Something I've missed since having kids is just snuggling up under a blanket and immersing myself in a book. It's hard to read a physical book with a newborn, plus I've been short on brain cells since my oldest was born in 2013.
I've read a lot! It's just mostly articles and a few nonfiction books, not all of which I finished, plus an embarrassing quantity of Facebook posts. The last few years were particularly bad. In 2018 and 2019 I read a whopping 4 books total -- 2 per year. That is not a lot.
2020 was a different story (on so many levels). I recommitted to reading this year and made my way through a handful of nonfiction books. Then it was fall and my sister sent me a Kindle version of a book I'd heard was good. I devoured it.
Then while working on my post about using the library, I discovered that the county library used the Libby app, which would send ebooks to my Kindle app. I've had most success reading with kids by getting books for the Kindle app on my phone, setting the background to black, and reading while I put the kids to bed.
Voila, I've read over 20 books in under 3 months. (I read really fast. It's not a contest!) I lean toward nonfiction (especially business or self-help books #NerdAlert) and sci-fi, with a focus on women writers of color. I'll make some category notes on each title with a short description/review.
So here's a list of what I read and finished in semi-chronological order. (There were a few I started and gave up on and I'm OK with that. They're not listed.)
Dare to Lead by Brené Brown - Non-Fiction, Business
I love me some Brené Brown. This is basically the business version of Daring Greatly and the focus is on communicating within organizations and teams. It was helpful, especially for managers, but since I don't work for a company it wasn't as helpful. Still good info, just not my favorite of hers!
Untamed by Glennon Doyle - Non-Fiction, Memoir, LGBTQIA+
It's been fascinating to watch Glennon's trajectory from Christian mommy blogger (this is still one of my favorite parenting articles of all time) to marrying soccer star Abby Wambach. I read Love Warrior a few years ago and I enjoy her writing, and Untamed gives an intimate glimpse through what feels like a series of short stories into her divorce, coming out, and remarriage. It's got big White Lady vibes because (spoiler) she's a white lady, and coming out later in life sheltered her from a lot of what other LGBTQIA+ folks face, but it's also her lived experience. It's incredibly quotable and I wish for all of us to be cheetahs.
Finish by Jon Acuff - Non-Fiction, Business, Productivity
I didn't read a ton of books by white dudes this year, but this one was pretty good. The author previously wrote a book called Start, and this book was actually based off what happened after he wrote the other. Why do we start things so enthusiastically, but never finish them? It has good info about how we overestimate what we can do, and underestimate how long it takes with lots of examples and data. In my case, it turns out it was probably undiagnosed ADHD, but hey. I enjoyed his humor, so it wasn't a waste.
Being Is The New Doing by Radiah Rhodes - Non-Fiction, Business, Black Author
I heard Radiah Rhodes speak at an online event this spring and loved her story (plus she's a mom). Even though I've read a ton of business and self-help books, the way she puts things helped me change some perspectives and have some great realizations. I started my own spreadsheet of life goals (mmm, spreadsheets) and it's been amazing. It felt like sitting down for coffee with a super-accomplished friend who always gives great advice.
Self-Regulation and Mindfulness by Varleisha Gibbs - Non-Fiction, Neurodiversity, Parenting
My friend, Marissa, is an awesome pediatric OT, feeding therapist, and mom of neurodiverse kids. She suggested this book to me and it was great. There's the science behind regulation and some worksheets and assessments to guide you. My oldest is really resistant to mindfulness and I was able to use some of these techniques with him, so that was a win.
The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart - Non-Fiction, Homeschool
I listened to this on audiobook (a very rare occurrence) and then I bought the Kindle book for reference. Early on I worried that this would be a book about her blissful homeschool experience, communing with her children and basking in their educational delight. Luckily, it was not. Whew! Obviously she focuses on the positive (because that's what worked!), but she explains how she arrived there and where she learned her biggest lessons. It's not about curriculum or how to teach so much as it encourages you to follow your child's curiosity and what that might look like. The last part focuses on modeling curiosity and learning ourselves, which I enjoyed a lot. School isn't the only place kids learn, so even if you're not homeschooling, I thought it was a good book.
Educated by Tara Westover - Non-Fiction, Memoir
This nonfiction story about Tara Westover's life growing up in a fringe LDS family reads like a novel, but is still relatable in that way that every kid thinks their family is "normal" until they're exposed to the alternatives. Fair warning that there is definite trauma and abuse described, plus some pretty rough accidents if you're sensitive to that. Fascinating read, well-written, and a very interesting journey to follow.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett - Fiction, Black Author
This popped up on the skip-the-line options of library ebooks, so I grabbed it and didn't regret it. The plot was intriguing about a set of light-skinned twins in Louisiana, one of whom has the opportunity to live life passing for white. The story weaves in colorism, racism, microaggressions, and more in the course of the story. I liked the structure of the book a bit more than the characters, but it was still a good read.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller - Non-Fiction, Memoir, Author of Color
Chanel Miller is amazing, and what a gift to come from trauma that we now know her name. Chanel was "Jane Doe," the victim in the Brock Turner Stanford sexual assault trial, and even while still anonymous, her powerful testimony and written statements made a huge impact. She writes about the experience, from her childhood to the assault, the trial, and going public. The story highlights the racism and misogyny of how our society prosecutes cases like this, and the impact it had on her life. Incredible read.
The Knowledge Gap by Natalie Wexler - Non-Fiction, Education
There's an internal struggle in the literacy education community! This book gave insight into the history and politics of teaching reading in (mainly) the US public school system. Spoiler alert: teaching content and phonics is better for comprehension than teaching strategies, but that's not what most schools do. I wish it had a little more information about solutions or how to advocate for change, but I learned some new things. If you're super into literacy it's worth a read. If you just want to ask me for details, I'm happy to summarize with more info. 😂
Patriarchy Stress Disorder by Dr. Valerie Rein - Non-Fiction
This book blew my mind (then Burnout --see below-- blew it again). The premise is that all members of oppressed groups (for this book, specifically people socialized as women) have trauma. Individuals may have additional personal trauma, and people of color, LGBTQIA+ folks, and disabled people have layers of trauma from those marginalizations as well. So when women try to self-help and self-care their way to more capitalist productivity, it doesn't work because we need to deal with the underlying trauma. 🤯 If you're not as nerdy as me it might not be as compelling, but I got a lot of out it.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng - Fiction, Author of Color
This was turned into a Hulu miniseries which I haven't seen, though I can totally visualize how it would work really well on screen. I really enjoyed reading this, both for the plot and the characters. When I finished it I was a little sad to leave their stories behind. What stood out the most for me is how motherhood is presented in a variety of ways. Each mother in the book has strengths and weaknesses, and none of them are without faults. Would be a great book club book for discussion.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid - Fiction, Black Author
This was awkwardly relatable as a story that revolves around a Black nanny working for a white family as a nanny. I found the white characters a little predictable, but maybe that's because we are a little predictable in scenarios like those in the book. Reading from the main character's perspective about all the situations she ends up in was compelling.
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes - Non-Fiction, Black Author
This came out a few years ago, but I didn't read anything for those years! I think it would have been better if I actually watched her shows (nothing personal, we finally cancelled our Netflix account because we never watch anything), but I still enjoyed reading about her experiences. It was really valuable to read about how she lives her values, and despite being incredibly successful by most standards, still needing to set boundaries and push against the edges of her comfort zone to grow.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens - Fiction
This book has been on so many lists that I almost avoided it, but I'm glad I didn't. It was a wonderful read. Similar to Educated, but fictional, a girl from a dysfunctional family flies under the radar of society and we see how things unfold. The setting and details are gorgeous, and it's easy to empathize with her choices, even when you know they're awful. Highly recommended.
A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins - Fiction, Young Adult
I read the Hunger Games trilogy when my oldest was a newborn, and this book is the prequel to those. It was nice to be back in that world, but you already know what happens to some extent. It's meant to show HOW that happens, but I felt like most of the book was spent developing a storyline that twisted too quickly. It's not a long read, so if you enjoyed the other books it's worth it. Just message me when you finish it and we can complain about the end!
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin - Fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Black Author
Unsurprisingly, I'm a huge nerd and have been reading sci-fi and fantasy books for most of my life. I heard of N.K. Jemisin and decided to start with her first books, The Inheritance Trilogy. This is book one, though they're also available as The Inheritance Trilogy Omnibus edition with a bonus novella. The books take place in Sky, a magical city ruled by a family dedicated to the god Itempas. There's romance, drama, godlings, political tension, and magic. I loved the twists, the characters, and the world building. If you're looking for something that's a relatively easy read but with some depth, I devoured these.
The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin - Fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Black Author
Book 2 of The Inheritance Trilogy. Same world, same city, later time, different main characters. This story builds on the previous one. I didn't like the plot as much, but I enjoyed having a familiar setting for a new adventure, and I still enjoyed reading it. This is not a literary criticism post, just the books I read, and I like to read!
The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin - Fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Black Author
The last book of the trilogy, again the same world but a new plot and new main characters. I enjoy that her characters are diverse without making a huge deal out of it. The three stories have a bit of overlap, but stand alone, and this book bring the inevitable fall of an empire to finish it up. This trilogy has more romance than the next one I read.
Big Friendship by Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow -- Non-Fiction, Podcasters, Co-Author of Color
I came across a reference to Shine Theory on Instagram somewhere, and it was properly attributed to Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow. They apparently co-host a podcast called Call Your Girlfriend which I have never heard through no fault of theirs, and wrote this book about their own friendship. They mention in the book how most relationship books focus on familial and romantic relationships, but platonic friendships have a huge impact on our lives as well. It took me a while to get into it, but I did get some nuggets from the read. I may have liked it more if I listened to their podcast and had some previous connection to them.
Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski -- Non-Fiction
I read Patriarchy Stress Disorder first, then Burnout, and while the former had many good points, the latter knocks it out of the park with accessible information on a complex topic. They were both valuable, but I feel like I highlighted half of Burnout. It applies to so much of the work I do with clients, so if you're not going to read it, I will happily talk about it if you would like. The validation that life is overwhelming and not set up for women to succeed is huge, then backed up by studies. Highly recommended. I managed to squeak in Emily Nagoski's other book at the bottom of this list.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb -- Non-Fiction
As someone who just started seeing a therapist this year, I really liked this book. It's the story of how the author becomes a therapist, and then what happens when she goes to see a therapist herself. She uses some anonymized client examples to create a story to follow along with her journey, and I found it interesting to read about her approaches as a therapist and her reactions as a client.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin -- Fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Black Author
After starting her first trilogy, I heard that The Fifth Season is her best work. It took me some time to warm up to the new world, but I really enjoyed the complexity of the story. After I finished the book I went back and read the first chapter again. The story starts with several threads that weave together until you can finally see the whole picture. If you like post-apocalyptic tales of magic and geology, this trilogy is for you!
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin -- Fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Black Author
Unlike The Inheritance Trilogy, these books are parts 1-3 of a continuing story arc. The Obelisk Gate follows our characters on the next part of their adventure. I couldn't wait to start this one as soon as I finished the first to find out what happened next.
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin -- Fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Black Author
Book 3 of the trilogy keeps the story moving and wraps it up with a bow. It was a compelling read with questions about ethics and inclusivity and society and more.
Driven to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey -- Non-Fiction, Neurodiversity
Driven to Distraction is the OG book on ADHD. It was originally published in 1994, and the revised edition is from 2011. So while the core content is really helpful, it's very gendered and still skews toward examples of boys and men. They acknowledge that, but some of the case studies still read like an after-school special. That said, it helped me understand how ADHD affects the brain in some ways I didn't realize, and that I also have ADHD which I have compensated for very well for 38 years. Not as much fun as a novel, but a lot of insight if you have a child with ADHD.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi -- Fiction, Black Author
This book popped up on the library's "skip the line" e-book section, so I snagged it and am glad I did. A young neuroscientist struggles to reconcile her family's history and her mother's depression with her responsibilities and life. The information for the protagonist's research is based on a friend of the author's, which is an interesting nugget. It's not a fast-paced novel, but it thoughtfully unfolds to reveal more details and insight as you go. Can't wait to read her first book, Homegoing.
Come As Your Are by Emily Nagoski -- Non-Fiction
Written by one of the two authors of Burnout, this work by sex educator Emily Nagoski is part of her mission to normalize real sexual health information. Not only does she cover a huge range of "normal" -- bodies, biology, physiology, desires, comfort levels, stressors, psychology -- she also explains where a lot of myths come from (spoiler alert: white men over a century ago) and why they're wrong. Drawing on her education, questions from students and friends, and personal experience, this was a fascinating read that had me sharing quotations with friends, clients, and my husband. Some of the information is a springboard to Burnout, but it seems pretty obvious that feeling burned out would affect your sex life, too. If everyone read Taking Charge of Your Fertility and this book, we'd all understand so much more about life.
That's it! Maybe I'll manage to finish one more book in the next two days, but I won't push it.
This is not meant to offer a critical literary review, but I know I love book lists and I really enjoyed reading again after a long hiatus.
What did you read this year?