Every year, I set a goal to read 100 books. Some years, I hit that metric easily and some years it’s a reeeeal stretch. I made it this year (if only just barely), and there were some really excellent ones, so I wanted to share here!
I included some chapter books I read with the kids, which is maybe a bit of a cheat (especially in the case of, for instance, the Dory Fantasmagory books, which are very quick and easy reads.) But it follows some kind of internal logic for me and, really, who else cares?
Here are some thoughts on a few favorite or especially thought-provoking reads, plus the full list down below!
Becoming – Michelle Obama:
This book is so thoughtful, candid and inspiring. I started reading the text of this, then ended up getting the audiobook and listening to the last 2/3rds or so. It was great both ways, but I loved listening to Michelle read her own words. The details of how the Obamas have managed such an intensely full life, while also navigating racial expectations and a whole lotta hate and criticism, was so fascinating (and she doesn’t whine about this at all.)
Most beautiful to me were Michelle’s musings on motherhood, struggling to become pregnant, balancing her family life with her career, keeping her daughters grounded even while raising them in the White House and in the public eye—this woman is incredible. And so smart. The writing is much better than these kinds of biographies usually are, too. Definitely give it a read (or listen), even if you’re not a huge fan of the Obamas. Maybe Michelle’s frankness and desire to do good will give you something to appreciate anyway :).
The Wild Iris – Louise Gluck:
Gorgeous little poetry collection, grounded in nature-rich detail. Not the most accessible poetry collection in the world (at least not for me), but I loved letting the language wash over me. And Gluck is undeniably a master.
The Solace of Open Spaces – Gretel Ehrlich:
Lyrical essays about Ehrlich’s experiences moving to the Wyoming wilderness. I love writings about Western landscapes and Ehrlich’s prose is to die for. She evokes a sense of place so well—the space, vastness, sky, weather, dust—it almost made me want to move to Wyoming and become a ranch hand. Almost.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma – Michale Pollan:
So fascinating. This book took me a bit to read and so I had more occasion than usual to talk about it with people. Their responses were one of two: “Oh, I’ve heard of that; is it good?” or “I can’t believe you haven’t read that before!” From which I gathered, this is a well-known book. And it has been on my list forever, but Pollan’s brand of journalism isn’t something I can breeze through and the book is sort of long so I just hadn’t wanted to take it on before. Very glad I did, though.
Pollan writes the book in three sections. Each examines a different type of American meal down to its root sources, from a McDonald’s meal (which traces back to industrial corn fields and feedlots); to an organic, homemade meal (which takes a fascinating look at industrial organic farms and more sustainable, diversified farms); and a meal entirely gathered/grown/hunted by Pollan himself. What’s nice about Pollan is that he doesn’t take it for granted that any one way of eating is necessarily better or more virtuous than the others, though he does in the end come to the conclusion that some ways are. He asks good questions of the system, the writing is great, and I learned so much. I’d recommend this to anyone (especially the first and second sections.)
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng:
A great novel. Ng’s writing is unbelievably empathetic and it makes for such a warm, heart-expanding reading experience. The book centers around two families living in the suburbs of Cleveland, and details the ways their lives tangle. Gorgeous lyrical writing on family, motherhood, perfectionism, desire and art, all wrapped up in a plot that’ll keep you hooked.
Dream Land – Sam Quinones:
THIS BOOK. HOLY SMOKES. It’s nonfiction about the opioid crisis, but reads like a thriller; I didn’t put it down the whole day. Quinones weaves together hundreds of different accounts to tell the complex story of how America got addicted to heroin. From falsely advertised prescriptions drugs to pain clinics and pill mills of the Rust Belt to drug delivery entrepreneurs to teenage Mexican boys wanting to be able to buy Levi’s and show them off around their home villages, there is so much behind the opioid crisis. The story of how it all fits together is fascinating (and mind-blowing and heart-breaking, too.) It’s one of those books that completely consumed me, to the point where I basically gave my husband a play-by-play after each chapter and I now want to talk to absolutely everyone about it. If you want to learn about Stuff That is Important, read this book.
The Coddling of the American Mind – Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt:
This book falls squarely in the “thought-provoking” category. It investigates the ways in which developments over the past few generations (helicopter parenting, identity politics, social media) have led to close-mindedness, emotional fragility and political extremism, particularly on college campuses. I thought the book made a lot of good points about the direction our culture might be headed, even if it extrapolates from only a small handful of occurrences. Still, those occurrences are alarming and the trends toward unhealthy ideas and irrational behavior are ones I’ve noticed a lot in the dialogue surrounding me and even at times in myself. So if this book can make us more aware of that and spread the message of antifragility and emotional intelligence, I’m here for it.
The Brave Learner – Julie Bogart:
My favorite book to date about homeschooling—but I think every parent should read it, no matter how your kids are schooled! Bogart runs a curriculum called “Brave Writer” that is really, really wonderful; she also has a great podcast. This book distills her philosophy and ideas into an absolutely joyful, relationship-centered approach to home education. She manages to be both inspiring and approachable, and gives plenty of concrete ideas to get you started. This book is a great tool for any parent who wants to make the most out of their time with their kids and help their kids find excitement in learning.
The Sixth Extinction – Elizabeth Kolbert:
This one has been on my list since it came out in 2014 to terrific reviews. I loved it, even if the core takeaway is pretty depressing. Kolbert writes about the science of extinction in engaging anecdotes as she travels around the world meeting with the experts who are uncovering the history of mass extinctions. It’s not a thriller by any means, but I found it very engrossing.
Eleanor and Hick – Susan Quinn:
I knew nothing about Eleanor Roosevelt. I definitely didn’t know she had a longtime female lover. Had no idea FDR was such a lady’s man. Their whole relationship and time in the White House is just FASCINATING. Definitely recommend this one.
How to Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran:
I reread this because it’s one of my favorites. Moran has got to be one of the funniest writers alive and her line of feminist thinking is equal parts hilarious and brilliant. The first few chapters are more explicit about puberty than I remembered (which is not at all a problem, but may be off-putting since that’s right at the start?), but once she’s introduced her backstory, she enters into some of the most practical explications of contemporary feminism and femininity that I’ve read.
The Shipping News – Annie Proulx:
The first novel of Proulx’s that I’ve read, this book is an absolute delight beginning to end. The characters are honest and compelling, the plot unwinds beautifully, and there is an incredible sense of place (and the feeling that place evokes.) It’s not a fast-paced book, but if brilliant writing can draw you in on its own, this is one to add to your list.
We Were Eight Years in Power – Ta-Nehisi Coates:
Coates’ writing packs an enormous punch. I reread “Between the World and Me” directly after reading his memoir “The Beautiful Struggle” and having more context on his life made this little book (in the form of an extended letter to his son) all the more meaningful. “We Were Eight Years in Power” is a collection of his articles from “The Atlantic”, along with updated takes from Coates on each one. There is one article from each year of Obama’s presidency, but the articles tackle race issues widely and systematically. Any one section makes for a brilliant read; taken together, they form a mind-expanding treatise on contemporary society.
I was really glad I read each of the 3 books in fairly quick succession. Around the same time, I read Richard Wright’s “Black Boy” and Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns” (about the Great Migration; also highly recommended) and each book expanded on and filled in background on all of this in a way that’s been absolutely explosive for me.
Everything by Tana French:
I read all of French’s books this year, except “The Trespasser”, which I read when it came out. I had no idea until about 3 books in that there is an order to her “Dublin Murder Squad” mysteries (which is all of her books minus “The Witch Elm”) and I really wish I’d read them in order, though they all work fine as stand-alones too.
French gives as much attention to character and relationship as she does to plot, which make these unusual books in the mystery/thriller category. They also don’t all necessarily tie up very neatly, which can be a bit disappointing when you’re waiting for a big whodunit payoff. What you get instead is brilliant, empathetic unravelings that reveal as much about the detectives investigating as about the investigations themselves.
Warning: once I started reading these I couldn’t stop. Each one made me completely worthless to my family for about 24 hours and I stayed up til 4 a.m. more than once to finish one. If you are a responsible person, you might not have as much of a problem with this ;).
Start with “In the Woods” if you want to read them in order. My favorites were “Faithful Place” and “The Likeness.”
And now for the big list!
Future Home of the Living God – Louise Erdrich
Euphoria – Lily King
Factotum – Charles Bukowski
Waste Land – T.S. Eliot
How to Be Here – Rob Bell
Toys Come Home – Emily Jenkins
Matilda – Roald Dahl
The Power – Naomi Alderman
Awkward – Mary Capello
Going Grey – Anne Kramer
Becoming – Michelle Obama
The Wild Iris – Louise Gluck
Into the Woods – Tana French
The Witch Elm – Tana French
The Solace of Open Spaces – Gretel Ehrlich
The Well-Trained Mind – Susan Wise Bauer
Body Love – Kelly LeVeque
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
The Christ Who Heals – Terryl and Fiona Givens
A Place for Us – Fatima Farheen Mirza
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle – Betty MacDonald
Turtles of Oman – Naomi Shibab Nye
Dream Land – Sam Quinones
Juliet’s School of Possibilities – Laura Vanderkam
How to Travel Without Seeing – Andres Newman
The Folded Clock – Heidi Julavitz
How to Instant Pot – Daniel Shumski
The Year of the Dog – Grace Lin
The Coddling of the American Mind – Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt
The Yes Brain – Daniel J. Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson
Through the Children’s Gate – Adam Gopnik
Book Uncle and Me – Uma Krishnaswammi
Morality Play – Barry Unsworth
Calypso – David Sedaris
The End of the Moment We Had – Toshiki Okada
The Leavers – Lisa Ko
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? – Kathleen Collins
What Was the Battle of Gettysburg? – Jim O’Connor
Scrappy Little Nobody – Anna Kendrick
The Big Book of Less – Astrid van der Hulst & Irene Smit
Faithful Place – Tana French
The Likeness – Tana French
Mr. Popper’s Penguins – Richard & Florence Atwater
Truth as a Child – George Handley
Musicophilia – Oliver Sachs
Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward
The Secret Place – Tana French
Sour Heart – Jenny Zhang
Dory Fantasmagory – Abby Hanlon
The Brave Learner – Julie Bogart
Mastering the Art of Vegetable Gardening – Matt Mattus
The Omnivore’s Dilemma – Michael Pollan
Indecent Advances – James Polchin
Ayiti – Roxane Gay
The Sixth Extinction – Elizabeth Kolbert
Eleanor and Hick – Susan Quinn
Surfacing – Margaret Atwood
In the Darkroom – Susan Faludi
Broken Harbor – Tana French
Epic Hikes of the World – Lonely Planet
The Sympathizer – Viet Thanh Nguyen
Hired Man – Aminatta Forna
Battleborn – Claire Vaye Watkins
Maroo of the Winter Caves – Ann Turnbull
Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
Siblings Without Rivalry – Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
The Tale of Despereaux – Kate DiCamillo
Dory Fantasmagory – The True Best Friend – Abby Hanlon
Dory Fantasmagory – Black Sheep – Abby Hanlon
Dory Fantasmagory – Head in the Clouds – Abby Hanlon
How to Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran
Giving Up the Ghost – Hilary Mantel
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator – Roald Dahl
Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christy
Homebody – Joanna Gates
The Body’s Question – Tracy K. Smith
Whole-Grain Mornings – Megan Gordon
The Beautiful Struggle – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Prep-Ahead Meals from Scratch – Alea Milham
A Christ-Centered Christmas – Emily Freeman
Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Egyptian Diary: The Journal of Nahkt – Richard Platt
The Pharmacist’s Mate – Amy Fusselman
8 – Amy Fusselman
Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino
Quick Prep Cooking With Your Instant Pot – Stefanie Bundalo
The Shipping News – Annie Proulx
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever – Barbara Robinson
The Clean Plate – Gwyneth Paltrow
Black Boy – Richard Wright
We Were Eight Years in Power – Ta-Nehisi Coates
Poppy – Avi
Killers of the Flower Moon – David Grann
Small Victories – Anne Lamott
Sing To It – Amy Hempel
The Hundred Dresses – Eleanor Estes
The Warmth of Other Suns – Isabel Wilkerson
Normal People – Sally Rooney
Doxology – Nell Zink
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