February Books

FebruaryCompared to January, this was a shorter month with fewer books, but these were all solid choices.

Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry – I purchased this young adult book about an atheist who attends a strict Catholic high school for my son, soon to be a Catholic high school student himself. (He devoured it in a day.) Michael, the protagonist, challenges school culture by making waves with his newfound friends. It’s funny, it’s heartwarming, and it delivers a strong message about the importance of faith – whether in family, friends, or the Church.

The Wrong Heaven: Stories by Amy Bonnaffons – A talking Mother Mary lawn ornament, a woman who takes steps to turn herself into a horse, and dollhouse figurines who come to life? Why not? I really wish I remember how I heard about this book so I could tell you why I picked it up, but it doesn’t really matter. Every story was an entertaining read.

Finding Sisu: In Search of Courage, Strength, and Happiness the Finnish Way by Katja Pantzar – You may recall that last month, I read a book called Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage. It wasn’t my fave, but I am a fan of Finnish culture, particularly the concept of “sisu.” This book, written more like a memoir as a fellow Finn returns to live in the motherland, was much better than Sisu… Still, I don’t think you’ll appreciate it unless you’re a Finn.

Ohio: A Novel by Stephen Markley – I first saw this book on a store shelf in Jackson, Mississippi this past Christmas, and as an Ohio resident, I was intrigued. This debut novel made many “Best of 2018” lists and classified Markley as a “writer-to-watch.” The story unfolds through multiple characters’ perspectives. It is long. It is dark. It is sometimes slow. But the payoff was good.

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson – I am constantly seeking to grow in my racial literacy. Having read his 2018 What Truth Sounds Like… in December, I looked up other Dyson books, and this one from 2017 seemed like a good fit for my second read. His arguments are sound, and I don’t disagree with a single one, even those that challenged me. If you are a member of “White America,” I would recommend Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility before this one (or over this one, if you only read one).

Friday Black: Stories by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah – Holy S#%t. That was actually what I said out loud, sometime after midnight when I finished the first story, “The Finkelstein Five,” one I started with the intention of “just reading a couple pages before bed.” I could not put it down, and when I finished, I was breathless. Think: if Black Mirror was a short story collection. Friday Black is uneven, but the good ones are that good. Other notables for me: “Lark Street,” “Zimmer Land,” and the title story.

Rages Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly – This was the last novel I read based on a Time magazine review combining this title with Gemma Hartley’s Fed Up… and Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad…, which I read within a week of each other at the end of last year. I saved the best for last. Where Fed Up was lacking research, Rage lays it out clearly. Where Good and Mad seemed to focus more on White women, Rage is intersectional in all the right ways. Honestly, after reading Traister’s All the Single Ladies a couple years ago, I thought this book read like I expected Good and Mad would, but didn’t.

The best of the month:

Friday Black for short story collection that offers disturbing social commentary
The Wrong Heaven for a lighter short story collection
Rage Becomes Her… for nonfiction

January Reads

January 2019BooksThis year, I’m writing shorter posts on books as I finish them rather than saving reading recs for the end of the year (expect a “Best Of 2019” list, though).

If January is any indication, 2019 will be a page-turner. Here are the 10 books to which I devoted my time, in the order I read them.

American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures by America Ferrera and others – A collection of essays from 32 first- and second-generation immigrants (all of whom are famous, but most of whom I did not know), these short tales illustrate America making good on her promise to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It’s a love story to, and celebration of, our country – a great start to the year!

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee – I was not familiar with Chee’s life or work before this book, another collection of essays that traverses a life of literature, writing, activism, tarot card reading, and surviving a father’s untimely death. I didn’t love it, but other writers might.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean – If you like reading, and/or buckling your seatbelt for a nonfiction ride that will take you to strange places you’re not sure connect to each other at first glance, then this is your book. I honestly had no interest based on the initial write-ups I read, but after it made so many “Best of 2018” lists, I caved. I am so very glad I did. The Library Book is my first rec of the year.

GMorning, GNight! Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda – This illustrated book of Miranda’s inspirational twitter messages is cutesy and quick to read, but, ehhh. I don’t feel any better for having read it.

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka – If you don’t like graphic novels, you won’t like this one, but if you are even a casual fan of the genre, this autobiography of a writer/artist finding his way despite a drug-addicted mom and an absentee dad is worth a read. Like with Spiegelman’s work, adults will get more out of this than the younger audiences graphic novels often target.

An American Marriage: A Novel by Tayari Jones – My first fiction read of the year gets my first fiction rec of the year. Told from multiple perspectives, this story dares you not to empathize with each of these characters. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore – I seem to be pulled to stories involving magical realism (see The Vegetarian write up from 2016), and y’all know I love multiple narrators (see above and many of my former picks for confirmation). Moore’s novel about the formation of Liberia has both of these characteristics. While I can’t say I completely understood or followed how the three main characters were separated and reunited, I did enjoy it.

Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman – If you want to get back to reading but can’t commit to a longer novel, this short, intense story ought to do it. Narrated by a dead man who intimately knows Eden, who is on death’s door himself, and his wife, Mary, this novella takes you to some dark, surprising places. I highly recommend!

My Ex-Life: A Novel by Stephen McCauley – Oh, you want something lighter? This novel about a private college counselor who gets sucked back into his ex-wife’s world via helping her daughter with her applications will do it. Readers of Richard Russo, Jonathan Tropper, and Tom Perrotta will surely like this one.

Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage by Joanna Nylund – My name is Kirstin Pesola. It’s as Finnish as they come, and I am proud of my Finnish ancestry for many reasons, and the concept of “sisu,” for which there is no literal English translation, is one of them. While I liked the book’s application of this Finnish trait to different contexts, I thought many of the tips were self-explanatory.

So, to recap, here was the best of the month:

The Library Book for nonfiction
An American Marriage: A Novel for fiction
Waiting for Eden for short, intense fiction
My Ex-Life for light-hearted fiction

92 in 52: Books of 2018

Book-loving blog readers might remember my early July post covering the 40 books I had read up to that point, all reviewed in haikus.

That was fun and all, and I did write haikus for most of the books I finished in the months that followed with the intention of a year-end post, but I’ve read 52 books since then, and even I don’t want to read 52 haikus.

How do you cover 92 books in a short-ish blog post?

You don’t.

My goal next year will be to write more frequent blog posts on books as I finish them, but for now, this longer post contains a shortlist of the books I’m most glad I read this year and why, followed by some recommendations for certain reading inclinations so you can skip to the section that best describes you.

At the end is the list of all the books I read this year, in chronological order (minus the ones I started and tossed in the “Life’s too short to read books I’m not feelin’” pile, which gets bigger every year). I’m happy to give you my take on any of them – just leave a comment.

Happy page-turning!

14 Books I Loved in 2018 (listed in the order I read them)

HowtoLeadHow to Lead When You’re Not in Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority by Clay Scroggins (nonfiction) – I’ve read many books on leadership, but none compare to this one, written by a pastor with Biblical references throughout. If you know me, I was as surprised as you are by how much this book resonated with me.

Self Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon (fiction) – I’m still thinking about theSelfPortrait moral dilemma at the heart of this debut book: a young photographer accidentally takes a photo of a dying boy and struggles with what to do with it, then deals with the aftermath of her decision. It’s not a perfect book, but it was engrossing.

LuckyBoyLucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran (fiction) – Oh, what a book! A couple gets custody of a detained mom’s son, and we get the heartbreak of understanding and relating to both mothers’ perspectives.

EducatedEducated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (memoir) – Yes, it is as good as everyone says. Raised in a home-schooled Mormon household, Westover discovers that in order to find the knowledge she seeks, she needs to leave and sacrifice relationships with family members to do so.

CrueltyOur Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall (fiction) – I don’t know why this book didn’t get more attention. It’s a “love story,” and I found it more disturbing than Gone Girl. It’s a thriller that got under my skin and exposed some biases I didn’t know I had.

Meet Cute: Some People are Destined to Meet by various authors (short story MeetCutecollection) – This year reminded me how much I love the short story form, and this collection was a delight. The title and the fact that some of the authors are popular writers of young adult books make it seem like the pages will be fluffy. They aren’t. These were solid stories about fate.

IfILovedYouIf I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black (short story collection) – A finalist for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award, this collection contains stories that demonstrate the form perfectly.

Everything is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, EverythingIsHorribleLove, and Loss by Stephanie Wittels Wachs (memoir) – Almost 10 years after my dad’s death, I still love a good grief book, particularly one that spans the gamut of emotions (and colorful language) loss can bring. And I love the concept of both/and – everything is horrible and wonderful.

LikeAMOtherLike a Mother: A Feminist Journey through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes (nonfiction) – Move over Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy. THIS is the pregnancy book I will now give to anyone expecting (and I did gift this to my sister immediately upon reading). I learned so much, and I am a little disgusted that what I learned is not common knowledge shared with pregnant women in prenatal care.

The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for GirlsWentAwayAdoption in the Decades before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler (nonfiction) – An adoptee, Fessler includes interviews and stories of more than 100 women who were sent away to have babies ultimately put up for adoption (not all by choice, either). The stories complicate and humanize the pro-life/pro-choice debate and offered historical context.

21Lessons21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari (nonfiction) – This book wins the prize for my most highlighted of the year (literally – I marked so many passages). Harari made me think differently about religion, politics, education, and other weighty topics. Almost every book I read is a library book, but this is one I am actually buying to have on the shelf.

HumanActsHuman Acts by Han Kang (fiction) – On many “Best of 2017” lists, this book is not one whose description I had any interest in (political unrest in South Korea), but I am still haunted by Kang’s earlier book, The Vegetarian, and she has become one of my writers-to-watch. Literary fiction as its finest.

WifePsychMy Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach (memoir) – We don’t talk about mental illness, and we definitely don’t acknowledge it as a family affair. Lukach’s memoir about his wife’s psychotic breakdown early in their marriage is honest about the toll it takes on him and, ultimately, their young son.

BecomingBecoming by Michelle Obama (memoir) – Obama narrates the audiobook, and listening to her tell her story was exactly what I needed to close out the year. Each of the three parts is its own coming of age story – politics aside, it’s a love story, a mother’s story, and a quiet nudge to find your greater purpose.

Books for…Bleeding Liberal Hearts

Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza and Barack Obama (nonfiction)
Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (nonfiction)
Almost Everything by Anne Lamott (nonfiction)
Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years by David Litt (memoir)
Becoming by Michelle Obama (memoir)

White People Wanting to Better Understand Race

The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson (nonfiction)
So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Louo (nonfiction)
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo (nonfiction)
What Truth Sounds Like by Michael Eric Dyson (nonfiction)
That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam (fiction)
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele (memoir)
Old in Art School by Nell Painter (memoir)
Becoming by Michelle Obama (memoir)

…Aspiring Writers

Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson (short story collection) *but ONLY the essays on writing; the stories are mostly disappointing and were previously unpublished for good reason.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal (fiction)
The Essay: A Novel by Robin Yocum (fiction)
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (memoir)
The Destiny Thief by Richard Russo (memoir)
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (memoir)

…Happy Ending-Lovers

Ikagai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles (nonfiction)
Meet Cute: Some People are Destined to Meet by various authors (short story collection)
Far from the Tree by Robin Benway (fiction)
Piece of Mind by Michelle Adelman (fiction)
How to Walk Away by Katherine Center (fiction)
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal (fiction)
The Essay: A Novel by Robin Yocum (fiction)

…Dark, Twisted Souls

Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall (fiction)
It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell (fiction)
The Only Girl in the World by Maude Julien (memoir)
Everything is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love, and Loss by Stephanie Wittels Wachs (memoir) 

…Parents(-to-be)

Voice Lessons for Parents by Wendy Mogel (nonfiction)
Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes (nonfiction)

…Lovers of Multiple Narrators/Perspectives

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway (fiction)
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (fiction)
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (fiction)
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran (fiction)
The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea (fiction)
Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams (fiction)
Human Acts by Han Kang (fiction)

…Feminists

We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (nonfiction)
Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (nonfiction)
Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes (nonfiction)
Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister (nonfiction)
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (fiction)
The Power by Naomi Alderman (fiction)
Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall (fiction)
Tradition by Brendan Kiely (fiction)
His Favorites by Kate Walbert (fiction)
Becoming by Michelle Obama (memoir)

All the Books I Finished in 2018 (chronological order)

We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (nonfiction)
Far from the Tree by Robin Benway (fiction)
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker (fiction)
Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong (fiction)
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (fiction)
The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson (nonfiction)
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (fiction)
10% Happier by Dan Harris (memoir)
Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years by David Litt (memoir)
So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Louo (nonfiction)
Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee (fiction)
Ikagai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles (nonfiction)
The Only Girl in the World by Maude Julien (memoir)
One Station Away by Olaf Olafsson (fiction)
The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros (nonfiction)
Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed (fiction)
Piece of Mind by Michelle Adelman (fiction)
Give and Take by Adam Grant (nonfiction)
Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza and Barack Obama (nonfiction)
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer (fiction)
How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge by Clay Scroggins (nonfiction)
Loving Day by Mat Johnson (fiction)
The Power by Naomi Alderman (fiction)
Voice Lessons for Parents by Wendy Mogel (nonfiction)
Self Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon (fiction)
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran (fiction)
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover (memoir)
Census by Jesse Ball (fiction)
The Art of Vanishing: A Memoir of Wanderlust by Laura Smith (memoir)
Tenth of December by George Saunders (short story collection)
When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele (memoir)
Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik (nonfiction)
Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson (short story collection)
Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall (fiction)
The Wide Circumference of Love by Marita Golden (fiction)
The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg (short story collection)
The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea (fiction)
The Impossible Vastness of Us by Samantha Young (fiction)
Meet Cute: Some People are Destined to Meet by various authors (short story collection)
It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell (fiction)
Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams (fiction)
The Dependents by Katharine Dion (fiction)
Lexicon: A Novel by Max Barry (fiction)
Lincoln’s Last Trial by Dan Abrams (nonfiction)
Old in Art School by Nell Painter (memoir)
Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham (memoir)
Tradition by Brendan Kiely (fiction)
The Million-Dollar One-Person Business by Elaine Pofeldt (nonfiction)
Bright Side by Kim Holden (fiction)
How to Walk Away by Katherine Center (fiction)
Permission to Parent by Robin Berman (nonfiction)
Enough As She Is by Rachel Simmons (nonfiction)
If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black (short story collection)
Less by Andrew Sean Greer (fiction)
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal (fiction)
Everything is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love, and Loss by Stephanie Wittels Wachs (memoir)
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown (memoir)
Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight? by Dan Bucatinsky (memoir)
Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes (nonfiction)
More Beautiful Than Before: How Suffering Transforms Us by Steve Leder (nonfiction)
The Psychopath Inside by James Fallon (memoir)
Outline by Rachel Cusk (fiction)
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (memoir)
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (fiction)
You’re Wearing That?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation by Deborah Tannen (nonfiction)
The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler (nonfiction)
The Essay: A Novel by Robin Yocum (fiction)
How Not to Die by Michael Greger (nonfiction)
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari (nonfiction)
Almost Everything by Anne Lamott (nonfiction)
Human Acts by Han Kang (fiction)
That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam (fiction)
Dare to Lead by Brene Brown (nonfiction)
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (memoir)
Great Second Acts by Marlene Wagman-Geller (nonfiction)
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo (nonfiction)
Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Giulia Enders (nonfiction)
Michael Rosen’s Sad Book by Michael Rosen (memoir)
Everything Happens for a Reason (and Other Lies I’ve Loved) by Kate Bowler (memoir)
The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak (fiction)
You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld (short story collection)
Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister (nonfiction)
Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis (memoir)
Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward by Gemma Hartley (nonfiction)
All the Names They Used for God by Anjali Sachdeva (short story collection)
The Destiny Thief by Richard Russo (memoir)
What Truth Sounds Like by Michael Eric Dyson (nonfiction)
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (memoir)
His Favorites by Kate Walbert (fiction)
Hippie by Paulo Coelho (memoir)
My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach (memoir)
Becoming by Michelle Obama (memoir)