Slow) and Amos Tversky. That story is wrapped in case studies around their research and work on behavioral economics and big data, proving that in how they asked the questions they have changed our minds. At the end of the day, this book is not just about their genius, but about their phenomenal partnership. Kahneman and Tverksy’s partnership is one that seems to be of polar opposites yet also strikingly equal and like-minded people. It is a gift to the sciences because in their individual authenticity Kahneman and Tversky were each able to lend unique perspectives that would change the way the world thinks.
I have always said that this book reminds me of the work-partner (hello to you, if you’re reading this, you know who you are, shouting out!). During a time I was in my own journey of metamorphosis (look out for my 2017 reflection post), having my identity meshed with someone else as our work together have blurred lines can be baffling, at times even unnerving. How do I be myself while also doing good work with someone else? And, Michael Lewis, in his capture of one of the greatest partnerships in history is enough to draw inspiration from. Each time I read this book, I am reminded of these truths I will always know to be true: 1) great work is better done together; 2) the strongest partnerships are made up of unique individuals who are confident enough in themselves to share and collaborate with others; 3) the only person you’re competing with is yourself, everyone else has their own race to run.
Excerpts and Quotables from “The Undoing Project”
“People’s intuitive expectations are governed by a consistent misperception of the world.” – Kahneman and Tversky
“Regret was sufficiently imaginable that people conjured it out of situations they had no control over. But it was of course at its most potent when people might have done something to avoid it.”
“It was seldom possible for Amos and Danny to recall where their ideas had come from. They both found it pointless to allocate credit, as their thoughts felt like some alchemical byproduct of their interaction. Yet, on occasion, their origins were preserved. The notion that people making risky decisions were especially sensitive to change pretty clearly had at least started with Danny. But it became seriously valuable only because of what Amos had said next.”
2017 Favorite Author
Fredrik Backman is high up there amongst writers whose storytelling I look up to. I discovered him in 2017 when I read “My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry” and found myself picking up his other books. They would have all made this list. I understood why he is a bestseller. Backman, in his work, maintains a certain consistency and voice that makes his voice familiar, yet also new. I believe that one of his secrets is that he kept a parallel universe between all his works wherein the setting and/or the characters transcend their own solitary stories into all of the other works. For example, you will find Elsa’s neighbors again in either “Ove” or “Britt-Marie”. Even with that parallel universe, each individual piece stands alone strong, weaving complex concepts into simple storytelling. Backman’s descriptions are always vivid — taking the reader into the world he spins and making it their own. It is easy to grow attached to the characters in his stories. I can’t wait to get to know the next one.
My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry
A Man Called Ove
Britt-Marie Was Here
And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer
That rounds up my notable books of 2017. Leave a comment for suggestions on what I should read for 2018. I am keeping my 40-book goal for 2018, being that I was 10 books shy of that in 2017.
Also, what were your favorite reads this year?