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Reading

My year in reading, 2023

Pictured above are all of the books I finished in 2023. I know this thanks to a spreadsheet that I use to track what I’ve read since I stopped using Goodreads in 2022. (My timing was apt; the platform’s power over book publishing has only grown more complex and morally troubling since then.)

But back to my reading, which was distracted and sometimes uninspiring in 2023. What can I say? I have a toddler and a growing business and a completist mind that sometimes works to my own disadvantage. Yet as always, I found much to love in books that I read last year. Here are 15 of my favorites:

Nonfiction

Inciting Joy by Ross Gay
What a gorgeous book. This was an incredibly important reading experience that came at the right time in life for me. (A very apt Christmas gift from Ryan.) Gay’s ideas about education and gardening and basketball and skateboarding are all really about community care, which is to say, how we care for each other at our most human.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
This is a deeply empathetic and thoroughly reported ethnography about housing in America, particularly low-income housing in Milwaukee, both in a majority-white trailer park and in the Black slums. Nothing has opened my eyes as much to this crucial pillar of basic need that so often falls by the wayside for those on the margins.

Stay True by Hua Hsu
A moving look at late 90s nostalgia, including college fashion and identity, mixtapes, photography, and the comfort of hanging out with people who you don’t really know when you don’t quite know who you’re becoming yet, either.

Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in An American City by Andrea Elliott
Incredible storytelling about a family struggling against racism and persistent poverty and all the attendant emotional fatigue that comes along with both systemic issues. Dasani’s story is told beautifully and realistically — which is saying something, considering how conditioned we are to hope for a reductive happy ending.

You or Someone You Love by Hannah Matthews

Stunning, worldview-changing book. I had no idea how much this book would resonate with me – it taught me a lot about community care and mutual aid and why these movements are critical and essential forms of showing up for one another.

Soil: A Black Mother’s Garden by Camille T. Dungy

What a wonderful, complex, self-assured memoir. I loved learning from Dungy about gardening as a way to nurture local species of flora and fauna, and how her hobby intersects with her life as a Black woman, mother, neighbor and teacher.

Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl

This author beautifully braids stories from the natural world along with those of her own grief and complexity as she cares for her aging parents. Renkl sets a brilliant example in disclosing that she is a passionate but equivocal gardener. (Should humans intervene in wildlife? Should we even be setting out bird feeders?!)

Doppelganger by Naomi Klein

No other book has offered such resoluteness and clarity on the time we’re living in as this one. Funny, heartbreaking, and wickedly smart. I need to reread this book before the next election cycle ends.

Sure, I’ll Join Your Cult by Maria Bamford
I have always loved everything that comedian Maria Bamford has put into the world, and this memoir was no exception. (Listen to the audiobook, please — she’s a prolific voice-over artist and her parents are absolutely her best subject matter.)

Fiction

How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C. Pam Zhang
This novel is a lyrical, fascinating mix of folklore, literary fiction, western, and coming-of-age tale. You’ve never read an American origin story quite like it.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Strange and enchanting but ultimately beautiful book about compassion and what it means to trust others.

The Guest by Emma Cline
Sexy, dark, delicious novel that I gobbled up quickly. I endured the suspense (and even enjoyed it) as Cline wove a story that skewers affluence, class, insularity and gender norms.

Land of Milk and Honey by C. Pam Zhang
I didn’t know a dystopia could sound (or taste?) this good, but Zhang’s second novel was a sensuous delight, rich in detail and humanity.

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
Diving into an Ann Patchett novel for the first time may be the highlight of my reading experience on this earth. This story made me feel understood and cozy and cared for — gentle and hopeful and emotionally savvy in all the right places.

Family Meal by Bryan Washington
This book was such a surprising bright spot. It’s a novel about loss and grief, but also about sex and food and control and desire and family. To me, Washington’s tenderness and growth came through more in this novel than in his previous work.

This line from Washington’s author’s note in Family Meal is my 2024 motto, in reading and beyond: “Care and slowness are two gifts that we deserve, boundless pools we can offer ourselves and those we hold dear.”

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Reading

The books I didn’t read this year

I stole this idea (like an artist) from Austin Kleon, who lifted it from John Warner. I love filling up my holds queue at the library and anticipating the books I’ll read next (or the ones I’ll avoid because they’ve gotten too buzzy, as a true contrarian does).

The Japanese have a word for the stack of books you’ve bought but haven’t yet read: tsundoku. I like to think of these purchases as being as important as the books I’ve finished, like little companions strewn around my house (or stacked up in my Libby app) as totems of the reading life as a practice, not a pursuit.

The real exercise may be to see how many of these make it to my best-of-2024 list. Some I’ve already decided to let go, but others I’ve been sitting on until just the right time when I can savor them fully.

Here are 20 books I didn’t read this year, in no particular order:

1. Roaming by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
This graphic novel is sitting on my coffee table after I stumbled across it in the “Lucky Day!” new reads section at my library branch. The liminal time after Christmas is a perfect time to mow through books like these, so I’m not yet counting it out for 2023.

2. Sun House by David James Duncan
It’s been three decades since Duncan’s last epic novel, The Brothers K, which I devoured in my youth with utter delight. The Pacific Northwest has few writers who write as wildly and beautifully as Duncan. I’ve been waiting for a vacation or a quiet season when I can tip straight into this 700-page novel and not come up until I’m done.

3. Saving Time by Jenny Odell
No excuses, except for the impression that the library holds in my Libby app ask to be read more loudly than the books on my shelf do. I loved her debut very much, and I’ll read this one soon, too.

4. Ripe by Sarah Rose Etter
What millennial doesn’t love a takedown of late capitalism? Roxane Gay calls this one “the kind of novel that reminds us that the apocalypse is now.”

5. The Comfort of Crows by Margaret Renkl
I bought a copy of this at Unabridged Books when visiting Chicago and haven’t yet read it, although my purchase was heavily influenced by reading Renkl’s Late Migrations on the Amtrak ride in. I think I’ll wait until spring so I can track local flowers blooming as I read about Renkl’s backyard.

6. Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma by Claire Dederer
I read about this book in so many places that I can’t remember what exactly caused me to pick it up at the library. Then I brought it home, and it sat on my desk for three weeks. I’m still interested in Dederer’s experiment in grappling with whether we can love the art but hate the artist.

7. The Creative Act by Rick Rubin
Another book purchased while traveling and feeling that heady mixture of freedom and creative possibility. I will get to it. Until then, it’s a friendly bookshelf totem.

8. Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun
This appeals to me as someone who reads and feels deeply about the magnitude of suffering in this world, yet doesn’t identify as a loud, energetic activist at heart.

9. Hot Springs Drive by Lindsay Hunter
I’ve just been batting this one down the Libby list until the timing is right, but: suburban intrigue? complicated female friendship? deep character study? Yes, yes, yes.

10. The Light Room by Kate Zambreno
Despite my intentions to critically engage with any new book about millennial motherhood, I finally came to terms this year with the fact that this practice can sometimes increase my sense of suffering, not ease it.

11. The Bee Sting by Paul Murray
After being shortlisted for the Booker Prize, this book made it to many best-of lists this year. Which explains why I’m currently 472nd in line to receive access from my local library.

12. Chain Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Another one that caught my eye after Roxane Gay chose it for her Audacity book club.

13. Contradiction Days by JoAnna Novak
See #10.

14. The Upstairs Delicatessen by Dwight Garner
Garner’s sublime Grub Street Diet drove me straight to this book, but the timing just hasn’t been right yet.

15. Rivermouth by Alejandra Oliva
It can’t be a coincidence that I had the intent to read so many justice-oriented books this year, and yet when they came available to me, I didn’t feel prepared to bear additional stories of suffering.

16. Fat Talk by Virginia Sole-Smith
I was big on this book early in the year, when I was subscribing to Sole-Smith’s Substack (and many other Substacks by white women, which are all well-written, but the pace and tone have become a little too insistent for my brain).

17. Period by Kate Clancy
I’ll always champion women knowing more about their own bodies as a source of agency and power, but for some reason, reading this particular book felt less important the moment it landed in my lap.

18. Roman Stories by Jhumpa Lahiri
As if Lahiri’s successful career as an author of short story collections and novels weren’t enough, now she’s writing in Italian and translating her own work back to English. I’m bumping this one up the list.

19. The Book of (More) Delights by Ross Gay
Ryan spotted this one at Unabridged Books on our Chicago trip, and sometime in 2024, I hope we’ll pick up our practice of reading a delight “essayette” to each other before bed as we did with the original Book of Delights.

20. Big Swiss by Jen Beagin
Makes me wish I had a book club. From one blurb: “Beagin channels everything evil, hot, intimate, and funny about spying on people while secretly hoping to get caught.”

What did you mean to read this year?

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Reading

The Pulitzer Project

I’ve been undertaking something I coined The Pulitzer Project for about five years now, in which I read the Pulitzer winner in fiction for every year of my life. There are some real clunkers in the list, and others were already favorites (Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr), but it’s been perhaps most fascinating to read books that I otherwise never would have picked up because of how they’ve aged in the cultural discourse.

I’m currently in the midst of John Updike’s Rabbit series, and it’s a wild, politically incorrect ride. As entertaining and instructive as the books themselves is reading both historical reviews of the novels and more contemporary analyses. As Patricia Lockwood writes:

After Rabbit, Run, the books cease to be interesting primarily for their art but become essential recordings of American life. They continue to be speedily readable – the present tense works on Updike the way boutique transfusions of young blood work on billionaires – and perfectly replicate the experience of eating a hot dog in quasi-wartime on a lush crew-cut lawn that has been invisibly poisoned by industry, while men argue politics in the background and a Nice Ass lurks somewhere on the horizon, like the presence of God.

This project has also brought me some beautiful books that I otherwise may not have encountered, like the winner for my birth year (1986), Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.

While I’m not always a completist, I suspect that I’ll keep chipping away at this project whenever I fall into a lull in my reading habits. I loved this take on experiencing “every example of a given thing” in a recent issue of Rob Walker’s newsletter The Art of Noticing:

These Every Single X projects tend not to have a time limit — they’re often ongoing and even open-ended.

And, I think crucially, some are almost destined to “fail” (as things close, things open, the world changes). That’s okay. The project/mission/quest is its own reward. (Plus, I love Ryan Lancaster’s extra rule of not going out of the way, which kind of subverts the whole “mission” idea in a really satisfying manner: you can set any parameters you want!)

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Reading

My year in reading, 2022

I started the year with a burst of philosophical ambition, thanks to Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, a clever and surprisingly quick read that turns the self-help genre on its head. And yet because I am but a lowly mortal, I boomeranged back to the most desperate kind of self-help with Suzy Giordano and Lisa Abidin’s Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks’ Old, a goofy little handbook that gave us new parents the confidence we needed to start sleep training when the time was right. Scott Hershovitz’s Nasty, Brutish and Short: Adventures in Philosophy with My Kids made me smile and daydream about the conversations I’ll have with Maeve as she grows older.

Novels helped me escape, starting with Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land, which was a fitting parable about the importance of stories. I further flirted with sci-fi in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun, which threatened to break my heart. Kawai Strong Washburn‘s Sharks in the Time of Saviors kept me company in the wee hours while breastfeeding, as did Ash Davidson’s Damnation Spring. I finally fell for the allure of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, which gave me more relief than I’d expected. Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson kept me glued to the couch, and Vladimir by Julia May Jonas had me howling with laughter and gasping in shock. I loved the beauty and hope (and the nuns) of Lauren Groff’s Matrix. Laura Warrell’s Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm read like a jazz song.

I read a bunch of books on motherhood and art and identity — the central theme of my year. Jessamine Chan’s The School for Good Mothers hit a little too close to home, but was devastatingly good. I laughed out loud at the release and the wildness of Rachel Yoder’s Nightbitch and liked Amelia Morris’ Wildcat, in a similar vein. Alison Gopnik’s The Gardener and The Carpenter provided helpful context that I’ll be thinking about for years. I’m grateful for The Natural Mother of the Child: A Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood by Krys Malcolm Belc, a powerful read. Ryan and I both appreciated Courtney Martin’s Learning in Public: Lessons for a Racially Divided America from My Daughter’s School and we both read Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change by Angela Garbes, too. I hadn’t heard of Jessi Klein before 2022, when I read I’ll Show Myself Out: Essays on Motherhood and Midlife. It was entertaining, but I’d recommend the opening essay (a gold standard, to me) before the entire collection. Sally Mann’s Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs gave me a lot to think about, although I wish I’d read it in print instead of ebook format. (I’ve written more on a few of these books here.)

A few more memoirs: I’d been waiting to read Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford for a long time, and it was beautiful. I gobbled up Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile, which made me seek out the accompanying playlist immediately. I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy was both tragic and hopeful, and Burn Rate: Launching A Startup and Losing My Mind by Andy Dunn had an incredibly clear description of living with bipolar disorder. Remarkable writing.

I read The Zen of Therapy: Uncovering a Hidden Kindness in Life by Mark Epstein, M.D., thanks to this review by Oliver Burkeman. I took Sherry Turkle’s The Empathy Diaries off of my shelf for the first time and found myself fascinated by the history of psychoanalysis alongside the author’s own story. Late this year, I read and really admired Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker.

Here are a few final books that didn’t quite seem to fit in other categories: Foreverland: On the Divine Tedium of Marriage by Heather Havrilesky, which made me work for it, although by the end I appreciated the ride (a fitting metaphor for marriage, perhaps?) I enjoyed Having and Being Had by Eula Biss, an author I always admire. I also read the classic novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

I’m always eager to hear book suggestions, ideas, and reviews. Send ’em if you’ve got ’em!

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Reading

My year in reading, 2021

My social life suffered in 2021, no thanks to the pandemic, but that just meant I had more time to dive into books.

Here are 15 books I read and loved this year, in no particular order:

Monogamy
Sue Miller

Whew, I adored this novel. Probably because Annie’s family is the kind I sometimes wish I were born into: slightly WASPy, East Coast-based, heavy on appreciation of the arts and culture and good food and wine. But Miller is a talented writer, with the ability to braid several characters’ stories into a quiet, seeking, honest novel. Reading this felt like the ideal immersive experience, something I’m often chasing after but rarely find.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
Isabel Wilkerson

A stunning book, rich in research and beautiful writing. Caste gives important context and historical background to systemic racism as we understand it today. Wilkerson offers some truly shocking details from history (and the recent past) to build her compelling case that America has always known — has, in fact, been built on — a caste system.

The Secret to Superhuman Strength
Alison Bechdel

A delightful graphic memoir about Bechdel’s lifelong pursuit of self-improvement through exercise, from running to weightlifting to skiing and beyond. Bechdel levels up her third memoir with colored illustrations and a sprawling look at self-enlightenment, her own but also that of Beatnik poets and Eastern philosophers. Funny and searching.

Want
Lynn Steger Strong

I gobbled up this novel. I wanted to live inside Elizabeth’s world, even though it was depressing and sometimes claustrophobic.

Strong’s writing is gorgeous: “I want to tell her that I’m scared I’m too wore out, worn down, that this constant anxious ache that I have now isn’t about my job or kids or all the ways life isn’t what it should be, that maybe it’s just me, it’s most of who I am.”

And a bonus easter egg: Elizabeth is constantly reading as escapism, and her many novel references would give any hungry student of literature a reading list for the ages. 

Expecting Better
Emily Oster

I appreciated this book for its data-driven look at so many pregnancy-related decisions that often leave pregnant people feeling like they have no agency or like they’re being infantilized. I returned to it many times to help provide context to medical decisions and to reassure myself that I wasn’t alone in what I was going through. (For more in this vein, Oster’s newsletter ParentData offers excellent evidence-based information on pregnancy, parenting, and COVID-19.)

Crying in H Mart
Michelle Zauner

This is a heartfelt, appetite-inducing memoir about love and loss, written by a fellow Oregonian. I knew of Michelle Zauner first through her music as Japanese Breakfast and grew to love her witty lyrics and dreamy indie pop. When I read her 2018 essay in The New Yorker, I knew I’d be snapping up her memoir once it came out. This book would be helpful to anyone dealing with grief or difficult parent-child relationships.

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
Katherine May

Gorgeous. I loved how May made the universal wildly personal — as someone stuck mostly at home craving novel experiences, I fell hard for the stories that brought this book to life.

I can see myself returning to this book in future winters that I’ll experience.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel
Alexander Chee

Complex, sincere essays about writing and discovering one’s identity. This collection paints a portrait of how life can look when one is unafraid to dig into the bigger questions about what it means to be alive. Chee grapples with these questions as he explores different types of work, the intricacies of tarot, and the frustrations and joys of backyard gardening.

Leave the World Behind
Rumaan Alam

I love Alam’s writing voice, how he provides just enough detail and insight to have me feeling a familiar twinge of realization that in the end (if this is what the end looks like, which this past year has taught us that it may well be), neither race nor class nor wealth nor privilege nor youth will save us. Stellar writing on the trappings, comforts and distractions of the privileged life. 

Detransition, Baby
Torrey Peters

An incredibly compelling novel that taught me a lot about the queer and transgender experience, in all of its complexity and humor. The only thing I sometimes wanted was more plot — as much as I love a character study, these characters sometimes felt slippery and out of reach. That title, though? A masterpiece.

In the Dream House
Carmen Maria Machado

Wow. This memoir is flawless — engrossing, entirely original, compassionate, thorough, groundbreaking. I can’t recommend it enough. I’ll follow Machado’s writing wherever she wants to take me, even when (especially when?) it’s a little spooky and eerie and unsettling for reasons I can’t articulate as well as she can.

H is for Hawk
Helen Macdonald

A braiding of grief memoir, nature writing, literary analysis and introspection. Helen Macdonald is funny, openhearted and willing to tell her story as true as she can. I loved her lyrical sentences so much, I didn’t care about the answers to all the nosy questions I’d normally have after reading such a book. I respect a memoir (and an author) that willingly shares the grief journey, no matter how messy and muddled it may get.

Priestdaddy
Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood has a beautiful, wild mind with a freewheeling brand of homeschooled genius. This memoir is so loving and weird and hilarious. Her writing is laugh-out-loud funny, which I needed last year more than I realized. I particularly loved Tricia’s relationship with her cautious, capital-M mom and the grace that Tricia extended toward her as a key figure in her life, in all her wackiness and concern.

Know My Name
Chanel Miller

This memoir feels like the future — a searing, courageous account of assault and its aftermath, told with care and deep self-love and uncontainable curiosity by an emerging author and artist. It is a story that we need to hear more often. (I also recommend Miller’s Instagram account, where she illustrates slices of life, bringing incredible humanity and thoughtfulness to seemingly mundane moments.)

Great Circle
Maggie Shipstead

I can’t pass up a Maggie Shipstead novel, and this one is her most ambitious yet. It delivers on its promise, hearkening back to the tradition of the epic novel in a time when so many works of fiction seem designed to scratch a very trendy itch of subverting form.

Great Circle tells the story of a woman determined to live a life true to her own desires, and to chart that course at all costs. Daring and deeply satisfying.

Here are ten bonus recommendations:

Open Book, Jessica Simpson
(Yes, really. Especially if like me, you’re reexamining the reductive narratives we sold ourselves about young pop stars in the early aughts.)
The Overstory, Richard Powers
No One Is Talking about This, Patricia Lockwood
Yolk, Mary H. K. Choi
Luster, Raven Leilani
100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, Sarah Ruhl
Planetfall, Emma Newman
Smile: The Story of a Face, Sarah Ruhl
Arbitrary Stupid Goal, Tamara Shopsin
A Promised Land, Barack Obama

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Reading

My year in reading, 2020

It was a slog to read at times in 2020, so I escaped into other worlds through novels and reread a small handful of favorites, too.

Here are 15 books I read and loved this year, in no particular order:

Long Bright River
Liz Moore

This is Moore’s latest novel, and while entirely different in tone and topic than Heft, it’s just as beautiful. At first glance, Long Bright River is a straight, no-nonsense crime novel, but Moore brings to it her literary approach, and her deep sense of compassion. Her characters, who are enmeshed in Philadelphia’s opioid crisis, made me call my own family members just to hear their voices.

Heft
Liz Moore

I discovered Liz Moore through her short story “Clinical Notes” in The New York Times Magazine‘s Decameron Project issue, and I loved her writing voice and the gentle humanity in it. She reminded me of another favorite author, Brian Doyle. Heft has that same gentleness, with sympathetic characters that leapt off the page and into my heart even after I finished the novel.

The Idea of You
Robinne Lee

I needed this romance novel as an escape portal this year. The Idea of You is a pure joyride, a smutty, unapologetic love story between an almost-40-year-old divorcée and the 20-year-old lead singer of a boy band. I enjoyed this story so much because of its specificity and its pitch-perfect art, travel and fashion references. I couldn’t stop reading.

Nothing to See Here
Kevin Wilson

Such a delight!

This wacky novel about an unmoored young woman in charge of young twins who spontaneously combust when they’re upset is strange and sweet and perfect for a quick escape in a “what do I do with this summer Saturday afternoon?” kind of way.

Uncanny Valley
Anna Wiener

I am already the ideal reader for this book, suspicious as I am of Big Tech and the effect its products have on our lives, yet also thoroughly dependent on it. This memoir is a fever dream of shrewd insight into Silicon Valley and the people who shaped it and were shaped by it. I both laughed out loud while reading this and wanted to hurl it at the wall with anger (over how good Wiener is on venture capitalists in all their self-absorbed smugness.) What a timely, satisfying debut.

Olive Kitteridge
Elizabeth Strout

As the internet likes to say, BIG MOOD.

I love quiet stories like these — evocative, expansive and yet uncomfortably intimate. Gorgeous writing. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to discover Elizabeth Strout.

Eve’s Hollywood
Eve Babitz

Babitz’s Slow Days, Fast Company still takes first place for me, but Eve’s Hollywood was still sublime. It felt especially delicious to read about a sunny, druggy, bright LA while mostly confined to my apartment. Eve Babitz is always a jubilant, seductive ray of sunshine.

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language
Gretchen McCulloch

I’m nominating Gretchen McCulloch as the internet’s librarian. Because Internet would have been satisfying as an in-depth look at internet culture and how it has shaped and molded language, but McCulloch reaches a step further and maps linguistic differences onto different internet cohorts and life experiences, giving the reader a chance to broaden her view and have more empathy toward, for example, older bosses, younger cousins and less-extremely-online college classmates.

Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book
Courtney Maum

An essential reference book for anyone new to or curious about the publishing world, even if the journey leans more toward voyeurism than actually taking the steps firsthand. This book is funny, informative and packed with useful advice from dozens of literary writers.

Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation
Anne Helen Petersen

I am such an AHP fangirl, and this book solidified my love. Maybe most important in this book is how Petersen calls out approaches to burnout that place the blame on the individual (usually the mother/wife/underpaid woman). We need systemic change in the United States, and Petersen is a vital voice shaping the call for a better, saner, more secure country.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Ottessa Moshfegh

A delicious, perfect little novel. This was exactly what I wanted to read in the week leading up to the 2020 presidential election (if I couldn’t just take an Infermiterol on Tuesday, Nov 3, that is). I love Moshfegh’s dark humor.

The Fixed Stars
Molly Wizenberg

I love Wizenberg’s writing — always have, always will. Her voice is quiet and intimate and unravels ordinary moments in life in a patient, steady way. This book appealed to me for its frank exploration of sexuality and fluidity in mid-life, although I think it would have been a better book if she’d waited another handful of years to write it.

Her Body and Other Parties
Carmen Maria Machado

These stories are brilliant, creepy, sensual and haunting. (A good October read.) I read “The Husband Stitch” on a weekend away for my first anniversary and “Inventory” during, well, a pandemic — the stories were hitting uncannily close to home for a while, but they also lent a sense of wonder and curiosity to the seemingly ordinary.

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close
Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

This sweet book highlights the relationships that rarely get formal recognition in our lives but are often the true bedrock of our identity: friendships. Sow and Friedman excel at telling their story with honesty, wisdom and heart while making the reader want to hold her own friends a little closer. An important manifesto for modern society.

Educated
Tara Westover

This tale of escape and triumph over adversity is a bestseller for obvious reasons — I simply couldn’t stop turning the pages. I’m a sucker for a story about the power of knowledge, and Westover delivers.

Here are five other books I’d recommend:

That Kind of Mother, Rumaan Alam
The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett
One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder, Brian Doyle
Weather, Jenny Offill
The Wedding Date, Jasmine Guillory

And three worthwhile re-reads:

Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill
Hyberbole and A Half, Allie Brosh
Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri

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Reading

My year in reading, 2019

Here are 10 books I read and loved this year, in the order I read them:

Becoming
Michelle Obama

Yes, this is the story of a First Lady, but it’s also the memoir of a modern mother and career woman. I was moved and motivated by Michelle’s reflections on her career in the nonprofit sector and her growing family. She tells a beautiful story of how she strived for both with grace and determination.

Kitchen Confidential
Anthony Bourdain

The kitchen is a tough place to work and live, and Bourdain doesn’t shy away from the dark side. Knowing that he decided his own fate, in the end, made the darkness in these pages feel more bleak. The book ultimately is about love, though, about a undying commitment to food and the people who make it, to bringing people together despite the abusive veneer of the harsh language that unites them. His voice is singular and I miss it.

Slow Days, Fast Company
Eve Babitz

I love Babitz’s funny, droll, evocative voice. After my first-ever trip to Los Angeles, I wanted to know more about the city — to really get to know the city — and several readers I trust pointed me to her work. She does not disappoint. 

The Golden State
Lydia Kiesling

This voice of this novel is beautiful: tense and distracted, bored and self-conscious, in love and hopeless. I’m recommending it to all of my friends who are parenting toddlers. I loved Kiesling’s expansive, searching internal monologue.

How to Do Nothing
Jenny Odell

This book feels groundbreaking and yet timeless. Deeply helpful in a world that’s constantly vying for my very divided attention and limited energy. This is the kind of practical philosophy I am here for.

Horizon
Barry Lopez

This book is stunning in scope. Lopez is an author whose gentle perspective and lifelong studiousness I have long admired, and this is his opus. His research and wisdom on elders and self-sustaining communities should be required reading for every urbanist and every politician.

Once More We Saw Stars
Jayson Greene

This memoir stunned me. Greene writes with self-love and searing honesty as he works through heartbreak and deep grief. His story helped me to better understand what it’s like to lose a child, as those close to me have. I feel very fortunate that Greene so generously shared his story.

The Book of Delights
Ross Gay

For several months, Ryan and I ended the day by reading aloud a brief essay from this delightful little volume. Gay’s reflections on big and small delights in ordinary life helped us appreciate the ups and downs of our days.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
Lori Gottlieb

Written by a therapist about her experiences with therapy patients and as a patient herself, this book is a generous, open-eyed look at the human condition in all of our striving and struggle and confusion and love. I loved Gottlieb’s sense of humor, her humility and her ability to embrace both the light and dark in life.

A Pilgrimage to Eternity
Timothy Egan

Equal parts travelogue and spiritual memoir, with huge dashes of history sprinkled generously throughout. Egan’s voice feels as trustworthy as any, and I loved the way he wrote with perspective on his relationships with his wife, his children and the faith tradition that he lost but can’t quite shake.

Here are ten other books I read and liked:

Keep Going, Austin Kleon
The Collected Schizophrenias, Esmé Weijun Wang
Like A Mother, Angela Garbes
Tropic of Squalor, Mary Karr
Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino
Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner
In Pieces, Sally Field
A House in the Sky, Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
Good Talk, Mira Jacob
Little Panic, Amanda Stern

Categories
Miscellany

Utilize the public library

 

A curator used to be someone who worked in a museum, but now we all curate our lives. We select and order every aspect of the endless stream of media we consume: our Instagram feed, our news consumption, the brands and styles we shop.

Lately I’ve been feeling the urge to reject curating my experience when I can. I don’t always listen to myself — I spent 45 minutes last week sitting in a Chicago hotel lobby scrolling through Yelp when I could have just wandered into a neighborhood and trusted that whatever I found would be delicious.

Studies show us that “maximizers,” people who feel the need to choose the very best possible option, aren’t any happier for their exhaustive research. (I tried to remember this when I was itching to read Consumer Reports as we began to build our wedding registry last weekend. “It’s your wish list, not your shopping list,” the salesperson told us.)

I went to the library today to pick up one book on hold, and I wandered the stacks and found a handful of other books that I didn’t know I wanted to read this month. It can be good to let fate intervene.

Reading next: Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing.

 

Categories
Reading

My year in reading, 2018

10 books I loved this year, in the order I read them:

Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

This book is an insightful exploration of loneliness and urban living through the lives of artists like Edward Hopper and David Wojnarowicz.

Sherman Alexie, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me

I read this book before the news broke that Alexie was accused of sexual harassment, but that fact makes this piece of work all the more heartbreaking, sad and raw. A searing memoir.

Mary H. K. Choi, Emergency Contact

Utterly charming and smart, with the right dash of zeitgeist. This YA book addresses tough issues and true diversity without feeling heavy-handed.

Tayari Jones, An American Marriage

This novel is a powerful look at Black American life, heartbreaking in its honesty about how we can never truly know all the intricacies of another person — or another relationship.

Min Jin Lee, Pachinko

An epic novel, sprawling across generations and countries. This opened up a history I didn’t know enough about and an immigrant experience that feels all too relevant today.

Meaghan O’Connell, And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready

Meaghan’s self-deprecating, shattering honesty is just what I needed to read, and it’s what all my mommy friends need to read, too. 

Lauren Groff, Florida

This story collection is rich with strong female characters, with the tension of life as it comes to us, with the singular moments that feel like they can change our trajectory forever, and maybe do.

Porochista Khakpour, Sick: A Memoir

Porochista’s voice is a light in the forest of chronic illness, muddied by medication and sleeplessness, resilient in her ability to finish another essay, make another move, fall in love again.

David Sedaris, Calypso

In Calypso, we get Sedaris being his funny, wacky, obsessive self, but also going broader and deeper on important topics: death, grief, addiction, aging. This book is entertaining and important.

Rebecca Traister, Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger

This book is relevant, edifying and dotted with hope. It also made me want to punch all the comfy, rich white guys seated around me on the plane as I read.

Here are ten other books I read and liked:

Nicole Chung, All You Can Ever Know

Olivia Laing, Crudo

L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation

Emily M. Danforth, The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Ali Smith, Autumn

Evan Connell, Mrs. Bridge

Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere

Scaachi Koul, One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

Dorothy Day, The Reckless Way of Love: Notes on Following Jesus

Categories
Reading

My year in reading, 2017

10 books I loved this year, in no particular order:

Gregory Boyle, Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship

A vital book in these polarized times. Boyle’s stories about his work with gang members in rehabilitation sing with joy and awe.

Emma Cline, The Girls

This book was sexy and gritty and earnest and deeply unsettling. I loved Cline’s deft use of language.

Molly Wizenberg, Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage

Intimate and easy, Wizenberg’s writing always nudges me to realize what food is really about: connection and love and nourishment.

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

An important look at the dysfunction and discrimination in the American justice system. Stevenson’s work is making a difference for those on the margins. 

George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo

The gorgeous writing in this short novel is Saunders at his best and most human. A lovely, strange, and daring take on a moment in history. 

Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home

The title of this encyclical has become my favorite catchphrase. Walking a block to recycle my cardboard? Laudato Si’! An important message from a compassionate world leader.

Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being

This book made me want to be alone on some drippy, green part of the coastal Pacific Northwest. Or in Japan again. 

Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing

This heartbreaking novel opened up Black history, weaving two branches of a family tree until they’re interlocked and yet continents apart. 

Tanner Colby, Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America

Colby studies systemic racism in real estate, the workplace, education, and church. He makes me want to spend more time east of Troost.

Stephanie Danler, Sweetbitter

I gobbled this book down in a few days. It’s a messy, sexy, smoky romp through New York’s restaurant industry.

    I escaped through books a lot in 2017. Here are ten more books I read and liked: