And so comes the time for my annual list of books and works that I have devoured over the last 365 days. (see 2017 and 2018‘s lists). If you peruse the list and notice a significant shift in the amount of “self-help” and enlightenment books that I have read, you would be quite right. I would like to say it is just because I dated someone who insisted these books were awesome and worth it and that I needed them but honestly, I heard suggestions from a lot of you about these and I have come to this single conclusion: self-help books are non-substantive and I will be taking no more suggestions on them because the majority wasted my time.
Anyway, there were a few pearls in this year’s lineup. As usual, I tried to cover all genres. I failed to read a political report this year, which is a goal I have non-verbalized. I did try to read the Mueller Report but I couldn’t get through all of the different names and their various crimes.
Asterisks are beside the titles I highly recommend people read. I will not be attempting to read 52 books in 2020; I will be choosing to focus on a few larger books and read for enjoyment again.
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön (1996)- I was recommended this self-healing book and it left such a LACK of an impact that I can’t even think of a good book review of it. Nothing earth-shattering, nothing life-changing, not even a good nugget to take along with me.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014)- This fictional WWI novel about a blind girl in Paris was really well-written. There is nothing like a good war novel and this one wasn’t overtly bloody or destructive in description…it was simply a good story.
*Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo (2017)- This was a story of a culture I had no previous exposure to and it was a roller coaster from beginning to end. Fictional, heartbreaking, and definitely worth the read.
Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin (2015)- I’ve heard a ton of stuff about Jocko, which made reading this book a decent experience. He gives a lot of examples on why, from his SEAL experience, he believes they lead and win. There are some interesting stories for non-military people to understand military training, but any Marine or officer in the Armed Forces won’t find this book to be too revealing.
The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm by Christopher Paolini (2018)- The author of the Eragon saga is back again with a series of short stories from Angela the witch. It was like a droplet of water for anyone thirsty for more Eragon-esque reading.
Summer Knights by Jim Butcher (2002)- Continuing the Dresden Files series, this book was nothing special but the reading is simple and fun fiction. Remember from previous reviews of mine, The Dresden Files are like a masculine Sookie Stackhouse series.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (2006)- This is written by the same author as Gone Girl, and was actually written prior to her “big break”. Sharp Objects has the same ominous feel as Gone Girl, with a mystery to be revealed. It was a decent book and easy to read.
Own the Day, Own your Life by Aubrey Marcus (2018)- This book is a breakdown of how to live day to day by the health and lifestyle founder of Onnit. There are some good nuggets of lifestyle changes addressed such as cold showers, removing scent from your health regime, and binaural listening for naps. This book could be a good dipping of your toe in the water of health and wellness outside of the norm.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (1985)- This was a good foray into the Colombian experience of love and romantic expression through the years. I wrote a longer piece about it here.
Unfuk Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and Into Your Life by Gary John Bishop (2016)- Meh, using the title as a form of literary click-bait is about as groundbreaking as the ideas put forth by this author. There’s a sad story here and there in this book but it wasn’t very complex or interesting.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari (2014)- This non-fiction scientific book tells the story of homo sapiens through the revolutions we have experienced. This is a must-read for simple understanding of us, as homo sapiens.
*Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival by Joe Simpson (1988)- Fantastic true story of Joe Simpson, who was mountain climbing with a friend and whose rope was cut to save the friend’s life. Joe is in a race against time and INSANE odds to make it off the mountain alive. I wish the man who cut his rope wrote a book though. Can you imagine making the decision to kill your friend?
Outwitting the Devil: The Secret to Freedom and Success by Napoleon Hill (1938)- Spoiler Alert, there isn’t any real secret besides work hard and don’t listen to evil.
Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis (2018)- So many of my friends touted this book as worth reading, but I can’t imagine why. A woman speaking frankly about her situations is not noteworthy as we have been doing it for years. She is blunt, yes, so that’s nice, but it’s just another book I don’t understand the hype about.
Death Masks by Jim Butcher (2003)- More Dresden Files…meh
A Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (1946)- This story…is just heartbreaking. It is written by the survivor of a Nazi concentration camp and he describes the mental struggles of his experiences and how he managed to overcome facing one of the greatest shows of dehumanization and cruelty. Worth a read.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (2017)- I know I down on writers who pump out the same re-dressed story over and over (think Nora Roberts or Clive Cussler), and I am not sure if Kristin Hannah is one of these writers yet. HOWEVER, I really enjoyed this book. It was easy fiction but not simple-minded fiction. I believe there is a difference, and I hope her books continue to be good (she has written a lot). This fictional novel was about a girl who grew up in an abusive household…in Alaska.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (2015)- Another Kristin Hannah book that I gobbled up about Europe during WWII. There’s death, there’s romance, it is the usual story with a Hannah twist. It’s good for some relaxing reading.
*The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk (2014)- I will always suggest this book to anyone who will listen. It describes the physical manifestations of trauma and provides ways to address how your body holds onto trauma. It is written by a doctor, is scientific but not cold, and really helped me. I finished it and immediately ordered two copies to send to two people in my life I thought would benefit from it. ALSO it has thousands of five star reviews on Amazon… it isn’t just me. My therapist recommended it to me and I am glad I read it.
A General Theory of Love by by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon (2000)- Another book recommended to me by my therapist, it delves into the science behind our emotions and why we love the way we do. It is a short but educational book and I appreciated the theories it presented.
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari (2018)- This non-fiction book explains some of the reason we as a society are slipping further and further into depression. It is a wake up call to not our individual tendencies but our communities and the overall decline of support and connection. It was interesting for me to read while I was in Paris, which is a much more connection city than my resident city of San Diego. A call to arms for connecting to others, I appreciated this book immensely.
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (2017)- Another fictional war book, but the nature of war allows for stories to be told that aren’t boring! This book covered female spies, which is pretty cool, and Quinn captured the ever-present struggle of women in a masculine driven environment. Not as easy and fun to read as a Hannah book but still very easy.
Black Klansman: A Memoir by Ron Stallworth (2018)- This had the opportunity to be an amazing non-fiction story based upon the premise: a black police officer infiltrates the KKK in the 70’s! Alas, Mr. Stallworth is a terrible writer and the prose is stale and uninteresting. I wonder how good this story would have been if it had been written by someone who wasn’t used to writing boring police reports. The events are awesome though. What a boring book.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman (2012)- I know everyone saw this fictional book floating around, which is why I picked it up. The prose was easy and the story was barely interesting. It was good airport reading material at best.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2008)- This book had an interesting premise of a boy raised by ghosts but the story-arch was anticlimactic. I should probably lower my expectations for Neil Gaiman.
Tess of d’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy (1891)- I really liked this classic novel. Sure, the prose is outdated but the story resonated with me. I imagine it made quite a splash with the book’s events when it was published too. It’s up there on my favorite classical book list.
A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle (2005)- I have a hard time giving this book a good review because it is completely tainted by the emotionally stunted man who recommended it to me. It is hard to accept the ideas in any Eckhart Tolle book without automatically associating them with a lack of emotional depth and connection. So…
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (1929)- This was an essay written by a very fortunate woman who speaks on how women should ensure they have the means and space to write and create. This essay probably influenced a wave of healthy feminism that I can get behind. Get your own funds, get your own space to create, and do just that.
The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon by– This non-fiction book really appealed to the scientist inside of me. A man has an idea of how to get to the moon and is ignored and debased for years before he ruffled feathers to be heard. Additionally, it brings up the idea of how engineers are supposed to handle the politics behind flawed and dangerous designs (which is VERY close to my heart). Scientists should all be checked and checked again, without ego or politics getting in the way (cough, the Challenger “O” ring or Boeing’s 737 Max, cough). I suggest this book for any scientist but particularly any air or space-based scientist in development.
*A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold (2016)- This book is written by the mother of one of the columbine shooters and how she experienced the shooting and Dylan’s life up to his suicide. It is a triggering book for parents, and I wrote an entire review here.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini (1985)- Touted as a dangerous book, the principles discussed here give good insight on how to get people to do what you want. There is nothing nefarious but with great power comes great responsibility. Read with empathy towards others and don’t abuse what you learn.
Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work and What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging by Susan Fowler (2015)- This book was recommended by a friend who knows the author, and it was a quick read that gave insight against the usual tactics of leading people.
War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield (2002)- I think books about how to be creative are a waste. Get out into nature, be inspired by real people and real emotions. Something like art cannot be broken down into logical steps…that is how we get cookie cutter books and ideas. Boring. Anyway, I read this book and wasn’t impressed. I’m glad it was so short (because there was nothing of substance in it anyway).
Women Who Run With Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés (1992)- This collection of stories embraces the wild woman inside of us (us being women, guys). I imagined some old and weathered earth mother was speaking to me through this book, encouraging me to embrace my wild child and nurture her. I liked it.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman (2002)- This is a novella that was turned into a movie…and it was just okay. I can’t imagine why this book was chosen to make into a novel and American Gods got an undersold TV show.
The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut (1959)- I always enjoy a good Vonnegut novel. He is witty and comes up with interesting science fiction. Kooky, but not Tom Robbins kooky. Easy to digest and fun.
The War on Normal People by Andrew Yang (2018)- Read my review here.
*Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain – This was a delightful non-fiction book by a famous French cuisine chef. Mr. Bourdain is witty and quick with his retellings of the happenings in the chef underbelly of NYC. He didn’t sugarcoat what really happens in the kitchens we all love to give such high ratings to. This book offers cooking advice and life advice in one package, and I loved it.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)- This post-apocalyptic novel made my heart hurt to think of my own son in that situation. A father and his young son travel on “the road” after everything on earth is gone. The interesting thing about this book is that it doesn’t describe the chaos at the end…it describes what happens next, when the survivors know there is no hope left. And yet…people continue.
*The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (1990)- The memoir of the Vietnam war broke my heart, and I am so glad I read it. The stories of Vietnam don’t seem to be very popular or well-known, which might be because Vietnam was a very unpopular war. But this war impacted so many lives, and O’Brien does such a good job of describing his experiences and his fears regarding the war and coming home. He also describes when he sat on the border of Canada, wanting to run…it was just such a good book. Read it.
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy (2005)- Have you ever had an idea of what a book would be like without ever having researched it? This was that book for me. I had no idea that was a western novel until I was about two chapters in. It is a pretty good western, which is a genre I am not very well-versed in. Lots of death, lots of tumbleweeds, lots of adventure.
Chasing Dreamtime by Neva Sullaway (2005)- This author is…my editor! And I have owed her my reading her book for almost two years now. I am glad to have finally gotten to read this memoir by the woman who has been my mentor and guide through the publishing world. This is the true story of a young and troubled girl who sailed around the Pacific with various types of people. Her descriptions of her human experience were educational and enlightening to a world I never knew…and I have no idea how she had the courage to go off and journey like she did.
How to Fight by Thich Nhat Hahn (2017)- This book, and the subsequent two books, were given to me by an ex-boyfriend when I was going through a breakup this year. The author is a Buddhist who has a meditation temple up the road from me in California. The book teaches healthy ways to address conflict within ourselves and with others. Short snippets of advice, these books are easy to pick up at random.
How to Love by Thich Nhat Hahn (2014)- Same as above but for love.
How to Relax by Thich Nhat Hahn (2015)- Same as above but for relaxing.
A Book I Can’t Name by an Author I Can’t Name: I had the privilege of reading a book this year as a “professional reader” for my editor. She wanted me to tell her my thoughts on the book’s plot and characters so I could best help the author produce a publishable book. The plot had such promise…but the character development and delivery was just the worst. I gave my criticism and how I thought it could be fixed….so good luck to my editor and this author.
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell (2019)-Ever since I read Gladwell’s Outliers, I have taken his books into consideration in my yearly list of desired reads. This book, however, isn’t like Outliers, and there is a political undertone of why police brutality is so prevalent in America today. Don’t get me wrong, this topic is important; I just didn’t expect it (yeah, serves me right for not researching the book prior to reading it). There were the usual Gladwell facts and studies, so those were interesting. The book had an agenda though…so take it as you will.
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle (1997)- Please see my review of A New Earth above.
*Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (2016)- Read my review here.
Hush by Jeph Loeb (2002)- This is a comic book that tells all about Batman and the various other comic books characters in the DC universe (Cat Woman, Poison Ivy, Superman, etc). I learned a lot about that Universe (admittedly, I am not very well-versed in comics). The story line was good and the drawings were okay (not amazing like Saga). Worth a read for the knowledge and fun.
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Phillip Pullman (2010)- If you wanted a retelling of the New Testament, look no further. This was almost a verbatim delivery, minus making Jesus into two different people. It should’ve been a short story or a novella. It was definitely not worth a novel’s length of print. I expected better from the writer of His Dark Materials.
Men Don’t Love Women Like You!: The Brutal Truth About Dating, Relationships, and How to Go from Placeholder to Game Changer by