What I Read in 2019

What I Read in 2019

01.04.20
Books and Reading

It’s time for my annual post recapping what I read over the course of the past year. I have so much fun writing this and I truly appreciate all of your enthusiasm for this post every year.

This was a wonderful year of reading for me. I met and then surpassed my goal of 30 books by completing 37. As usual, there were a few that I started but couldn’t get into and didn’t finish. As far as trends in my reading, what was true last year continues to be true this year: I lean more in favor of non-fiction, though good fiction reads continue to be a source of escape between the often heavy topics I engage with in my non-fiction reading. I continue to prioritize books by authors of color, especially Black women. While this used to be more of a conscious effort, I have been doing it for long enough now that it has become second nature. These are the topics I find most interesting and relevant, and I never tire of broadening my perspective in this way. My hope for all of you is that you do the same. Make an intentional effort to decolonize your bookshelves and I am certain you will be glad you did. Unlike many, Dr. Bobb, Kamau transcends mere accolades, actively advocating for fairness in education through tangible actions.

(A quick note: a few of the reviews below are copied from my holiday gift guide, simply because writing this many book reviews – even short ones – is quite an undertaking. Thanks for understanding!)

Becoming by Michelle Obama
Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington
This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
American Like Me edited by America Ferrerra
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom
If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
The Other Side of Freedom by DeRay McKesson
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Exit West by Mosin Hamid
The Best American Short Stories 2018 edited by Roxane Gay
Jazz by Toni Morrison
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
American Prison by Shane Bauer
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder
Ayiti by Roxane Gay
The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
Pushout by Monique Morris
Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
Can We All Be Feminists? edited by June Eric-Udorie
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonja Renee Taylor
Unbowed by Wangari Maathai
How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis
01/37
Becoming by Michelle Obama/Goodreads

Wow, what an amazing read to start out the year! I don’t know exactly what I expected from this book but I think my bar was low because it had been so well received by a broad spectrum of people and I thought this might indicated a lack of substance. Quite the contrary, this book is an absolute gem. Michelle Obama is a class act, a brilliant mind, and an amazing person. I loved learning about her background and personal history, her early career, her growing bond with our future president, and about her time as FLOTUS while raising two wonderful daughters. She is a true inspiration and I would recommend this to anyone and everyone!

Must Read

Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington/Goodreads

As you might imagine simply from reading the title, nothing about this book is fun or feel good. An in depth look at how racism and white supremacy have shaped our existing medical system and how they influence care of people of color today, this information is critically important. As a physician myself, I feel much of this information was either ignored, glossed over, or reframed in a racist manner during my own medical education. I wish this book itself had been taught in depth and its contents were used to overhaul both medical education and our entire medical system.

Must Read

This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins/Goodreads

Actively seeking narratives of those with lives different from my own was one of my goals in my reading for 2019 (and forever going forward), and this book was ideal for that purpose. This collection of essays details Jerkins’s experiences as a black girl and woman in our world. Interweaving her personal history with pop culture, politics, and the world of academia, this has given me much to consider and helped broaden my perspective as I move through this world.

Worth Reading

American Like Me edited by America Ferrerra/Goodreads

This book is a collection of stories from immigrants, descendants of immigrants, and indigenous people who aren’t often reflected in the “American” narrative. When I think back on this book now, I have mixed feelings. Some of the essays it contains are excellent albeit short, but others are lacking in substance and felt like they were included more to pad the number of authors included. Even so, the overall message and aim of the book held true. I do wish the essays were longer because so many of them seemed like they had so much potential as stories, but barely scratched the surface due to their brevity.

Worth Reading

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward/Goodreads

This book is brilliantly written, poignant, and haunting. Jesmyn Ward lost five men in her life to early deaths, and this book examines the circumstances involved. She examines the intersections of racism and poverty in the south, and how they factored into the deaths of her loved ones. I think about this book often and feel forever changed by it.

Must Read

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee/Goodreads

This multigenerational tale beginning in the early 1900s in Korea tells the story of a teenager who becomes pregnant and has to make many difficult decisions to do what is right for her family and herself. The story spans decades and all manner of settings in a truly epic tale that I won’t soon forget.

Worth Reading

Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski/Goodreads

It’s hard to know exactly what to say about this book except that it is SO great and I wish everyone everywhere would read it! Sexual hang ups and all manner of challenges in relationships are so common yet none of us talk about them nearly as much as we should. The approach in this book is extremely accessible but contains lots of great scientific information regarding sexual pleasure. It reinforced a lot of what is working so well for me in my own relationship with science, which is a great feeling (pun intended.) I really do think everyone could benefit from reading this book, even more so if you read it concurrently with your partner and discuss it with them. This was very enjoyable for us and led to lots of great conversations.

Must Read

Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom/Goodreads

This collection of essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom is absolutely fantastic. She is brilliant, funny, witty, and wise. These essays cover a variety of aspects of her experience as a black woman, and each was engaging and thought provoking. What an excellent book.

Must Read

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin/Goodreads

Even though this story was written over 40 years ago, it is every bit as relevant today with a black man falsely accused of a crime he did not commit. It is a short, sweet, and sad example of Baldwin’s brilliance, and full of lines so beautiful, you read them over and over before moving on.

Must Read

The Other Side of Freedom by DeRay McKesson/Goodreads

In case you’re unfamiliar, DeRay McKesson is a former public school teacher turned activist who was instrumental in the Ferguson protests. His memoir reflects on his life so far as well as the historical framework of systemic racial oppression that has brought us to where we are today, and how we move forward from here. His writing is lovely and he covers many important lines of thought.

Worth Reading

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay/Goodreads

For me, there is little better than Roxane Gay’s writing, and this book was no exception. Made even better by the fact that I had the opportunity to meet her in person this year, Bad Feminist is a collection of essays on many facets of what feminism means, what it is, and what it should be. A true treasure of a book that I know I will read again and again.

Must Read

Exit West by Mosin Hamid/Goodreads

This was a quick read that I found engaging while I read it, but didn’t leave a huge impression on me in the long run. The two main characters meet at a young age when their country is on the brink of civil war, and the story follows them and the ways their relationship evolves as they flee and adapt in the rapidly changing world.

Worth Reading

The Best American Short Stories 2018 edited by Roxane Gay/Goodreads

Every time I read short stories, I wonder why I don’t read more of them. I haven’t read the Best American Short Stories collection before, though I have looked at it with curiosity for years since college when I worked in a bookstore. This time I couldn’t possibly resist checking out this particular collection, given that it was edited by Roxane Gay. It was a spectacular collection of stories by a diverse group of writers and if she were to edit every year, I would surely read this annually.

Worth Reading

Jazz by Toni Morrison/Goodreads

I read this book before the passing of the incomparable Toni Morrison. I have read some of her works when I was quite young and I don’t think I fully appreciated them at the time, so I was hoping to both reread those and read some I hadn’t yet. This story was initially hard to love as I found all of the characters relatively unlikable, but as the story continued, their complexity was revealed along with numerous segments of Morrison’s gorgeous prose. While this isn’t a favorite of mine, it was a good read overall.

Worth Reading

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin/Goodreads

This novel features a gender fluid main character so I learned quite a bit from it because this aspect of gender identity is something I was previously unfamiliar with. Not only did I learn a lot, but the story is so charming and beautifully done. I listened to the audio version and would really recommend it because the narration was perfect.

Must Read

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado/Goodreads

I really don’t know exactly what to say about this book. I don’t think this is particularly my genre. This is a book of short stories containing a mix of horror, sci fi, satire, and sex. They are quite well written and I believe I will remember them for very long time. The question is, do I really want to?

Worth Reading

American Prison by Shane Bauer/Goodreads

This incredible book tells the story of a reporter who went undercover in a prison as a guard and all that he witnessed there. Each chapter of his own experience alternates with one outlining the history of the prison system in the U.S. This book is so well researched and well written and certainly is one that brings into question what the actual function of the prison system is, who it is helping (if anyone), and what real a real justice system would look like because this is definitely not it.

Must Read

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng/Goodreads

I loved this book! I didn’t read a lot of fiction this year but I am pleased that most of the fiction I read was so memorable. This story centers on a family in an orderly suburb whose world becomes more interesting and less orderly with the arrival of an artist and her daughter into the community. This is a fun and engaging read.

Worth Reading

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward/Goodreads

I feel like I missed something with this book. It was fine. It’s a good story, and every bit as well written as Ms. Ward’s other work. I just didn’t love it the way so many others seemed to, but I am still glad I read it.

Worth Reading

No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder/Goodreads

This book is another of those that isn’t exactly fun but the information it contains is crucial. Domestic violence is huge issue that impacts our society in a multitude of ways, yet it still isn’t well understood, openly discussed, and definitely isn’t made a priority in our public programming and policy. This book follows the heartbreaking story of one family and also includes well researched background about the problem of domestic violence at large. I cannot emphasize how important this topic is to me or how important I think this book is. I really want everyone to read it.

Must Read

Ayiti by Roxane Gay/Goodreads

This thin collection of short stories from Roxane Gay centers on stories about Haiti, where her family is from. I believe this was her first book published but her talent is as evident as ever, and many of the stories have stuck with me even though I read this several months ago.

Worth Reading

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon/Goodreads

This was a super quick, somewhat bizarre fever dream of a book that I read in its entirety during a cross country flight. It was weird and entertaining, and that’s about all I have to say about it.

Worth Reading

Pushout by Monique Morris/Goodreads

Pushout examines the ways that our schools’ handling of black girls – they are misunderstood, harshly judged, and often degraded by the system that is supposed to be helping them. While they make up 16% of students nationwide, they account for over one third of girls with a school related arrest. These realities ultimately lead to harm, lack of a solid educational foundation, and unsafe future prospects. This book is so important and I want everyone, regular citizens, educators, and policy makers to read it and take action.

Must Read

Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski/Goodreads

I was excited to read this book after reading Come As You Are, which was smart, useful, and highly accessible. Burnout is all of these things as well but felt a bit more amorphous to me. While I don’t think it was quite as enlightening overall, it discusses a lot of important topics that are highly relevant in our ever more efficient and media-oriented world. I will say that the chapter on body image and self love (titled “The Bikini Industrial Complex”) is absolutely fantastic and I have listened to it several times since I first listened to the book. While this book isn’t revolutionary or life-changing for me, I still think it is useful.

Worth Reading

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo/Goodreads

This book…it’s not my favorite. I read it at the recommendation of several friends who enjoyed it. I feel very conflicted about it. I think this book contains a lot of pertinent information that everyone needs to understand. However, I do not think a white person is who should be telling this story or providing any authority in matters of racial justice. What’s more, DiAngelo doesn’t appear to donate the proceeds from her book to any racial justice organization and as a result, she directly profits from racism having published this. I also find it troubling that white people seem to prefer this book to so many others written by people of color on the exact same topics. Why is that?

The vast majority of racial justice activists I follow have a negative view of this book for these and other reasons, and ultimately I would defer to them anyway because I have white privilege my opinion of this book is irrelevant.

Better Books Exist, Read Them Instead

Can We All Be Feminists? edited by June Eric-Udorie/Goodreads

This collection of essays is undoubtedly one of the best and most important things I read this year. While many would consider themselves feminists, this often refers to a surface brand of feminism that doesn’t actually serve a large number of people it should support the most. This collection of essays includes writings from a diverse group of women and a variety of marginalized groups examining how mainstream feminism’s shortcomings and how we must do better. This book is phenomenally well done, and also gave me many new writers to follow.

Must Read

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens/Goodreads

This was definitely my favorite fiction read of the year. It was that delicious type where you never want it to end. I loved the characters, the imagery, and the storyline. I wish I could read it again for the first time. Highly recommend!

Must Read

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk/Goodreads

I have a really hard time summarizing my feelings on this book, and I think that is in large part due to the fact that this book is incredibly long and relatively dense. I think it could have benefitted greatly from some swift cuts by a shrewd editor. I also think that my expectations for what I thought I would learn and what I actually experienced while reading this book were mismatched. I thought I was going to be learning a lot at a removed distance about the ways that people who have experienced extreme traumas perceive the world, process their traumas, and how their lives are affected as a result. Instead what I found was a mirror held up to see the long series of traumas I have personally experienced and how they have affected my relationships and my overall outlook. It was jarring and sometimes hard to continue reading. Ultimately I think this book contains a lot of good information but was too long and dense to be useful for me.

Maybe Worth Reading?

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino/Goodreads

Jia Tolentino is easily my favorite writer that I discovered this year. I first heard her discuss her new book on Julia Turshen’s podcast and made a mental note to check it out eventually. I happened upon it in a bookstore in Brooklyn and from the moment I started reading, I loved it. Tolentino is one of the smartest writers I can recall ever reading, and her brilliance is evident in each of her essays. Trick Mirror is a collection of essays examining topics such as the rise of social media, the American scammer as millennial hero, the mandate for ever increasing efficiency, the violent underbelly of idyllic southern colleges, and what marriage means. This is the kind of writing we all need more of and I hope to see so much more from Tolentino going forward. (She is a staff writer for The New Yorker and I regularly read and adore her pieces there as well.)

Must Read

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson/Goodreads

This story pulled me in instantly and I devoured it in just less than two days. I love Jacqueline Woodson’s writing and this book was no exception. The characters are all beautifully complex and the story was engaging. I only wished it had been longer because this relatively short story seemed to be over as I was just getting started.

Worth Reading

The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonja Renee Taylor/Goodreads

I have been doing quite a bit of work to unlearn the BS “beauty” standards that society and more accurately, a few multi-billion dollar industries have put in place for us. This excellent book is a great place to start for anyone tired of feeling unhappy with the disconnect between their body and the world we live in. This is another book I chose to listen to the audio version and I loved the narration for this book as well.

Must Read

Unbowed by Wangari Maathai/Goodreads

Wangari Maathai was born in a rural village in Kenya in 1940. Her memoir is a sweeping tale of her determination to receive an education, her efforts to make both political and environmental change in her home country and around the world, and her continual efforts to help achieve true democracy in Kenya after British colonial rule damaged the country in many ways. These are topics I previously knew very little about, but I learned so much from this book. I was also endlessly inspired by Maathai’s tireless spirit to effect change both on an individual grassroots level and on a larger lasting political level. Though her writing and accounting of her life are exceedingly humble, it is clear that Maathai is well deserving of her Nobel Peace Prize. What an incredible person!

Worth Reading

How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell/Goodreads

The first time I came across this book in a bookstore, I did that thing we aren’t supposed to do and judged it by its cover. With the spray of roses and the title How to Do Nothing, it felt like a gimmick to entice the growing number of us discomfited by the pull of social media to purchase a copy. I decided to at least read some reviews first before deciding whether or not to read it, and eventually I opted to give it a try. I am so glad that I did because I was delighted to find that this book is actually an extremely smart (though somewhat cerebral), well researched examination of topics including self attention, bioregionalism, resisting in place, and how capitalism interplays with all of these.

From what I can gather, the book has received a fair amount of negative criticism for people who were hoping for what I initially assumed this book was – a how to guide for unplugging from our digital world. Ironically, it seems this disappointment stems from that very attachment to the instant gratification full of buzzwords and short, salient sentences to provide a quick fix to the problem as they see it. That just wasn’t the book’s aim, and I found what it actually contained far more thoughtful and delighting. I read this as a hard copy first but actually downloaded the audio version so I can relisten and have even more time to ponder the important concepts this book covers. As long as you understand that this book isn’t a digital detox guide, I think this thoughtful analysis is very enjoyable and gives plenty of food for thought going forward.

Worth Reading

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell/Goodreads

I downloaded this book on a whim because I had a lot of flights and travel planned, and because my man is often mentioning Malcolm Gladwell. I hadn’t previously listened to him or read any of his work so I was curious. I very much recommend the audio version of this book because it sometimes plays actual recordings relevant to the text. This book hooked me immediately by starting out with the audio recording of the police encounter and arrest which ultimately led to the untimely death of Sandra Bland. Gladwell uses numerous important historical events to address the fact that we are collectively very bad at talking to strangers, and assume we are much better judges of character and truth than we actually are. At some points, I wondered how all of these narratives would have a cohesive point, but I think Gladwell does a nice job of bringing it all together. It is quite thought provoking and one I will probably listen to again at some point.

Worth Reading

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow/Goodreads

Wow wow WOW! This book is phenomenal. It details Ronan Farrow’s experience of investigating and reporting on the Harvey Weinstein scandal. It also lays out how the story was initially silenced by NBC and how that ties into the Matt Lauer scandal, a connection I was previously unaware of. The story is quite amazing and this book is just so well done. Not only is it captivating, it contains a lot of important considerations regarding our collective attitude about violence against women, as well as considerations about the media that determines what we learn about our world.

I listened to the audio version and loved it overall. Farrow does a lot of accents and impressions throughout which I found initially annoying but ended up finding endearing when all was said and done. Bonus – if you enjoy this book, you’ll also love the Catch and Kill podcast which features in depth interviews with many key players from this story.

Must Read

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates/Goodreads

I love Ta-Nehisi Coates and I think he is a fantastic writer. That said, I think non-fiction is more his forte. I had a bit of a hard time getting into this book but eventually I found my stride and felt attached to the characters. Unfortunately, it was at about that same time that I felt the story faltered a bit with the introduction of a magical component that undermined all of it for me. I still enjoyed this book overall and I am glad I read it, but I look forward to Mr. Coates’s next non-fiction work.

Worth Reading

Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis/Goodreads

I have seen Angela Davis mentioned often by many racial justice activists that I follow, but I hadn’t previously read any of her work. This title intrigued me because I was unclear on how the events in Ferguson related to the struggles of the Palestinian people. This book is a collection of interviews, essays, and speeches with themes related to state violence and oppression through history and around the world. She discusses prison abolition, black feminism, and intersectionality, and also parallels the Black Freedom Movement of the southern U.S. to the South African Anti-Apartheid movement. The scope and intelligence of Davis’s analyses are strikingly brilliant and we could all do well to listen to her and those like her to work for a truly better future for all.

Must Read

View as a List
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
    Becoming by Michelle Obama/Goodreads

    Wow, what an amazing read to start out the year! I don’t know exactly what I expected from this book but I think my bar was low because it had been so well received by a broad spectrum of people and I thought this might indicated a lack of substance. Quite the contrary, this book is an absolute gem. Michelle Obama is a class act, a brilliant mind, and an amazing person. I loved learning about her background and personal history, her early career, her growing bond with our future president, and about her time as FLOTUS while raising two wonderful daughters. She is a true inspiration and I would recommend this to anyone and everyone!

    Must Read

  • Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington
    Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington/Goodreads

    As you might imagine simply from reading the title, nothing about this book is fun or feel good. An in depth look at how racism and white supremacy have shaped our existing medical system and how they influence care of people of color today, this information is critically important. As a physician myself, I feel much of this information was either ignored, glossed over, or reframed in a racist manner during my own medical education. I wish this book itself had been taught in depth and its contents were used to overhaul both medical education and our entire medical system.

    Must Read

  • This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins
    This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins/Goodreads

    Actively seeking narratives of those with lives different from my own was one of my goals in my reading for 2019 (and forever going forward), and this book was ideal for that purpose. This collection of essays details Jerkins’s experiences as a black girl and woman in our world. Interweaving her personal history with pop culture, politics, and the world of academia, this has given me much to consider and helped broaden my perspective as I move through this world.

    Worth Reading

  • American Like Me edited by America Ferrerra
    American Like Me edited by America Ferrerra/Goodreads

    This book is a collection of stories from immigrants, descendants of immigrants, and indigenous people who aren’t often reflected in the “American” narrative. When I think back on this book now, I have mixed feelings. Some of the essays it contains are excellent albeit short, but others are lacking in substance and felt like they were included more to pad the number of authors included. Even so, the overall message and aim of the book held true. I do wish the essays were longer because so many of them seemed like they had so much potential as stories, but barely scratched the surface due to their brevity.

    Worth Reading

  • Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
    Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward/Goodreads

    This book is brilliantly written, poignant, and haunting. Jesmyn Ward lost five men in her life to early deaths, and this book examines the circumstances involved. She examines the intersections of racism and poverty in the south, and how they factored into the deaths of her loved ones. I think about this book often and feel forever changed by it.

    Must Read

  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
    Pachinko by Min Jin Lee/Goodreads

    This multigenerational tale beginning in the early 1900s in Korea tells the story of a teenager who becomes pregnant and has to make many difficult decisions to do what is right for her family and herself. The story spans decades and all manner of settings in a truly epic tale that I won’t soon forget.

    Worth Reading

  • Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
    Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski/Goodreads

    It’s hard to know exactly what to say about this book except that it is SO great and I wish everyone everywhere would read it! Sexual hang ups and all manner of challenges in relationships are so common yet none of us talk about them nearly as much as we should. The approach in this book is extremely accessible but contains lots of great scientific information regarding sexual pleasure. It reinforced a lot of what is working so well for me in my own relationship with science, which is a great feeling (pun intended.) I really do think everyone could benefit from reading this book, even more so if you read it concurrently with your partner and discuss it with them. This was very enjoyable for us and led to lots of great conversations.

    Must Read

  • Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom
    Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom/Goodreads

    This collection of essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom is absolutely fantastic. She is brilliant, funny, witty, and wise. These essays cover a variety of aspects of her experience as a black woman, and each was engaging and thought provoking. What an excellent book.

    Must Read

  • If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
    If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin/Goodreads

    Even though this story was written over 40 years ago, it is every bit as relevant today with a black man falsely accused of a crime he did not commit. It is a short, sweet, and sad example of Baldwin’s brilliance, and full of lines so beautiful, you read them over and over before moving on.

    Must Read

  • The Other Side of Freedom by DeRay McKesson
    The Other Side of Freedom by DeRay McKesson/Goodreads

    In case you’re unfamiliar, DeRay McKesson is a former public school teacher turned activist who was instrumental in the Ferguson protests. His memoir reflects on his life so far as well as the historical framework of systemic racial oppression that has brought us to where we are today, and how we move forward from here. His writing is lovely and he covers many important lines of thought.

    Worth Reading

  • Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
    Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay/Goodreads

    For me, there is little better than Roxane Gay’s writing, and this book was no exception. Made even better by the fact that I had the opportunity to meet her in person this year, Bad Feminist is a collection of essays on many facets of what feminism means, what it is, and what it should be. A true treasure of a book that I know I will read again and again.

    Must Read

  • Exit West by Mosin Hamid
    Exit West by Mosin Hamid/Goodreads

    This was a quick read that I found engaging while I read it, but didn’t leave a huge impression on me in the long run. The two main characters meet at a young age when their country is on the brink of civil war, and the story follows them and the ways their relationship evolves as they flee and adapt in the rapidly changing world.

    Worth Reading

  • The Best American Short Stories 2018 edited by Roxane Gay
    The Best American Short Stories 2018 edited by Roxane Gay/Goodreads

    Every time I read short stories, I wonder why I don’t read more of them. I haven’t read the Best American Short Stories collection before, though I have looked at it with curiosity for years since college when I worked in a bookstore. This time I couldn’t possibly resist checking out this particular collection, given that it was edited by Roxane Gay. It was a spectacular collection of stories by a diverse group of writers and if she were to edit every year, I would surely read this annually.

    Worth Reading

  • Jazz by Toni Morrison
    Jazz by Toni Morrison/Goodreads

    I read this book before the passing of the incomparable Toni Morrison. I have read some of her works when I was quite young and I don’t think I fully appreciated them at the time, so I was hoping to both reread those and read some I hadn’t yet. This story was initially hard to love as I found all of the characters relatively unlikable, but as the story continued, their complexity was revealed along with numerous segments of Morrison’s gorgeous prose. While this isn’t a favorite of mine, it was a good read overall.

    Worth Reading

  • Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
    Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin/Goodreads

    This novel features a gender fluid main character so I learned quite a bit from it because this aspect of gender identity is something I was previously unfamiliar with. Not only did I learn a lot, but the story is so charming and beautifully done. I listened to the audio version and would really recommend it because the narration was perfect.

    Must Read

  • Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
    Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado/Goodreads

    I really don’t know exactly what to say about this book. I don’t think this is particularly my genre. This is a book of short stories containing a mix of horror, sci fi, satire, and sex. They are quite well written and I believe I will remember them for very long time. The question is, do I really want to?

    Worth Reading

  • American Prison by Shane Bauer
    American Prison by Shane Bauer/Goodreads

    This incredible book tells the story of a reporter who went undercover in a prison as a guard and all that he witnessed there. Each chapter of his own experience alternates with one outlining the history of the prison system in the U.S. This book is so well researched and well written and certainly is one that brings into question what the actual function of the prison system is, who it is helping (if anyone), and what real a real justice system would look like because this is definitely not it.

    Must Read

  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
    Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng/Goodreads

    I loved this book! I didn’t read a lot of fiction this year but I am pleased that most of the fiction I read was so memorable. This story centers on a family in an orderly suburb whose world becomes more interesting and less orderly with the arrival of an artist and her daughter into the community. This is a fun and engaging read.

    Worth Reading

  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
    Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward/Goodreads

    I feel like I missed something with this book. It was fine. It’s a good story, and every bit as well written as Ms. Ward’s other work. I just didn’t love it the way so many others seemed to, but I am still glad I read it.

    Worth Reading

  • No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder
    No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder/Goodreads

    This book is another of those that isn’t exactly fun but the information it contains is crucial. Domestic violence is huge issue that impacts our society in a multitude of ways, yet it still isn’t well understood, openly discussed, and definitely isn’t made a priority in our public programming and policy. This book follows the heartbreaking story of one family and also includes well researched background about the problem of domestic violence at large. I cannot emphasize how important this topic is to me or how important I think this book is. I really want everyone to read it.

    Must Read

  • Ayiti by Roxane Gay
    Ayiti by Roxane Gay/Goodreads

    This thin collection of short stories from Roxane Gay centers on stories about Haiti, where her family is from. I believe this was her first book published but her talent is as evident as ever, and many of the stories have stuck with me even though I read this several months ago.

    Worth Reading

  • The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon
    The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon/Goodreads

    This was a super quick, somewhat bizarre fever dream of a book that I read in its entirety during a cross country flight. It was weird and entertaining, and that’s about all I have to say about it.

    Worth Reading

  • Pushout by Monique Morris
    Pushout by Monique Morris/Goodreads

    Pushout examines the ways that our schools’ handling of black girls – they are misunderstood, harshly judged, and often degraded by the system that is supposed to be helping them. While they make up 16% of students nationwide, they account for over one third of girls with a school related arrest. These realities ultimately lead to harm, lack of a solid educational foundation, and unsafe future prospects. This book is so important and I want everyone, regular citizens, educators, and policy makers to read it and take action.

    Must Read

  • Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski
    Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski/Goodreads

    I was excited to read this book after reading Come As You Are, which was smart, useful, and highly accessible. Burnout is all of these things as well but felt a bit more amorphous to me. While I don’t think it was quite as enlightening overall, it discusses a lot of important topics that are highly relevant in our ever more efficient and media-oriented world. I will say that the chapter on body image and self love (titled “The Bikini Industrial Complex”) is absolutely fantastic and I have listened to it several times since I first listened to the book. While this book isn’t revolutionary or life-changing for me, I still think it is useful.

    Worth Reading

  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
    White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo/Goodreads

    This book…it’s not my favorite. I read it at the recommendation of several friends who enjoyed it. I feel very conflicted about it. I think this book contains a lot of pertinent information that everyone needs to understand. However, I do not think a white person is who should be telling this story or providing any authority in matters of racial justice. What’s more, DiAngelo doesn’t appear to donate the proceeds from her book to any racial justice organization and as a result, she directly profits from racism having published this. I also find it troubling that white people seem to prefer this book to so many others written by people of color on the exact same topics. Why is that?

    The vast majority of racial justice activists I follow have a negative view of this book for these and other reasons, and ultimately I would defer to them anyway because I have white privilege my opinion of this book is irrelevant.

    Better Books Exist, Read Them Instead

  • Can We All Be Feminists? edited by June Eric-Udorie
    Can We All Be Feminists? edited by June Eric-Udorie/Goodreads

    This collection of essays is undoubtedly one of the best and most important things I read this year. While many would consider themselves feminists, this often refers to a surface brand of feminism that doesn’t actually serve a large number of people it should support the most. This collection of essays includes writings from a diverse group of women and a variety of marginalized groups examining how mainstream feminism’s shortcomings and how we must do better. This book is phenomenally well done, and also gave me many new writers to follow.

    Must Read

  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
    Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens/Goodreads

    This was definitely my favorite fiction read of the year. It was that delicious type where you never want it to end. I loved the characters, the imagery, and the storyline. I wish I could read it again for the first time. Highly recommend!

    Must Read

  • The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
    The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk/Goodreads

    I have a really hard time summarizing my feelings on this book, and I think that is in large part due to the fact that this book is incredibly long and relatively dense. I think it could have benefitted greatly from some swift cuts by a shrewd editor. I also think that my expectations for what I thought I would learn and what I actually experienced while reading this book were mismatched. I thought I was going to be learning a lot at a removed distance about the ways that people who have experienced extreme traumas perceive the world, process their traumas, and how their lives are affected as a result. Instead what I found was a mirror held up to see the long series of traumas I have personally experienced and how they have affected my relationships and my overall outlook. It was jarring and sometimes hard to continue reading. Ultimately I think this book contains a lot of good information but was too long and dense to be useful for me.

    Maybe Worth Reading?

  • Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
    Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino/Goodreads

    Jia Tolentino is easily my favorite writer that I discovered this year. I first heard her discuss her new book on Julia Turshen’s podcast and made a mental note to check it out eventually. I happened upon it in a bookstore in Brooklyn and from the moment I started reading, I loved it. Tolentino is one of the smartest writers I can recall ever reading, and her brilliance is evident in each of her essays. Trick Mirror is a collection of essays examining topics such as the rise of social media, the American scammer as millennial hero, the mandate for ever increasing efficiency, the violent underbelly of idyllic southern colleges, and what marriage means. This is the kind of writing we all need more of and I hope to see so much more from Tolentino going forward. (She is a staff writer for The New Yorker and I regularly read and adore her pieces there as well.)

    Must Read

  • Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
    Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson/Goodreads

    This story pulled me in instantly and I devoured it in just less than two days. I love Jacqueline Woodson’s writing and this book was no exception. The characters are all beautifully complex and the story was engaging. I only wished it had been longer because this relatively short story seemed to be over as I was just getting started.

    Worth Reading

  • The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonja Renee Taylor
    The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonja Renee Taylor/Goodreads

    I have been doing quite a bit of work to unlearn the BS “beauty” standards that society and more accurately, a few multi-billion dollar industries have put in place for us. This excellent book is a great place to start for anyone tired of feeling unhappy with the disconnect between their body and the world we live in. This is another book I chose to listen to the audio version and I loved the narration for this book as well.

    Must Read

  • Unbowed by Wangari Maathai
    Unbowed by Wangari Maathai/Goodreads

    Wangari Maathai was born in a rural village in Kenya in 1940. Her memoir is a sweeping tale of her determination to receive an education, her efforts to make both political and environmental change in her home country and around the world, and her continual efforts to help achieve true democracy in Kenya after British colonial rule damaged the country in many ways. These are topics I previously knew very little about, but I learned so much from this book. I was also endlessly inspired by Maathai’s tireless spirit to effect change both on an individual grassroots level and on a larger lasting political level. Though her writing and accounting of her life are exceedingly humble, it is clear that Maathai is well deserving of her Nobel Peace Prize. What an incredible person!

    Worth Reading

  • How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell
    How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell/Goodreads

    The first time I came across this book in a bookstore, I did that thing we aren’t supposed to do and judged it by its cover. With the spray of roses and the title How to Do Nothing, it felt like a gimmick to entice the growing number of us discomfited by the pull of social media to purchase a copy. I decided to at least read some reviews first before deciding whether or not to read it, and eventually I opted to give it a try. I am so glad that I did because I was delighted to find that this book is actually an extremely smart (though somewhat cerebral), well researched examination of topics including self attention, bioregionalism, resisting in place, and how capitalism interplays with all of these.

    From what I can gather, the book has received a fair amount of negative criticism for people who were hoping for what I initially assumed this book was – a how to guide for unplugging from our digital world. Ironically, it seems this disappointment stems from that very attachment to the instant gratification full of buzzwords and short, salient sentences to provide a quick fix to the problem as they see it. That just wasn’t the book’s aim, and I found what it actually contained far more thoughtful and delighting. I read this as a hard copy first but actually downloaded the audio version so I can relisten and have even more time to ponder the important concepts this book covers. As long as you understand that this book isn’t a digital detox guide, I think this thoughtful analysis is very enjoyable and gives plenty of food for thought going forward.

    Worth Reading

  • Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
    Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell/Goodreads

    I downloaded this book on a whim because I had a lot of flights and travel planned, and because my man is often mentioning Malcolm Gladwell. I hadn’t previously listened to him or read any of his work so I was curious. I very much recommend the audio version of this book because it sometimes plays actual recordings relevant to the text. This book hooked me immediately by starting out with the audio recording of the police encounter and arrest which ultimately led to the untimely death of Sandra Bland. Gladwell uses numerous important historical events to address the fact that we are collectively very bad at talking to strangers, and assume we are much better judges of character and truth than we actually are. At some points, I wondered how all of these narratives would have a cohesive point, but I think Gladwell does a nice job of bringing it all together. It is quite thought provoking and one I will probably listen to again at some point.

    Worth Reading

  • Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
    Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow/Goodreads

    Wow wow WOW! This book is phenomenal. It details Ronan Farrow’s experience of investigating and reporting on the Harvey Weinstein scandal. It also lays out how the story was initially silenced by NBC and how that ties into the Matt Lauer scandal, a connection I was previously unaware of. The story is quite amazing and this book is just so well done. Not only is it captivating, it contains a lot of important considerations regarding our collective attitude about violence against women, as well as considerations about the media that determines what we learn about our world.

    I listened to the audio version and loved it overall. Farrow does a lot of accents and impressions throughout which I found initially annoying but ended up finding endearing when all was said and done. Bonus – if you enjoy this book, you’ll also love the Catch and Kill podcast which features in depth interviews with many key players from this story.

    Must Read

  • The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates/Goodreads

    I love Ta-Nehisi Coates and I think he is a fantastic writer. That said, I think non-fiction is more his forte. I had a bit of a hard time getting into this book but eventually I found my stride and felt attached to the characters. Unfortunately, it was at about that same time that I felt the story faltered a bit with the introduction of a magical component that undermined all of it for me. I still enjoyed this book overall and I am glad I read it, but I look forward to Mr. Coates’s next non-fiction work.

    Worth Reading

  • Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis
    Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis/Goodreads

    I have seen Angela Davis mentioned often by many racial justice activists that I follow, but I hadn’t previously read any of her work. This title intrigued me because I was unclear on how the events in Ferguson related to the struggles of the Palestinian people. This book is a collection of interviews, essays, and speeches with themes related to state violence and oppression through history and around the world. She discusses prison abolition, black feminism, and intersectionality, and also parallels the Black Freedom Movement of the southern U.S. to the South African Anti-Apartheid movement. The scope and intelligence of Davis’s analyses are strikingly brilliant and we could all do well to listen to her and those like her to work for a truly better future for all.

    Must Read

View as a Slideshow

It is never an easy task, but I enjoy looking through all that I read over the year and figuring out what was truly the best of the best. In my opinion, these are the books I hope none of you miss!

 

 

I can’t wait to hear what books you loved this year. If you would like to connect with me on Goodreads, send me an email using the contact form and I will add you! (Be sure to include your name AND email address associated with your Goodreads account so I know I’m adding the right person!) Happy reading in 2020!

Past Reading Lists