2019 Books

A running list of the books I’ve read in 2019…

January

1. The Boys in the Boat (Daniel James Brown)
I could not have picked a better book for kicking off 2019. I loved the story of the lead up to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. My husband had read this book several months ago and recommended it. But I didn’t know it was going to be THIS good. It made me want to run out and start rowing a boat. The entire book was amazing, and then I got to about the last third (when the team arrives in Berlin) and “good” escalated to insanely good. If you need a story about developing your physical and mental strength as an individual and as part of a team, read this book.

2. The Future of Happiness (Amy Blankson)
The Future of Happiness was a lighthearted book about using technology less. If I had read this book when it first came out, then I might’ve gotten more out of it. But I’ve already heard or read about most of the suggestions in this book… Use an app to track your phone usage. Set an intention for how you want to use your phone. No new information for me. But if you do need ideas for unplugging, then there are lots in this book.

3. Can’t Hurt Me (David Goggins)
David Goggins is a badass. If you need a jumpstart to behavior change, Goggins and his no-nonsense approach might be what you need. His story will get your attention. His physical feats will keep it. (Oh, and I’ve heard the audiobook is worth all the extra insights Goggins shares off the page.)

4. This Will Only Hurt a Little (Busy Philipps)
I loved Dawson’s Creek, so this book intrigued me. She shares some tough stuff about her life. But overall, it was a fun memoir.

5. Atomic Habits (James Clear)
LOVED this book. I’m glad I went with the audiobook because I have the tendency to read too fast and not absorb everything. James Clear shares a lot that is worth absorbing. I didn’t gloss over anything in this book; everything had meaning. He writes with purpose; there is no fluff. And he’s taken habit change and presented information in a new way; it doesn’t sound like everything else I’ve read or heard on a podcast. The material was so good that I went back and listened to certain sections multiple times.

6. Garlic and Sapphires (Ruth Reichl)
A memoir from a food critic for the New York Times. She was so well-known that her picture was posted up in the back of New York restaurants so that the staff would recognize her when she came in. She didn’t want special treatment. So to write an authentic review, she came up with elaborate disguises to wear to each restaurant. Each disguise winds up mirroring a part of the critic’s personality (but in a subtle way). Over time, she figures out which of these characters she wants to hold onto and which she should leave behind.

February

7. Crazy Rich Asians (Kevin Kwan)
In a word: entertaining. When I first added this book to my library hold list, I was #189 in line. I waited patiently and had no expectations for this book. And then I tore through almost the entire thing in one night. I loved the writing and the over-the-topness. It was nice to get lost in something that is so far from my reality. But at the same time, it made me appreciate the simple life I have.

8. Inheritance (Dani Shapiro)
This memoir made me think about who I am. And added some fuel to the idea that who we are isn’t determined by what we do. There are much greater forces that influence who we are. In this case, Dani Shapiro figures out that her relationship with her father is not what she’s known for 50+ years. Because of a 23andme DNA test, she learns that her dad is not her biological father. (FYI, this is not a spoiler – she shares this right at the beginning of the memoir.) As she figures out how to move forward, she poses the questions… 1. Who am I? 2. Why am I here? 3. How am I going to live this life I have?

9. Vox (Christina Dalcher)
Vox reminded me a lot of The Handmaid’s Tale. Only in this dystopian setting, women can speak no more than 100 words each day. The main character, Jean, is married and has four kids. And her youngest is a girl who wears an electronic word counter on her wrist, just like her mom’s. I love their connection, but the toughest relationship for me to read about was between Jean and her oldest son. The rules set in place by the current government’s “Pure Movement” turn her son against her. This mother-son dynamic is just one storyline that contributes to the tension and suspense that makes this book a fast-moving read. Overall, I enjoyed Vox more than Handmaid’s. It made me think about what it takes to not only keep my voice but also make it stronger.

10. The Wisdom of the Enneagram (Don Richard Riso)
Content aside, this book was well written. I admit that I cherrypicked through most of this book to focus on the general descriptions of the Enneagram and to also read more about nines. I’ve always been interested in personality typing as a way to understand myself and others better, and this book offered some great explanations to do just that.

March

11. Furiously Happy (Jenny Lawson)
What does it mean to be “furiously happy”? To be and do such things that swing from the polar opposite of incredibly depressed. To not just be happy, but furiously happy. Furiously Happy is organized into short essays by author and blogger, Jenny Lawson. (My favorite essay was “We’re better than Galileo, because he’s dead.”) And if there were one lesson I took from this book, it would be, “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” The author has suffered from severe depression for most of her life, but she has found a way to bring mental illness out of the shadows and into some funny situations. She never pokes fun at the seriousness of mental illnesses, but she made me laugh out loud so many times. And that’s not easy to do.

12. Hourglass (Dani Shapiro)
Dani Shapiro is an elegant writer, and Hourglass is just as full of beautiful paragraphs as Inheritance. But this book felt heavy (not literally, it’s quite short and sweet). But maybe it felt heavy because I’d just finished Furiously Happy, and Hourglass was a completely different vibe. In Hourglass, Dani Shapiro writes a graceful memoir about her marriage and past relationships. She weaves in memories that she takes from old journals. She flashes back in time to her honeymoon, and then fast forwards to the present. I almost put this book on the “gave up on shelf” several times, and I’m not sure her writing is for me. But this book did make me think about how marriage challenges you to change, grow and become a different person. A better person.

13. The War of Art (Steven Pressfield)
The Resistance is what kept me from reading this book until now. Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art has been on my TBR list for a few years. I’d heard good things about it, and how it can be a kick in the pants for ending procrastination. I think that’s why I held off on reading it. (ha…haha) The book is broken into three sections: Resistance, Combating Resistance, and Beyond Resistance. The message isn’t anything new, but the way he’s composed the message is. If self-doubt or fear is holding you back from moving forward with “that thing” (writing your book, starting your business, launching your product, …), then read this book.

14. Becoming (Michelle Obama)
This book is straightforward and honest. Michelle Obama starts from the beginning, in Chicago, where she grew up. She takes us through high school, Ivy league colleges, board rooms, and the campaign trail until her story winds up at the White House. But this is so much more than a guided tour because it’s not about where any of us wind up. It’s a journey about overcoming doubt, finding confidence from within, becoming your authentic self, and believing that you are enough.

April

15. How to Be Yourself (Ellen Hendriksen)
Not an easy book to add to this list. But, this book is about social anxiety and quieting the inner critic who tells you to keep worrying about what others think. So here it is – a book all about how to conquer social anxiety and be yourself around people. This book has real-life examples to illustrate the concepts; everything is grounded in scientific research. My biggest takeaway: don’t wait for confidence to show up before you act. Act first, and the confidence will follow.

16. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told (Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman)
I’d listen to any book narrated by either Megan Mullally or Nick Offerman. And listening to them tell their story together is as fun as you might expect…but better. No doubt, this book will make you laugh. And the glimpse you get into this couple’s love story will make you appreciate your own special person in this world even more. Love can be as simple as staying in and doing puzzles/being introverts together.

17. China Rich Girlfriend (Kevin Kwan)
I finished up this second book in the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy on my flight to Boston for marathon weekend. The sequel was equally light and entertaining and just as much over the top as book #1 making the 3.5-hour plane ride fly by. Now I just wish my hold on book #3 was ready.

18. The Artist’s Journey (Steven Pressfield)
This book reads very much like The War of Art. It’s organized into short, 1-2 page chapters that are like bite-sized snippets of motivation. Steven Pressfield briefly outlines the hero’s journey and then keeps the timeline moving along with its sequel, the artist’s journey. I think I got more out of The War of Art, but there were a few chapters that made me stop and think about who I am vs. what I do. And how what I do and what I create can help answer the question, who am I?

19. Food Freedom Forever (Melissa Hartwig)
I’ve done a few Whole 30s in the past, and have seen benefits as far as what and how I eat. I was curious to read this book because the subtitle mentions letting go of bad habits, guilt, and anxiety around food. I was hoping for more than what I got out of this one, but I like what is said about creating a lifestyle for healthy eating rather than going on a diet.

May

20. Attachments (Rainbow Rowell)
This book has a strange storyline which is why I picked it up in the first place. It’s about a guy who works for a newspaper, and his job is to read the employees email every night. For any email that isn’t work appropriate or work-related, he has to send the employee a warning. He starts reading the emails between two female co-workers (the book was written before Slack was a thing) and winds up falling in love with one of them (not a spoiler, we learn that early on). Overall, it was just okay.

21. Rich People Problems (Kevin Kwan)
The third book in the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy is just as crazy as the other two. Another “quick” read – all three books are fairly long but I’ve read them quickly. By this point, you know the characters well. The author nails each chapter’s ending, making you want to dive right into whatever happens next. I’m glad there are only three books; I’m not sure I would’ve been able to hang in there for a fourth.

22. Turning Pro (Steven Pressfield)
Apparently, I have to follow any Crazy Rich Asian book with Steven Pressfield; I did this in April too. In this book, he talks about shadow careers as putting yourself on the sidelines instead of following your true calling. To answer your true calling is to turn pro. Turning pro means you replace amateur habits (like being ready tomorrow) with professional, lifelong, habits. Turning pro is to practice daily, to give up “shallow and unfocused” and replace it with meaning and direction.

23. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
Yep, that Pride and Prejudice. I wanted to read something that was different from what I typically pick up. A different storyline with a different writing style. I almost gave up on it a few times, but I made it to the best part (in my opinion) when Elizabeth Bennet stands up to Lady Catherine. I know this book won’t be for everyone, but it was first published in 1813. A hundred years later and it’s still getting picked up by readers. That’s got to stand for something.

June

24. The Life We Bury (Allen Eskens)
I’ve liked adding more fiction to my TBR list, and The Life We Bury turned out to be a page-turner. Paul downloaded the audiobook before road tripping to San Diego, and I got messages throughout his drive raving about this book. I finished it in just under two days. Joe, a Minnesota college student, meets a dying Vietnam veteran through a school project. Carl, who is a convict, agrees to tell Joe his story, and it all unfolds like an old Matlock episode…but without the courtroom scenes. And better.

25. The Passion Paradox (Brad Stuhlberg and Steve Magness)
This book is not meant to help you discover your passion. Instead, it will help you define a little bit more of who you are. As I read, I found myself highlighting chunks of text to journal about later. Turns out I highlighted quite a bit. I wound up taking a few those thoughts and turning them into a blog post, Making Sense of The Passion Paradox.

26. Letters to a Young Poet (Rainer Maria Rilke)
R.M. Rilke’s letters to a young poet hint at what I’d love to hear in a mentor’s advice. The letters are full of empathy and encouragement to trust yourself and your work, and to look inward when you doubt. I can’t remember how this book wound up on my Kindle, but I’m glad it did.

27. Braving the Wilderness (Brene Brown)
I had started listening to this book several months ago, and then shelved it for a little while. What Brene Brown says about true belonging, loneliness, and disconnection might’ve hit me a little hard so I had to take a break. The research she presents in this book tackles how to feel like you belong when you’re out there trying to be who you are rather than who you think others want you to be. There is no well-worn path for this – it’s the wilderness.

28. The Man on the Mountaintop (Susan Trott)
A full cast of voices makes this simple “Audible original drama” into a wise little listen. Joe, “The Holy Man,” lives on top of a mountain. Pilgrims journey to visit him there and learn lessons, either along the way or with Joe. This book is gentle but powerful.

29. Rising Strong (Brene Brown)
The title of this book had me hoping for more. There were some good takeaways. One ironically cautioned against setting “stealth expectations” because they only lead to disappointment. Another was one of my favorite quotes: “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” Aristotle

30. Educated (Tara Westover)
This is a book that sticks with you. I didn’t know much about it before I started listening, and it’s not easy to believe a lot of what happens. It brought me to tears a few times. No matter if you believe what happened or not, it’s a powerful book about trusting yourself and changing your story.

31. Pride (Ibi Zoboi)
A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, based in and around Brooklyn. This one was a quick read, and I liked it more than I thought I would. I’m glad I read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice first because it was fun to identify each character and compare them to the original.

32. Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie)
I grew up watching mysteries like this on on PBS, so Hercule Poirot was a familiar character. I think I read this book at some point, but I couldn’t remember how he solves the case. So listening to all the evidence come together and trying to figure out who committed the crime was fun. And that’s all I’ll say. No spoilers here.

July

33. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë)
Another one that I never read in high school. I’m okay with it though because it was more fun to read this on my own rather than as required reading. I enjoyed Jane Eyre more than Pride and Prejudice even though it has a darker vibe to it. Jane is a strong and independent character – loved the sass. And I loved her loyalty, to Mr. Rochester and to herself.

34. The River (Peter Heller)
I wanted to love this book. Two friends paddling and portaging a canoe down a river in the midst of a wildfire and attempted murder. It sounded great! And though parts of it were urgent and suspenseful, it read like a muted suspense story. The energy and excitement weren’t there for me. It has the potential for a great movie though.

35. 8 Keys to Mental Health Through Exercise (Christina Hibbert)
Mastering your internal world is a healthy thing, and exercise can help with the process. Even though reading this book gave me flashbacks to writing my graduate thesis, there are some practical strategies here. Most are grounded in cognitive behavioral therapy. This book is not about how to lose weight or get toned arms; it’s a workbook. And if you’re willing to do the work (there’s quite a bit of it), you will reap the mental benefits of exercise.

36. Peak Performance (Brad Stuhlberg and Steve Magness)
Peak Performance was written by the same authors that wrote The Passion Paradox. This book had a lot of good content, but it came off as too dry for me. They share many stories to illustrate the information, but I found myself hoping for something with more heart and emotion. Part Three, “Purpose,” was more engaging and by far my favorite part of the book. If you prefer an intellectual look at peak performance, then you’ll probably enjoy this book.

37. Save Me the Plums (Ruth Reichl)
A peak behind the curtain as to what it takes to turn around a magazine rooted in the past. Save Me the Plums paints a vivid picture Gourmet magazine, food, and what the journey was like for editor in chief, Ruth Reichl. I devoured this book in one afternoon.

38. The Body Keeps the Score (Dr. Bessel van der Kolk)
Whew… I first heard Dr. Bessel on the Finding Mastery podcast with Michael Gervais (episode 172). This podcast is why I picked up this book – an open, insightful, and unconcealed look at trauma, trauma research, and trauma patients. Dr. Bessel goes into the science behind trauma, but this book doesn’t read like a textbook. His own story of how he developed his research and treatment recommendations comes through with compassion in every chapter.

August

39. Norse Mythology (Neil Gaiman)
Neil Gaiman narrates his rendition of Norse mythology. Paul and I listened to this during our summer road trip, so Odin, Thor, and Loki all joined us on our vacation through British Columbia and the Pacific North West. Lots of entertaining stories to listen to during a drive through some beautiful places.

40. Wherever You Go, There You Are (Jon Kabat-Zinn)
A book about mindfulness meditation. This book explains more than the how behind mindfulness meditation; it helped me understand the why. Rather than looking at meditation as another thing to do each day or a box to check, it explains the practices of meditation. It might be simple, but it’s not easy.

September

41. City of Girls (Elizabeth Gilbert)
A story told in a way that makes you feel like you’re in New York in the 1940s. The message to be who you are without shame is there. But the stronger message that came through for me was to never assume to understand (or judge) a person if you only have seen a single snapshot of their life. Great story, great writing.

42. Lilac Girls (Martha Hall Kelly)
Lilac Girls reminds me of The Nightingale and City of Girls, but it was a story so unlike either of these books. Each chapter of Lilac Girls switches between one of three characters living through World War II. Caroline who holds an unpaid but important post at the French consulate in New York. Kasia, a young Polish woman, finds herself in one of Germany’s “work camps.” And Hera, a German female doctor who is willing to do anything to advance her career. This book is about real events with compelling characters who know what it takes to conquer adversity.