Best books of 2019

It’s that time of year again. When I think “I SAID this was going to be a minimalist about gifts but I got disorganized and I lost track of the presents and it got out of control and I know my kids will love the presents I painstakingly chose and wrapped for 72 hours and then forget about them but I swear it will be different next year.”

It’s also the time of year when I reflect on the books I’ve read this year. This year I put 55 books on my “read” shelf on Goodreads, and—full disclosure—that includes two I didn’t finish (though I got through enough of them to feel okay about calling them books I read) and one that was more of a novella (in other words, extremely short). Six were audiobooks, Nine were memoir, 23 were novels, and 14 were non-fiction. If we’re not friends on Goodreads yet, we should be! You can connect with me here! (It’s basically Facebook for book nerds.)

My favorite reads of 2019 in alphabetical order by author’s last name plus the reviews I originally shared on Goodreads.

Mona Awad
At first, I was like, “WTF this is not like 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, not what I expected, should I even continue? Is this fantasy? Is this dystopian shit? What even is this?” And very quickly the answers were clear… this is actually a lot like 13 Ways and I should not (could not!) put this down.

As far as the question of “What even is this?”… I am exploding here with the desire to discuss this book with someone face to face. To me, it was a satire of the world we (e.g. women) live in, the pressures we face, the (often fucked up) ways in which we relate to one another; what female competition looks like, what female friendship looks like, the lengths we’ll go to to feel a sense of belonging. Plus the writing was just beautiful. If I hadn’t borrowed it from the library I would have been highlighting at least four sentences every page. A spellbinding heroine’s journey.

PS Right now I want to be an English teacher so I can assign my students an essay comparing Bunny to A Handmaid’s Tale.

Fleishman is in Trouble
Taffy Brodesser-Akner
I was a bit skeptical, considering all the hype about this book. I knew that Brodesser-Aker was a writer known best for her celebrity profiles. I didn’t know (until after I read the book and stalked her social media presence) that she was the writer behind the fabulous investigative story the NYT magazine published on the sexual harassment, wage gaps, general misogyny, and worse at Kay Jewelers (or Jared or whoever their parent company is)… Anyway. That connection only made me love this book more. (My skepticism was totally unwarranted.)

This book speaks to the joys and the drudgery of marriage and raising kids. It’s about the universal wish to feel seen (and what happens when we don’t). It’s about gender and work and class and belonging. It’s about so many things (while being wickedly funny)… And even though on its face, it’s about a failed marriage, to me, it’s really about this:

“We were told that we could be successful, that there was something particular and unique about us and that we could achieve anything—the last vestiges of girls being taught they were special, mingled with the first ripples of second-wave feminism. All that time, even as a sixth-grader, I remembered thinking that it seemed weird that teachers and parents were just allowed to say that, and that they’d say it in front of the boys and the boys’ didn’t seem to mind. Even back then I knew that the boys tolerated it because it was so clear that it wasn’t true. It was like those T-shirts all my daughter’s friends were wearing to school now, the ones that said THE FUTURE IS FEMALE in big block letters. How they march around in broad daylight in shirts like that. But the only reason it’s tolerated is that everyone knows it’s just a lie we tell to girls to make their marginalization bearable. They know that eventually the girls will be punished for their futures, so they let them wear their dumb message shirts more.”

Also: “The only thing more offensive than Miriam not working was Miriam thinking she did work.”

Also genius: The fact that this book was told from Libby’s point of view (Libby being a college friend of the main character). It’s so perfect.

The Artist’s Way 
Julia Cameron
I literally just created a new Goodreads bookshelf called “Life-Changing” so I could put this book on it. I started it about a year ago and quickly realized reading it wouldn’t be enough.; I’d have to actually “do” it. It’s divided into 12 chapters, each with tasks and assignments to help you manage your fear of failure and all the beliefs that do not serve us… Each chapter is supposed to be completed in one week and I slowed the process waaaay down at times (hence it took me nearly a year to finish) but I figured doing it slowly would be better than not doing it at all. (And yes it’s kind of 12-step-y and yes, the author has struggled with addictions and there’s totally a let go and let God AA aspect to it, but whatevs, it works!)

Even when I wasn’t completing the tasks laid out in each chapter (like the three months when I did not open the book one single time, when my kids were on summer break) I was consistently doing my morning pages (about 4-5 times a week) and my weekly “artist date” (though if I’m being honest I do that on a monthly basis). The basic idea behind this book is that the universe’s (or God’s) gift to us is creativity. By using that creativity, we are giving a gift back to the world (or God). And by not only doing the assignments (most of which are fun) but by showing up on a consistent basis to journal first thing in the morning for three pages and take yourself on a “date” each week, you’re optimizing your creativity. For me, that means writing, but for others it could be painting, theater, building a business, cooking, anything creative at all.

Anyway, this book has changed my life. Here’s how:
-My dream gig literally fell in my lap two days after I finished the book. (Could be a coincidence but according to Cameron, it’s more likely an example of divine synchronicity and you can say it’s wackadoodle new age but I’m a believer).

-My pitch acceptance rate went from 5% last year to 23% this year. (As a freelance writer, one ofthe ways I get work is by coming up with ideas for stories and “pitching” them to editors.)Mostly editors ignore them, occasionally they say no thank you, and when I’m lucky I get a yes and I can write and sell a story. I’ve heard 10% is a normal pitch acceptance rate but I have no way of verifying this.)

-My income from writing more than doubled

-I wrote for a dream publication for the first time (Runner’s World)

-I broke into four other new outlets

-I got my first $1/word assignment (big pay bump!)

-I broke into two sections of the Washington Post that I’d never written for previously

-One of my stories went viral

-One of my essays got nasty, hateful comments (stung at the time but I feel like strangers taking a moment to hate on your work indicates a measure of success, or at the very least an audience that’s wider than my mom and my husband. Is that weird?)

-I was invited to join a writing critique group

To be totally transparent I also started working with a business coach about a month after I started the Artist’s Way and it’s hard to say where the coaching ends and the Artist’s Way begins. I have to give my coach a lot of credit, too.

However, there are a few positive changes I can credit exclusively to this book, including:
– I’ve kind of become a morning person. If you’re going to get up early enough to write 3 longhand pages before you get interrupted, you have no choice but to get up with the birds. It feels SO good to have this quiet half-hour as my morning ritual. Even if I only have time for a page or two I still enjoy the quiet time to dump the random contents of my brain onto the page. It makes me feel really grounded and helps me get in touch with what I really think/want/feel.

-I love the “permission” the Artist’s Date gives me to do things that are not necessarily productive… Some of my artist’s dates have included a dance class, go to a favorite coffee shop and eat a muffin, write a letter, go for a hike, draw, and working on an art project.

Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through The Power of Storytelling
Matthew Dicks
Matthew Dicks blends straightforward tips from his own VAST experience and the success of his students to help you perfect your storytelling game. He uses humor and a no-nonsense tone, which makes it an easy, fun read.

In short, I LOVED it.

I learned so much about storytelling, most of which can be transferred to essay writing or really any kind of writing. I love how he breaks down storytelling into a science; because as tempting as it is to say “I’m just not a good storyteller,” like anything else, it is a skill you can learn if you have a growth mindset and if you commit to deliberate practice.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed
by Lori Gottlieb
Definitely one of the best books I read this year. Funny, insightful, and sometimes so sad and touching I was crying. The topic (a therapist dishing about her patients and her own experience with therapy) is JUICY. But it’s Gottlieb’s humanity and her storytelling that make the book. It’s a page-turner that asks the questions why and how do we change and what does it mean to live a meaningful life (and does a great job of answering them).

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement 
by Jodi Kantor and Meghan Twohey
Loved this book. It was not only a well-told story, it also offered a look at all the work and care that goes into investigative journalism. The amount of time and energy it takes to get the words on the page is staggering. But what I was most struck by was the fact that this book’s very existence is a testament to how important it is for women to be in leadership positions. I think a large part of the reason Kantor and Twohey were able to publish this story—a story that took a long time to research and one that initially had no sources willing to speak on the record—was that they had a female editor championing their work. This book was a testament to the stories we can tell and the changes we can make when women have a seat at the table.

Ask Again, Yes
Mary Beth Keane
One of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s about trauma and how the people who came before you make you who you are. It’s also about love, loyalty, community, commitment, addiction, and resilience. Such beautiful writing with a compelling story that made me want to get home to this book!

Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language 
Amanda Montell
A clever, engaging look at why and how we talk the way we do and how culture shapes language (specifically how patriarchy influences the way we speak and the vocabulary we use).

Offers some helpful, actionable strategies for effecting change. Perhaps the worst/best thing about this book: I now cringe whenever I hear a group of girls or women being addressed as “you guys.” (which is a lot.)

A timely read in light of the #metoo movement and the current administration.

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying 
Nina Riggs 
Warning: Read with a box of tissues, especially the last third. This memoir is a sparkling, painful, thoughtful reflection on and celebration of life. It’s a love note and a goodbye letter to her family. It’s a must-read. Unless you don’t feel like crying. In that case, definitely do not read.

Dani Shapiro
As usual, a stellar read by Dani Shapiro. In light of her other work, in which it’s very clear she has always felt alien in her family, this was an especially compelling read. I loved the beautiful writing, the realistic dialogue, and the way she turns over the complexities of her situation like a many-sided gem. I would have loved to read the book but I listened to the audiobook and I think that *might* have been better. There was something special about listening to the author herself tell this deeply personal story.

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