I read 104 books this year. I had planned to read more longer books and therefore I was planning to only read about 72 books, but I realized this was not a good year for that plan. I’m working on my dissertation and I need to read mostly books that are either for my dissertation or for nourishment (otherwise known as fun). Most of my reading was re-reading favorite mysteries by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Rex Stout. Of the new fiction and non-fiction that I read this year, my favorites and those that had the most profound impact on me are listed below with comments. My goals for next year are to read what I need to read to provide me comfort as I write my dissertation. I won’t have any loftier reading goals until after graduation!
Fiction (In no particular order)
- Only Time Will Tell (Clifton Chronicles #1) by Jeffrey Archer (2011)
- A Study in Scarlett Women (Lady Sherlock #1) by Sherry Thomas (2016)
- Some Danger Involved (Baker and Llewelyn #1) by Will Thomas (2005)
- Hold Fast by Blue Balliett (2013)
- The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg (1996)
- Have You Seen Marie? by Sandra Cisneros (2012)
The Clifton Chronicles is Jeffrey Archer’s tour de force. I have read the first three books in this septology and I am in love with the characters. It is one of those series where you can know what is going to happen to the characters (like knowing the titanic is going to sink or who wins WWII) but still love the process of the story unfolding. The characters are richly detailed and there are so many strong, amazing women in this series. I’ve enjoyed his work for a while and I was quite surprised that his prison sentence did not make him more cynical. If anything his writing now seems more hopeful!
Sherry Thomas takes the Sherlock Holmes series and weaves women’s conditions and the problems of the poor into the story in ways that are instructive without any disservice to her intricate plotting. Her characters are rich and varied. There was much humor in the book too. I am on the waiting list for the next book at the library and cannot wait for the second installment!
Llewelyn is “Watson” to Baker’s “Holmes” but their partnership is much different and the robust immersion into facets of London usually left out of Holmesian-style mysteries makes this series particularly engaging.
Hold Fast is another wonderful middle school to young adult book set in Chicago by Blue Balliett. This one features an African-American family and the Chicago Public Library. Balliett is able to touch on the unfairness of the shelter system and other disparities affecting poor people of color in Chicago without seeming preachy or making her characters seem desperate or like they need to be saved by white people. I have to say I’ve never read a book featuring contemporary, young people of color that was able to balance problems and hope. I am certain many authors of color have written them (Blue Balliett is white), but I was not exposed to them. I plan to work on finding more books like this written by people of color.
The View from Saturday is a fun and meaningful middle school/young adult book from the incomparable E. L. Konigsburg. I can’t say much about the story, but it is heartwarming and I laughed and smiled a lot.
Sandra Cisneros made a picture book for adults to help her process her grief about her mother’s death. It is a quick read, accessible and powerful. I felt that it was less triggering than other books about grief might be and that it was applicable to a variety of kinds of grief as it doesn’t focus on death.
Non-Fiction (In no particular order)
- Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West (2016)
- Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer (2016)
- Don’t Think of An Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate by George Lakoff (2014)
- An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (2014)
- The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets Since the Depression by Angus Burgin (2012)
- Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? What It Means to Be Black Now by Toure (2011)
- How to Be Black? by Baratunde R. Thurston (201)
- Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (2014)
- Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly (2016)
- The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (2011)
- On Intellectual Activism by Patricia Hill Collins (2012)
- Rising Strong by Brene Brown (2015)
Shrill really helped me work on my self-image and how I want to present myself to the world. I highly recommend it as she packs so many different ideas in this book. There are many books on the topic of fat acceptance and there are many different approaches to the topic. The bottom line that I got from reading this book is that no matter how you look, no matter what you are doing or not doing to improve your appearance, it is okay to like how you look and it is okay to be comfortable in your body. Your self-negation and your discomfort do not need to be the price for existing in the world as a fat person. That was a powerful message. But there is also so much more about other topics too! She’s funny and real.
Dark Money is a detailed book about the Koch brothers and how they have influenced so much of our world to their extreme libertarian views. The chapter on how they have co-opted elite higher education was especially instructive.
Anyone interested in politics, the news, campaigns or non-profit work needs to read the updated 2014 version of George Lakoff’s book. He’s got great ideas for framing ideas.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz brilliantly frames the genocide of indigenous people and their survival and resistance in the Americas. Even if you know the events, this book can change how you think about them. This book gets to the heart of the matter. I’m grateful Spring Lenox recommended it to me!
Anyone who wants to know about the origins of neoliberalism and the nuances should read the Great Persuasion. I was blown away by how much I learned and grateful to Hanne Blank for the recommendation. This is essential to my dissertation.
I really appreciated Toure’s insights into the breadth of what it means to be a black person in the world today. For most of the book he is talking to other black people and it was an important process for me to read a book that was not meant for me. I’ve read many books that are by people of color and about race and yet so many of them are written with the white gaze (ear) in mind. It is rare that I feel excluded from the conversation. That exclusion was not bad. It was just that this didn’t apply to me. I was a true observer. The fact that as a white person I was so conscious of that and it was so noticeable to me is evidence of how rare that is and how pervasive my white privilege is. I look forward to including this in my dissertation as well as what I can learn upon re-reading.
How to Be Black? was a funny book with some poignant moments. Another one where I don’t want to give anything away and one I plan to re-read.
Bad Feminist is an excellent contrast to Shrill. Roxane Gay provides so much nuance and vulnerability in her writing. Whereas Lindy West helped me to feel more comfortable in who I am, Gay gives me comfort in still feeling uncomfortable. Gay analyses problematic TV and movies and talks about all the ways in which she is an imperfect or “bad” feminist. Her analyses make it easier to be a person who can’t get it right, but who still wants to try to get it good.
Hidden Figures is the book upon which the movie is based about the black women mathematicians of the space program. I highly recommend the book as the movie had so many flaws, especially in its accuracy and introduction of white saviorism.
The Warmth of Other Suns describes specific people from the period known as the Great Migration. This is an excellent approach to understanding this period in greater depth.
Patricia Hill Collins is an inspiration for those of us who aspire to be public intellectuals grounded in academic rigor and contributing insights to our fields and positive change to our communities. These essays and speeches help to show how she has done that and changes that have occurred over her career.
Brene Brown continues her examination of the vulnerability with insightful storytelling and exercises that helped me to grow in my understanding of myself and those I know. I recommend reading the book slowly as it is a deeply emotional journey.
Note: For reference, the dates of publication are listed in parentheses at the end of each book in the lists.