I’m working now on condensing down a BEST OF EVERYTHING book post for my 50th book review on this blog (can you believe it’s been that long?!). I have over 550 books to go through, so check back with me in a couple of months :). Thanks, as always, for reading and for sending me your recommendations!
In no particular order…
The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan
I didn’t really fall into the wave of hype around this book. The fact that a talented writer dies shouldn’t automatically elevate their work to “best” of the year. There was talent here, but it mostly just felt pretentious. Or maybe I just don’t want to recreate the strange world of undergraduate education at this point in my life…
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
Wow. Absolutely LOVED this one!!!!!!!! Kolbert ingeniously weaves stories of ancient species, with newly discovered ones in the oceans, and the lingering evidence of five mass extinctions. The impact of humans on the earth (fossil fuels, climate change, etc.) is propelling another crisis – a sixth extinction. This is a great accompaniment to Weisman’s Countdown, but is also fantastic as a stand-alone read. Extremely well researched and very easy to read.
Ask the Children: What America’s Children Really Think About Working Parents by Ellen Galinsky
This was a landmark study with (honestly) not a lot of surprising feedback. Takeaways: kids don’t need as much time with their parents as parents think they do (emphasis should be on quality over quantity); negative emotions of the parents seep into the kids and affects their schoolwork and relationships; kids respect when their parents work, but get stressed out when they know their parents are working too many hours and are unhappy; and talk to your kids like they’re adults. Not surprising, right? There were a lot of perceptive quotes from kids in here, and overall her research was wide-reaching and comprehensive. A little dry at times, but still interesting.
I Was Told There’d Be Cake: Essays by Sloane Crosley
Laugh out loud funny! Genuine, hilarious, and relatable. This world needs more people who can laugh at themselves and turn it into art.
Redeployment by Phil Klay
This book haunted me – it was an absolutely unforgettable portrayal of the Iraq War. I loved the conversational tone and richness of his writing … One of the best non-fiction books I’ve read so far this year.
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
I finally got around to reading this classic from the 60s. The women felt relatable in many ways, even if their daily lives (young women seeking fame in the film and performance industries), weren’t particularly aligned with mine. Their struggles to succeed are very applicable to urban women today, though. Sadly, it feels incredibly modern – in particular, the prevalence of misogyny and sexism, and some women’s destructive methods of dealing with it (drugs, alcohol, depression).
Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage by Molly Wizenberg
This might be a better fit for a foodie or for someone who actually gets an ounce of joy out of being in the kitchen. It details the path of a married couple who buys a pizza place in Seattle. Bubbly to read, but fizzed out pretty quickly.
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
WHOA. WHOA. WHOA. Roxane Gay is incredible. The story she weaves in this remarkable book is heartbreaking, challenging, and unforgettable: a privileged woman is kidnapped while visiting her family in Haiti, and suffers through the darkest and most painful experience imaginable. The chapters flip back and forth between the husband (who is trying to negotiate with her captors) and wife (who is trying to survive each minute), for a powerful and very emotional read. I was blown away by Roxane’s writing, as well as the believability of her story. Very highly recommended.
Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “learned” by Lena Dunham
I’m one of those rare people who is ambivalent about Lena (it seems like most are love or hate). She is undoubtedly a brilliant writer and thinker, and I absolutely loved the first season of Girls. But the show went downhill quickly, and she’s received a lot of backlash for the selfishness of her characters and the lack of diversity on the show. Lena has certainly led a privileged life that I can’t entirely relate to. I was hoping this book would shed a darker and more interesting light on her path to this point in her life, but it honestly didn’t. It really didn’t do much for me at all, actually. Most of what she wrote went up in smoke as soon as I closed the cover.
Shared Walls: Seattle Apartment Buildings, 1900-1939 by Diana James
I picked this one up because our apartment building is featured in it! I actually learned a lot about the background of Capitol and First Hill, and since we’ve lived here for so long, I recognized at least ¾ of the buildings. In addition to learning more about the background of our own apartment (built in 1903 by the same architect who designed Denny Hall at UW!), I was fascinated to learn about the growth of apartments in the early 1900s as more people piled into downtown Seattle. I definitely have a greater appreciation for the buildings in our area that have maintained their roots, and the fluidity of the neighborhood as it modernizes and accommodates changing needs. I loved the old photographs too (and the apartment rent costs of $20….)!!
The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum
One of the darkest essay collections I’ve ever read. Meghan dares to speak loudly about the unemotional death of her mother, her decision not to have children, and the emptiness of life. I was impressed with her authenticity, wit, and brave decision to write about the “unspeakable” thoughts we all have, but work hard to stifle.
All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior
This was one of the best books on this subject that I’ve read so far. Jennifer effortlessly summarizes the state of affairs in our modern world – helicopter parenting, crumbling and overcrowded school systems, and extreme attachment styles of parents. But then she dives deeper into the daily realities of working parents, and the outcome is messy and (for most of the book) extremely depressing. It’s all worth it, she says, for the small moments of joy and delight that children can bring. But it comes at a massive cost: literally, emotionally, and psychologically. It definitely gave me a lot to think about. Highly recommended for the comprehensive discussion and no-holds-barred exposé on modern parents.
Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble by Marilyn Johnson
I kind of loved this. Marilyn brings out the best parts of the strange and wonderful world of archaeology, and the special, eccentric types of people who pursue it passionately (the quirks, the dirt, the alcohol, the food stamps). I was set on becoming an archaeologist from as far back as I can remember, but the lifestyle and science/math aspects to it didn’t appeal to me once I had the chance to participate in a graduate-level field school when I was 16. There’s a large part of me that still hungers for the sifting of dirt, the squatting and digging, and the intricate documentation and drawing of artifacts, so it was bittersweet to read this wonderful book.
Euphoria by Lily King
Absolutely one of my favorites this year. A moving love story set in the terrifying and strange setting of primitive tribes in New Guinea in the 1930s. I was blown away by the character development, plot twists, and ending of this book. Still gives me chills to think about it. Deserves all of the hype it gets!
Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities
I admit that I couldn’t entirely make it through this monster of a book. But they have an online version that is much more doable…
Ant Colony by Michael DeForge
What the f*ck!!! DeForge is a freaking genius. This book was solid GOLD…insanely distinctive psychedelic art, a surprisingly heartbreaking story about ants, relatable issues, and seriously hilarious. I was not expecting to be this impressed.
Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
Eh. Great art, mediocre story.
When Partners Become Parents: The Big Life Change for Couples by Carolyn Cowan
This was a very powerful read. I spent an entire day (while recovering from the flu) carefully reading through the advice, research, and stories of the Cowan’s revolutionary study. Instead of following a couple up until they give birth, the Cowans connected with newlyweds before pregnancy, and stayed on to study them in a group setting for years after the child was born. This offered an invaluable glimpse into the tolls and joys that a child can bring to a marriage. There were so many takeaways that I could fill pages with their findings, but I’d recommend just going to the source :). I was surprised with so much of their research’s findings that I’m still thinking about it daily.
Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam
I found this a little dry, and not entirely applicable to my life. I didn’t grow up with organized activities or church, so (to me) it doesn’t feel like much has changed since I was younger. The biggest shift in human organization, of course, has been the growth of technology. I enjoyed Robert’s discussion about this, and learning about the history of organizations and neighborhoods in America.
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
This book made my heart race. The ingenious casting of Maud as the protagonist – an elderly woman who is losing her grip on reality and memory every day – and the chilling ties between Maud’s sister’s disappearance after WWII and the current ‘disappearance’ of her close friend Elizabeth makes for an exceptional read. It’s also a fascinating (and depressing) glimpse into the toll that dementia can take on a person and her family.
The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform your Career by Reid Hoffman
I didn’t come away with very much from this book. The title sums up the gist of it, but it didn’t have many tangible/usable points to get to that place. Figure out yourself and what makes you happy before changing careers….thanks, Reid!
My Brilliant Friend: Childhood, Adolescence by Elena Ferrante
This is the first of a series of novels, and I’m sufficiently impressed. Ferrante is not only a fantastic writer; her characters are also so well fleshed out. It’s fascinating to be able to start a story from the very beginning of a friendship – it’s like watching Boyhood all over again…from a woman’s perspective. I’m excited for the next part!!
The Secret Place by Tana French
I loved the accents in this book, but I didn’t feel connected with the characters at all. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for a murder mystery. If you are, then I recommend this one for its stellar writing.
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
This wonderful, hilarious, confidence- and mood-boosting book made me love Amy Poehler even more. I didn’t even think my heart had room for more Amy-love. I enjoyed her dive into the gritty beginnings of her career as a struggling (but incandescently happy) improv comedian, and the deep friendships she’s maintained during her transition to celebrity. I appreciated that – unlike many comedian memoirs – she wasn’t self-deprecating. It was refreshing, especially from a woman. Read it again? Yes Please!
Catification: Designing A Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat (and You!) by Jackson Galaxy
Not the best cat book I’ve read, but had some fun stories from Jackson’s show on Animal Planet, “My Cat From Hell.” Also inspired me to look again into building shelves for Tibby. Definitely the oddball book of this month…
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
An engaging and personal discussion about humanity and medicine, written by a refreshingly humble surgeon. In an age where people can, for the first time in history, extend their lives superficially using medicine – regardless of suffering, quality of life, or procedure costs – Gawande brings up the important questions about improving your health and the end-of-life process. It’s a complicated topic, especially knowing the ways in which medicine can enhance and extend our lives. But with exceptional research, first-hand experiences, and eye-opening stories, Gawande has created a masterful and thought-provoking discussion. Highly recommended.
Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay
This was so good I actually stopped breathing during parts of it. I wrote above about Roxane’s fictional masterpiece, An Untamed State, and I had a similar reaction to this one – a collection of essays about sexism, the meaning of ‘feminism’, racism, and pop culture. She has mastered a conversational and engaging tone that draws you in and doesn’t let you go. I’m still thinking about her essays weeks afterward.