Reading 2017

It was a tough decision, but I’d have to say this was the best book I read in 2017.

I didn’t read quite as much in 2017 as I’d planned, but I made it through some wonderful books. Starred entries were especial favorites of mine.

*A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
The Perfect Place by Teresa E. Harris
Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada
Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms by Katherine Rundell
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
The You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia
*A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China by Jung Chang
Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
Warcross by Marie Lu
A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess
**Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck
Mirror, Mirror by Cara Delevingne
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Happy Dreams by Jia Pingwa
*A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
**Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
The Whetting Stone by Taylor Mali
Always Happy Hour: Stories by Mary Miller
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters AND Seymour, An Introduction by J.D. Salinger
Rattle 55: Civil Servants (poetry journal)
*The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (23)
*Rattle 56: Mental Illness (poetry journal)
*Incest by Christine Angot
Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson
Lincoln on the Bardo by George Saunders
Late Fame by Arthur Schnitzler
Purity by Jonathan Franzen
*Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner
Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier
The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli
*Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz
Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder
*Making Bombs for Hitler by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
*My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgard
*Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
*The HandMaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
**The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova
*I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flasar
Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

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the cut

The cutting of one’s skin, the dividing of human flesh, can happen in several ways:

There is the quick jab, like a needle or the slip of a knife while chopping vegetables, virtually painless in the moment, yet growing in discomfort as the medicine is applied or salt seeps into the wound. Pain level – minimal, a no when you ask a stranger on a date.

There is then the larger cut with a duller instrument, like concrete on the knee after a bike crash or the newly trimmed nails of a cat, painful in the moment, painful in the cleaning, leaving an ugly scar to commemorate the event. Pain level – medium, your best friend moves away for a new job.

There is the slower, deliberate, self-inflicted cut, made with the dull hunting knife your grandfather gave you for Christmas, dragged knowingly down the vein in your wrist, needing excuses of dish washing accidents to cover the gash all can see. Pain level – intense, when your child wants you out of their life at 16.

book review – ‘go, went, gone’ by jenny erpenbeck

Buy Today!

I’ve enjoyed all of the books of Jenny Erpenbeck that have been translated into English thus far, so when I heard about the pending release of Go, Went, Gone I knew I would soon be reading it. Erpenbeck again did not disappoint.

Blurb (Amazon): Go, Went, Gone is the masterful new novel by the acclaimed German writer Jenny Erpenbeck, “one of the most significant German-language novelists of her generation” (The Millions). The novel tells the tale of Richard, a retired classics professor who lives in Berlin. His wife has died, and he lives a routine existence until one day he spies some African refugees staging a hunger strike in Alexanderplatz. Curiosity turns to compassion and an inner transformation, as he visits their shelter, interviews them, and becomes embroiled in their harrowing fates. Go, Went, Gone is a scathing indictment of Western policy toward the European refugee crisis, but also a touching portrait of a man who finds he has more in common with the Africans than he realizes. Exquisitely translated by Susan Bernofsky, Go, Went, Gone addresses one of the most pivotal issues of our time, facing it head-on in a voice that is both nostalgic and frightening.

This is a book that every single American needs to read. We think of the refugee crisis in Europe intellectually, and we often hear phrases like, “I know how I’d handle that shit.” But we know nothing. We understand nothing. The glory of this novel is the imparting of something as near to experiential knowledge as is possible without actually experiencing the crisis described.

I often read books in translation, and I tend to enjoy differing aspects of books from different places. I adore the beautiful use of language and relationships in Japanese novels; I adore the simple complexity of Chinese literary fiction; I adore the stark yet emotionally potent use of language and action in German novels. Erpenbeck’s writing is masterful, an exquisite use of prose that any lover of language and literature would be remiss to ignore – flawless use of phrase, lyrical, beautiful, and meticulous. I could hardly stand to put this novel down, reading late into the night until I could barely hold my eyes open. Her writing coupled with the story she’s chosen to tell make this one of the best novels I’ve read in 2017.

Our protagonist, Richard, follows a path:
– encounters refugees (and doesn’t even realize it until later);
– considers their plight;
– begins to research their countries of origin and circumstances that might have led them to Germany (I loved this research, this desire to understand and learn);
– begins to listen to the stories of some of the Africans as part of a personal project;
– begins to sympathize, and eventually empathize for these men, feeling their pain and their loss of home and independence;
– his understanding of humankind and even myth (his area of specialty) begins to transform as his experiences and research expand his horizons of knowledge.

Through his grappling with the issues we also wrestle with larger questions of human rights, dignity, purpose, borders, freedom, independence, and sustainability, among others.

The topic of immigration and refugees is critical for us in the US to consider, especially considering the ugly discussions ongoing about the wall and immigration in general. Perhaps living with Richard’s story, for as long as it takes to read, will help position the discussion in terms of humanity rather than only numbers and fears and dollars.

A few excerpts:
“Seen from this perspective, it’s downright ridiculous to measure a transition by the presence of a body. Seen from this perspective, the uninhabitability of Europe for a refugee suddenly stands in direct relationship to the uninhabitability of the very flesh that is given to every human spirit to inhabit until the end of his days.” p65

“Indeed, the law has made a shift from physical reality to the realm of language. The foreigner, who is at home in neither of these countries, is trapped between these now-invisible fronts in an intra-European discussion that has nothing at all to do with him or the actual war he’s trying to escape from.” p68

“But the inhabitants of this territory…are defending their borders with articles of law, they assail these newcomers with their secret weapon call time, poking out their eyes with days and weeks, crushing them with months…” p81

“Must living in peace – so fervently wished for throughout human history and yet enjoyed in only a few parts of the world – inevitably result in refusing to share it with those seeking refuge, defending it instead so aggressively that it almost looks like war?” p241

that’s what little protests are made of

take a knee don’t
black an eye don’t
close your eyes to
hate and lies and

hold your head high
hold your fist high
hold your breath you
son of a bitch

we hold these truths to be self-evident: not all are created equal; not all are endowed with unalienable rights; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are allowed, but you must not be ungrateful.

be grateful you
degenerate punks
you rich, entitled,
arrogant shits

anti-white (oops)

I have a nightmare, deeply rooted in the american dream, that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: “we hold these truths to be self-evident: not all are created equal.”

not all are created equal
not all are graced with freedom
not all are given a voice
not all. not all. not all.