My 2019 was filled with lots of great reading. Managing to squeeze out 33 books, I purposely allowed my reading habits to wander, to let them freely take me wherever. There was a little of this, a little of that, a solid, if not random, blend of genres and subjects. If I walked into Barnes & Noble, as I often did to find a book, and something struck me, I whipped out my phone and placed an immediate hold at the library. After it arrived, I would do my best to dig in, but most of the time something else had already stolen my attention. I got around to most of them eventually, with a few collecting dust for months and eventually being returned unread.
No matter what I read, as the months passed I tried to remain cognizant of the racial makeup of the authors. I was always glad when I felt the stern peck of my social conscience whenever I mindlessly read multiple white authors in a row.
Earlier this month, I aptly gifted books that I read this year to a handful of colleagues. I matched each recipient to a book based on who they are and the unique connection that we share in and out of the classroom. In my own cheezy way, I found it comforting to pass on some of what I read and learned from the past 12 months to folks that deeply respect. It was like giving part of me and my growth. For personal reasons, I denoted these books (the ones that made the lists below, anyway) with an asterisk (*).
Nonfiction | A steady stream of hearty nonfiction titles kept finding their way into my hands this year. Thankfully, there were only one or two disappointments. For the first time, I even reread a book this year. Yay, me! Hopefully this becomes a trend. OK, here are the standouts:
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser and Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer. With a goal of writing more this year, I found myself drifting towards books geared towards writers. These two surely evoked my inner wordsmith, offering new ideas and tips to strengthen who I am behind the keyboard. Dangling participles beware, I’m coming for you.
- The Library Book by Susan Orlean and The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction* by Alan Jacobs. To couple my surging sense of authorship, I got all meta and spent some time reading about reading. Orlean’s exceptional account of the tragic 1986 Los Angeles library fire help to satisfy my growing fascination with public libraries. Jacobs’s book was a well-written page-turner, plain and simple.
- Teaching Community* by bell hooks. Full of love and stuffed with all the emotion that is inexplicably absent from today’s classrooms, this modestly adorned book was so darn good that I turned it into a blog post.
- Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions* by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths. A lovely crossover, fuzing two ostensibly different worlds. As someone vaguely familiar with the principles of computer science, a lover of math, and an undisclosed technophobe, I ate it up and went for seconds.
- White Rage by Carol Anderson was great. As a white person, this gem provided me a much-needed history lesson. It peeled back the many layers of white privilege that shapes the history of our country. It was a bit stilted and heavy on academic jargon, but still fairly digestible.
- Why We Sleep* by Matthew Walker. This wins the Most Impactful Book of the Year Award. The importance of sleep is well known, and every study ever decrees its supremacy when it comes to healthy living, yet, after reading this, somehow I still think we underestimate it. Walker does an impeccable job at making accessible the complex world that we find ourselves in after our eyes close.
- Becoming* by Michelle Obama. Easily the best book of the year. After I turned the last page and closed the back cover, I felt compelled, right then and there, to turn the book over and reread it. While I didn’t do it, I would have given anything for this beauty to go on for another 400 pages. Finishing it was a huge disappointment. Thanks, Michelle.
Fiction | As in 2018, I eked out five books of fiction this year. They were peppered in throughout the year and, desiring to create a shared reading experience with my students, I read one with a mentee over the summer. That was enjoyable. Of the lot, here are my two favorites:
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Loath as I am to admit that I’ve never read this before this year, I must admit that it moved me. This is a special book with a special message. Both the writing and imagery were stellar. By the end, I was left hurt and confused because of how much our society mirrors Bradbury’s dystopia. Questions abound.
- Dark Matter* by Blake Crouch. Reading this book was like eating a slice of pie after at the close of Thanksgiving dinner: I scarfed it down and felt completely satisfied. (Unrelated: Why all the food references, am I hungry?) I can’t remember now why I even started reading it because it doesn’t at all pique my interest, but, interestingly, its plunge into quantum physics jibed well with a fun and informative children’s book that the fam checked out from the library at around the same time.
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