In a constantly changing and moving world, one can find it difficult to find time to sit down and read a book. Last year, I certainly fell victim to this frustrating phenomenon, and I was disappointed in how few books I ended up reading. Thus, I have committed myself to reading 100 books this year, selected by a seemingly random, but rather intricate system I have devised for adding books to my reading list. As I progress through my self-imposed reading challenge, I hope to bring you, the reader, along with me on my journey, holding myself accountable and hopefully encouraging you to pick up a book and start reading as well. At the end of every month, I will be posting a literature review to tell you about the books I read during that month, sharing with you the ones I would recommend reading. (I will refer to the books by the order I read them in. For example, the first book I read in 2018 will be referred to as “Book 1,” the second one as “Book 2,” etc.)
Books Read in January: 11
Books Read in 2018: 11
Book 1: Chief Seattle and the Town That Took His Name: The Change of Worlds for the Native People and Settlers on the Puget Sound by David M. Buerge
As a Seattleite, I found this book incredibly enlightening. While I had certainly heard of Chief Seattle, I had no idea how integral he was to the construction of modern Seattle. Buerge provides a moving and ground-breaking account of Seattle’s life, looking at his evolution into a leader of his people as well as his role as a founder of the city. While Buerge’s account can at times be a bit overloaded in detail, his work is deserving of high praise not only for its effort to tell the story of such an important Native American man, but also for its call of justice for Chief Seattle’s Duwamish Tribe, which has still not been recognized by the federal government.
Book 2: Maurice by E.M. Forster
Written in 1914 but not published till 1971, Forester’s novel is an absolute masterpiece far ahead of its time. Depicting the experience of a young gay man enrolled at Cambridge University, this novel offers a luscious slice of gay life during the Edwardian period. Forester manages to not only subvert the harmful stereotype of the tragic life for the gay man, but he also provides an insightful critique of gay identity during the time period. Though the lack of physical intimacy between the male characters may seem rather stuffy from our modern view, the novel is still quite radical for its frankness about homosexuality at a time when gay men were forced to hide behind closed doors.
Book 3: The Secret Live of Color by Kassia St. Clair
Have you ever wonder why color has so much meaning? Well, then this book is for you. Even those who could care less about the symbolic and historical nature of the colors which paint our world would find themselves struggling to find a reason not to enjoy St. Clair’s fun little journey through the world of color. Succinctly and amusingly, St. Clair is able to provide an informative overview of history and symbolic nature of the major colors and their most prominent shades. Her book is definitely worth reading and opens one’s mind to a whole new universe of color significance.
Book 4: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Exploring the intersections of race, gender and sexuality, Sáenz tells a moving coming of age story about two boys discovering who they are. Recipient of the Stonewall Book Award, this book is a part of a new generation of young adult books that deals frankly with being a young gay individual. Sáenz’ novel is not focused on the coming out process but rather about simply being gay and learning what meaning that has in this world. The two protagonists—Aristotle and Dante—will inevitably become members of a proud and lasting gay canon of literature.
Book 5: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
An essential read for any gay literary scholar, Wilde’s novel serves as a powerful critique of Victorian society. With homoerotic tones present throughout the pages, the novel provides a glimpse into a life of hedonism and a fear of aging. In a way, this novel serves as a starting point for the blooming of a gay literary tradition, throwing open the doors that had been partially closed for so long. Themes from the novel have resonated throughout the gay and bisexual literature of the 20th and 21st century.
Book 6: Oscar Wilde: The Unrepentant Years by Nicholas Frankel
While The Picture of Dorian Grey was certainly one of his best works, Oscar Wilde’s contributions extend far beyond this one piece of literature. Frankel’s account of the last few years of Wilde’s life do away with the misconception that Wilde never recovered from his time in prison, demonstrating that they were spent in the same way he spent the rest of his life—without remorse. This biography demonstrates how Wilde was a literary force even in his declining years, and it serves as a moving tribute to the man who brought forth a century of “the love that dare not speak its name.”
Book 9: Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn
This novel challenges everything I have ever been taught about what it means to be human and opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking about the world. Quinn manages to both entertain and educate with this highly accessible work, writing a piece which is sure to challenge those who are completely enamored with the idea of human exceptionalism. Though I wish Quinn extended his exploration to how societal issues such as sexism, racism, and heteronormativity stem from the mindset his characters discuss in the novel, this piece undoubtedly stands as an incredible social stance on the havoc humans are wrecking on the planet.
Book 10: People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo – and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up by Richard Lloyd Parry
(This is my favorite book read during the month of January.)
An incredibly well-written true crime story about a young woman who was swallowed whole by the darkness which lurks in humanity. Parry uses his journalistic abilities to tell the tale of Lucie Blackman, a British national who was raped and murdered while working in Japan. Drawing upon interviews, court proceedings, and his own research, Parry reconstructs a harrowing narrative which delves deep into a hidden world of evil. This book is worthy of the highest praise for its clarity and insight into Blackman’s story.
The following is a list of books I also read this month but did not particularly enjoy: Book 7-All Things Lose Thousands of Times by Angela Peñaredondo, Book 8-Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, and Book 11-The Triggering Town: Lecture and Essays on Poetry and Writing by Richard Hugo.
If you have read any of the books I mentioned in this post, please let us know what you thought of them in the comments below.