I have not been reading very much this year. Or rather, I should say that I’ve not been reading many books. I am spending an inordinate amount of time surfing the internet, scrolling through Instagram, and reading a ton of online newspapers and blogs. All fine things to do in moderation, but normally I spend a lot more time happily lost in thick plots and fascinating narratives. I’ve been very aware of this lack of progress because of my Goodreads Reading Challenge, which loyal followers will know normally keeps me motivated and engaged. But not this year.
I’m just ….tired. This is not a year of great progress for me on any number of levels, but focus in my leisure-time especially. This will be my fifth or sixth time to reset and start over this year, and I am hopeful that it finally sticks, but the truth is that it’s OK if it doesn’t.
I’m just going to keep pushing myself to read, especially when I find myself doing something less satisfying than getting into a good book, which is really quite often. I have such a great backlog of promising books on my kindle, too, so really there’s no reason not to be reading every chance I get. I mean, look at these beauties!
2020 was a shit year for me, for almost everything except for reading. I blew right by my goal of reading 75 books and ended the year having enjoyed 86. You can see everything I read and rated here but perhaps more interesting is my list of the ten best.
Hollywood Park: A Memoir by Mickel Jollette: I only read this one because my book group (LONG LIVE QUITTERS CLUB!) picked it but I’m so glad I did. It was pitched as a cult memoir, and it is to some extent, but it’s even better when Jollette, the lead singer of Airborne Toxic Event, starts talking about the complicated process of forgiving your family and about how the best music is both terribly personal and universal.
Outpost: A Journey to the Wild Ends of the Earth by Dan Richards: What a great read in a year so many of us spent stuck inside. Dan travels to the very corners of the world and writes eloquently about those wild experiences. I particularly loved the bits about fire towers in remote Washington State.
Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui: Perhaps it’s because I was so obsessed with swimming this year, but I really enjoyed this memoir/history of swimming around the world.
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker: Fascinating account of one family bearing the burden of six of its twelve children suffering from schizophrenia sharing not only how that affected the family but how it helped advance the science of treating this devastating disorder.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle: I want to be too cool to love Doyle but I’m just not. She talks about her feminism, her religion and her family in a way that I’ve never seen anyone else, and I aspire to her honesty.
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby: She’s funny and she’s kind of into being gross and I love everything this woman writes. Fantastic essays.
Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh: This is Brosh’s second book and as soon as I finished this one I went back and re-read the first. She’s got this amazing knack of being funny and poignant and her ridiculously simple illustrations couldn’t be more perfect.
All Adults Here by Emma Straub: I love novels with imperfect families who find ways to still love each other and this is a really good one.
Afterlife by Julia Alvarez: This is the first book I’ve read by Alvarez and I’m so happy to have such a big backlist to dig into now that I know she’s so wonderful. This is a good one if you’re feeling like the world is too polarized for us to ever fix it. Maybe one person at a time is a good approach.
First of all, I want to curl up and live in the endpapers. So green and lush. Gah!
This is a book I bought in the US but was published in the UK and written by the owner of a small, lovely hotel in Wales. It details all of the ways they think about submerging themselves and guests into the forest, a topic I am obsessed with right now. I love so much of it, starting with the suggestion to not only take walks in the forest by daylight, but to experiment with walking in the dark.
Most of us are afraid of being out in the dark, of walking in the countryside in the gloom of the dusky shadows and silvery glows, the not quite seeing. A city late at night has its own dangers, but a determined-and-with-purpose speed walk will get you home fast and fine. A walk in the woods, through a field or across a deserted beach on a cloudy night without a moon is DARK. The sort of darkness that has an animal quality, like a living thing. All your other senses — hearing, touch, smell — become heightened and alert, making up for your weakened sight… Every time we go out into the dark there is always a nervousness about the unknown and not being able to see properly, like when you go into the deep sea, but as you become accustomed to your surroundings, you can slowly physically connect with the blackness. Once you have done so, you can listen out for snuffles of night animals. (!)
I’ve also bookmarked pages that talk about collecting flowers and branches in every season to take home and use on a homemade wreath, and a section on how to use leftover wax and pine cones to make easy fire starters for the next time I am car camping. It’s a lovely book with good paper and beautiful photos — I’ll keep in out in my living room for awhile. And it’s inspired me to go on a (f)forest adventure of my own tomorrow!
2019 was a really solid year for reading. My life was up and down and all over the place and my aggressive goal of reading 80 books kept bringing me back to reading when a lot of the time all I wanted to do was surf the internet. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when surfing the internet is great, but I spent way too much unproductive time on it this year and I was glad to have the reading challenge nagging me back to books, which to me are more satisfying. In all I read 80 books, nearly 30% of which were on audio. My average rating on a 5 point scale was 3.6, which is naturally skewed because I usually don’t bother to finish books I don’t like which means very few 1s or 2s. I managed to stick with my goal of writing a short 25-word book review for most of the year but fell down on that in the last few months. It’s fun to do and a good memory prompt so I’m going to do it again in 2020.
Eighty is the highest goal I’ve ever set for my reading and I’m re-upping it again in 2020. In order to make it in 2019 I had to borrow a giant stack of graphic novels from the library in mid-December, knowing that I could read them faster than regular adult works. This too ended up being a great prompt. One of the books in my top 10 is a graphic novel (Good Talk) and I rated another three graphic novels 4 stars (Hey, Kiddo; The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt; My Brother’s Husband).
So, without further delay, here are my top ten books of 2019:
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob
The River by Peter Heller
Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo
I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum
Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
I’d love to hear what you enjoyed this year — after all, I’ve got 80 books to read!