My Year in Books (Part 3: Memoirs)


Just like the previous posts on fiction and nonfiction, this graphic shows you the memoirs I read in chronological order. Unlike the previous days’ genres, this one offered no disappointments. If you like memoirs, you cannot go wrong with any of the titles on this list.

Still, if you only want to read ONE…

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson – This book deserves all the hype it’s received. Some of the stories I knew from having heard Stevenson speak twice at conferences, but the way he tells them (both in person and in this book), I could hear them twenty times and still be moved. It’s hard not to want to make the world a better place, however you can, after reading this. (Note: I went back and forth on whether this title might be more aptly categorized as nonfiction, as it centers more on the cases Stevenson has been involved with than his life story, but it is his story of justice and redemption, so I put it here.)

The memoir that taught me the most

No One Cares about Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America by Ron Powers – Half memoir, half nonfiction research on the history and stigmatization of mental illness, this book was illuminating in many respects, as I hadn’t thought as deeply about the oppression of mentally ill people as I have about other oppressions.


Lab Girl by Hope Jahren – I added this to my 2017 list because of the many “Best of 2016” lists it landed on. I admit I was skeptical, as I am not a science-minded person. I do not have any living things in my house besides my family, and they are still alive because they remind me they need to be fed every now and then. So, the facts that I not only enjoyed this book but also now appreciate trees and plants more than before is rather remarkable. And, this memoir took some turns I didn’t expect.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah – I am not a Daily Show watcher, so I only knew of Trevor Noah peripherally before someone recommended this book. I also knew very little of South Africa. I cannot say enough about this book, which is really somewhat of a love story for his mother, all while tackling race, class, culture, and gender. Brilliant. (After reading this, I watched two of Noah’s comedy specials on Netflix, and I highly recommend his “Afraid of the Dark.”)

Hunger by Roxanne Gay – I read Gay’s Bad Feminist years ago and don’t remember loving it, so I reluctantly picked this up based on all the attention it was getting. It’s an excellent book for understanding body-shaming and developing empathy. I would put it in a similar camp as Shrill (mentioned below), but this one packed more punch and tugged on the heart a bit more.

The rest…

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance – If you want to further understand class, and further understand the white working class in America, this book is an insightful memoir to get you started.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West – I picked this up after seeing a blurb about it in the local bookstore. Jenny Lawson, another fabulous author, said it best: “Required reading if you’re a feminist. Recommended reading if you’re anyone else.” Hopeful and heartbreaking and funny and sad.

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie – Having taught Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary… and knowing a bit about him, I was intrigued by this memoir about the loss of his mother. It was very raw, and some of the recollections were repetitive, but this is another one of those books I can see people recommending about grief, like Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. 

I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro – Picked this up after seeing Tig’s stand-up live. I was aware of the confluence of unfortunate events via the documentary on her (cancer diagnosis, sudden death or her mother, and a break up all within months), but this book was insightful, humorous, and very readable.

 The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich – This was so fascinating as a piece of writing – non-fiction…but not quite, given the many ways Lesnevich fictionalizes what she does not know. Memoir…but not solely, given how she weaves her story in with the murder case she is researching. It is gripping.

The Glass Eye: A Memoir by Jeannie Vanasco – I DEVOURED this book. Dead dad, grief, mental illness, and a dead half sister she never knew? All up my alley!

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy – Whoa, was this super readable. I have since read reviews, and I can see the criticism of Levy as a privileged woman whose elitism comes through…but that position does not detract from the immense trauma she experienced and writes of so poignantly.

My Year in Books (Part 2: Nonfiction)


Just like yesterday’s fiction post, this graphic shows you the nonfiction titles I read in chronological order. I love research and good journalism. Good nonfiction educates me, makes me change my mind or think differently about a topic, and so many of these books did.

It’s worth noting that some of these books border on memoir (I’m looking at you, Anne Lamott, Oliver Sacks, and Sheryl Sandberg), but the books on tomorrow’s memoir list are truly billed as such (they include the word in the title and/or are classified that way at book stores).

Books that taught me something new

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant – I read this while attending the Creative Problem Solving Institute in June, so the selection was particularly relevant and served as a primer for the value of creative thinking. I loved how Grant referenced some of the people in Feiler’s book (see below in “Surprises”), which I had finished just before this one.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer – Foer makes his decision clear (he’s a vegetarian), and it’s hard to finish this book and not agree that is the only choice. (In fact, I recommitted to vegetarianism after reading this, as did my husband.) But the philosophical discussion he engages in, and the facts he presents and different points of view he includes does reflect the complicated, conflicting beliefs involved in one’s decision whether to eat animals.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba – I would love everyone to read this excellent, true story of creativity and innovation, and the power of education. The story chronicles how 14-year old Kamkwamba taught himself how to make a windmill to save his family from famine. (There is nothing “adult” about this book, but there is a shorter, easier young adult version of this book, too.)

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates – I missed many of these pieces in The Atlantic the first time around, but the real power of this collection are Coates’s “Notes” that precede each article AND the Epilogue, which is Coates’s take on Trump’s ascension to the presidency. I heard Coates speak shortly after Trump’s election, and he didn’t deliver the speech I thought he would. The Epilogue is the speech I wanted.


What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories by Laura Shapiro – I wanted to like this because the premise – that you can learn volumes about someone by investigating what they eat – intrigues me. Shapiro claims women in history are typically studied by their romantic relationships, so she attempts to look at their diets, but I learned more about what the men in their lives ate than the women, and the interpretation of those diets was even lacking.

Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michele Borba – I like the messages in here, but Borba gives a bit too many acronyms and “5 simple steps” lists for my liking.


The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us by Bruce Feiler – I enjoyed Feiler’s The Secrets of Happy Families and didn’t realize he was the author of this one until I had it in my hands. I really appreciated his (feminist) interpretations of The Bible and the various connections he made to current society. It was Malcolm Gladwell-esque in that regard.

Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, A Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater by Michael Sokolove – I grabbed this on Curtis Sittenfeld’s recommendation (author of Prep and American Wife). It is journalism that reads like fiction, and it is essentially about the power of good teachers and the value of the arts. Gotta love that! (P.S. This book/true story is the basis for the upcoming television series Rise.)

The rest…

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister – An impressive work of research and insight far-reaching in scope, All the Single Ladies combines law, history, feminism, social policy… I feel smarter having read it.

Evicted: Poverty & Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond – This eye-opening and heart-breaking ethnographic work follows various tenants and landlords in Milwaukee in 2008 and exposes the sociological, legal, ethical, and psychological implications surrounding evictions. It reads like fiction, and it’s too bad it’s true. In the epilogue, Desmond suggests ways to address this crisis.

Inspiring Creativity and Innovation in K-12 Inspiring Creativity and Innovation in K-12 by Douglas Reeves –There is a lot of wisdom in this small volume that is a very easy but insightful read for educators and school leaders looking at creativity.

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women by Sarah Bessey – I would put Bessey’s writing in the style and tone of Glennon Doyle’s. I appreciated her earlier chapters outlining Jesus’s interactions with women in The Bible (hint: He treated women as equal to men) as the underpinning of her “Jesus Feminist” brand of feminism. I did find later chapters a bit repetitive and not as informative.

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott – As with all of her other books in this series, Anne Lamott gives medicine for the soul. Oddly, this one was essentially free of politics, too, which is unlike her. 

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks – A short, powerful read of Sacks’s last essays, most written when he was aware his days were numbered.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant – Sandberg and Grant presented some concepts on resilience and trauma that I had not heard before, such as the 3 Ps and post-traumatic growth. Is it ground-breaking? No. But, it is ultimately an uplifting book that encourages resilience.

 A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life by Brian Grazer – It’s not earth-shattering, but it was interesting. I liked Grazer’s discussion of creativity & innovation vs. curiosity. I also love the idea of “curiosity conversations,” though certainly the average person would not have the connections Grazer does to have conversations with, say, Oprah and Fidel Castro. 

Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie – An easy, inspiring read for business owners, managers, and everyday folks looking for a larger purpose. I think anyone could take something away from this.

The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book about Living by Ira Byock – The stories are a bit too syrupy, a little too “neat,” and somewhat redundant, but the repetition of the “4 things” clearly stuck in my brain, and I do see the value to them.

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown – I have to be honest and say I liked Rising Strong better than this one, mainly because I felt this one was a little lighter on the research and a little heavier on repeating some earlier concepts. But, it is a good book, and it reads like the literary version of a few of her recent Facebook live posts, specific to our current political climate. It has valuable advice for sure.

The One-Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Kenneth H. Blanchard – A fast read with easily applied lessons and analogies. This book was recommended to me by another school administrator as the best management book he’s read. I can see why.

Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life by Jen Hatmaker – I picked this up because it was recommended a few places, not the least of which was one of Brene Brown’s posts. It did make me laugh in places, and while her concept of friendship and sisterhood is not one I have much experience with, it did inspire me to write more.

The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss – I can’t remember how this book got on my reading list – who recommended this or what other book referenced it – but its ideas are intriguing. It’s certainly easier for those working in cubicles (non-service/non-education) to put into action, but I’m going to ponder this.

The 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss – After reading the 4-hour Work Week, I thought I’d see what Tim had to say on these topics. He is not a guy I’d get along with for many reasons, but I do appreciate his philosophy of doing the bare minimum to get results (in both books).

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein – I liked the concepts of libertarian paternalism and “choice architects,” and I appreciated how the authors chose topics like education and insurance to illustrate the ideas. But at some points, the book seemed more like a treatise on those subjects than the concepts they were illustrating.