Hmmmm…. I am, as you can see, quite keen on memoirs. And whatever the genre, I am drawn to hope, luminosity, intuition and creativity. I’ve found these varied titles to be nourishing. We need hope in this world!
Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
My absolute favorite novel of the year—and I read a lot more fiction than usual in 2017. This is an exquisitely written story that leapt to my top ten shelf. And I almost didn’t finish it! The beginning was a bit difficult, and I was nervous that it would be too creepy for me. (Who needs creepy in this chaotic world?) Fortunately I heeded enthusiastic reviews from Goodreads friends, forged ahead and became captivated by the evolution of Eleanor Oliphant’s richly unique world. Complicated but fresh, awkward but full of grace, mysterious but raw, Eleanor is a work-in-progress, a woman getting to know herself. Unusual and worthy. Brava, Gail Honeyman! Can’t wait to read what you write next.
R.J. Palacio, Wonder
I loved this! A total page-turner. I read it cover to cover on a Sunday, sobbing, not because it was sad but because it was moving and full of… wonder. Auggie, whose face is horribly deformed due to genetic anomalies (and even after 27 surgeries) has been homeschooled his whole life and is PETRIFIED when he visits a middle school to see if he wants to go there. 3 students take him on a tour and one of them, Julian, behaves like a total jerk and not-so-subtly torments him. I described the scene to one of my sons and he said, oh yeah, I know that guy. Auggie bravely chooses to attend the school, and it’s incredibly cool to witness his inner and outer journey and the effect he has on the people who get to know him.
Byron Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Deeply painful and beautiful, heartbreaking and inspiring, Bryan Stevenson’s story of his legal work in pursuit of justice for the wrongfully convicted and unfairly sentenced takes us behind bars onto death row, into the lives of the incarcerated, their families and communities—and into the raw truth of the role racism plays in the unequal justice meted out by courts, especially in the south.
He poses the question, why does the criminal justice system continue to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent?
Stevenson and his staff at the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) have won reversals, relief or release for over 115 wrongly condemned prisoners on death row. Bless the work! I encourage you to read this beautifully written book by an inspiring champion of justice and mercy for people who so desperately need it.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists
Adichie, as elegant an author as ever slipped on cobalt blue stilettos and African-inspired couture, describes both the most blatant and some of the more secret and insidious ways in which women continue to be marginalized around the world. I love a woman who speaks her mind with with clarity, assuredness, and beautiful diction! Especially one who declares for a vision of a world that is, finally and on behalf of all women, changed. Watch her TED talk, from which this book was adapted.
Dani Shapiro, Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage
My favorite sort of memoir. Shapiro paints a sensitive chronicle of her marriage in this slim volume with soft, loose brush strokes, full of air and light and lyrical emotion, displaying an unusually fine grasp of writing as a mature art form. At times hold-your-breath beautiful.
Nina Riggs, The Bright Hour
Poet Nina Riggs’s diagnosis of “one small spot” of breast cancer at age 37 too quickly became terminal. Sensitive, strong and funny, Nina generously shares her life and death in this beautifully written memoir, especially poignant as a young wife and mother of two small boys. She is, alas, the sort of fabulous woman whom one would like to have known.
In an almost magical postscript, especially for those of you who read Paul Kalanithi’s exquisite memoir, When Breath Becomes Air, Paul’s wife—now widow, Lucy Kalanithi— and Nina Rigg’s husband—now widower, John Duberstein— got together! Read this lovely article by Lucy’s twin, Joanna Goddard, author of the popular blog, Cup of Jo, and this article in the Washington Post, Two dying memoirists wrote bestsellers about their final days. Then their spouses fell in love.
Sharon Salzberg, Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience
Sharon Salzberg’s book Lovingkindness, originally published in 1995, is one of my desert island books, one of a handful I would absolutely have to take with me to the ends of the earth. I’m a huge fan of Sharon’s, have read most of what she’s written… and had no idea she had published a book called Faith in 2003. Wow!
Judging from a brief discussion of the title in my Sangha one morning, in which the whole notion was considered suspect by several of my beloved friends, it was a gutsy move on her part. Somehow we denizens of this challenging century have (evidently) become deeply cynical about the word “faith.” But it resonated for me, a friend loaned me a copy, and I fell in love. Luminous, I would call it. Vibrant with true and deep meaning. I got the Audible version, too—only about four and a half hours—and delighted in listening to Sharon read it herself, which I’m sure I will do again and again.
Mary Oliver, Upstream
Selected essays. But who cares? I can’t resist anything Mary Oliver. Has anyone ever written with such a keen eye and passion about nature? With such connectivity to the living and dying of it, the color, ephemera, and eternity of it? No one.
And I can’t resist a bonus:
Liane Moriarity, Big Little Lies
I had no idea this was going to be a massive HBO blockbuster with Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Nicole Kidman et al. when I put the audiobook on hold at the library. I simply added it to my pipeline when I read an intriguing review. I almost gave up on this early on, too, thinking okay, right, these are privileged women with really nice shoes… but I kept going… and the story evolved into something surprisingly deep, apropos in a year that ended with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and so many women coming out from behind a veil of abuse and pain. I couldn’t get this book out of my mind, and think it has virtue in its honesty.
What books were memorable for you in 2017?