I think I’m learning something about myself: I don’t actually enjoy reading.
Just saying that amounts to sacrilige, I know, but truth is, the process of sitting down, holding a book in front of my face, and then raking my eyes back and forth across the page is not pleasurable. I like curling up in front of the fire with a hot drink. I like getting new ideas and information. I even like getting lost in a story. But most of the time — like, say, 80 percent of the time that I’m reading — I’m neither sipping a hot drink nor having an ah-ha moment nor am I lost in another world. I’m just… reading.
When I told my husband my latest self-realization, he gaped, eyes wide. But you read so much!
I make myself read, I corrected. I write it on my to-do list — read 30″ — so that I’ll do it.
So why do I read, you ask?
It’s a fair question, but I don’t know. Maybe because I’ve been trained to — it’s a lifestyle thing, of sorts. Also, because I think reading makes me a better person, because it’s a form of reflection, because it’s a valuable mental exercise, because I want to learn something, and because sometimes, in spite of everything I just said, it is fun.
And tell me this: is there anything better than falling asleep while reading?
Anyway. As I was typing up this list, I was dismayed to realize how many of these books, books that I’ve spent hours with, I had absolutely zero recollection of. I mean, I’ve read these books within the last year and even, according to my notes, claimed to really enjoy some of them, and yet now, a mere few months later, I’m drawing a complete blank. How is this even possible?
he doesn’t even like beer
The books I do recall, though, tend to be the true stories, or at least the stories that felt true to me. So maybe I’m just not a lover of fiction? Or obvious fiction anyway?
Anyway. Long story short, here’s what I read in 2020. Cheers!
- The Hungry Ocean, by Linda Greenlaw. A unique topic (about a female swordfish boat captain) with lots of details that I skimmed.
- The Liar, by Ayelet Gunder-Goshen. Interesting spooling of a tale, and well-told. (Also, one of the stories I didn’t remember until I looked at the photo on Amazon. Then, it all came rushing back.)
- Nothing To See Here, by Ken Wilson. A fun, fast read.
- Orbiting Jupiter, by Gary D. Schmidt. Fast and good.
- The World’s Strongest Librarian, by Josh Hanagarne. Fun, earthy, enjoyable.
- The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers. Reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird. A slow story with intricate writing and lots of pre-teen angst.
- Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell. My younger daughter recommended it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
- fathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian Science. I tore through this one. Well-written, and I learned a lot.
- Eat Cake, by Jeanne Ray. Light and breezy, and it gifted me a fantastic cake recipe.
- Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir, by Ruth Reichl. Okay, I guess. I made the biscuits and — meh. We threw them to the chickens.
- Brother and Sister, by Diane Keaton. Meh.
- Clock Dance, by Anne Tyler. Well written, soothing, easy. (But even the blurb on Amazon doesn’t bring it back. I think I have a problem.)
- Untamed, by Glennon Doyle. Thought-provoking; the content makes for a great conversation starter.
- Girls Like Us, by Gail Giles. My notes say, “One of the best books I’ve read in a while.” (I remember everything about it AND it’s a novel. Go figure.)
- Evenings at Five, by Gail Godwin. Fast, and okay. I didn’t quite “get” it.
- The Book of Longings, by Sue Monk Kidd. An interesting story, but only so-so. I felt like Kidd bit off too big of a topic — the whole book felt like an uphill battle in which she was trying to convince me of something.
- Normal People, by Sally Rooney. A fun read with interesting characters, but tiresome — I only identified with the mother’s character. (I’m struggling to remember this one…)
- Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, by Atul Gwande. Recommended to me by my father and son (and loads of other people). Excellent. I saw lots of similarities between how our culture approaches medicine and how our culture approaches education.
- Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri. I love her writing!
- March (the trilogy), by John Lewis. Graphic novels recounting Lewis’ life. Fantastic, informative, perspective-shifting story. I made it required reading for the kids.
- Scratched: A Memoir of Perfectionism, by Elizabeth Tallent. I didn’t get much of it, maybe because I skimmed such large portions.
- This is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel. A novel about parenting a transgender child — fantastic.
- Such A Fun Age, by Kiley Reid. Nuanced, stunning, and a page turner. A fave!
- The Beauty In Breaking, by Michela Harper. So-so.
- Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger, by Lisa Donovan. Beginning was brilliant. It got a little abstract towards the end, but still very excellent. Because of Lisa, I’ve started making buttermilk whipped cream, and “make a lane cake” is on my baking bucket list. Also, I’m in love with the cover photo.
- Caste: The Origins of our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson. PHENOMENAL. My Number One Book of 2020. It should be required reading in high school. If you’re looking to buy one book from this list, this is the one. Seriously. READ IT.
- The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett. Fun.
- Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Gorgeously lyrical and flowing, a comprehensive look at American’s racial history.
- What Kind of Woman, by Kate Baer. My cuz(-in-law)’s book is a best-seller, whoo-hoo!!! (Read more about it here.)
- Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, by Jordan Sonnenblick. A hard subject told well. Good stuff.
what I pulled from the library for Christmas break
And to the kids: The Wee Free Men (never again), Great Expectations (tedious, but we made it), Little Women (ditto), Way Back in the Ozarks (a repeat, because my younger son begged me to), Fish in a Tree (why can’t all books be like this?), and now Look Both Ways (too soon to tell).
Now it’s your turn. What should I read in 2021?
This same time, years previous: a Christmas spectacle, right now, balsamic glazed roasted butternut squash and brussel sprouts, 2016 garden notes and stats, remembering Guatemala, cheese ball, hot buttered rolls, giant sausage and leek quiche, spaghetti carbonara.
Thrift at Home
I hope I have recommended Polly Horvath, writer, to you!! She is fantastic as a read-aloud to older kids or just for you. Anything she wrote. We started with Everything on a Waffle.
Thrift at Home
My relationship to reading has changed, too! I blame perimenopause and pandemic, ugh. I love your refreshing honesty and humor about that! I keep an entertaining, light read at my bedside and save the educational stuff for during the day and put that on my to-do list.
I highly highly highly recommend Emily Nagoski’s books – Burnout is the recent one she wrote with her twin sister, but I’m currently reading her earlier one Come as You Are about sex. Transforming.
Also! Have you read Amor Towles??! A Gentleman in Moscor and also Rules of Civility.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
I really loved The Hidden Life of Trees – an unusual, dreamy, compelling book whose title says exactly what it is.
I read Watership Down out loud to my big kids who loved it – reminds me that my favorite Richard Adams book is Shardik. I just started reading Fahrenheit 451 out loud to my big kids and in the past I have loved Bradbury’s writing but now it’s just making me twitchy and I want to edit out all the adjectives, hee hee.
I have also loved Ruth Reichl’s books, but Save Me the Plums felt a bit forced and tired :/ and I couldn’t keep the names/people straight and did not care enough.
You have a number of books on your list that I have not heard of – writing them down! Thank you!
Breaking Bread with the Dead: a Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind. I’ve just started it, but soooo good! It might give you some insight as to why all of us struggle to read now. Spoiler alert – we lack personal density.
How God Became King – If you haven’t read an N.T. Wright book, this is the one. Definitely not a flippant, just picking this book up because I’m bored read, but worth diving in to find out what the gospels really say.
Oh…this is my favorite post of the year! Every year. I too can relate to not being quite the reader I was a year ago…a distracted, anxious, pre-menopausal mind? Kids home all the time? New job that does not allow for nearly as much downtime where I get paid to read? All of the above most likely. Just finished “This Is How it Always Is”…agree, it’s fantastic. “North of Normal” and “Nearly Normal” by Cea Person were great memoirs along the lines of Glass Castle or Educated. Yaa Gyasi’s “Transcendent Kingdom” is good and thoughtful (not quite as epic as her first novel but…that would be hard to top). Loved “Word Nerd” by Susan Nielsen…a YA novel but so good!
I read all the time…and many of your suggestions and many of Mavis are right up my alley. Covid has made concentration so much harder. My husband, a very talented needlepointer, has virtually none since Covid. Watches silly war movies instead of reading. I truly believe this is all related to the current trauma in our lives now. Amazing that we expect most of our kids to be able to adequately learn while they’re experiencing trauma too. But that’s for the list. I’ll check them out. Are. you making any interesting Midwest casserole types of comfort food. My brother declared, despite his love of meatloaf his east coast family would never allow it in the house. hahaha. Poor thing…he’s probably missing tater tots too. Always enjoy your posts.
Have you read God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet? I loved it, and then fed it to my remote book club this year, and they *also* loved it despite having… different… tastes from me in general, so now I am more confident in recommending it.
I love reading, but have found myself reading the news more in recent years. I tried joining a book group, but realized I hate being told what to read and when. So I dropped out. I read a slew of books on our vacation to the Smokies this summer (we had a friend’s cabin all to ourselves, so it was socially distant!) and realized I just need to read light and fluffy things when I read books. So I’ve been doing more of that – I so miss the library, where I could walk in and peruse the New Books shelves and find interesting new things to read! I just finished “The Overstory” which everyone went on and on about and frankly? I was underwhelmed. The writing was beautiful, but beyond that? Meh. I also read the “Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas” this year and that I really liked. I think I read that Anne Tyler book too – I never fully recall her books, but I do like them, probably because they remind me of Baltimore.
As I get older (and my eyesight worse!), I have started enjoying audiobooks more. Our library has a service called Libby; there’s another called Overdrive, where you can get books to listen to or to read on a device.
This year some books I enjoyed and would recommend include:
–Disappearing Earth (a novel about the kidnapping of two sisters and how their remote town on a Russian peninsula is affected)
–Long, Bright River (a novel about the opioid crisis in Philadelphia) and specifically two sisters — one a cop and the other an addict)
–Anxious People (a novel about a Swedish hostage crisis and human relationships that is surprisingly touching and weirdly funny by the author who wrote A Man Called Ove)
–A Place for Us (a novel about an Indian American Muslim family with themes of parent/child relationships and identity/belonging)
All of these sound fantastic! Also, I LOVED A Man Called Ove. (The movie was good, too.)
The Thrifty EducatorElizabeth
Two of my favorite nonfiction books that you might enjoy are Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and The Book of Joy by the Dali Lama and Desmond Tutu. I’ve read both books twice and they draw you in with their stories and amazing writing. I am usually an avid reader, but this pandemic has totally killed my reading life. My mind cannot comprehend the words on the page right now, so I have to mainly stick to easy to read stories. My favorites lately have been Into Thin Air and then Into the Wild both by Jack Krakauer.
A positive thing that the pandemic has brought to our family is the love of read aloud s. I find I pay more attention when I am reading aloud. Our favorites have been Stuart Little, Ella Enchanted, My Side of the Mountain, Catherine called Birdie, Ben and Me, and we read all the Stink Moody/Judy Moody books twice. Picture books have made their way back into our life too. I found myself sobbing while reading, The Worst of Friends yesterday. It tells how the friendship of Adams and Jefferson fell apart for 11 years over politics, until they made up towards the end of their life. It is just so relevant this year that it tore me up. When it said they died on the same day….no words.
I also enjoy reading great blogs! I have read yours twice all the way thru…like every post:)
Reading anything sad/emotional/touching out loud = me crying. The other day I started crying while reading about a kid with dyslexia. My kids are still giving me a hard time about that.
I put the Book of Joy on hold at the library. (I own the Kingsolver one —- sooooo good!)
I love Little Women, but it makes a terrible read-aloud. I started it with the kids but stopped. It’s a book to be read by yourself, snuggled under a blanket, preferably near a window.
I used to love, love, love reading, but (I swear) menopause (or maybe the Internet? I don’t know) changed all that. I feel as if I’ve lost a friend. Now, occasionally, I will find a book I really enjoy and can get through, or I will force myself in the way you describe, because I want the information, but with most books, reading is like eating without being able to taste anything. A lot of laborious chewing…
Well THAT’S a depressing way to put it. Also, accurate. Sigh….