Monday, 6 February 2017

what i read in 2016

I have been keeping a list of all the books I've ever read since 2006. The list started out in a free notebook I got from Starbucks one year as a token of appreciation from the green mermaid herself for buying more caffeinated drinks in a year than was likely healthy for a pre-teen who needed to grow, and since then has moved into a Google spreadsheet home more suited for this digital age.

It's a fun list to look at. It tells me that I was at my most literary in the year 2009, when I read 41 books (only a few of which were for school), and that I apparently forgot what a bookstore was in the years 2014-2015, when I read a total of 14 books over the two years combined. I'm inclined to think that can't really be right. The only explanation I can come up with for this dismal number is that I graduated from college in 2014 and spent much of the following year worrying about whether I would be able to stay in America. Thus, the time I would normally have spent reading books I spent instead defeatedly reading articles explaining how I essentially had less chance of getting an H-1B visa than I did of weightlifting for Korea in the next Olympics. I wound up getting the visa, so the joke's on me, I guess, and on all the bookstores that otherwise would have made much more money off me.

I thought it would be nice to start writing up my yearly books-read lists here. I have a hunch—or maybe it is wishful, romantic thinking—that I will be able to look back on a particular year and paint a picture of who I was that year, what I thought, what I wanted to learn about, based on the collection of books I read.

I say this, and then I look at the books I read last year, and it strikes me that a significant fraction of them are stories or memoirs written by celebrities/actors/musicians/entertainers. Which, you know. Doesn't really paint me as the bookish intellectual I'd otherwise pretend to be. Though this is not to say those books aren't great, of course. Mindy Kaling is one of the funniest writers of all time, and B.J. Novak's short stories are clever and poignant and feel so acutely unreal-but-real. But Kaling is not Kipling and Novak is not Nabokov and what my 2016 list accurately reflects is that this was the year that I reached new heights (or depths?) of immersion in pop culture, and consumed an unprecedented amount of TV and film. And it spilled over into the books I chose to read. I am more than fine with this. If anything, my 2016 list serves as a reminder of my first time watching "The Office" (both UK and US versions), and of the weeks of endless laughter it brought me. That will always be a happy thing.

There are other hints too, from my book list, as to what I was thinking about last year. 2016 was the year I stepped into a greater awareness of how important my Korean identity is to me. It's the year I began giving voice to the feeling that has increased over the past few years of my living in America, that I do not really, wholly belong on this soil, that there will forever be a part of me that cries loudly to be on another soil across the Pacific, and that such a cry cannot be so easily tamped down beneath a love of Hollywood movies and a deep-rooted attachment to Chipotle. And so last year I read a novel by a Korean-American author for the first time in my life, recognizing in it a something from within myself that I had not found in other books, and reveling in the novelty and the joy of it. The following month, I made my way through a collection of short stories by Tablo (of Korean hip hop group Epik High) and reveled more. Both books were lent to me by friends, both of whom are Korean, and it made the experience of reading them so much the more wonderful.

My 2016 list is a marked, intentional improvement, quantity-wise, on my 2014-2015 lists. But looking at it does make me want to set some goals for my 2017 list. More books by people who have been dead for over a century. More books by people of colour. More books by women. (I'm on the right track so far on that last one: the first new book I read in 2017 was The Devil Wears Prada—a very important book in the modern fashion-literature canon by a highly talented female writer, obviously.)

So, anyway. The first of many of these lists to come, here are all the books I read in 2016 (not counting those I re-read for the seventieth time, like Anne of Green Gables or Little Women)—most memorable in bold:
  1. Girlboss, by Sophia Amuroso
  2. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., by Adelle Waldman
  3. Undine, by Friedrich de la Motte Fouque
  4. A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson
  5. The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss
  6. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews
  7. The History Boys, by Alan Bennett
  8. One More Thing, by B.J. Novak
  9. The Haters, by Jesse Andrews
  10. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, by Mindy Kaling
  11. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway
  12. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne
  13. Howards End, by E.M. Forster
  14. Why Not Me?, by Mindy Kaling
  15. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
  16. A Gesture Life, by Chang-Rae Lee
  17. Pieces of You, by Tablo
  18. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  19. Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal
  20. The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty, by Amanda Filipacchi