Wasn’t it just yesterday I was writing down my New Year’s resolutions? With a renewed commitment to myself, I was making plans to build more muscle, walk the dog more often and read more books.
I need these reminders to take care of myself every year, though they often don’t last past January. February through December are consumed by the push and pull of my own ambitions and anxieties, waves of overcommitment and seasons of absent mindedness. But, January is my “self care month” when I give myself permission to be my own priority.
So, here we are in April and the small promises I habitually make to myself are habitually being broken. The cycle has to end somewhere, right? And with the snow melting and my neighbors shaking off those last layers of the frozen season, I see no better time than now for more list-making.
The thing is that, while I love reading, I often don’t make time for it like I make time for errands and volunteering. Because when we have people counting on us, when we’ve made commitments to care of our communities, spending an hour in a book can feel selfish. To those awful thoughts that creep into my head, I say, self care is not selfish. In the time we take to soothe ourselves, we make more room to do more good.
I’m dedicating my reading list for 2017 to the stories that will feed that spirit. If you’re looking for some titles to add to your list, let’s compare notes.
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
My brother, literally a librarian in training, sent me a copy of Shrill and I’ve been dying to get into it. He promised me a fun ride into a feminist experience, illuminated both by comedy and honesty. Lindy West, a writer for GQ Magazine and The Guardian, takes on cultural norms and painful topics. Her weight, her abortion, her Internet trolls. She lifts the veil of privacy so many of us prefer, carrying you through the uncomfortable to challenge our preconceptions.
Worth your time because: West’s writing is so much fun, it’s almost hard not to allow yourself the pleasure of reading her. But on a more serious note, she has been praised for maintaining a sense of compassion in the face of the most controversial topics. Despite whether you agree with her, journeying through these topics will expose you to the strength it takes to live in skin the rest of society seems to have a problem with.
The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
Since The Poisonwood Bible, I’ve been a huge Kingsolver fan. The Appalachian author skillfully captures the humble strength and mysterious allure of women of the south. The Bean Trees was her first novel; it tells the story of a young Taylor Greer who leaves her small, rural Kentucky town and heads west. Hungry for a world bigger than the one she grew up in, Taylor fearlessly runs directly into the responsibilities, consequences and dangers of life. In exercising her independence, she learns the power and necessity of relationships.
Worth your time because: Don’t we all struggle at times with a sense of belonging? Do we belong in this career, in this city, or in this family? The Bean Trees challenges the notion of what it means to belong to any person or place. The story of Taylor Greer will encourage you to re-evaluate the roles you hold.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay has been sitting in my bookcase for about a year now, but I keep putting her off. By now, the popularity of her 2014 collection of essays, Bad Feminist, has left me in the dust. This will be the year I join her rank of readers. Bad Feminist talks feminism in refreshing, modern terms. Having grown up on Chick Lit, Gay references the pop culture upon which many of us have constructed our perception of feminism. And with insight to her experience as a woman of color, she is both relatable and wholly individual.
Worth your time because: While some reviewers disagree over the uniqueness of her concepts, most agree Gay is powerfully talented at encouraging readers to be and to embrace “different.” Bad Feminist is an exercise in admitting our faults and imperfections and coming to peace without having all the answers.
The Namesake by Jumpha Lahiri
Last year, I read Lahiri’s The Lowland and was transcended by her intimate saga of a family caught between cultures and destiny. I’ve heard even better reviews about The Namesake and am eager to jump back into her time-traveling novels, which can span decades while exploring the emotional complexities of homeland traditions encountering a new world. In The Namesake, we follow another Indian family coming to America to discover greater possibilities and the struggles that inevitably ensue.
Worth your time because: Lahiri’s themes resonate with the modern woman, who is also exploring new territories. She digs deep into the pressure for immigrants to assimilate and the pressure older generations place on their children. She explores the expectations we are born with and the ones we define ourselves by. The Namesake is critical look at the limits those expectations put on our personal growth.
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