If you’re a book geek like me, you definitely know the social networking site Goodreads. It’s where I keep track of all of the books on my LONG to-read list and how I decide what to read next based on reviews from friends. I also love the feature where you set a reading goal at the beginning of the year, and keep track of whether you’re ahead of or behind your goal — kind of like those summer reading challenges in elementary school, but for adults!
Anyway, since we’re already way into the second half of the year, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the books I’ve read so far on my way to 20 for 2016…
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. This book was a huge revelation for me and a wonderful way to start off the year. Finally an acknowledgment of the inherent strengths of introverts, instead of suggesting that they should just try to be more extroverted. In so many ways I felt like Cain was looking right into the heart of me — what a breath of fresh air! This book has inspired me to both recognize and cultivate my introverted strengths. A very insightful read!
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed. A Christmas gift from my sister, I devoured this compilation from the Dear Sugar advice column. I really enjoyed Strayed’s Wild and the Dear Sugar podcast kept me company during much of my marathon training over the winter. The book is totally engaging, and a reminder that no matter what struggles we’re facing, we are never alone.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Oh man, this memoir tore my heart out. If you read the mega-successful blog A Cup of Jo, then you know that Paul was Joanna’s brother-in-law. After receiving a diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer in his mid-thirties, Paul wrote down his thoughts and struggles with his own mortality. Being both a neurosurgeon and a philosopher, his words are particularly moving, and so is knowing that he died during the writing of the memoir. Since I mostly read during my commute, this book left me constantly in tears on the train.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. More of an elongated essay than a book, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t read this! A quote from it: “Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.”
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. Of all the books I’ve read so far this year, this is above and beyond the best. It takes place in a small village in Chechnya, spanning 1994 to 2004 during the first and second Chechen wars. It tells the hopeless story of Sonja and Akhmed trying to keep a little girl safe from the Russians, in an abandoned hospital where they are the only doctors remaining. Beautifully written, it’s about sacrifices and compromises in devastating circumstances.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Written as a letter to his teenage son, this book is a must read for everyone who wants to have a meaningful discussion about race in America.
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve never read any of Gilbert’s other books, so I didn’t have any real expectations for this one. The story focuses on Alma Whittaker, a well-to-do botanist in 19th century Philadelphia and her quest for love and fulfillment. I did find it entertaining, even if it wasn’t my favorite book ever.
All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu. I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It flips constantly between the the story of two friends during civil war in Uganda, and when one of those friends is placed in the American Midwest as a refugee. Although I really loved reading about the city of Kampala, where I lived for a year after college and could picture vividly in my head, everything else in the book just kind of fell flat for me.
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I absolutely loved Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, so I had high expectations for this book. While Cloud Atlas had just the right mixture of reality and the fantastical to be entertaining, the Bone Clocks just seemed way too over the top for me. I never could quite reach the suspension of disbelief necessary for the story, so I couldn’t let myself sink fully into the book.
Submission by Michel Houellebecq. A friend of mine read this book and was so shaken by it that another friend and I immediately read it as well. Set in Paris in 2022 while the Socialist party and the Muslim Brotherhood join forces to defeat the rightist National Front. It’s told from the perspective of an apathetic, middle-aged professor without any real principles to speak of. Over the course of the story, he gradually gives into the drastic social and political changes necessary to secure a comfortable life for himself. There is so much about this book that is upsetting and uncomfortable, which alone is a good enough reason to give it a read.