This was a pretty good year for me. Nothing particularly amazing or wonderful or eventful happened to me, though my son has been such a source of pride and light for me that I sometimes can’t believe I’m his mom. I still live in the same messed up world we all do. My migraines have actually gotten worse and more frequent, which sucks. I’ve been working to fight off burnout at work, but I am really pleased with the fact that it hasn’t bled into my out-of-worklife as much as it would have a few years ago. It was a good year because I felt my mindset change for the better. I feel like I started on a journey to develop better healthier relationships with work, with social media, with family, and with myself. I am still working on all those things (and probably will forever — are we ever there?), but it feels good to know I’m moving in a positive direction and that I can make micro-improvements in my life over time and see that as enough.
Here’s a list of books that inspired, distracted, provoked, entertained, and sustained me this year. For those of you who read my essays on mid-career, mindfulness, enoughness, the attention economy, and ambition, you’ve already seen some of these books listed at the end of the series. Books that I really loved are bolded and books that I didn’t read in their entirety are marked with an asterisk. I gave up on a lot of books this year, which is hard for a recovering completionist. It used to be that I’d suffer through books I hated because I’d heard they were supposed to be great (and clearly if I didn’t like it something was wrong with me), but I didn’t do that this year, though some I still did read for way longer than I should have. A book can be considered amazing by lots of people and not be good for me. I’m not letting myself feel shame or punish myself when I just don’t connect with a “great work” anymore. And that feels freeing.
- The Power by Naomi Alderman
- Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett
- All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg
- Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey (I do not recommend this)
- The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin*
- Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler
- Fleishman Is in Trouble: A Novel by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
- The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown
- Lives Other Than My Own: A Memoir by Emmanuel Carrère
- Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
- All You Can Ever Know: A Memoir by Nicole Chung
- Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom
- A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan*
- The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu
- Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
- Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
- The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
- The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory
- Florida by Lauren Groff* (I didn’t finish this one not because I didn’t like it, but I ran out of time on my overdrive check out. So far, I really enjoyed the stories)
- Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
- P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han
- Plainsong by Kent Haruf (a re-read of one of my favorite books)
- What If This Were Enough?: Essays by Heather Havrilesky
- An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
- The Leavers by Lisa Ko
- Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts by Jaron Lanier
- Lost Children Archive by Varleria Luiselli*
- Mindful Tech: How to Bring Balance to Our Digital Lives by David Levy
- The Ark Plan: Edge of Extinction by Laura Martin
- Save the Date by Morgan Matson
- My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley*
- American Royals by Katharine McGee
- Red, White & Royal Blue: A Novel by Casey McQuiston
- My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh*
- Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
- Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski
- Becoming by Michelle Obama
- How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
- I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell
- The Double Bind: Women on Ambition by Robin Romm
- I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez*
- Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro
- Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith* (I didn’t finish this one not because I didn’t like it, but I ran out of time on my overdrive check out. I was really enjoying the essays and hope to come back to it)
- Permanent Record by Edward Snowden
- Guts by Raina Telgemeier
- Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
- On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
- Happily Ali After by Ali Wentworth
- Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey
This year, I’m not making a list of books I hope to read in 2020, because I want to leave myself more open to serendipity and how I feel in a particular moment. There are times that I can read something searing, painful, and beautiful like Homegoing or On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, but there are also times that I need a royal romance or a sweet, funny, and satisfying Jasmine Guillory tale. I think I’ve spent too much of my life seeing one of those types of books as good and the other as junk food, and I think that’s incredibly reductive and unhelpful. “Guilty pleasures” is a problematic term. We don’t have to feel guilty about the the things that give us pleasure (so long as they don’t harm anyone else).
This year I got really into listening to podcasts, which had long been a content format I didn’t quite understand the appeal of. Here is a list of podcasts I really enjoyed this year:
- Hurry Slowly (my absolute favorite — I devour every lovely, thoughtful episode)
- Call Your Girlfriend
- Ten Percent Happier
- Going Through It
- So Many White Guys
- Your Undivided Attention (though it has a mindful tech bro feel at times, the guests they had on were really thought-provoking)
- Rain Delay Theater (really only for Mets fans)
- Julie: The Unwinding of the Miracle
Here are others that I’ve dipped into now and then and really enjoy:
- Longform Podcast
- Terrible, Thanks for Asking
- The Longest Shortest Time
- The Anxious Achiever
What books did you read that you really loved in 2019? What podcasts would you recommend I check out?
Image credit: Cover of Red, White & Royal Blue: A Novel by Casey McQuiston, one of my favorite books this year.
I read a couple of older books for the first time that I really enjoyed: the mammoth “The Power Broker” by Robert Caro and the stunning “Kindred” by Octavia Butler. I also liked the new short story collection “Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory” by Raphael Bob-Waksberg for its unabashed weirdness.
I have full posts on my blog of my favorite books and podcasts of the year should you be interested.
Thanks for the recommendations! I heard about The Power Broker a few months ago during an NPR interview with Robert Caro. The amount of research he did on Robert Moses sounded pretty astonishing. I love BoJack Horseman, so I may have to give Bob-Waksberg’s story collection a go!
My favorite books published in 2019 were Tim O’Brien’s Dad’s Maybe Book, and Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed.
(I used to read your blog quite a bit, then got distracted. Just came across it again today, and it made me smile. “Oh yeah!” I hope the migraines leave you alone.)