As much as I enjoyed television over the past year, 2017 was the year I returned to books in a big way. I have always been a voracious reader but a difficult personal year in 2016 made concentration difficult. I read a lot this year, enough to make choosing my top books of the year difficult because there were so many I loved. So while this is a television blog, these lists are also a way to share the things I love with everyone else and it didn’t seem right to leave out the books I connected with this year. I’ll share my top 10 fictional books next week but today the focus is on the non-fiction that inspired me throughout the year. Looking through this list, it’s very clear where my interests lie this year and where I could expand the perspectives I read for the upcoming year. I’m always looking for more non-fiction recommendations in any area, so feel free to share some of your own favorites in the comments!
1. The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley This is an incredible collection of essays. As Kameron Hurley is a sci-fi and fantasy author, it is geared slightly toward people who are familiar with some of the recent issues and discussions within that community but I don’t think it’s a requirement in order to get something fantastic out of this book. Things like GamerGate and the Sad Puppies takeover of the 2015 Hugos and the idea of representation and the need for more diverse voices are issues that have recently and are still being addressed within SFF fandom but they aren’t exclusive to that fandom. Those attitudes are found everywhere and we’ve seen the entitlement, resentment, and fear that drove those movements in a wider political and cultural sphere more clearly than ever this year. Claiming our voices and widening a narrative that has been largely geared toward a very narrow market are part of a larger cultural revolution. Changing the stories that we tell and the people those stories are told about matter and Hurley does a fantastic job showing us how and why. If you have any interest in the power of story to change the world, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
2. Shrill by Lindy West Even more than the humor or the sharp insights into fat shaming, mysogyny, and rape culture, I appreciated the openness and candor that underlies the entirely of Shrill. Throughout the book, Lindy West unapologetically owns her life and her opinions and there is a tremendous amount of power in that. To be a loud woman can by a scary proposition. You are stepping out of the bounds society has tried to construct around you. You are rejecting a culture that wishes you would just be quiet and leave the status quo alone. You are claiming your voice when women weren’t even legally considered independent beings in the all too recent past. West is deeply familiar with the hate that brings. But she continues to fight and do it anyway. Her memoir is funny, heartbreaking, angering, and above all, honest. I finished it feeling braver and more inspired to find and amplify my own voice.
3. All the Single Ladies By Rebecca Traister Rebecca Traister is a terrific journalist and if you’re not already following her work, I highly recommend it. As a sociological and historical look into the relationship between women’s relationship status and independence, this book was always going to fall squarely within my interests. It’s a dense book with a lot of statistics and historical records and personal accounts and I was riveted the whole time. There was a time when marriage was considered the highest goal for women and once it happened, they would cease to exist in the public sphere in a meaningful way. Not all women followed that path, there have always been those with the means to exist independently and those for whom marriage wasn’t an option. Where the average age of first marriage used to be between 20 and 22, it is now 27. Women are living on their own for longer periods of time and forging independent identities in a way that wasn’t common in the past. Doing so requires societal change. We’re not done changing and should still continue to move forward toward full equality, but a lot has been accomplished. However, it hasn’t been accomplished for all groups of women and this book recognizes that and takes an intersectional look at the way race and class impact expectations and options. It’s thoroughly researched but also very accessible and enjoyable to read.
4. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai What an incredible, inspiring young woman. It takes a strong person to hold tight to your beliefs and values in the face of tremendous adversity but that is exactly what Malala did. I loved that this book is a love letter to Pakistan and her people and the future she wants for them. Her love and pride for where she comes from and her traditions shines through everything she does. It’s a tribute to her parents, who instilled a love for education in her and openly spoke out against the restrictions. It’s a powerful statement about what it means for women to be free and have options and the role education plays in achieving that freedom. This is what passion looks like. This is what it means to be courageous and take a stand for your beliefs. She risked everything and would do it all over again. She is more than the “girl shot by the Taliban”, a phrasing which minimizes her activism. She is a girl who stood up to an oppressive regime for her own rights and the rights of others, one who continues to fight for women to be free and use their education to change their communities and the world. She is Malala and her story is one everyone should read.
5. What Happened by Hillary Clinton This was a sad, occasionally difficult, but ultimately cathartic read. It wasn’t a book for everyone. I understand the desire to put the 2016 election in the past and I know there were a lot of reasons that people weren’t enthusiastic about her as a candidate or a president. But I was and this book gave me the chance to be sad about the future we could have had while also strengthening my resolve to push forward. I related to the way she described her reactions to the Women’s March and the hope that day brought. I recognized the feeling of letting people down she describes as one of the hardest things about the aftermath of the election. I admired her willingness to be angry and share that anger with us. Some of it hit too close to home. We’re not far enough out from the election or the resulting presidency for me to want to reexperience the sinking feeling she and much of the country felt on election night. It brought those memories back much sharper than I anticipated and I wasn’t ready. It was an emotional process for me as I read through her thoughts and worked through my own but when I put the book down, I felt better. I needed those moments of reflection in order to fully go forward. We keep going and keep fighting because that’s what we need to do to bring about a better world.