56 books is the most I’ve ever read in a year, almost double the 31 I read in 2018. My basic strategy was to convert some of the endless hours of scrolling through social media into time reading books instead. And as always, I check out all of these books as ebooks from the library– for free! I like to peruse best book lists and solicit recommendations and then put a bunch of books on hold. They then randomly become available over the next several months, and I just do my best to read them as they appear. Keeping the kindle on airplane mode allows you to keep books past their due date (although you can’t get any new books while you’re offline, of course). There were a couple books that I didn’t quite make it through, and they didn’t count towards this list. But the books that I finished are shown above in roughly descending order from favorite (top left) to least favorite (bottom right).
Below are some mini-reviews for a few of my favorites. I usually post these to my instagram stories, and they’re always available in my highlights, divided into 1-3 star ratings and 4-5 star ratings. I always love talking about a good read, so feel free to ask me about any of the books you see above! You can also see my favorite reads from previous years here: 2018, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011.
Notable Books From 2019
1. The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker. This book has changed my life. I started reading it without knowing what it was really about, but I soon discovered a practical and inspiring manual on how to create more meaningful gatherings of all kinds. The timing was perfect, as we were planning our first Amber Collective event right as I was reading this book. By following the guidelines that Parker set forth, we transformed what could’ve been a generic “networking event” into a purpose-driven gathering: because we as the organizers are so grateful to have found community with each other, we wanted to create a space for others to find build that community with one another as well. Every stage of our gathering, from escorting people in; to encouraging everyone to pour drinks for each other rather than themselves; to the panel questions; and the way we split into small groups and closed out the gathering was transformed by having read this book. I plan to carry it forward through my life. I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone planning any kind of gathering, from a small dinner party to a work retreat, but especially to all my brides and grooms out there who are planning perhaps the biggest gathering of their lives.
“Reverse engineer an outcome: Think of what you want to be different because you gathered, and work backward from that outcome.”
“A ubiquitous strain of twenty-first-century culture is infecting our gatherings: being chill. The desire to host while being noninvasive. […] Let me declare my bias outright: Chill is a miserable attitude when it comes to hosting gatherings.”
“Because so much gathering advice comes from experts in food and decor rather than from facilitators, that advice almost invariably focuses on preparing things instead of preparing people. This advice makes the pregame window about physical setup rather than human initiation, about the gathering space and not what it holds: people.”
2. Know My Name by Chanel Miller. “Emily Doe” reclaims her humanity. It’s a difficult, emotional journey, beautifully written. Infuriating / Hopeful. Vulnerable / Powerful. What an incredible woman. To articulate her trauma with such clarity. To guide us with such maturity… It’s awe-inspiring.
Also, everyone should go follow @chanelmillerknowmyname where Chanel posts the most heartfelt and hilarious little comics.
“What we needed to raise in others was this instinct. The ability to recognize, in an instant, right from wrong. The clarity of mind to face it rather than ignore it. I learned that before they had chased Brock, they had checked on me. Masculinity is often defined by physicality, but that initial kneeling is as powerful as the leg sweep, the tackling. Masculinity is found in the vulnerability, the crying.”
“Brock’s mother wrote, My first thought upon wakening every morning is “this isn’t real, this can’t be real. Why him? Why HIM? WHY? WHY?” I have never wondered why me. The only thing running through my head when my sister picked me up that morning was, Thank God me. Thank God me and not her, not Julia, not an eighteen-year-old who would’ve had to forgo her schooling. I was privileged enough to have completed my education and to be in stable circumstances. I had a home, not too far from the courthouse, where I could recuperate after proceedings. I had two parents who clicked off my light and covered me in a blanket when I fell asleep. I had money saved. In a strange way I was prepared to go on this journey.”
“It took me a long time to learn healing is not about advancing, it is about returning repeatedly to forage something. Writing this book allowed me to go back to that place. I learned to stay in the hurt, to resist leaving.”
3. Boom Town by Sam Anderson. Utterly delightful. The author is dispatched to cover the OKC Thunder just as the city is wondering whether James Harden is staying or going, and this, somehow, booms into a five-year project digging into the history of Oklahoma City. It turns out there’s so much to learn and so many parallels to be found that it fills a book. It’s an incredibly fascinating read, with quick yet thorough chapters bouncing back and forth between the present-day basketball team and the history of this city. The writing is funny and observant and the material is wild, sometimes utterly unbelievable, and endlessly captivating.
“This book is a history of Oklahoma City. That may strike you as unnecessary, or unfortunate. If so, I would understand. In the larger economy of American attention, Oklahoma City’s main job has always been to be ignored.”
“Oklahoma City is microwave popcorn. It was born all at once. It has a birthday: April 22, 1889. Noon. Precisely at that moment, history flipped a switch. Before, there was prairie. After, there was a city. Oklahoma City was born in an event called, with extreme dramatic understatement, the Land Run. The Land Run should be called something like ‘Chaos Explosion Apocalypse Town’ or ‘Reckoning of the DoomSettlers: Clusterfuck on the Prairie.'”
“Angelo Scott later wrote, “that our canal, the very treasure of our hearts, would not function.” It was hard not to read this failure as an ominous metaphor, a message to the settlers from the core of the earth itself. Pour as much as you could into Oklahoma City; it would find a way to make your investment disappear. Every hope would eventually find its disappointment. Every boom would meet its bust.”
4. Exhalation by Ted Chiang. My favorite kind of science fiction: short stories with elegant premises that allow us to explore different facets of the human condition. Most remarkably the stories manage to avoid being cynical or dystopian. The nine stories vary widely in length, and of course I found some of them more resonant than others (the first one may be my favorite), but I really appreciated Chiang’s imagination, meticulously well-planned storylines, and his writing style throughout.
“Nothing erases the past. There is repentance, there is atonement, and there is forgiveness. That is all, but that is enough.”
“It seemed to me that continuous video of my entire childhood would be full of facts but devoid of feeling, simply because cameras couldn’t capture the emotional dimension of events.”
“Sex isn’t what makes a relationship real; the willingness to expend effort maintaining it is. Some lovers break up with each other the first time they have a big argument; some parents do as little for their children as they can get away with; some pet owners ignore their pets whenever they become inconvenient. In all of those cases, the people are unwilling to make an effort. Having a real relationship, whether with a lover or a child or a pet, requires that you be willing to balance the other party’s wants and needs with your own.”
5. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Two storylines alternate and converge: a murder mystery of who killed Chase Andrews; and a bildungsroman of Kya, a young girl growing up virtually alone in the marshes of North Carolina, a reverent student of nature and certainly not of actual school. Incredibly lyrical, evocative, and well-conceived plot and emotional journey. At times heartbreaking and surprising, but overall very satisfying.
“Whole point of it—they make ya feel something.” His dad had told him many times that the definition of a real man is one who cries without shame, reads poetry with his heart, feels opera in his soul, and does what’s necessary to defend a woman.”
“The lonely became larger than she could hold. She wished for someone’s voice, presence, touch, but wished more to protect her heart.”
“Let’s face it, a lot of times love doesn’t work out. Yet even when it fails, it connects you to others and, in the end, that is all you have, the connections.”
Do you see anything here that you loved or hated? Have you read any great books this year? I’m loading up my library holds with a whole new batch of books and would love to hear your recommendations!