Goodbye, 2017. Time flies when you’re having fun, and also when you’re in shock. The Trump presidency is here—and so far, it seems, here to stay. I still maintain that Trump is preferable to Pence in the White House, because Trump serves as the perfect symbol for the current state of our outrageous politics; Pence, on the other hand, would mask it all off in such a way so as to be considered insidious. Mike Pence looks like a guy who would stab you, look you in the eye, and say, “The Lord told me to do it,” before pulling the knife out and smiling while he did it, in an Aw, Shucks! manner—like it couldn’t be helped! Mike Pence looks like the poster boy for denial. Mike Pence looks like he would walk through a street of beggars and make a remark on their interesting lifestyle. Mike Pence has told so many white lies that his head is snowcapped. Mike Pence has all the personality of a toothpaste commercial. If Mike Pence continues to lavish praise on Trump, Trump might consider adopting him.
On the international stage, our relationship with our allies is proceeding about as well as everyone expected. Britain holds its nose when asked if they still like us; France and Germany have already looked away; South Korea and Japan don’t know how to answer; and Russia and China are now more friends than enemies. North Korea wants us dead more than ever; Cuba is standing on a tightrope and we’re shaking the cable; Venezuela is somehow still hanging on, but Zimbabwe decided it would keep the balance of dictators by ousting its own. At least Australia legalized same-sex marriage. Thanks, Aussies.
As I look back on my book selfies, I’m reminded of the time and circumstances surrounding each one. Since I spent the first six months of this year in China, it was nice to be reminded again of my life in Nanjing through the books I had read. If the first book you read sets the tone for your entire year, then I’m super lucky to have begun this year reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho because of its optimistism and sage wisdom. How different my outlook might have been if I had made my second read book my first: George Orwell’s 1984. It was around this time that White House Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, uttered that now infamous phrase, “alternative facts,” (she seemed to have suffered a mild stroke while doing it) and my jaw couldn’t hang on long enough to believe Orwell’s prescience. I would have started this year in a much bleaker way, no doubt, had 1984 introduced me to 2017. Thankfully, it didn’t, so I instead looked for the good omens all around me.
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom had me in tears probably by the tenth page, and kept me in tears through every page turn. That’s not an exaggeration—I literally left a coffee shop because I couldn’t stop the tears. While in Thailand, I had Gabriel Garcia Marquez keep me company, with his book One Hundred Years of Solitude for beach reading. Those four fiction books were followed up by three non-fiction books that had me thirsty for facts and real-world drama. Diane Ravitch’s book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools, stands out as the most relevant, given the circumstances of the time, because Betsy Davos’ nomination as the Secretary of Education was announced. It seemed fitting to read the pro-charter and pro-public school arguments—and decidedly quash Davos’ charter-everything-or-bust stance on education.
Personally, non-fiction books require a lot more focus to get through. I can only take so many of them in a row, lest I get mired in pessimism and mild depression. So I switched back to fiction after reading Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War by James Risen, a book about our appalling spending and horrendous practices in response to the war on terror. John Steinbeck’s East of Eden put me in California and Arabian Nights put me in the land of the prophet Mohammed.
Andrew’s Carnegie’s autobiography was not as interesting as his essay, The Gospel of Wealth. D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground could not have had more opposite protagonists, a handsome socialite in the former and a bitter recluse in the latter. I do love my juxtapositions.
While I didn’t recommend The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Regime, 1975-79, by Ben Kiernan because of its density and overall academic writing, it is worth reading because it’s like running a marathon while hearing statistic after statistic of how many people died where and when and how. That book was the literary equivalent of an endurance run, and one worth reading for anyone who views the Communist system of government through rose-colored lenses. This book will break those lenses real quick. I actually waited to leave China before publishing the selfie I took with it (in front of the Forbidden City, of all places), for fear of detainment at the airport. I’m serious. China remains Communist, but only in the political sense. Abstain from any form of political criticism and China is actually not a bad place to live.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky welcomed me back to the United States. It survived being completely submerged while on a Kayak trip, and the glue held on just long enough for me to finish reading it on Santa Monica beach. Beyond Outrage by Robert B. Reich and American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips thrust me back into political literature, before I tired and retreated to sci-fi, which is not a genre I often read—fun fact: I’ve yet to read a single fantasy novel. Cradle by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee had its moments of captivating beauty, but I was overall disappointed. It wasn’t as fantastical as I wanted and I couldn’t make myself like the characters. Thankfully, The Ramayana went beyond any conception of time I could have imagined—we’re talking eons—and left me with a sense of fulfillment, somehow. If any books exuded a special kind of energy this year, they were The Alchemist and The Ramayana.
Lastly, Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which is another great juxtaposition, provided me with two ways to think about life. I intend to read more Huxley next year, but I’m glad that I started with The Doors of Perception because I enjoyed the personal tone and mind-blowing observations—mind-expanding might be the more appropriate descriptor. Atlas Shrugged I’ve been reading on and off for about five years, which is insane. I almost gave it up until I saw it on some list of books people rarely finish, so I took it as a personal challenge not to succumb to the list. Just like Aztec from last year, this is another 1000+ page book that manages to stay entertaining throughout. You’ll inevitably pick up and understand Rand’s Objectivist philosophy, since it’s hammered into you throughout the 1000+ pages, but more importantly, it’ll allow you to think critically about the philosophy. I can see myself liking Objectivism and voting Libertarian every four years, you know, if I don’t think too hard about Objectivism. But since I have thought about it, no, I don’t buy into the philosophy.
I wave goodbye to 2017 with The Servant of the Bones by Anne Rice. Honestly, not the best book to say goodbye with simply because I didn’t like it. It started off interesting, with supernatural and biblical elements, but I was as confused as the main character for the entirety of the book. Maybe that was Rice’s intention? I don’t know. I just know that I didn’t like having more questions than answers, which is a problem Cradle had as well. Both ended prematurely, but both were so unpleasant to read that they also didn’t end soon enough.
Twenty-one books later, my 2017 reading year comes to a close. Below you’ll find the list of books I finished this year. With the exception of Atlas Shrugged, all were begun and finished this year.
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- 1984 by George Orwell
- Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garca Mrquez
- This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral—Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!—in America’s Gilded Capital by Mark Leibovich
- Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools by Diane Ravitch
- Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War by James Risen
- East of Eden by John Steinbeck
- Arabian Nights Volume I: The Marvels and Wonders of the Thousand and One Nights translated by Sir Richard Francis Burton
- The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie and His Essay: The Gospel of Wealth by Andrew Carnegie
- Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
- Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Regime, 1975-79 by Ben Kiernan
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Beyond Outrage by Robert B. Reich
- American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips
- Cradle by Arthur C. Clarke & Gentry Lee
- The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic by Ramesh Menon
- The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
- Servant of the Bones by Anne Rice
Happy 2018, everyone!