I read 91 books in 2020.
For anyone that’s unhealthily keeping track like I am, that’s 29 LESS than I read in 2019. (You can read last year’s recommendations here .)
I absolutely know why. A little something we like to call, “Worldwide Pandemic that Colossally Interferes with One’s Attention Span.” In the spring, when we were all so shocked, my ability to concentrate plummeted. A more shocking statistic than number of books would be to report “Number of hours spent reading distressing headlines.” I really don’t want to know that number.
I have a first generation Kindle. It’s not even touchscreen. Somehow it’s managed to limp along for 13 years. I almost got rid of it last year because I prefer borrowing the real, analog versions from the library. I kept it, never knowing that it would be a lifeline through so many library closures. As I write this, the library has closed again, leaving me with several books whose due date is indefinite. The last year also brought a decision by my local library system to do away with overdue fines. I can’t describe how happy that made me. Sure, I had a small debt that was erased. But it was more the spirit of the thing—it gave me hope for humanity, somehow. Year of Jubilee!
This summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and awareness put books front and center in a way I’ve only seen with phenomenons like Harry Potter or Oprah’s Book Club. I’m delighted that memoirs and teachings from BIPOC authors were back-ordered, and that many white folks decided it was finally time to get schooled. As the Dalai Lama says, it’s never too late for repair.
I continue to experience reading as one of the supreme pleasures of life. I marvel at anyone with the bravery to write a book, and I’ve stopped worrying about books disappearing as a medium. We long to express ourselves, and we long to know we’re not alone. And I long to fall asleep with a book on my chest, having been ushered into my dreams in the way only a book can do.
Here are some faves from this year.
All written by non-white authors, some of them telling their stories, others just telling stories. When white folks say things to me like, “We just never learned about these things in school!” I’ll ask them how long they’ve been out of school. “Ten years.” “Twenty years.” And then I say, “Plenty of time to do a Google search.” There has never been such an easy-to-find archive of stories from the edges. Time to read up.
Good Talk by Mira Jacob. Graphic novel exploring Mira’s identity as a Jewish, Indian-American woman. Delightful, maddening, beautiful.
When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamad. Another graphic novel (incredible!) about life in a Kenyan refugee camp. Read for tender, detailed illustrations and a giant dose of perspective.
When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrice Cullors and The Purpose of Power by Alicia Garza. Along with Opal Tometi, Cullors and Garza founded the BLM movement. I can’t overstate how helpful and illuminating it was for me to see beyond the hashtags to the carefully constructed movement BLM is.
Because I Need Help
I have finally learned to embrace my love of self-help books. In the end, I suppose we are simply fascinated with ourselves! And a lot of these insights make their way into my work with clients, too.
Real Change by Sharon Salzberg. This meditation teacher gives us timeless wisdom and experiential practices for building a better world. I found myself quoting this book a lot.
How to Eat by Mark Bittman and David Katz. Finally! A slim little volume loaded with questions and answers and some SANE advice on what’s really good for us.
Big Friendship by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman. There really aren’t enough books in the world about friendship. This one nailed it.
I can’t help it. I adore memoirs. They are always the first ones I reach for in a stack of books. And if the memoir is also a story of survival or deprivation? Even better!
The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg. Molly does it again. Couldn’t put down this story of her leaving her marriage, falling in love with a gender non-conforming partner, and beginning to live the life she didn’t know she wanted.
The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger. This one blew my mind. Totally. Holocaust survivor who puts off confronting her own pain until 20 years later.
Deep Creek by Pam Houston. I filled my journal with a million quotes from this book about Pam’s ranch in Colorado and how to love the dying earth.
Change is A-Comin’
Here’s a few books that lit a fire under me this year.
We are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer. This made me a vegetarian for a few months and changed my eating habits forever. Still working on it.
Life’s Work by Dr. Willie Parker. Parker, a Black, Christian abortion provider in the South, talks about why he does what he does and why reproductive rights need to be protected. Wow.
Tightrope by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn. This husband and wife team detail Nicholas’ small town home in Oregon and what disappearing manufacturing the Opiod use did to its inhabitants. An amazing mix of the specific and the universal, and an uncompromising look at what really creates poverty.
What about YOU? What’s on your list for 2020? Happy Reading, my friends. I’ll meet you on the Spirit Highway.