Best Books I Read in 2017 and Notes on My Reading Fat Women Challenge

As many of you know, I took on a big challenge this year: read books about fat women who are happy, but not made happy by losing weight or getting a date — and they couldn’t be simply fetishized. I’ll read sexy books, but not fetish books. I thought these books would exist. I thought I just hadn’t looked for them. I was wrong. I went through a lot of Goodreads lists, websites, and talked to authors to find the books that I included on my list. I added a couple of books to the this that I had read in the past, too. It’s not a big list.

Overall, the project hurts. Usually, I’d be reading along happily and then WHAM!

the birds

What was described as positive is a woman obsessing over when her husband will leave her because she’s so fat. Or how fat bodies are a huge drag to the owner. Or how it’s better to get cancer and thin up than be fat.

But. I’m going to keep doing it. I will then confidently be able to recommend books to other fat readers with confidence.

recommendation.gif

I did read some great books in 2017 and want to share my 10 favorites with you:

#10 Wrestling the Muse by Melba Joyce Boyd. A black woman writes the story of Dudley Randall and the Broadside Press, one of the most important publishers of black poetry during the Black Arts Movement. Nonfiction — biography/history.

wrestling with the muse

#9 Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I read this book in 2016, but after watching the Hitchcock movie obsessively and loving the book, I ended up reading it to my husband a little each night. Now we both say, “I’m so glad” with a deeper, darker meaning. Fiction — literary.

Rebecca

#8 Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody. This book by a young black women gave me perspective on southern activists during the Civil Rights Movement. Moody was famously photographed at a sit-in that turned violent. Autobiography.

coming of age

#7 Big Mushy Happy Lump by Sarah Andersen. The cartoonist’s second book of life with anxiety, mushy feelings, and a desire to be happy. Often hilarious, Andersen’s work resonates with many readers. Comics — single page. Winner of 2017 Goodreads best Graphic Novels & Comics.

big mushy

#6 Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen. An adult romance that still has those warm fuzzy feelings. There’s a good dose of well-placed magical realism. Fiction — romance.

the sugar queen

#5 Watchfires by Hilary Plum. Part memoir, part observation, this is a book that examines the Boston Marathon Bombing from several angles, including the way cancer and terrorism function similarly. Nonfiction — memoir.

watchfires

#4 Dolly Dingle, Lesbian Landlady by Monica Nolan. When her acting gigs run dry because poor Dolly is getting too “old” to be the leading lady, she falls into the role of house mother/landlady at a boarding house for young women — mostly lesbians. Fiction — pulp.

dolly

#3 Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough. A thriller about perfection, bodies, owning the ones you love, and some paranormal travel. Vicious, calculating, the characters are hard to forget. Fiction — thriller.

behind her eyes

#2 Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston. While it’s not a perfect book, the wit and humor within give this book plenty of reason to have a top spot on the list. From the time she tried to stab her stepmother to tales of how the snake got his rattle, Hurston’s first look at Florida swamp tales is amazing. Nonfiction — folktales and hoodoo.

mules and men

#1 Dietland by Sarai Walker. The best, most positive fat fiction I read all year. It made my heart swell, changed my thinking, and gave me reason to keep looking for the best fat female characters out there. It’s got spying and the diet industry, there some terrorism and a bit of Fight Club. Wonderful women fill this book. Fiction — fat women.

dietland

What was the best book you read in 2017? Let me know in the comments, or share your yearly wrap-up link!

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48 comments

  1. I’m glad you thought Rebecca was worth obsessively reading. I’ve always loved the Hitchcock adaptation, too (of course, I’m biased, being a Hitchcock fan. I think it’s very interesting, from a societal point of view, perhaps, that you weren’t able to find the sort of books featuring fat characters that you thought you would find. I give you credit for perseverance.

    • Thank you for your kind words. I’m surprised that so many people have recommended books with terrible representations of fat women. It suggests to me that these readers use very little critical thinking when it comes to body politics and have already been sold on the dating and/or slim happily ever after.

      • Oh, I think so, too. Or, at least, that’s what it seems like to me. I’ve noticed the same thing about other issues, too, but I don’t want to go off on tangents. The only novels I’ve read recently that feature a fat character who is at least somewhat empowered (well, at least in my view) is Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman series. It’s a crime fiction, sort-of-cosy series featuring an ex-accountant who’s turned baker. She’s an interesting character who is fat, but (most of the time) embraces it as her identity. It’s not a perfect series, but at least the main character doesn’t dream of being thin, and she’s not loved ‘in spite of’ being fat, if that makes any sense. And that’s not even a US series (it’s Australian). We need to do some real re-thinking about body image, in my opinion…

  2. I love Dietland. It’s such an amazing book and it’s the only fiction book with a fat main character that’s positive. It meant so much for me to read this book and I think I’ll reread it next year. I love your Reading Fat Women challenge and I’ll be checking your blog for recommendations.

  3. I recommended Corinna Chapman too Margot, and did a review referencing GTL and Fat Lit, but Melanie, I don’t think you were impressed (https://theaustralianlegend.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/trick-or-treat/). If I were to name one best book for the year, that might be available outside Australia it would be Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love which references the performance The Artist is Present by Marina Abramović at MoMA, New York in 2010 (https://theaustralianlegend.wordpress.com/2017/12/11/the-museum-of-modern-love/). All the best for the new year. Love your work.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Bill. You’re a good friend. I’ve of my other blogger friends just read that museum book, and I did like the sounds of it! I thought for a second that I did get the cozy mystery book you mentioned, but I got Larger Than Death by Lynn Murray. I was confused. Why do truckers like the Corinna Chapman books so much? (you write in your post that every trucker reads them).

      • Kerry Greenwood audiobooks are published in Australia by Bolinda Audio and are very widely available – there are Bolinda stands in every roadhouse. But also I have noticed that Greenwood is very widely shared (trucking companies and some roadhouses have collections from which drivers can borrow) so I guess the answer is that we truckies have a secret feminine side!

  4. Ok I really want to read Rebecca now, everyone seems to be raving about it! I have no idea what my favourite book is of 2017, but I’ll be posting my reading list from last year in early January so I’ll be able to sort through things then-stay tuned 🙂

    • Thanks for reading, Deepika! I was surprised by your square that asks for a woman with and you say, “go home square, you’re drunk.” Does this mean you didn’t read any books by women, it to read a lot of them?

      • Thank you for reading! I felt that there should not have been a square for ‘women’. More than 80% of my this year’s reads were written by women. But I felt that I was not respecting them by making them look like they were some special category. Everybody should read them. I looked at them that way. I liked the other squares like ‘A book that is more than 10 years old’. It made sense to catalogue books that way. And I wondered why the grid-maker didn’t think of adding a square for a man. Does it make sense?

        • I have other readers who agree with you. However, my blog ONLY has books written by women. I explain on my about page. Publishing, marketing, and networking has skewed it so we’re more likely to end up with a book written by a man in our hands. I think if it more like throwing down a rope for women to climb while men have taken the escalator.

  5. Heck yeah for Dietland! I LOVE that book.

    Rebecca will be on my year-end best list as well. 🙂

    Good for you for persevering with the positive fat women book challenge. Hmmmm… maybe all of this searching will lead you to write the book you’re looking for?

  6. What a fabulous cover that is for Rebecca! Somehow the scarlet silk totally reflects the feeling of the book – I love when she describes the colour of the rhododendrons as – “…the slaughterous red, luscious and fantastic…” That’s what the cover makes me think of – slaughterous, such a fine word!

    Sorry your fat reading challenge was a bit of a let down, but I’m glad you read plenty of good stuff anyway. Merry Christmas! 🎅

    • Oooooh, I forgot that description of the flowers. It is excellent. And the flowers Rebecca planted are mentioned repeatedly throughout the book–I think as a reminder of their beauty and how deadly bloody they look. Merry Christmas to you, too!

  7. I’m sorry about the fat woman books and hope you find some good ones. I read those posts with such interest. I am now looking our for The Sugar Queen, it’s been on my radar for ages but I thought it might be sappy. Knowing you rate it makes me think it has more to it than that.

  8. Oh hai friend. Sorry I’ve been a bit silent lately– life got the best of me around these holidays, as it occasionally does. I will begin by apologizing for the comment spam you are about to get. 😉

    UGH! I am so sorry you feel like your Fat Women Reading Challenge was an overall disappointment. As far as fat-positive books I’ve read this year, the top two for me are Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West and Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. I didn’t read a ton of fat-focused lit, but this two really made me happy.

    This is a great list of top 2017 reads! I remember reading all of these posts, as well. Great job writing memorable reviews. It never occurred to me that a book could top my list without being holistically a great book. Not that I’m implying Mules and Men isn’t a holistically great book– I just never thought that I could note flaws and still love a book. This is really changing my perspective on how to reflect upon this year.

    My yearly reflection won’t come until early 2018. But I look forward to sharing my own list! 😀

  9. The only one of your picks that I’ve read is Rebecca (which I really, really loved). This reminded me that I want to hunt out a copy of Dietland, which sounds really good-looking forward to reading it!

  10. It really breaks my heart that you are having such a hard time finding positive fat representation. Like I’ve said before, if you want something done right, you may just have to do it yourself! I am happy to hear that you will keep on searching. I hope 2018 is the year you are successful in this venture. You’ve finally convinced me that I need to pick up Dietland. It has been officially added to the TBR!

  11. I really have to get myself that Big Mushy Happy Lump book… it sounds like something I’d love! I would also love to read Dietland.
    Surprisingly, I think my best book of the year might be a nonfiction book. It’s more under the category of book-I’m-most-glad-I-read… “Black Berry, Sweet Juice” by Lawrence Hill.

  12. “I thought these books would exist. I thought I just hadn’t looked for them. I was wrong.”
    That is such a sad statement. There definitely needs to be more fat-positive books out there! I’m glad that you were able to find one for your #1 book of 2017.
    And Rebecca is such a wonderful, suspenseful book. I just love it!

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