another year in books
read some great books in 2019 – some not great ones too, though
1. This is Marketing by Seth Godin
A super-helpful primer on marketing – definitely 101 material, but it does a really great job of bridging an everyday framework of thought with more defined principles of marketing, and emphasizing the importance of empathy as a part of any business practice. I remember feeling like I could not only do my job but also understand my job with so much more clarity and structure.
The way the author lays things out and explains what good marketing is/should look like also make an interesting read for anyone who isn’t professionally interested in marketing! A short and easy read that’s pretty rewarding.
2. Explosive Growth by Cliff Lerner
I liked the first marketing book so much I decided to go for another. I remember reading this book and feeling a bit more tepid about it – it was definitely more specific than the first one – and to be honest, I can’t remember much that I learned from it, but it wasn’t bad.
3. Science of Breath by Swami Rama
So this is a pretty specific read – was recommended to me by my yoga teacher in order to help me with my deep breathing. I was skeptical of how effective it would be, but being able to understand how air travels through and affects my body as I breathe in different ways made a HUGE difference in my breathing and meditation practices. The book as a whole can get dry, but there’s a lot of valuable info and tips even for anyone paging through. If you’re into deep breathing, or even want to have a basic understanding of how deeply our breathing affects our body and mind, would highly recommend.
4. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
Very Murakami. The thing about some Murakami is that you have to look at things existentially to be able to get something out of it, and that is so certainly the case with this book, which makes it a great read, but one that also can feel a bit scary at times. I read Kafka later this year, and so retroactively can say that this one feels a little more internally reflective and therefore a little heavier (certainly more so than any other Murakami I’ve read as well), especially by the time you get to the end.
Highly recommend to anyone who likes Murakami, but probably not as a first or even second Murakami read.
5. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
TBcompletelyH I could not read this book word for word or even chapter for chapter. But I did read enough to motivate me to get rid of a bunch of empty cardboard boxes and guide me into cleaning out/reorganizing my closet into bins, all of which has indeed changed my life for the better.
6. French Exit by Patrick Dewitt
A tragedy of manners – reading this book is like watching a Wes Anderson or Noah Baumbach movie, ie it’s pretty white but I really liked it LOL. It’s a quick and sweet and I’ll probably read it again in a few years. Would recommend.
7. Whose Body? by Dorothy L. Sayers
I couldn’t remember the plot to this book so I had to look it up and then I remembered it. It was ok – not bad, but nothing to speak of. A solid mystery read. Lord Wimsey is no Poirot though.
8. The Secret of the Highly Creative Thinker: How to Make Connections Others Don’t by Dorte Nielsen & Sara Thurber
I reallllly loved this book. It completely changed the way I look at my own creativity and how I want to build on its, specifically because it introduces creativity as an everyday practice that anyone can build, even if it’s to varying degrees. The book is centered around the idea that creativity is all about being able to make unexpected connections (in case you couldn’t tell from the title), and it has what feels like just the right amount of reading/examples, as we’ll as creative exercises to illustrates different ways in which anyone can bring more creativity to anything they do.
9. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
I feel like I always come across Sedaris – every once in a while, somehow or the other; either a lecture he’s given or something he’s written for the New Yorker etc or some podcast appearance he’s made – but this is the first of the books he’s written that I’ve read. Overall, I thought it was ok! I’ve loved everything else from him and I love his writing style, but this particular book wasn’t it for me. In a more general sense I don’t like a lot of his writing about France. He sort of takes on the air of a snooty Parisian with all the insecurity of knowing he’s American and the self-deprecation that usually makes his writing funny and endearing becomes hoity toity. I wouldn’t actively recommend this book to anyone but wouldn’t tell anyone not to read it either. I’m still interested in reading more Sedaris though!
10. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
My sister reads a lot of graphic novels and recommended this one to me and I LOVED it. It’s a great intro to what it can feel like to try to compartmentalize different parts of your identity; I’ve stored this in my mental list of books I want to introduce to my future kids.
11. The Overstory by Richard Powers
Is there anyone that doesn’t know that I read The Overstory this year? It’s a book about trees and humanity and everyone I know and everyone I don’t know should read it. PLEASE READ IT.
12. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
If you have even a passing interest in Theranos or Elizabeth Homes, read this book. If you like good investigative journalism that is shocking in what it finds, read this book. If you want to see a frank case of morality and quality unchecked in the world of tech/business, read this book. Just read this book – pretty much anyone would benefit from doing so. Also it’s entertaining AF.
13. Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
I love magical realism, I love short stories, I love this book. If you’re looking through this list for reading inspiration, this one should be at the top of your list.
14. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Archbishop Desmond Tutu & Dalai Lama XIV
I loved this book and actually think reading it and finishing it was a turning point for my mental health. It gave language to a lot of my instincts, which allowed me to shift my mindset completely and become truly more compassionate, empathetic, and active in recognizing and dissipating ego in my emotions and reactions to different/various people and situations.
15. I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron
Reminded me a little bit of the Eve Babitz book, but more New York in style and subject. There’s a great essay in here on “maintenance” that I think of so damn often and that has also dissuaded me from ever getting my eyebrows done. Overall, the book is…. fine.
16. The Vegetarian by Han Kang
I liked certain parts of the book, but honestly am still confused about how to process it as a whole. I can see myself re-reading it every few years and growing to like it more and more. Idk, still chewing.
17. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
YES Murakami!!! I wanted to reread it as soon as I finished it, and will probably do so maybe next year or the year after.
I don’t want to give too much away because I’d recommend it to anyone who likes Murakami, and truly believe it’s best read with as little prior knowledge/context as possible. I’ll just say that I was initially frustrated by the ending and how ambiguous things were, but it’s one of those stories whose effects start surfacing gradually, little by little, for weeks after you’ve finished it. I still wish he'd resolved even just one of the many unresolved questions.
Definitely read it if you like Murakami or are curious about the book particularly; at the same time it does feel distinct from other Murakami I’ve read, a little more intense. I’ll say this (which is true of many of his stories, but especially of this one) – understanding that you will never completely understand this book is inherent in being able to understand it enough to get anything out of it.
18. I’ll Never Tell by Catherine McKenzie
Quick mystery – nothing great, but entertaining!
19. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
The prose was beautiful, the setting was beautiful, the characters and the relationships between them were incredible, but I could just never move forward! This is the book that broke me. This is the book that introduced me to feeling ok with not finishing a book when I felt like I couldn’t, even if I was halfway through and in some tortured way still kind of enjoying it.
If you’re thinking about reading it, definitely try it though – I don’t regret reading whatever part of it I did and could see myself coming back to it in a few years.
20. Confrontation: A Conversation with Aude Lancelin by Alain Badiou
This book was fine. No reason it needs to be on your radar, though; let’s keep it moving.
21. Wildwood by Colin Meloy
Let me be clear, the ideal audience for this book is most likely a middle schooler or a precocious elementary school reader. That being said, growing up, fantasy was my JAM. I saw Wildwood at a bookstore and was super enticed by the cover and also used to listen to The Decemberists a bunch circa 2009/2010, so it felt right to pick it up. I’d say it’s delivered. Nothing revolutionary, but a solid book that’s fun and easy to read. Kind of reminds me of The Mysterious Benedict Society and Over the Garden Wall and The Chronicles of Narnia (minus the religious themes) all in one.
22. The Diary of a Space Traveller and Other Stories by Satyajit Ray
Like a better version of Tinkle stories, with the same element of mysterious predictability that’s there in Vikram-Betal stories and the like. A taste of Ray’s creativity vision, and another book to add to the library I’m building for my future children.
23. Grapefruit by Yoko Ono
I LOVE this book. It’s one that I crack open pretty often – each entry has an unmistakable physicality to it that makes me pause and reflect both on internal processes and mechanisms, as well as my relationship to people and place in my life. In a very real way, it’s the closest I’ve gotten to reading something that feels like how I think/feel when my I’m not actively using my brain.
I read a review that compared the entries to koans, and like, yes.
24. Desire by Haruki Murakami
The Second Bakery Attack was my first exposure to Murakami (via Levar Burton’s short story podcast), so I always love coming across it. This book is a collection of short stories related to the topic of desire, selected from M’s other short story collections – they’re all really good.
25. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
Like YA fantasy but for adults, so better; pretty British, very fun.
26. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda
My first time with Neruda. I loved it. Revisited some of Bidart’s Half-light after reading it and found I was better at treading those too. If you’re like me and not used to poetry but open to it/eager to be, I feel like this is a good book to sort of start with.
27. My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ishiguro’s Nobel Prize in short form. It feels like an inspiring hug. Highly recommend.
28. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
A beautiful, philosophical read. Would recommend, though I will say the perspective is also unbearably male at times.
29. Africa’s Tarnished Name by Chinua Achebe
I LOVE ACHEBE AND YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK (well, collection of essays). It is so so so short, and so so so powerful. It’s a proclamation of Nigerian identity, and it gives language to the history and insidiousness of racism as propaganda and canon, specifically as it relates to Africa. His writing combines history, culture, politics, and personal experience in a straight-forward way that’s invigorating and easy to read.
30. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
I don’t feel as strongly about this book as I know others do, but it’s beautiful and I think important to read nonetheless. I think also I would’ve felt differently if I’d read it before reading The Book of Joy.
31. Birthday Girl by Haruki Murakami
I was saving this one, a small little book, to read on my birthday. Two sentences in I realized that I’d already ready it because it’s in Desire, but I went ahead and read it again anyway and I think I will continue to read it as a small personal birthday tradition because it really is the perfect reminder of the relationship between what we wish for and what we manifest/realize. Also the blessing of being in a position where you don’t know what you’d wish.
32. A Universal History of Iniquity by Jorge Luis Borges
I’ve always had a specific collection of picture books and comics like Tintin and Aesop’s Fables and abridged Shakespeare and the like that I read and re-read so many times growing up, and still read as sort of palate cleansers till this day. It’s like the equivalent of watching Scooby Doo on a Sunday morning when you’re dead tired or hungover and just want to feel comforted. In high school, I made my first “adult” addition to the collection – Welcome to the Monkey House. This book is my second “adult” addition.
If you’ve seen The Ballad of Buster Scruggs it’s a similar experience, but better and usually a little funnier/with more of a sense of justice.
Borges is a fantastic writer and I’ll definitely be reading more from him. It’s cool also because all the stories are about historical figures and I’ve had such blue car syndrome with multiple stories/characters; this book is culturally salient in an evergreen way.
33. Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
Finished this book over the course of a day and a half; started and could not stop. It’s crazy because we all know how sexism works, and at this point most people are pretty aware of Weinstein and the Me Too movement, but this book is on another level. To actually see how everything played out is unbelievable. I also really respected Ronan Farrow before, but this book has given me a new admiration for his ethic and ethics, not to mention the number of women who risked everything and braved so much shit in the name of justice.
As much as it is about rape culture and moral cowardice among entertainment execs, the book also paints a really clear picture of what it means + takes to be a great investigative journalist, just how far people with money will go to maintain power, and how susceptible to and accepting of that power most people actually are.
34. Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith
This one is hard to concisely/precisely reflect on. I like Smith’s writing and have yet to read one of her narrative works, but reading her essays felt like pulling my teeth, mostly because I disagreed with her perspective. She’s pretty damn neoliberal, which I personally have little patience for, and which was only amplified by the compilation of her various essays; also a lot of it felt outdated, like she was having a conversation that Twitter already had 4 or 5 years ago. I didn’t like the personal essays, but I did like her reflections on other forms of art (her essay on Key and Peele is particularly enjoyable).
35. Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field
Foundational reference re screenwriting as a skill and practice. A nice read for anyone who’s interested in screenwriting, or more generally interested in writing/crafting stories, or even more generally passively interested in how movies are written.
36. The Illustrated Mahabharata by Bushra Ahmed & Others
THE most juicy freaking thing I’ve EVER read. I would lose my mind every 2 pages so viscerally and loudly, until finally I had to stop because my family was getting annoyed. The Mahabharata is SO good, and this version of it is also unequivocally amazing. The illustrations are taken from relevant cultural and historical sources, the book offers historical, cultural, social, and geographical context for everything, a sense of social responsibility in how its written and how certain parenthetical analyses are presented, and more broadly the way the characters are introduced and reintroduced and how effectively all the entwining stories are presented…… just wow.
An absolute treasure.
37. Mixed Feelings: Poems and Stories by Avan Jogia
I didn’t really know what to expect, but I really loved this book. It felt like reading someone’s actual journal, especially in the instances where he’d react to or reflect on pictures and other people’s stories.
38. One Green Bottle by Hideki Noda, adapted by Will Sharpe
There’s this dark comedic TV series I like called Flowers and as I do with most shows I like, I went googling about it and found out that Will Sharpe, who plays Shun, also wrote and directed the show. I saw that he’d written one book (not really a book, an English adaptation of a Japanese play) and was curious so I ordered it and it somehow become my last read of the decade. I liked it! It was absurd and dark and funny and sad – overall a good short read.