[Listen to an audio version of this blog HERE].
At the end of each December, I compile a list of my favorite books I read that year. If you're not a big reader, you can kindly consume some other content on my blog, or elsewhere.
A Choir of Honest Killers by Buddy Wakefield: Buddy Wakefield is bold, unapologetic, and honest in the kindest possible way. A Choir of Honest Killers tackles subjects like masculinity, growing up queer in the South, shame, the fear of intimacy, and letting go of things outside our control. His poems move gracefully from emotional devastation to peace. One of my favorite lines is "being human has been a largely humiliating experience." If you're a poet or a poem-lover, this book can absolutely not be bypassed.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: I bought this book at the airport and my 4 hour flight from Orange County to Minneapolis flew by. Eleanor Oliphant is socially awkward, struggling with a traumatic past that disallows her from leading a normal life. Elenaor meets Raymond, a bumbling IT guy from her office, and they befriend Sammy, an elderly gentleman who falls on the street in front of them. This book is the kind of feel-good read that everyone needs now and then (fair warning: it isn't all rainbows and butterflies). Moreover, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine will soon be a major motion picture (coming to a theater near you on February 14, 2020) produced by Reese Witherspoon. I recommend reading the thing before watching the thing, for the sake of engaging in fair and objective comparison.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: This is one of those books I'll re-read in a few decades and wonder if I understood any of it the first time around. Atlas Shrugged is not a fun beach read; it's long (~1,000 pages), a bit of a slow read, and full of Rand's sideways pro-capitalist ideology, which she calls "Objectivism." The books underlying, driving question is "Who is John Galt?" I won't ruin the story by telling you. But the characters in Atlas Shrugged turn on themselves; a productive genius becomes a worthless playboy; a steel industrialist is working toward his own destruction; a composer gives up his career on the night of his best performance; and a beautiful woman who runs a transcontinental railroad falls in love with the man she has sworn to kill. Regardless of how you may feel about Rand, Atlas Shrugged is a damn good story.
Ana Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: Ana Karenina is a classic love story, described by William Faulkner as the best novel ever written. Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between Anna and Count Vronsky. A love story steeped in adultery, set in the rich culture of wealthy nineteenth century Russia, Ana Karenina shines a hard light on romantic love, family happiness, and the contrast between city and country life. This was also made into a move in 2012, but the book, in my humble opinion, is eons better. I've read and enjoyed Ana Karinena multiple times, and the story just keeps getting better.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens: I hesitated to purchase this book for a long time, ostensibly because the word "crawdad" left a raw taste in my mouth. However, Where the Crawdads Sing quickly became one of my new favorites. Set in rural Louisiana in the 1960's, it follows the story of Kya, or the "Marsh Girl" who survives alone in the marsh for years. Delia Owens is a wildlife scientist by trade, and Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel. A coming of age story, coupled with a murder mystery, and shrouded in the bones of a broken family, this book will not disappoint. I stayed up late reading many nights, unable to put it down.
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver: Unsheltered is a novel that entwines past and present through two family stories. Willa Knox and her family did everything "right" yet still find themselves living on the brink of poverty in an old house that's falling apart. Her career as a journalist, and her husband's career as a professor, both unraveled. Her son is the newly widowed father of a newborn and her daughter is a transient yet reliable free spirit. Her father-in-law is knocking on death's door, and Willa is unduly burdened with solving her family crisis. Meanwhile, the novel strings the reader along another story, of a science teacher condemned for teaching the work of Charles Darwin. Thatcher Greenwood is a newlywed trying to keep his bride happy while remaining uncompromised in his scientific endeavors. The two stories are set in Vineland, New Jersey, and paint rich, tantalizing stories of living in precarious, uncertain times.
An American Sunrise: Poems by Joy Harjo: Fun trivia fact: Joy Harjo was the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States. She is not only a stunning poet, but irrevocably connected to her homeland, leading the reader to learn and understand not only Harjo's story, but the tribal histories of her people. Her poems revel in an undercurrent of natural beauty and human survival. They are quietly, graciously angry and mournful for a people who were forcibly removed from their land, searching for home ever since.
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell: Malcolm Gladwell is back with another page-turner that builds a spider web out of seemingly unrelated events. Talking to Strangers explains how and why we default to trusting others, what happens to whistle blowers, and whether what we know about how we relate to one another is true. Gladwell postulates that we don't really know how to talk to and understand strangers, revealing how complex clear and effective communication can be. In the audiobook version of Talking to Strangers, you won't just hear Gladwell's voice, you'll also hear the voices of people he interviewed for the book, bringing the stories to life and giving the audiobook the texture of an 8-hour podcast. As Gladwell revisits the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, and the suicide of Sylvia Plath, among many more juicy, culturally relevant events. I promise, you won't be disappointed.
My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley: My Ex-Life is a book that will make you laugh out loud, if you have any sense of humor. David Hedge and Julie Fiske were married over 17 years ago, splitting when David admits he is gay. Nearly two decades later, Julie reaches out to David, whose job is to help San Fransisco rich kids get into college, for help her own daughter with her college essays. Julie is in the midst of a divorce herself, and David flies to Boston to stay with Julie and her daughter Mandy for the summer. The novel is witty, funny, and heartbreaking all at once, gently nudging the reader to consider how we define home, family, and love, and whether those definitions should be challenged. Maureen Corrigan said on Fresh Air, “I didn't know how much I needed a laugh until I began reading Stephen McCauley's new novel, My Ex-Life. This is the kind of witty, sparkling, sharp novel for which the verb ‘chortle’ was invented.”
This is Marketing by Seth Godin: I read this book purely because I enjoyed some of Godin's other books (Purple Cow, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?, and All Marketers are Liars). Godin is a marketing maven who has taught millions of people through his blog, lectures, online courses, and bestselling books. This is Marketing encompasses all of Godin's best marketing advice, a succinct summation is this: great marketers solve other people's problems. They use empathy, human connection, and emotional labor instead of click-bait, spammy emails, or annoying advertising. This book will help anyone better connect with people, build trust, and tell your audience engaging stories. This book was helpful for me as a fundraiser, and can teach you things whether or not you're trying to sell things.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kunders: The Unbearable Lightness of Being, was written in 1982 and published in 1984. It follows the lives of two women, two men, and a dog in the 1968 Prague Spring period of Czechoslovak history. The main characters are: Tomáš, an adulterous surgeon; his wife Tereza, a photographer anguished by her husband's infidelities; Tomáš’s lover Sabina, a free-spirited artist; Franz, a Swiss university professor and lover of Sabina; Karenin, Tomáš and Tereza's dog; and finally Šimon, Tomáš’s estranged son from an earlier marriage. The book is vivid and complex, and at its core, challenges Friedrich Nietzche's concept of eternal recurrence (that the universe and all that occurs within it will happen again). Thus, the "lightness of being" may signify impermanence, freedom, and the fleeting nature of love. The Unbearable Lightness of Being was not always an easy read, but deeply satisfying.
A Polaroid Guy in a Snapchat World by David Spade: David Spade is easily one of my favorite comedians, and as I read A Polaroid Guy in a Snapchat World, I definitely had more than a few laugh-out-loud moments. He writes about dating younger women, getting crabs, feuding with a teenage internet celebrity, and so much more. He also read the audio version of his book, which is probably funnier than reading it. To reduce how annoying Spade can be, I recommend listening to his book in short segments (5-10 minutes is good).
Fed Up by Gemma Hartley: Gemma Hartley first published an article in Harper's Bazzar entitled "Women Aren't Nags, We're Just Fed Up." She continued that conversation in a book, and it's a verifiable must-read for all the perturbed ladies out there (and their partners). Hartley defines and delineates emotional labor and the undue burden women bear not only at home but at work too. We shoulder the mental load of keeping households running, keeping everyone around us happy, and keeping ourselves safe. She addresses this problem, takes a look at how we arrived here, and asks how we can shift the load off our shoulders. Hartley re-frames emotional labor as a genderless virtue that both men and women can learn to build better relationships and a better world.
Not Books, But Badass Bloggers!
Jessi Kneeland: I initially found Jessi on Instagram, and quickly became a huge fan. Once a renowned fitness trainer, she is now a body image and life coach. Her mission is, "to help women like you identify, work through, heal, and release your body image issues so that you can finally set down your armor and start living." She's active on Instagram and releases email newsletters every Tuesday called "Transparent Tuesdays," in which she tackles topics ranging from eating disorders, body image, confidence, gender, socialization, business development, and more. Sign up for her newsletter HERE.
Farnam Street: I was first introduced to the Farnam Street blog in college, when my Athletic Director booked Shane Parrish for an athlete-only speaking engagement. Farnam Street is packed with tangible advice that's backed by science. How to make intelligent decisions, how to retain information, how to systemically achieve goals, and how to build quick rapport with anyone are just a few of the topics you'll find here. Definitely worth a deep dive! Farnam Street has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The Economist, and more. Join their newsletter HERE for a weekly dose of brain food.
P.S. If you have any good book recs, send them my way! (If you're feeling reallllly generous send me a copy, preferably signed.)