It’s time for the third annual book recap!
This year, I maintained my interest in both detective/mystery novels and in science and travel based nonfiction, with a new hunger for memoirs by badass young women specifically. I read a lot of very good books (and also plenty of trashy ones.)
Here are some favorites from the year – I’d love to hear yours too! Text me! Leave a comment!
A special shout-out to Hennepin County Libraries, which is how I read nearly 100% of the books I read this year. In 2019, I hope you do whatever you can to support your local library system, whether that’s volunteering, paying your overdue fines promptly, donating to a friends group, or just thanking your librarians on a regular basis. They give our communities more than just free access to a nearly unlimited supply of knowledge in paper form, including study groups and homework help, advice on legal rights for marginalized groups, story time for little ones, and often, book delivery for home-bound community members. Check out this awesome This American Life episode.
Books are listed in no specific order. (F) denotes fiction and (NF) nonfiction. All quotes are taken from the New York Times, in case you need a second opinion. If I found a book boring, no matter how important its subject matter, it didn’t get a place here.
- Being Mortal: Medicine and What Happens in the End, by Atul Gawande (NF)
- One of my favorite of our book club books this year. Gawande, a physician, is an excellent writer. The book’s pretty short, but it’s fascinating, heart wrenching, and thought-provoking, and made me think we should change basically everything about how we do end of life care in the US. This book made me very emotional, but in a good way.
- “Gawande has plenty of engaging and nuanced stories to leave the reader with a good sense of what he means. In a society that values independence, what happens when that is no longer possible?”
- Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer (NF)
- I especially loved the first half of this book (it gets a little redundant and a little more spiritual as it goes on.) Incredible writing and weaving of story and science. Learned so much, but also very entertaining. Kimmerer sounds like the most badass professor ever, and if we can’t all take a class with her, we CAN all read her book. (Also, I read this mostly while backpacking on the Superior Hiking Trail – highly recommend reading while outdoors.)
- The Year of the Runaways, by Sunjeev Sahota (F)
- The story of four Indian immigrants in England. This book is pretty long, but never gets boring. It can be frickin gut-wrenching. And yet it’s wonderful.
- “Writing with unsentimental candor, Mr. Sahota has created a cast of characters whose lives are so richly imagined that this deeply affecting novel calls out for a sequel…”
- Bleaker House, by Nell Stevens (F & NF)
- Another memoir by a woman living alone in a very cold place. She intersperses the memoir bits with excerpts from a novella she wrote while on Bleaker Island, isolated and half-frozen. It’s funny and thoughtful, and very honest – Stevens is young and has kind of a boring life, but she doesn’t shy away from that.
- Welcome to the Goddamned Ice Cube, by Blair Braverman (NF)
- Memoir, adventure, men being asses, the North, falling in love with places. It has a really stupid title, but for whatever reason I deeply loved this book.
- “As both a storyteller and a stylist, Braverman is remarkably skilled, with a keen sense of visceral detail…that borders on sublime. But her ability to draw readers into heart-pounding action sequences…is what makes the book so courageous
and original as both a travel narrative and a memoir of self-discovery.”
- The Optimistic Decade, by Heather Abel (F)
- An entertaining, conversation-starting read about summer camp, young love, youthful activism, and the clash between locals in wild places and naïve environmentalist outsiders. It is also, apparently, a metaphor about Israel and Palestine.
- “Is this a book about the failure of Zionism, an exploration of the limits of idealism or a literary coming-of-age novel? It’s a bit of all three. Most interestingly, it doesn’t just rehash the story of the Holy Land we already know, but imagines a new, subversive ending.”
- Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter (F)
- This book sounds like it should be trite and dumb – it’s about Hollywood and Italian seasides and beautiful actresses, and the cover makes it look like something you’d find tossed on the shelf in a rental vacation home. But just trust me – the writing is brilliant, the story totally gets you, the characters are amazing.
- “The book takes its title from Louis Menand’s New Yorker description of Richard Burton at 54. It takes its essence from Milan Kundera, in a passage about the elusiveness of the present moment. Yet not for nothing is “Cleopatra” the vortex of the novel…Mr. Walter has built his book around “Cleopatra” as a monument to crazy love.”
- Severance, by Ling Ma (F)
- A very unusual post-apocalyptic book about getting out of your deep ruts and boring patterns. And also motherhood, sort of, and being an immigrant. I love Ma’s writing.
- ““Severance” offers blatant commentary on “dizzying abundance” and unrelenting consumption, evolving into a semi-surreal sendup of a workplace and its utopia of rules…But laced within its dystopian narrative is an encapsulation of a first-generation immigrant’s nostalgia for New York…”
- The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton (F)
- Just a super, super fun and clever murder mystery.
- Garlic and Sapphires, by Ruth Reichl (NF)
- Ruth Reichl was the restaurant critic for the New York Times for a while in the nineties, and she went to restaurants in different disguises to see how the treatment changed. I want to be her friend. This book is about gourmet food and eating out in New York, but also a little about privilege and…the injustices of hoity-toityness. Calling out pretentiousness.
- “The meat of the book, its selling point, is its revelation of the elaborate lengths to which Reichl went to conceal her identity as she reviewed restaurants, and how this affected both her work and personal life.”
- So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo (NF)
- A book intended for well-meaning people who acknowledge they’re still learning (and perhaps always will be), each chapter takes on a different question about race, exploring it through anecdotes, metaphors, explanations, and personal experience. It’s very well done, matter of fact, and crucial.
- “Oluo takes on the thorniest questions surrounding race, from police brutality to who can use the “N” word. One chapter even has this intriguing heading: “I Just Got Called a Racist, What Do I Do Now?””
- Calypso, by David Sedaris
- I’m still mid-way through this one – I’m reading it aloud with Niko. It’s excellent Sedaris through and through – very, very funny. Very dark. Very honest.
- “Death and family are what this book is all about. Maybe what all David Sedaris’s work is about? Maybe what all good writing has to be about for they are really the only constants in all our lives?”
These are also all great reads – check them out! From the library!
- The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamed (F)
- Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng (F)
- Schadenfreude, a Love Story, by Rebecca Schuman (NF)
- Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert (NF) (okay, yes, I realize I’m years late to this very crowded bandwagon, but her [wildly privileged] romps were a total delight)
- Exit West, by Mohsin Hamed (F)
- The Hidden Keys, by Andre Alexis (F)
- A Whole Life, by Robert Seethaler (F)
- Text Me When You Get Home, by Kayleen Schaefer (NF)
- Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart, by Carrot Quinn (NF)
- Everything Under, by Daisy Johnson (F)
- The Rook, Daniel O’Malley (F)
- Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue (F)
- Mem, by Bethany C Morrow (F)
- Relish, by Lucy Knisley (NF; graphic
- The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old, by Hendrik Groen (F?)
BONUS: This year’s favorite field guide is A Field Guide to the Natural World of the Twin Cities, by John J. Moriarty: “An illustrated guide to the natural habitats and rich diversity of wildlife in the greater Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area.”