As we approach the end of 2017, we leave you with a few recommendations of things that ICRC staff in DC have enjoyed reading, watching, or listening to over the past year. At the bottom you will also find my own thoughts, plus a compilation of favorite links to recommendations by others, including NPR’s book concierge, the best TED Talks of 2016, Podcast suggestions, Bill Gates and more. Enjoy!
Sara Owens, Communications Officer
I made a 2017 New Years goal to carve out more time to read – and not just to read, but to read for pleasure, to read whatever it is that catches and keeps my attention at the moment. I kept a list of all of the books that I read in 2017 and looking back, now at the end of the year, I found a theme: women. Books written by women, stories of women and their experiences all around the world. Here are some that stand out the most for me:
- Difficult Women by Roxane Gay – This book took me out of my comfort zone with a series of fictional stories about all kinds of women “of rare force and beauty, of hardscrabble lives, passionate loves, and quirky and vexed human connection.”
- The Private Life of Mrs Sharma – This was a recommendation by the publicist of the novel about a lonely wife and mother navigating her way through traditional culture and values and the temptations of a changing India. “What was the most interesting book you’ve worked on?” I asked. “The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma was one of the lesser known projects I’ve worked on but fascinating because I worked as an agent for the author while living in New Delhi. Being there and working with the author on this book – it took me to another world. I had no idea this world existed, but now I’ve been there.”
- The Mothers by Brit Bennett – This novel, which is set in the contemporary Southern United States, puts the reader in the shoes of women forced to make very difficult & controversial decisions regarding growing up, love, marriage, pregnancy, abortion, and whether or not to keep these decisions a secret.
- I am Malala by Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai – Need I say more? I was moved to tears throughout this memoir by the courage and determination of this young women and her family throughout their trials and tribulations in Pakistan and the UK. I can’t wait to see what else Malala will accomplish in her lifetime.
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – This touching, thoughtful, and adventurous novel takes the reader through the young adult experiences of Ifemelu before, during, and after her immigration to the United States from Nigeria. From realizing and analyzing the differences between being “African” and being “black” in America to the push and pull she feels for her country, Nigeria, and for the family and the loves she left behind – you feel every emotion on her journey with her.
- The Rules do not Apply by Ariel Levy – This is a story of triumph after loss and a testament to the resilience of women.
- I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad by Souad Mekhennet - Souad Mekhennet was born and raised a Muslim in Germany. Her memoir takes us on a journey of her upbringing and her fascinating, yet often dangerous life as a journalist documenting the modern history and reality of jihad in the Middle East and the West. She has a unique perspective, experience, talent, and access that has immensely helped me and many others understand the many misunderstandings and nuances behind what we read in the headlines.
Margarita S. Studemeister, Ph.D., Inter-American Affairs Advisor
Readers who enjoy historical fiction and fictionalized history will want to consider The Sympathizer and The House of the Interpreter, two prize winning books.
- The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen – Politics, espionage, immigration, identity, loyalty, love and friendship intersect against the backdrop of the Vietnam War in The Sympathizer by Vietnamese American professor and writer Viet Thanh Nguyen. The story of this novel is told by a communist double agent, a half-French half-Vietnamese, who amidst other Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles is secretly reporting to his communist superiors in Vietnam. It is a riveting and fast-paced drama that reveals the traumatic impact of the war on the lives of those involved. The novelist does not take a moral stance on the war; instead, the reader is left to ponder about the decisions and fate of an idealist spy. It is definitely a fresh and profound view on the war for open-minded readers.
- The House of the Interpreter by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o – This book recounts the perilous life of an adolescent who resists succumbing to colonialism in British-ruled Kenya. The autobiographical novel describes the author’s formative years as a student at a protestant boarding school offering secondary school education to selected African youth. Outside of the relative safety of the school, Ngũgĩ experiences first-hand the full force of colonial policies during the Mau Mau uprising in the 1950s. His entire village is uprooted and reestablished nearby under a watchful guard. His brother, a Mau Mau rebel, is captured by the British and held at a concentration camp. The author is arrested for no cause and jailed for days. Throughout, the author displays an unbending determination to remain hopeful.
Rachael Dollar, Program Liaison
My latest read was The Raqqa Diaries: Escape from Islamic State. I got it from a local book shop in Beirut. In fact, there was an abundance of incredible bookshops nestled in cafes all over the city during my recent trip there.
The book is told from Samer, a young Syrian man from Raqqa, who managed to share his story by way of a BBC journalist (which extremely risky because speaking to western journalists is banned by the ISIS-controlled city). The birth of this book was through the support from a small anti-ISIS activist group who encrypted Samer's diary entries and then sent to a third country before being translated.
Samer paints a very real and deep picture of a place that is nearly impossible to envision by just reading the news. Through his story, you can close your eyes and really feel like you're there.
Niki Clark, Intercross Editor
I am typically all over the place in my listening/watching/reading and 2017 was no different. The shining highlight of my reading was Alain De Botton's Course of Love. I read the whole thing on a single plane flight (albeit a super long one) and haven't stopped thinking about it since. De Botton takes the reader through the course of a several decade long relationship, from flirtatious beginnings through courtship and marriage to infidelity and rediscovery, mainly from the male's point of view. On a personal note, my parents celebrated their 47 year anniversary in 2017 and reading Course of Love confirmed for me, an insatiable romantic, that more than any fleeting feeling or grand gestures, love is a choice and action. As far as listening goes, my favorite podcasts at the moment are The Life of a Song, Rough Translation, and of course, Intercross (shameless plug!) Musically, I've been listening excessively to Arcade Fire, Angel Olsen, Tennis, Rostam, Chicano Batman, Future Islands, and Porches. And exploring global sounds that end up on our Intercross Featured Playlist. Of course it's helpful our resident musical millenial Rachel Dollar (and fellow reviewer!) keeps me up to date with the latest and greatest. For those with a bit more mainstream tastes, below are some favorite and time-tested lists for the annual best of the best. Happy reading/watching/listening!
NPR's Book Concierge makes its easy to sift through more than 350 of their staff and critics favorite reads from 2017. From fiction to memoirs to kids books and book club suggestions, this is a great roadmap for your 2018 reading.
As Nicholas Quah writes, "2017 was an unbelievable year for podcasts--Southern gothics, vanished celebrities, musicals, sports (!!!), legendary music execs, true crime, true crime, true crime!" Check out his list of the top 10 podcast that 2017 had to offer.
ICRC's Margarita has great taste. Or perhaps it's the other way around. Bill Gates agrees that The Sympathizer is one of the best books he read this year. Find out his other picks in his annual list.
Laugh, cry, be inspired. Here's the best of 2017.
Curated from 88 photographers, 112 stories, and nearly 2 million photographs, here are National Geographic's 57 best images of the year.
For those wanting to keep up with international law and policy, the blog Lawfare posts reviews from its readers throughout the year that touch on a range across subjects and disciplines, from domestic and international law to history, strategic and military studies, from national security journalism to terrorism and counterterrorism, ethics, and technology.
Michael Luo lists the magazine's most popular articles of the year.
Constance Grady writes, "As we draw to the close of 2017, the year that looked at much-reviled 2016 and said, “Hold my beer,” right before it killed the “hold my beer” meme dead, we do have at least one thing to be thankful for: books. " Check out her list here.