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.