“My Annual Reading Report,” by Christine Byl, 43rd grade.
2016 was a tough year for many reasons (wretched politics, climate change in the Arctic, bigotry and sexism, deaths of dear human and canine friends, no more Leonard Cohen albums). A combination of mental restlessness, depth avoidance, and periods of grief meant I didn’t read as much as I usually do. Still, I discovered many great books. Here’s my list of favorites in five categories, plus a runner up in each. (Note: Many of them are older books, but I read them this calendar year.)
NOVEL: LaRose (Louise Erdrich). Runner-up: My Name Is Lucy Barton (Elizabeth Strout).
STORY COLLECTION: I Want to Show You More (Jamie Quatro). Runner-up: How to Escape from a Leper Colony (Tiphanie Yanique).
NON-FICTION: The Tao of Raven (Ernestine Saankalaxt’ Hayes). Runner-up: Negroland (Margo Jefferson)
ESSAYS: Becoming Earth (Eva Saulitis). Runner-up: Better (Atul Gawande).
POETRY: Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (Ross Gay). Runner-up: Hyperboreal (Joan Kane).
This year, I embarked on new reading paradigm. While I love following my nose, reading what I am drawn to, I also seek broader reading horizons. To that end, I made a rule for myself: with each consequent book, two things had to change from the previous one–the genre, and the gender, nationality or ethnicity of the writer. For example, say I read a novel by a white woman. The next book could be poems or non-fiction, written by a non-white woman, or any other kind of man (or gender minority). I was not rigid about the switches, but tried to vary which factor I changed. I enjoyed the way this practice enlarged my reading scope, while still enabling me to choose books on my “to read” list. It prevented getting in a rut, and it encouraged a diversity of angles, forms and identities. I read more women than men this year, and in addition to white and black Americans, my reading included Americans of Ojibwe, Tlingit, Blackfeet, Inupiaq, and Indian descent, as well as international writers from the Caribbean, Ireland, Sweden, Nigeria, England & Canada. (Also, 8 Alaskans). Though many of my lifetime favorites have come from Latin American and Asian backgrounds, these writers were notably absent from my list this year. For that reason alone, I intend to continue my switch-it-up paradigm in 2017, and more consciously alter the nationality of the writers. I look forward to who I will fall in love with in the next year.
I’d welcome any comments about your favorite books of the year, particularly one outside your usual wheelhouse.
Happy Reading in 2017!
Christine Byl lives north of Denali National Park in a yurt at the edge of taiga and tundra. She is a writer (Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods) who makes her living as a professional trail-builder. She loves bridges, birds, sled dogs, tools, free speech, and snow, the more the better. www.christinebyl.com