Books Read, Songs Listened To, Movies/Series Watched in 2017
Inspired by my two friends — Doc Ayomide (here)and Adrian Patenaude (here) — who created similar lists, I have decided to share my Read, Listen, and Watch lists for 2017. I didn’t set out in 2017 to create such a list, so think of this compilation as an afterthought. 2017 was a busy year for me between moving cities, learning a new language, starting a new job, and just doing other things adults do, it seemed like I just couldn’t get a break for myself. Nonetheless, it looks like I was able to squeeze in some time to read a handful of books, discover new songs (and replay a lot of old ones too), and watch movies/series.
To make this easier to read and also due to the length of the post, I have broken these sections into two separate posts — Part 1 and Part 2. You can read part two here.
“You have heard not to judge a book by its cover but feel free to judge me properly based on my staple diet of books, music, and movies.”
I get books mostly from my library here using the app called OverDrive. I began using this app many years ago through the Austin Public Library and was excited to find out that Oklahoma too uses the same platform for borrowing books. The cool thing about this app is that you can link it to your Kindle and phone and read e-books from there too. If you also love audio-books, you can listen to books on the app. For books I really like, I order a hard copy on Amazon as soon as I am done reading the e-copy. In 2017, I managed to read a total of 51 books last year. I bet I could have read more if I didn’t spend time driving around this city instead of riding the bus. One of the things I miss most about my former city, Austin, was how I could commute to most places by hopping on the shuttle. Here in Oklahoma City, the shuttles aren’t that efficient to commute to and from work. Below is a list of the books using categories I came up with:
Korean History: It’s no secret that I am Koreanophile, so it should come as no shock to anyone reading this that more than 25 percent of the books I read in 2017 was based on the Korean Peninsula, especially the Korean War, and escapes from the Hermit Kingdom — North Korea. 2017 was the year I intensified my interest in all things Korean. Besides learning the language, I needed to catch up on literature surrounding how the Peninsula was divided across the 38th parallel and all the key players involved. While South Korea has significantly evolved, its Northern neighbor is still shrouded in mystery and lags considerably behind. I gravitated mostly towards books that could shed more light on the complexity that is North Korea. Here are a few of them (in order of increasing like) and interesting quotes, as well as short reviews on my top-rated ones.
- Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea — Barbara Demick
If you are remotely interested in North Korea and how the people there live, this is the book for you. It is well-researched and excellently written — no wonder it was a finalist for the National Book Award — the most prestigious literary prize in the US. The story follows the lives of five North Koreans (and how they defected). Beyond this, you will also read about the harsh realities of life, especially during the 1980s, of living under a strict propagandist regime.
“They don’t stop to think that in the middle of this black hole, in this bleak, dark country where millions have died of starvation, there is also love. Our father, we have nothing to envy in the world.”
“Our house is within the embrace of the Workers’ Party. We are all brothers and sisters. Even if a sea of fire comes toward us, sweet children do not need to be afraid; our father is here. We have nothing to envy in this world.” [A popular song taught to North Korean school children praising the Dear Leader.]
2. The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story — Hyeonseo Lee
This is another best-seller. What makes this especially jaw-dropping was the almost-impossible feat that the author went through trying to get their mom and brother out of North Korea. This book is an eye-opening autography by a woman whose ordeal out of North Korea took over 14 years. You also learn a lot about China and its relationship with North Korea. While we can never fully understand the harsh brutalities that is life in NK, Hyeonseo does a great job of giving us a glimpse of this.
“This is when I understood that we can do without almost anything — our home, even our country. But we will never do without other people, and we will never do without family.”
3. The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and the Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom — Blaine Harden
This is an excellent book on how just singular moment in history divided the Korean Peninsula. In this book, you will learn about the cover-ups and lies made up by Koreans, Americans, Chinese, and the then Soviets. You will learn how North Korea is a reflection of these multiple cover-ups of mistakes that no one wants to yet admit to. While the book is supposed to be about Kim Il-Sung (the Great Leader) and No Kum Sok (now Kenneth Rowe, the Fighter Pilot)), it is so much more than a biography. The details the author go into regarding the Korean war, and the warplanes (especially the B29s and Sabres) are a lot to be desired. I couldn’t put this book down.
4. King of spies: the dark reign and ruin of an American spymaster — Blaine Harden
Little is ever mentioned in history about Donald Nichols, yet if there’s a name you need to know about the one person for who played a huge role during the Korean war, it is Donald Nichols. This was the third book I read by Blaine Harden, and he does a great job of depicting the life of Donald Nichols — a high-school dropout from Florida who later became a spymaster and built such a strong spy network that helped topple the Kim regime in North Korea. Spy network, Agent Orange, Napalm, true crimes, Truman leadership, Pusan perimeter, Pres. Syngman Rhee, General McArthur — this book has it all!
5. Every Falling Star: How I survived and escaped North Korea — Lee Sungju
6. Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West — Blaine Harden
7. A Kim Jong-Il Production: The extraordinary true story of a kidnapped filmmaker, his star actress, and a young dictator’s rise to power — Fischer, Paul
8. The World Is Bigger Now An American Journalist’s Release from Captivity in North Korea: A Remarkable Story of Faith, Family, and Forgiveness — Euna Lee
9. A Thousand Miles to Freedom: My Escape from North Korea — Eunsun Kim with Sebastien Falletti
10. In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom — Yeonmi Park
11. Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite — Suki Kim
American History: When I lived briefly in Boston in 2014, I was introduced to Bill Bryson by a colleague who recommended A Walk in the Woods, and I have not looked back since. I made a plan since then to read his books and re-read them as many times as I can. If I were to publish a book someday, Mr. Bryson’s style is one that I plan to adopt — he has a way of infusing humor into everything, and he is quite the history buff.
12. One Summer: America, 1927 — Bill Bryson
Before picking up this book, all I knew about the 20s was how roaring it was and of course — the Great Gatsby. In this book by Bill Bryson, you learn a lot about American history in such a way that you will never look at the year 1927 again. The book is divided into two major events — Charles’ Lindberg’s voyage across the Atlantic and everything that happened afterward. While this book isn’t half as hilarious as other books by Bryson, it is still a worthy read. Politicians, scandals, inventors, sportsmen, criminals, Klansmen, and all the juicy details needed to make for a delightful read are all contained therein.
“Not even much survives as memory. Many of the most notable names of the summer — Richard Byrd, Sacco, and Vanzetti, Gene Tunney, even Charles Lindbergh — are rarely encountered now, and most of the others are never heard at all. So it is perhaps worth pausing for a moment to remember just some of the things that happened that summer: Babe Ruth hit sixty home runs. The Federal Reserve made the mistake that precipitated the stock market crash. Al Capone enjoyed his last summer of eminence. The Jazz Singer was filmed. Television was created. Radio came of age. Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. President Coolidge chose not to run. Work began on Mount Rushmore. The Mississippi flooded as it never had before. A madman in Michigan blew up a school and killed forty-four people in the worst slaughter of children in American history. Henry Ford stopped making the Model T and promised to stop insulting Jews. And a kid from Minnesota flew across an ocean and captivated the planet in a way it had never been captivated before. Whatever else it was, it was one hell of a summer.”
13. At Home: A Short History of Private Life — Bill Bryson
14. A Short History of Nearly Everything — Bill Bryson
15. A Man Called Ove — Fredrik Backman
I got this book for a book club I joined when I first moved here. It was my first time reading any book by Fredrik Backman, and with this book, I got aboard the Ove fan train so fast. Initially, it was a little depressing, but as I read on, with all of its plot twists, it got me good. Where it doesn’t get you in the gut, this book more than makes up for it on the heart. Mr. Ove is certainly not your average happy-go-lucky neighbor. Indeed he is such a handful curmudgeonly fellow, but we soon learn why he is this way, and we finally get to love him (at least I did). I find his character relatable because of some of my initially-difficult friends who I have come to love and I now have an appreciation for the friends who love me despite my eccentricities. The cast of characters are also very memorable.
“People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.”
“We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if.’”
16. Please Look After Mom — Kyung-Sook Shin
This is a bestseller that sold over 1.5 million copies in Korea. The story is as gripping as it is revealing. Once you are done reading this book, you will never think of your mum the same way. It got me thinking deeply not about the relationships in my life (not just with my mom) but also how much I take for granted those that love me. Reading this book made me also question my mortality, of when I cease to be no more, how many people can really say they knew the real me. Another bonus is that you learn a lot about the Korean culture and family dynamics — such themes are abundant in this book.
“Only after Mom went missing did you realize that her stories were piled inside you, in endless stacks. Mom’s everyday life used to go on in a repeating loop, without a break. Her everyday words, which you didn’t think deeply about and sometimes dismissed as useless when she was with you, awoke in your heart, creating tidal waves.”
17. Your Name. (Kimi no Na wa) — by Makoto Shinkai
I watched this movie three times last year (and cried every time) after my friend recommended it to me. Imagine my joy when I walked into a local bookstore here and saw the book. I quickly grabbed it and have been kissing it goodnight ever since (not every day but on most days). Whether you read the book only or just watch the movie, the feels are abundant. The story is not only fascinating but an emotional roller coaster. Trust the Japanese to do such a wonder with animations (think Studio Ghibli). The book is an easy read, and the characters stand out well. Usually, I recommend reading a book first before watching its movie. However, in this instance, I suggest watching the film first and then reading the book as it is the only way to have a full appreciation of this masterpiece by Sensei Shinkai.
P.S: Paramount Pictures acquired the rights to adapt this movie for U.S. audience. J.J Abrams is scheduled to produce it. I look forward to seeing how well the U.S. version will do.
“I’m always searching for something, for someone. This feeling has possessed me I think, from that day… That day when the stars came falling.”
18. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry — Fredrik Backman
19. The Orphan Master’s Son — Adam Johnson
20. Eleanor & Park — Rainbow Rowell
21. Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now — Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Growing up in Nigeria and knowing a bit about Islam (or so I thought) did not quite prepare me for the revelations in this book. Ayaan Hirsi Ali tries to present arguments as to how Islam needs a reformation. In this book, I learned about the three distinct categories of Muslims (from the Fundamentalist Medinas to the majority Meccas, and the minority dissidents). In addition to the structure provided, Ayaan Hirsi Ali provides the five aspects of Islam that need crucial reformation (e.g., Sharia, Jihad). Drawing from her past as a Muslim, she holds nothing back in presenting her thoughts on this issue. I love a book that is well written, researched, and backed with facts. This book by Ayaan Hirsi Ali has all these elements and more.
“Multiculturalism should not mean that we tolerate another culture’s intolerance. If we do in fact support diversity, women’s rights, and gay rights, then we cannot in good conscience give Islam a free pass on the grounds of multicultural sensitivity.”
22. Adultery — Paulo Coelho
This book was a good read for me. Beyond dealing with such a heavy topic as adultery, we get to learn more about Linda (the main character) and everything else (besides adultery) going on in her life. The way I interpreted to find it relatable was a book about what it feels to be disconnected from life and what one woman’s attempt was to feel something again. If you’ve ever asked had the “is this it” moment regarding life, then this book is for you. If anything, this book also reminds us that we all cheat ourselves from time to time.
“Because, ever since we’ve moved away from God, we live a fragmented existence. We try to find oneness, but we don’t know the way back; thus, we are in a state of constant dissatisfaction.”
I want to change. I need to change. I’m gradually losing touch with myself.
“What kills a relationship between two people is precisely the lack of challenge, the feeling that nothing is new anymore. We need to continue to be a surprise for each other.”
“Love alone is not enough. I need to fall in love with my husband.”
23. Infidel — Ayaan Hirsi Ali
I love to travel, and when I can’t be physically doing this, I fill those moments in between with books that I can live vicariously through.
24. I am a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away — Bill Bryson
As stated earlier, I love Bill Bryson books. This was my third time reading this book. This book is a collection of short newspaper columns about moving back to the U.S. with his English wife and children. Like typical Bill Bryson style, he infused a lot of humor in this book, and there were times that I burst out laughing hysterically. For someone who considers the U.S. their second home, I found this book very relatable. Like most of his other books, I recommend reading this in the privacy of your homes because you might end up letting out embarrassing guffaws in public spaces (trust me on this one). His prose is just entertaining and gut-wrenchingly funny.
“Coming back to your native land after an absence of many years is a surprisingly unsettling business, a little like waking from a long coma. Time, you discover, has wrought changes that leave you feeling mildly foolish and out of touch.”
Once you’re done with this, I recommend the following (also by Bill Bryson):
25. In a Sunburned Country — Bill Bryson
This was about the wilds of Australia. This book made me bump up Australia on my to visit list despite the abundance of evidence of things (flora and fauna alike) than can strike you dead within seconds).
26. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail — Bill Bryson
A hilarious account of his attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail with his friend. I have read this book three times.
27. Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe — Bill Bryson
28. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World — Cal Newport
One of my former students (Thanks, Tyler!) recommended this book to me, so I decided to give it a read. This was one of the books I eventually ordered a hardcopy of as I plan to keep referring to it in the future. This book contains an important message for professionals who want to engage in meaningful work and keep being relevant in a changing world laden with many distractions. If you are like me and struggle with time management with the attention span of a drunken gnat, then this book provides you with tips on how to do Deep Work. Deep Work will lengthen your periods of intense concentration and dedicated attention. Engaging in Deep Work would mean less time spent emailing and on social media, and more time doing what really matters — being creative. This book is a must-read for creative folks!
“Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love — is the sum of what you focus on.”
“Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse disciplines from anthropology to education, behavioral economics to family counseling, similarly suggest that the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience.”
29. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less — Greg McKeown
If you have ever asked yourself the following questions, then this book is for you:
- “What am I investing my time, energy, and resources on? Is the investment really worth it?”
- “How do I gain mastery of personal skill development?”
- “How do I incorporate essentialism to my daily life and declutter all the junk?”
Even though it was written from a business perspective, I found a lot of the examples shared in the book relatable to me.
“Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.”
“The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years.”
29. Getting to Yes: How to Negotiate Agreement Without Giving In — Roger Fisher
30. Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun — Gretchen Rubin
F. HEALTHY + EMOTIONAL LIVING
31. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer — Siddhartha Mukherjee
Took the sheer volume of this book (weight and depth), it took me several months to finish. As a cancer outcomes researcher, it opened my eyes to a lot of backstory about cancer, its origin, medical discoveries, and scientific triumphs and failures.
The author did a fantastic job in making this book detailed but not in a maudlin way as one would imagine a book about cancer should be like. This book will change how you think about medicine and health. It is definitely worth a read.
“In God we trust. All others [must] have data. — Bernard Fisher”
“Doctors are men who prescribe medicines of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of whom they know nothing. — Voltaire”
32. When Food is Food and Love is Love: A Step-by-Step Spiritual Program to Break Free from Emotional Eating — Geneen Roth
33. Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It — Gary Taubes
34. Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health — Gary Taubes
35. The Case Against Sugar — Gary Taubes
G. SOUL FOOD
Anne Lamott became my go-to person when I needed some soul food. She has a way of describing her struggles in such a way that they make me feel better about my own self-doubts, especially those moments when I feel unworthy. Anne Lamott’s books have taken me on searches within those deep and dank crevices of my souls with resultant reactions ranging from tears and laughter. I credit her books for helping me get back to writing as a way of emotional healing. In 2017, I ate her words like morsels to feed the starving areas of my soul. She is also humorous and witty. She is also very honest in talking about her struggles as a Christian.
36. Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair — Anne Lamott
Whether you consider yourself remotely spiritual or not, this book is relatable especially in helping you cope with the joys and tragedies of life. Like most of her other books, reading this book felt listening to that friend who gets you and in whom you can confide your deepest secrets to wholeheartedly. If you need a book to help you deal with losing a loved one, heartache, or just to cope with the vicissitudes of life, then this book is for you. Anne Lamott holds nothing back in taking you on a journey of how hope can be found, even in the most desperate situations we might find ourselves in.
“The pain does grow less acute, but the insidious palace lie that we will get over crushing losses means that our emotional GPS can never find true north, as it is based on maps that no longer mention the most important places we have been to.”
37. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and LifeSmall Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace — Anne Lamott
38. Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son — Anne Lamott
39. Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy — Anne Lamott
40. Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace — Anne Lamott
41. Nobody’s Cuter than You: A Memoir about the Beauty of Friendship — Melanie Shankle
This book reaffirmed what I thought real friendship should be about. In this book, Melanie Shankle writes on the beauty of friendship, especially girlfriends, and how we need each other. It’s a heartwarming book about four life-long friends. You will laugh, cry, and at the end of the book feel like you have known these people all your life and that they are your own friends too.
“There is nothing as precious in life as a friend who knows you and loves you in spite of yourself. Yet over the last couple of decades, we’ve substituted the joy of real friendship with cheap imitations. We settle for “community” on Facebook and Twitter and a series of text messages that allow us to communicate with someone without the commitment. We like each other’s beautifully filtered photos on Instagram and delude ourselves into believing we have a community. But real friendship requires effort. It’s showing up, laughing loud, and crying hard. It’s forgiving and loving and giving the benefit of the doubt. It’s making a casserole, doing a carpool pickup, and making sure she knows those cute shoes are 50 percent off.”
42. Food: A Love Story — Jim Gaffigan
I love food, and I love me a book that talks about the love of food unabashedly. I read Jim Gaffigan’s book — Dad is Fat, and I was sold on his style of comedy. If you want a good, hilarious book from someone who really knows what they are talking about when it comes to food, then this book is for you. He also incorporates a bit of travel in this book to provide insights on places across the world and country to eat and those to avoid. Reading this book made me hungry a lot. His humor is clean as it is mouthwatering!
“What are my qualifications to write this book? None really. So why should you read it? Here’s why: I’m a little fat. If a thin guy were to write about a love of food and eating I’d highly recommend that you do not read his book.”
“I like to think coffee comes from beans; therefore, it’s a vegetable.”
“I treat my body like a temple. A temple of doom, but a temple nonetheless.”
“There’s an old Weight Watchers saying: “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.” I for one can think of a thousand things that taste better than thin feels. Many of them are two-word phrases that end with cheese (Cheddar cheese, blue cheese, grilled cheese). Even unsalted French fries taste better than thin feels. Ever eat fries without salt on them? I always think these could use some salt, but that would mean I’d have to get up and move. I guess I’ll just imagine there’s salt on them.”
43. I Suck at Girls — Justin Halpern
44. Sh*t My Dad Says — Justin Halpern
45. I’ll Mature When I’m Dead — Dave Barry
46. Dave Barry Is Not Making This Up — Dave Barry
47. Dave Barry’s Greatest Hits — Dave Barry
48. Me Talk Pretty One Day — David Sedaris
49. One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories — B.J. Novak
I. MENTAL MASTURBATION
Thus called because these books will mess up with your mind and it might take a couple of head bangings to reset everything back to its original position.
50. It Ends with Us — Colleen Hoover
[Taken from my actual Amazon review of this book]: I’m not afraid to say how much I dislike this book, here’s why. I am a fan of Colleen Hoover, having made it a duty to read all of her books and follow up on her new releases. I thought this latest addition would be great judging from the overwhelming number of high ratings it’s gotten. However, to say I was disappointed in this book would be an understatement. It felt like I was reading a soft version of Fifty Shades of Grey with the exception that the heroine of the story walked out on the abusive relationship (spoiler alert). Admittedly, we would later find out (literally) at the end that the author wrote this about domestic violence, but this book does nothing to aid such a cause. It was besmirched by the shallow qualities of a woman who couldn’t get her head out of her flower pots (yeah, because she sold flowers) to smell the real roses that life was offering her. At times (OK, most times), she seemed spineless and confused.
Also, the character development was shabby and left little or nothing to be desired. After reading this book, I wanted Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones to show up in a black suit, black Wayfarers, and the light zapping thing, so they can obliterate every single memory on the pages I read.
While I still think Colleen Hoover is a good writer, I hope that the potential affiliated sequels/prequels would REALLY (not maybe) end with this book. That would be all!
“Just because someone hurts you doesn’t mean you can simply stop loving them. It’s not a person’s actions that hurt the most. It’s the love. If there was no love attached to the action, the pain would be a little easier to bear.”
51. The Vegetarian — Han Kang
This short novel from South Korea is disturbing as it is haunting and evocative. Like the Nigerian culture, meat-eating is an integral part of the Korean culture. The story is centered around, Yeong-hye, a non-descript South Korean housewife whose life takes a downward turn when she stops eating meat as well other animal-derived products after a disturbing dream. To say that her family didn’t take receive her revelation too well would be mincing words.
The book is written in three parts, each narrated by different characters — first the husband, then the brother-in-law, and finally the sister. You know how when you go to the beach and still have to keep dislodging sand from tight crevices within your person years later? That was how this book’s effect was on me. Even after I was done reading it, it wasn’t done with me. Being one with a vivid imagination, the imageries I came up with while reading this book left a 3D-like effect on me. Even as I was being tortured and depressed by the words in this book, I couldn’t put the book down. Luckily for me, I read it with a friend and afterward, it helped to be able to talk about those lingering feelings with someone else. Turned out he too was equally tortured by the book, which gives a whole new meaning to the axiom — ‘misery loves company.’ If you especially like metaphors and allegories, then this book is for you. The Korean culture is also heavy within this book though it wasn’t anything I didn’t already know. In this book, you get a glimpse of what life is like in Seoul and some of the social issues in Korea.
“This was the body of a beautiful young woman, conventionally an object of desire, and yet it was a body from which all desire had been eliminated. But this was nothing so crass as carnal desire, not for her — rather, or so it seemed, what she had renounced was the very life that her body represented.”
“For the first time, she became vividly aware of how much of her life she had spent with her husband. It had been a period of time utterly devoid of happiness and spontaneity. A time that she’d so far managed to get through only by using up every last reserve of perseverance and consideration. All of it self-inflicted.”
Those were all the books read in 2017. Follow/snoop at me on Goodreads to find out what I will be reading in 2018.
P.S: Here are a few books I want to get started on this year.
- Killers of the Flower Moon — David Grann: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (This is a little unknown sordid period in Oklahoma history about the murders of the Osages — a Native American tribe).
- Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More — Morten Hansen
- Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn