Our Top Five Books of 2017: Rebecca

Top 5 Books - Rebecca's

In 2017, I left my demanding job as a classroom teacher for a more balanced 9-to-5 position; I sat in the backseat during a three-week road trip from California to Connecticut; and I participated in an amazing, feminist book club with three smart, hilarious women. These factors combined to make this my best year of reading ever. Not only was it my most prolific year, reading more than two dozen books, it was also the most enjoyable. When I liked a book, I often read everything else by that author, a practice that felt self-serving and decadent. I began openly reading on my lunch breaks, which felt defiant and exciting. I comforted the loneliness of a cross-country move by spending my evenings with the funny, neurotic, heart-broken women of my books. And then I sparked friendships in my new city by starting conversations about what I had most recently read. I reignited my infatuation with reading this year, and below are the ones I love the most and love to talk about the most.

You’ll also notice that every book on my top five list was written by a woman. With only one exception, this year I chose to read only books authored by women and people of color. There is more to say about this experiment than there is space here, but I encourage you to embark on a similar challenge. The majority of literature I’ve encountered (and loved!) in my life has been written by white men, from Roald Dahl to Walt Whitman. But, when you the majority of great writing you’re exposed to is created by white, cis-gendered, wealthy men, you begin to believe that great authors must fit that description. And of course, that’s not true. The reasons for white male dominance in this field are many, but a lack of talent on the part of minority writers is not one of them. Please see below to read about some truly fantastic works of writing that just happen to have been penned by women.

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. This novel, published in 2004, is written from the perspective of John Ames, an aging minister in a small town in Iowa. After a fatal diagnosis, Ames begins to write his sprawling goodbye to his young son. The collection of journal entries, memories, love letters, moral advice, and history is heartbreaking, sweet, and contemplative.

Dept. Of Speculation, by Jenny Offill. This was my absolute favorite book I read this year. It had me laughing aloud to Offill’s clever telling of seemingly unfunny material, like mental illness. infidelity, and a bedbug infestation. This quick read is written in fragmented pieces, peppered with literary allusion, and the language is so witty and tight I couldn’t contain myself from reading excerpts aloud to anyone who would listen.

Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward. After all the hype that Ward received this year for her newest book, Sing Unburied Sing, I decided to see what the fuss was about, reading both of her novels. Though Sing is unarguably a fantastic book, I enjoyed this one even more. The story is told by 15-year old Esch in a Mississippi town in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. This book is an epic, inspired by Greek mythology, with a realistic, lovable, poignantly unlucky heroine.

Neapolitan Novels, by Elena Ferrante. Okay, technically this is 4 books in a series, but once you dive in, I can’t believe you’ll be able to stop at just one. The series follows two female friends in Naples, Italy, from their elementary-aged days through adulthood. I struggle to explain this riveting series, because it’s not like anything else I’ve ever read. It was thrilling to read the inner thoughts of young women taken seriously and to allow these women to be simultaneously brilliant and frivolous, feminist and self-conscious. This story is as much about the people as it is about the place; Ferrante’s Naples is full, detailed, dangerous, and complicated.

The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson. In the way that Dept. of Speculation re-imagines form, Argonuats does the same for genre. A mix of memoir and gender theory, this piece is also a love story, telling the author’s romance with genderfluid artist, Harry Dodge. This work, despite being radical in both format and ideology, examines the most commonplace of topics: marriage and motherhood. The same themes are explored in my honorable mention title: A Life’s Work by Rachel Cusk, which too gives a frank, sometimes brutal recounting of motherhood.



Rebecca Rubin is the Dixwell Site Kindergarten Teacher at New Haven Reads. She also works at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence where she serves as the RULER Program Manager for Elementary Schools. Previously, she taught in elementary schools in both Oakland, California and Washington, D.C. She received a B.A. in political science from the University of Virginia and her Masters Degree in Special Education from George Mason University. Rebecca loves to read and hike with her dog, Hushpuppy.

Categories Book Bank | Tags: | Posted on January 5, 2018

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