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Hello and happiest of Wednesdays, nonfiction friends! Given the dates of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays this year, this will be my last Monday newsletter until 2020. This make it feel like the perfect time to dive into some of my favorite reads of the year.
A quick caveat – this is definitely not a “best books of the year” list. I never read enough to really be able to do a list like that. Instead, I can just speak to my own idiosyncratic and limited reading over the last 12 months. These are just 10 of the books that meant the most to me this year, listed in the order I finished them.
Parkland: Birth of a Movement by Dave Cullen – This book is an account of the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and the student activists who have emerged in the wake of the tragedy. It’s an empathetic, meticulously reported book that I couldn’t put down. It’s also a fascinating companion to Cullen’s other major book, Columbine, another one I highly recommend.
Notes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi and Joshua David Stein – This memoir is about how Kwame Onwuachi went from being a kid in the Bronx to a celebrated chef in Washington D.C. His path took him all over, from New York to Nigeria to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. I loved how honest he was about his choices (both good and bad), and appreciated hearing about his perspective and experiences as a black man in a largely white industry.
Good Talk by Mira Jacob – This graphic memoir is about “American identity, interracial families, and the realities that divide us.” It’s heavy, but also really funny, and increasingly relevant as political divides become even more stark. I’m not sure I read a more heartbreaking or relevant book this year, which I say in the best way possible. Go read this one!
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang – This book is a collection of autobiographical essays about what it’s like to struggle with both mental illness and a chronic illness. Esmé Weijun Wang begins with her initial diagnosis with a “schizoaffective disorder,” then goes on to look at arguments about labeling and diagnosis procedures, how schizophrenia manifests, and other misconceptions surrounding her diagnosis. It’s fascinating and beautifully written.
No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder – Each day around the world, 137 women are killed by familial violence. And 54 percent of mass shootings in America today involve domestic violence. These statistics are at the core of the argument in this book: that domestic violence isn’t a private problem, it’s an urgent matter of public health. Rachel Louise Snyder explores big questions about domestic violence with really precise, articulate, and confident reporting. It’s remarkable and so very important.
Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski – If I had to pick the book that had the biggest impact on me personally this year, it’d be this one. This spring and summer, I realized that I was experiencing many of the symptoms of burnout and needed to do something about it. This book changed my outlook, specifically looking at what stress is like for women and offering concrete steps to address it in both the short and long term. Lightbulbs!
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb – After a traumatic break-up, therapist Lori Gottlieb realized she needed some help in processing her thoughts and emotions. This book is all about therapy – what it’s like to go to therapy, what it’s like to be a therapist, and what it takes to really get the most out of therapy that you can. Gottlieb is open with her experiences, and writes about her own patients with an incredible sense of empathy. I was very moved by this book.
Make it Scream, Make it Burn by Leslie Jamison – This collection of essays from one of my favorite authors covers a huge range of subjects, from children with past-life memories to a lonely whale named 52 Blue, to the author’s feelings about becoming a stepmother and a mother. I appreciate how specifically Leslie Jamison interrogates her thoughts and feelings, and how the themes of connection and privilege and perspective play into her work. She’s a really interesting thinker.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado – For many years, Carmen Maria Machado was part of an abusive queer relationship. In the book, she plays with format and narrative tropes to tell the story of that relationship and try to better understand queer domestic abuse more generally. I loved the way she used different storytelling techniques to see the relationship in different ways, and how each piece built on everything we’d already learned. It was utterly fascinating to read, and a book I’ve already recommended many times.
And there you have it, 10 of my favorite reads this year! It’s been such a great year of books, even if it feels like my reading pace has been positively glacial.