2020 summary

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reading list by month

january

  • 1. Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens)
    I was ready for some fiction, and I picked up Where the Crawdads Sing out of curiosity. After seeing it pop up on “best book lists” everywhere, I wanted to know if it was as good as everyone said. Plus, one of Denver’s local bookstores was hosting a book club mid-January with this book as its pick of the month.
  • 2. Relentless Spirit (Missy Franklin)
    A few weeks ago, I listened to Michael Gervais’s Finding Mastery podcast interview with Missy Franklin. With a wave of nostalgia over my own competitive swimming past, I picked up the Relentless Spirit audiobook from the library. I wanted to hear about Missy’s Olympic swimming experience not so much as inspiration, but more to remind me of the years I spent in the pool, chasing the black line.

february

  • 3. The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)
    I’ve heard a lot about Neil Gaiman and how good his stories are. I also kept seeing his books pop up on lists of audiobooks, and he is a great narrator. I requested The Graveyard Book from the library just before Christmas, but the hold line for this one was a little long. The wait was worth it.

  • 4. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
    I first read Little Women when I was 12, but it might’ve been even earlier than that. Re-reading this book wasn’t on my radar until the movie came out several weeks ago. I want to see it, but I decided to revisit the story before seeing the movie.

  • 5. The Governesses (Anne Serre)
    This book came out of nowhere, and it’s not like anything I’ve read before. I just heard about The Governesses about a week ago when I listened to a recent podcast episode from What Should I Read Next? (episode #219) Mel from a Strong Sense of Place recommended this book, a French translation of Anne Serre’s book because it has a strong sense of place. She also described it as a “naughty fairytale.”

march

  • 6. Us Against You (Fredrik Backman)
    Fredrik Backman might be one of my favorite authors. I loved A Man Called Ove (particularly on audio). And I picked up Us Against You because it’s the sequel to Beartown.

  • 7. The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman)
    I started this book because after reading The Graveyard Book, I was curious to read more Neil Gaiman. This one, unlike a lot of the author’s books, is written for adults.

  • 8. Burnout (Emily and Amelia Nagoski)
    Burnout is so much more than offering suggestions for getting more self-care. The authors dig deep to help you figure out how to deal with stress. Their suggestions on how to deal with the stress response are what got me out the door to run today. Especially since the alternative was sitting around “stewing in stress juice” caused by COVID-19 anxiety.

  • 9. Tweet Cute (Emma Lord)
    When I posted a pic of Orion with Tweet Cute on Instagram the other day, I called this book a “fluffy” read. Did this book teach me anything? Not really. Was it high-octane brain food? No. Did I feel a little sheepish reading a YA book about a teen romance? Yes. But it turns out, it was just what I needed.

  • 10. Radical Compassion (Tara Brach)
    This book dove into some deeply rooted beliefs, emotions, and feelings. Now that I’ve finished the book, I can really tell how much it affected me. This book has a lot of spiritual guidance on dealing with difficult emotions with compassion. Still, it was a heavy read for me. I’m struggling a little to put these notes together because my feelings are all over the place.

  • 11. How to Win Friends and Influence People (Dale Carnegie)
    This book was first published in 1936. Way before all of the business and marketing books that we have available today. And yet, with the wide variety of book options to read on the topic of how to make yourself more successful (mostly in the context of your career), it still shows up on countless reading lists. Which is why I picked it up.

april

  • 12. What Alice Forgot (Liane Moriarty)
    I remember picking this book up a few years ago and just not getting into the story. But after watching the first two seasons of Big Little Lies (based on the book by Liane Moriarty), I got curious again. And this time, What Alice Forgot wound up being a bit of a page-turner for me.

  • 13. Shoe Dog (Phil Knight)
    I was ready to add some non-fiction to my reading line-up. But I wanted to steer clear from an emotional memoir. But don’t get me wrong, this book isn’t lacking emotion. Far from it. Phil Knight’s introduction and final chapter both gave me chills. But maybe also I was too impressed to be emotional.

  • 14. The INFJ Writer (Lauren Sapala)
    Lauren Sapala is an INFJ and a writing coach. She works with other “intuitive types” on the Myers-Briggs scale, anyone with the “NF” in their personality type, but particularly INFJs.

  • 15. The Face (Ruth Ozeki)
    Writer and Zen Buddhist priest, Ruth Ozeki, writes about her experience staring at her reflection in a mirror for three hours. This small little book is a collection of mini memoirs and includes stories of the author’s life covering themes like race and gender.
  • 16. Sky Burial (Xinran)
    Would you spend 30 years wandering aroun Tibet trying to discover what happened to your husband? That’s what this book is about, and it’s beautifully written. Sometimes a book that’s as beautiful as one like this moves at a slower pace, but that’s not the case here. I couldn’t put this down until I found out what happened to Shu Wen, a woman who was determined to learn the truth.

may

  • 17. Wow, No Thank You (Samantha Irby)
    This is the second book I’ve read by Samantha Irby. Similar to her other books, this is a collection of essays that I almost gave up on it a few times because frankly, it’s gross. I kept finding myself saying, just one more chapter. She spares no details on the foods that she eats or what happens to her body afterward. And it only gets worse from there. But even when things got a little graphic for my taste, I still couldn’t put this book down.
  • 18. Nine Perfect Strangers (Liane Moriarty)
    So far, I’ve loved every book I’ve read by Liane Moriarty. (this is my third) I love how these books have read like mysteries, even though I wouldn’t put them in this category. In each chapter, you learn another piece of the puzzle. And with nine guests attending a health resort, there are a lot of pieces to learn about. I rooted for every character I met in this book with the exception of one. I’ll let you read it to figure out who that might be…

  • 19. A Tale for the Time Being (Ruth Ozeki)
    This book was my second in less than a month by Ruth Ozeki. And A Tale for the Time Being, The Face, and Sky Burial came together to create a flight of books that took me for quite a ride. Though this book never had any intense, gripping moments, I still read it with a sense of urgency. So much so that I was surprised when I realized I was over 200 pages in and felt like I had only been reading for about half an hour. The role that time plays in this book adds an element of science and magic that mixes with tough topics like bullying, depression, and suicide. The chapters bounce back and forth between two characters, Nao and Ruth, who are linked together by Nao’s diary. Ruth finds the diary along with a few other items washed onshore near her hometown. I’m still not entirely sure how the two characters’ stories are woven together through time. But the events that created that uncertainty will definitely stick with me for a while.

june

  • 20. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (Suzanne Collins)
    This book is the prequel to The Hunger Games and focuses on the character, Coriolanus Snow. If you know anything about The Hunger Games, then you know who this Snow character is. I was excited to get started on this new release (especially since the library just re-opened to allow for pick-up of Holds), and I read it in about a week. It wasn’t action-packed, but the story moved at a decent pace for me. It’s broken into three main parts and moves around from the Capitol to the Districts. Some have judged this book pretty harshly, but for me, I look at it similar to how I feel about each new Star Wars movie. I’m going to keep reading or watching, no matter what. Mainly because I’m curious to experience it for myself.

  • 21. Little Fires Everywhere (Celeste Ng)
    This one has been on my radar for a while. And then when Hulu released it as a series, I bumped it up on my TBR list. I wanted to read it before watching the TV series which I’ve only heard great things about. After plowing through this book in just a few days, I’m looking forward to watching it and seeing how it all unfolds visually. I loved the dedication, ““To those out on their own paths, setting little fires.” All it takes for something to happen is a spark. And this book had tons of little sparks.
  • 22. Heavy (Kiese Laymon)
    To be honest, this is not a memoir that was on my radar. But after looking over several anti-racist book lists and books written by black authors, I added quite a bit to my TBR list, including Heavy. While reading this book, at times I forgot that it was a memoir. But when I remembered the author was writing about his personal experiences, it made for a sensitive, emotional, “sit up and take notice” read. He doesn’t write this book to his mother; it’s more about her and her influence on his life. When he talks about the things that “you” said and did, he refers to his mother. One of my favorite quotes from this book: “The most important part of writing, and really life,” you said, “is revision.”

  • 23. The Herd (Andrea Bartz)
    The Herd is a recent release about the mysterious things that happen to the owner of a women-only co-working space in New York. After finishing Heavy, this book’s writing style and subject matter made for a jarring contrast. I added it to my list when I found it on a list of new books you should read according to your favorite flower. (fyi, mine is orchids) The plot felt predictable for me, but the action picked up more toward the end but still fell a little flat. The storytelling alternates chapter by chapter between two sisters, Hana and Katie, as the narrators. I wish the author had chosen one sister as the narrator (I would’ve picked Hana; I wasn’t a huge fan of Katie’s character) and stuck with her point of view throughout the book.

  • 24. Brave, Not Perfect (Reshma Saujani)
    As someone who has always struggled with perfectionism, I’m always drawn to books that could offer new insight into how the need to be perfect shows up in other people’s lives. The author, Reshma Saujani, is the founder of Girls Who Code and has a TED Talk about embracing imperfection and being brave. This book felt like an extension of a speech more than a book (especially because I read it in audio form). The anecdotes of how perfectionism shows up in other women’s lives didn’t create an emotional connection for me as I listened. But it was a quick read and reminders like be brave, make mistakes, etc. are never bad to hear.

july

  • 25. How to Be an Antiracist (Ibram X. Kendi)
    This is a challenging book. It was a challenge to read, and it’s challenged me to become more self-aware. As much as some pages made me want to close my eyes, look away, or close the book, I need to read this one several more times.

  • 26. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
    This is my third Neil Gaiman book of 2020. The Graveyard Book is a top contender for my favorite book this year (especially in audio form). But Coraline reminded me more of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. A quick (I read it in a few short hours), haunting, but still sweet read.

  • 27. Building a StoryBrand (Donald Miller)
    I have a tendency to gloss over non-fiction books where I’m already familiar with the content. I’ve found that audiobooks are great in this situation because I’m more likely to stay focused and get more out of the book. Building a StoryBrand was an awesome professional development read for me. The storybrand framework turns any business’s customer into the hero of their own story and teaches you how to position your brand/business to help this hero find success.
  • 28. What If This Were Enough (Heather Havrilesky)
    This book is a collection of essays by the author. I liked the intended theme of these essays – accepting where you are and not letting other people pressure you to be more, etc. But the tone of this entire collection came off as bitter to me. Rather than feeling empowered to be okay with who I am and accepting myself as enough, I feel almost guilty about improving who I am or how I live my life. I get what she’s trying to say, but the message’s delivery was a miss for me. Despite the overall tone, I did pull this quote from the chapter, “bravado”: “Five thousand little red hearts don’t mean much compared to that kind of faith in yourself.”
  • 29. Notes from a Young Black Chef (Kwame Onwuachi, Joshua David Stein)
    Another peek behind the scenes of the food world for me – but this one is from a new perspective. Kwame Onwuachi writes about growing up in the Bronx and spending time in Nigeria after his mom pretty much kicks him out. Led by his culinary gifts, he eventually finds himself with a catering company he built from nothing, as an understudy on Chopped (my favorite show), a top contestant on Top Chef, and a much-talked about chef in the world of fine dining.

  • 30. Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor E. Frankl)
    I struggled with what to say about this book. It’s well-known (obviously) with great lessons (obviously) from a famous man (obviously). I can’t even begin to imagine what Viktor Frankl went through. But I admire how he wrote about his experience to show that there is meaning in any moment, even in suffering. No matter what you or anyone else is going through, you can still find meaning in your life. And that meaning will be different for each one of us, and it can vary from moment to moment. “The meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day, from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment. To put the question in general terms would be to the question posed to a chess champion: ‘Tell me, Master, what is the best move in the world?’ There simply is no such thing as the best or even a good move apart from a particular situation in a game and the particular personality of one’s opponent. The same holds for human existence.” (Viktor E. Frankl)

  • 31. The Untethered Soul (Michael A. Singer)
    The Untethered Soul was a dive into the spiritual growth pool for me. (probably more like a cannonball) Judd Apatow mentioned this book in his interview for Brene Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us. It might be because I went with the audio version, but I found most chapters to be repetitive. But then again, sometimes you need to hear the same thing said a few different ways before it really sinks in. I liked the content of this book – it was just the right amount of spiritual topics to stretch my thinking mixed with real-life, practical examples to bring the ideas back to earth.

august

  • 32. The Stand (Stephen King)
    Yep. I waited for a global pandemic to read a gigantic book (over 1300 pages) about a superflu that takes over the US. This book is dark, no doubt about it. And really, I think the reason I decided to read it now was pure curiosity. I wanted a challenge. I wanted to see if this book was as scary as I imagined. Up until now, I’ve only read one other Stephen King book (On Writing). This one was much different. It was good until it became great. Yes, it’s dark. But I don’t think I would call it “scary,” but it’s definitely disturbing. Now I understand the hype.

  • 33. I Was Told it Would Get Easier (Abbi Waxman)
    I needed to follow up The Stand with something light and entertaining, and I Was Told It Would Get Easier delivered for both. Even though it’s been decades since I applied to colleges, this book was instantly relatable. (I’m really glad I don’t have to go through that process again.) Emily and her mom, Jessica, take an east coast college tour of potential colleges with a group of other parent-student pairs. The storyline had quite a few recognizable personalities in its characters, along with a bit of mystery, as it bounced between mom and daughter points of view. It was a quick read that was both sweet and genuine.

  • 34. Mexican Gothic (Silvia Moreno-Garcia)
    I snagged the audiobook for this one, and it was a good read on audio. The title suits the story as it takes place in Mexico and is gothic as well as sinister. Noemí Taboada journeys to a dark house, High Place, after she receives a strange letter from her cousin. She remains a bright spot in this story, even when strange and mysterious things begin to happen at the house – a place lacking in sunlight and life. It’s a creepy, strange story, but I wouldn’t call it scary. (And after reading it, once again I’m reading for something much lighter!)

  • 35. Here for It (R. Eric Thomas)
    This book is on an ever-growing list that shows that reading (and learning) about people’s experiences with significant life events is full of thought-provoking, critical lessons. And it can still be funny – really funny. Thomas is black, gay, and married to a Presbyterian preacher. This book is a collection of Thomas’s essays, and I was here for (and related strongly to) his struggles with self-acceptance. I loved his voice – genuine, full of heart, recognizably awkward, and wise.

september

  • 36. Strike Me Down (Mindy Mejia)
    My weekend long runs got me to a point where I was searching for an audiobook to keep my mind busy for four to five hours. The book blends crime, kickboxing, and forensic accounting. Strike Me Down started out a little slow, but the story built enough to occupy my mind during a recent 18-miler. And one of the audiobook narrators is George Newbern, who I loved as the narrator in A Man Called Ove.

  • 37. Upright Women Wanted (Sarah Gailey)
    For some reason, I thought this book took place in a past version of Wild West. It’s full of covered wagons, horses, and meals cooked over campfires. Turns out that it’s a quick read, and the setting is a future, dystopian version of “the West.” The cast is a group of women, “Librarians,” who travel from town to town distributing approved reading materials. But there’s more to this group than meets the eye. These women are brave, queer, and did I mention brave?

  • 38. Life in Motion (Misty Copeland, Charisse Jones)
    I’ve always been drawn to athlete memoirs, and I love Misty Copeland’s story. She didn’t grow up with a lot, but she became a standout star in the world of ballet despite that. Not because of the color of her skin because of her amazing talent and strength. While I enjoyed learning more about her background and how she got to where she is today, I didn’t love how that story was told. Rather than digging into that story, this book feels like more of an account of Misty’s performances and accolades, with her struggles mixed in.

  • 39. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (Lori Gottlieb)
    People kept raving about how special this book is. After gobbling up the last few chapters last night, I understand why. This book takes a trip into the mind of a therapist. But rather than only hearing her thoughts while sitting in her therapist seat, she also shares her experience as a patient (or client). Without throwing it in your face, this book is about transformation. Tough, inner transformation. 90% through the Kindle version I had given it 5 stars. And then she turns it up to 11. So good.

october

  • 40. Eat a Peach (David Chang)
    Given that this book’s cover features a man pushing a giant peach up a hill (like in the tale of Sisyphus), it was no surprise that this memoir by David Chang detailed quite a bit of the struggle he’s gone through – both in the restaurant world and with his mental health. While this book didn’t seem to tell his story cohesively, the lack of tidiness made it feel more genuine. I’m always interested in reading books that dig into worlds that I know nothing about – like high-end restaurants. As curious as I was to learn more about this world, it’s not a light read. David Change talks about his longstanding mental health battles as well as battles throughout his career. The cover fits it perfectly.
  • 41. Bird Box (Josh Malerman)
    This book creeped me out almost immediately. I’m not sure if it’s because I read the audiobook, but it has some serious suspense. I’ve wanted to watch the movie but was worried that it would be too scary. All I knew about the story was a mom (Malorie) had to row down a river blindfolded with two small children. By listening to this book at 2x speed in the middle of the day while running, I endured the creepiness and suspense and found out how they ended up on the river and why they were blindfolded. As a warning, I’m not sure this is the best choice of book to read during a pandemic. But if you want something spooky and are good with a story filled with uncertainty (despite our real-life uncertainty), then go for it.
  • 42. Anxious People (Fredrik Backman)
    Fredrik Backman has quickly become one of my favorite authors (I loved Bear Town, A Man Called Ove (especially on audio), and Us Against You.) I’ve grown to love his writing style and how he tells a story. As the book progresses, he adds puzzle pieces to both the storyline and his characters. And Anxious People follows this same pattern. You know what happens from the start (in this case, a bank robbery). But the how and why take time to unfold. The anxious people mentioned in the title are potential apartment buyers who end up hostages when the bank robbery goes awry. This book is funny and touching – Backman makes sure that there are plenty of feels to go around.

  • 43. The Kitchen Counter Cooking School (Kathleen Flinn)
    This book is an inspiration for “regular people” who want to cook more but don’t know how, don’t feel like they have time, or just don’t know what to make. I love reading about the world of cooking, and this book was especially fun because it brought it down to the everyday level. While the world of fine dining and cuisine exists, this is not a book about that world. Instead, it’s the stories of regular home cooks who learn skills to help them out in the kitchen from the author herself. You get a glimpse into their cooking experience and what holds them back from cooking at home, mostly to do with time, convenience, and motivation. I loved the home cook experiences but couldn’t help but notice that she chose all women for her “experiment.” Still, a book I really enjoyed and learned some cooking tips from, as well.

  • 44. Sex and Vanity (Kevin Kwan)
    Kevin Kwan is also the author of the Crazy Rich Asians series. I read Sex and Vanity because book #1 in that series was hilarious and unbelievable and a fun book to “escape” into. This one was okay. It was still a fun read, with a story of wealth, culture differences, love, and family. But it’s hard to compare with the previous books.
  • 45. Talk Like TED (Carmine Gallo)
    Talk Like TED takes a look at the most famous or popular TED talks. From these talks, the authors has extracted nine secrets to becoming a great public speaker. In audio, this book read more like a motivational talk than an informative book. Quite a bit of the tips become repetitive, but it didn’t stop me from finishing it. I’m not sure I would say there were any surprises or secrets in this book, but it did open my eyes to how much goes into making a TED talk that gets millions of views on YouTube.

november

  • 46. The House in the Cerulean Sea (TJ Klune)
    This book is simple, sweet, and fun to read. If you read the synopsis, you’ll see the words “love story.” And while that may be true, it’s so much more than that. Linus, a case worker for a magical society, visits an orphanage on an island to determine if it’s suitable for children. He meets a special group of children with special gifts and their caretaker. Their interactions are heartwarming, and I could feel every detail in this story.

  • 47. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)
    I vaguely remember reading this book in high school, but I’m sure I got much more out of it now compared to then. The audiobook is great because the author narrates her own memoir. My favorite part about her narration is she even sings the hymns mentioned in the text. I love the transition of her story. This is a memoir that continues to build in content and in the writing itself.
  • 48. Finding Ultra (Rich Roll)
    I’ve listened to a few episodes of Rich Roll’s podcast and am familiar with long distance triathlon performances. I’ve had his memoir on my TBR list for months and decided to finally give his book a listen. His story and this memoir is broken up into four chunks: growing up a swimmer, his struggle with alcohol, his experience with Ultraman, and completing the EPIC5 (five Ironman distances on each of Hawaii’s islands). He also goes into how he made the switch to a plant-based diet. But this isn’t a how-to book; it’s more about his experience with overcoming some pretty big struggles.
  • 49. Don’t Overthink It (Anne Bogel)
    I love this author’s podcast (What Should I Read Next?). And when I heard she came out with a new book, I added it to my TBR list. I am a chronic overthinker, and all the thoughts that recent events have caused in my mind bumped this book to the top of the list. The subtitle more than explains what this book is all about: “Make Easier Decisions, Stop Second-Guessing, and Bring More Joy to Your Life.” This one’s going in my to be re-read pile.

december

  • 50. Breath (James Nestor)
    I appreciate books where the author clearly dives into a subject they find interesting. Breath is probably the most science-y book I’ve read all year, and it was a nice change of pace from the memoirs and fiction books I’ve read more recently. Breathing is obviously a necessity for life, but this book digs into research from the 1800s and 1900s for the effect it can have on your health, daily life, and sleep.
  • 51. The Gifted School (Bruce Holsinger)
    I don’t remember exactly where I heard about this book, but it grabbed my attention because it’s set in a small town in Colorado (that’s modeled after Boulder). As you might guess from the title, it’s about a new school coming to a small town for “gifted” students. The story follows four families through the application/decision-making process of who gets into this school. With husbands, wives, new wives, kids, and admins, this book had a lot of characters. It took me a little while to stay on top of who was who and all the “why she was mad at her”-type situations. It kind of reminds me of Big Little Lies with bits and pieces from Little Fires Everywhere and is more “back-stabby” than cozy.
  • 52. Fates and Furies (Lauren Groff)
    After hearing a few mentions of this book, I finally got curious enough to check it out from the library. I was intrigued because of what I’d heard about the book’s structure. Broken into two parts, this book is about a marriage. The first half is told from the husband’s point of view. The second half is from the wife’s. Given the title, I thought I had this story all figured out. No spoilers here, but all I will say is that it ended up surprising me! I’ll also say that this one was a little heavier than I probably needed to go right now, but I hung in until the end.
  • 53. Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)
    Somehow I’ve made it this long without reading this book. I don’t think I ever read it in high school. And then I heard it was science fiction, and I made assumptions that it’d be something I wouldn’t like. I had no idea it was a book about books – burning books! I read this one quickly, and I can see why it’s one that many people come back to. There’s a lot to think about – the parlors with the crazy TV screens filled with “family” creep me out. And seem a little too close to reality. If you happen to pick up the edition with Neil Gaiman’s intro, you’re in for a treat.
  • 54. Present Over Perfect (Shauna Niequist)
    I loved the title of this book, and the sub-title (Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living) led me to check it out from the library. It’s a collection of essays that feel more cohesive than some of the other books I’ve read in this format. The author takes a more spiritual/religious look at the perils of perfection on her life. If anything, this book was a nice reminder that a lot of the stuff you feel when you’re a perfectionist is shared by others.
  • 55. The Bluest Eye (Toni Morrison)
    It’s the end of 2020, and I’m blowing through books like crazy. This one had been on my library hold list for months. I kept pushing out my borrow date because I wasn’t sure I was in the right frame of mind to read this book. Now that I’ve read it, I’m not sure that a perfect time even exists. It’s broken up into four big chapters: autumn, winter, spring, and summer. And there is a lot of descriptive, powerful language shared in each of those seasons. Reading this in what’s known as a “season of hope,” I can’t say that there was a lot of hope present here, but it was still such beautiful writing.  (a writing style that I’m not usually a huge fan of) But oof, not an easy read.

2020 dnfs

  • Creative Calling (Chase Jarvis)

  • Talking to Strangers (Malcom Gladwell)

  • The Body (Bill Bryson)

past reading lists

Follow @thebookishathlete for updates on what I’ve been reading lately. Book recommendations are always appreciated, and I’m happy to throw out some ideas as well!