My Reading Year 2017: "Huh, so I guess I'm a political junkie now?" edition

...because if your reading year has included not one but two books about Mitch McConnell, maybe it's time to admit you have a problem. Anyhow, here's the stuff I read in 2017 as I tried to come to terms with our national crisis.  My usual disclaimers about a good portion of these being audiobooks still apply, for the sort of people who are sticklers about this kind of thing. 

Also, if anyone wants to join my informal book club for people who read / are reading The Power Broker and want to talk about it constantly, we are currently accepting new members. '


Writer Who Dominated My Reading Year: Robert Caro
 In this era of hot take think-pieces written in hours, reading Robert Caro is downright refreshing. His work famously takes him years to write, and it's immensely satisfying listening to well-researched stories that make politics seem fascinating and complicated. Not complicated in the "arcane senate procedure way" though there's plenty of that too (and which Caro actually manages to make fairly understandable), but complicated in a "bad-men-doing-great-and-terrible things" kind of way. 

In 2017 I read two more books in Robert Caro's epic Lyndon Johnson biography series, Means of Ascent, and The Passage of Power (yes, I am reading them all out of order). The Passage of Power is my favorite so far, which spans six years—LBJ going from the most powerful man in the Senate, to the least powerful man in the executive branch.  

I also thoroughly enjoyed On Power, a collection of excerpts of Caro's speeches, and a superb introduction to his work.  And speaking of which...

I look very shy and dopey in this photo but look how dapper Mr. Caro looks as he signs this bumper sticker!

I look very shy and dopey in this photo but look how dapper Mr. Caro looks as he signs this bumper sticker!

Designed by Caro enthusiast Tim Kreider


Best Author Talk
...oh hey, look who I got to meet! One of my highlights this year was attending a lecture by the historian Robert Caro at the Newark Public Library. I am also happy to report that he has an excellent sense of humor. He and his wife Ina graciously signed the WWLBJD? bumper stickers [see photo] that we presented them (printed by me, designed by my friend Tim).  

Author I Would Most Like to Get a Beer With: Alyssa Mastromonaco
Who Thought This Was a Good Idea, by Alyssa Mastromonaco.

I tore through this on  a plane ride, wishing it had come out about 10 years earlier when I most needed career advice. Alyssa Mastromonaco was Obama's White House Deputy Chief of Staff for three years (the "type of one teaches you to want") and her memoir is a funny and fascinating reveal of what it is like to have one of the most high pressure gigs in the world. If you really can't get enough of what it was like behind the scenes in the Obama White House, I also enjoyed the funny memoir Thanks, Obama. My Hopey Changey Years in the White House by David Litt.  

Best Instagram-Account-Turned-Book
Literally Me, by Julie Houts
Works in this genre tend to feature writers whose artistic ambitions start and end with publishing a book that would sell well in an Urban Outfitters, but this book thoroughly delighted me. Houts is a clear-eyed satirist of a very specific (and easily mockable) genre of women's culture, and an elegant draftswoman. Once I got to her illustrated essay about a group of women in an Uber Pool who wind up ushering in the apocalypse en route to Coachella I was hooked. 

Best Book I Should've Already Read By Now
1984 by George Orwell. I was one of the thousands of people who helped make this 68-year-old book a best seller in 2017. Go figure. 

Book I Read Because I Was Going to Watch the New TV Series the Book Was Based On, And Then, Upon Finishing It the Book, Never Felt In the Mood to Watch the TV Series
The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood.  Nothing against Margaret Atwood or Elisabeth Moss, by the way. I just never had the emotional energy. 


Best Audiobook (and Most Specific Title) 
The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6' 4", African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama's Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian
Like all of Bell’s comedy his memoir is funny, engaging, and thought-provoking. It got me through several hours of mural painting. 

Best Ending
The Hike, by Drew Margary
I was ready to write this book off as bizarre torture porn, but the last 30 minutes or so were as fantastic as everyone said they were. 

Most Infuriating, but for Different Reasons
The Long Game, by Mitch McConnell and The Cynic: The Political Education of Mitch McConnell by Alec Macgillis

"I want to know how Voldemort became Voldemort," I explained to my fiancé when he asked why on earth I wanted to read such a book. (He replied, "Well, I don't want to know. And I will refer to him as He Who Must Not Be Named.") 

Anyhow, if your view of McConnell is of a man with no ideas or principles other than winning elections and sabotaging Democrats, his memoir The Long Game doesn't do much to convince you otherwise. (He devotes an entire chapter to his ”heroic" act of attempting to sabotage the Affordable Care Act and offers three vague sentences on how he'd have fixed it; in fact, his ideas for fixing any problems facing Americans are largely absent.) Fortunately, Alec McGinness' book The Cynic is a fascinating and necessary accompaniment to his memoir, which dives into the harsh political calculations behind the decisions McConnell breezes over. 

Other Good Books

What Happened, by Hillary Clinton
Yes, I read it. No, I did not think it was "too soon." As the comedian Billy Eichner put it on Twitter: "Everything we pretend to know regarding laws/policy/diplomacy-Hillary's lived it her entire life. Not wanting her 2 cents is just plain dumb." 

Everything is Flammable by Gabrielle Bell

March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Lincoln In the Bardo, by George Saunders
Parts of this book made me impatient, but others put a shiver down my spine. 

My Reading Year 2016: Cranky Edition

And now my long-awaited(?) 2016 reading wrap-up. Most of it was spent listening to the superb (but lengthy) Lyndon Johnson biography by Robert Caro, a book I didn't expect to be in my roster but feels like one of most important works I’ve read in awhile. Other than that, it was a typical eclectic reading year. I read a classic I should've read in high school, a book that made me want to punch the writer in the face, abandoned a book that everyone else seemed to like but me, and gleefully devoured the latest Harry Potter play adaptation despite reviews like this. And I reread a few favorites for good measure. 

Best and Most Important
Master of the Senate (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, #3) by Robert A. Caro
So we all know the United States Senate is a mess, but did you ever wonder how or why, exactly it was a mess other than something-something corrupt politicians? I sure didn’t. This book is not only a superb biography of Lyndon Johnson, but a fascinating (and infuriating) illustration of how the senate works, and how LBJ was the first man to come along to figure out how to exploit it to his advantage. It’s also a harsh reminder of how being on the right side of history isn’t enough if you can’t wield power effectively. 

Most Annoying
Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley
by Antonio Garcia Martinez
There’s a lot of interesting content in this book, mostly about how start ups are born, and gossipy tales of the office culture at Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately, it was all overshadowed by an author hell-bent on making sure you know that he is Smarter Than You with every sentence. Not to mention casual misogyny (the women he's fucking don't even get proper pseudonyms and the mother of his children is obnoxiously referred to as "British Trader" the whole time) and cringe-inducing sex scenes. If you want a more palatable account of start-up culture, I'd recommend Dan Lyon's book, Disrupted

Most Entertaining
Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons
This was a fun, if slightly terrifying, romp through a certain brand of youth-driven, peppy start-up culture I read this in one sitting. 

Most Overrated
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Unconvincing torture porn. And became impossible to take seriously the moment one of the protagonists, an artist, manages to get a show at the Met at the ripe old age of 27.  

Book that Did Not Disappoint, Even Though Every Review Said It Would
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2 (Harry Potter #8)
by John Tiffany (Adaptation), Jack Thorne (Adaptation), J.K. Rowling
I'm going to come out and say it: I love Harry Potter. I love J.K. Rowling, who seems like more and more of a brilliant class act every day. I love the adult novels she's written since the series ended. (I have no love whatsoever for any Harry Potter movies except the fourth one, but that is a whole other blog post.) Anyhow, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was everything I wanted it to be. I am eagerly awaiting an audio version. 

Book that Did Disappoint, But I'm Glad I Read Anyway
The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver
I'm sure I'm on record somewhere as a huge Lionel Shriver fangirl. Her books We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Post Birthday World are some of my all-time-re-read-every-few-years-and-try-to-foist-on-all-my-friends favorites, and she is better at articulating human motivation than any writer I know. That said, The Mandibles—a dystopian novel that traces a family during an American financial collapse—isn't one of her better novels. She didn't figure out how to make her characters talk constantly about interest rates and currency valuation without them sound like walking Economist articles rather than people, and the whole second part of the book should probably have been cut in half. Nonetheless, it was well worth the read for its insight about our complex relationship with money.  

Best Re-read
Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates. 
This one is on my 're-read every five years or so' shelf and sends shivers down my spine every time. It's also one of the few books to truly dissect the question: so how do you have a meaningful life, anyway? 

Book I'd Should've Already Read By Now, but Am Also Glad I Read in Adulthood Instead of in High School
Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov. A masterpiece that would have been completely wasted on me at 16. 


Other Books I Read And Enjoyed
The Martian, by Anthony Weir. Better than the movie!

How to Be a Person in the World, by Heather Havrilesky. 

The Interrogative Mood, by Padgett Powell. A book composed entirely of wonderfully weird and thoughtful questions. (Examples: "When you see an abandoned toilet, do you have any impulse to salvage it or right it or in any way restore to it some lost dignity?" and "Would you like to have been a conquistador—perhaps a benign one?”) 

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq by Sarah Glidden. 
Amazing. Everyone who cares about journalism should read this. 

Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt
Lisa Hanawalt teaches us all that not only is your weird, pervy stuff in your brain not only worth sharing, it is what people will love you for. 

Mooncop, by Tom Gauld. 
Pure poetry. Anything else I say about it will ruin it. 

Happy New Year, everyone! As always, I welcome friendship on Goodreads if any fellow readers want to compare notes or recommend titles.