This was an extremely productive year of reading. Somehow, even with a full load of classes and working, I was able to read more than I ever have before. This is for three reasons: 1) Giving in to the Audible way of life. I had to do a lot of commuting with my internship and this bought a lot of ‘reading’ time! 2) The silver lining of a messy divorce and convoluted parenting plan is that I have time to nurture my introverted self that I’ve never had before. I used to read while nursing babies or late at night and not too much in between. Now, I can sometimes manage to whittle away an entire Sunday afternoon in books if I want to! And 3) I am a reader. That means something. Reading is something you commit to if you love and value it. It means to sometimes choose books when you’d rather tune out to Netflix. It means making sure you own a purse large enough to stash a book inside (yes, this is a factor I consider when shopping) so that you pull your book out in waiting rooms or coffee shops rather than scrolling through your phone. It’s a lifestyle you choose to live if its important to you. And since my life has been made immeasurably better in nearly every way through reading, I doubled down on my commitment to that lifestyle this year.
In 2018, I began my commitment to reading three “hard books” a year. I’m adding in a 4th commitment to myself now and that is to RE-read a book each year. Revisited books are like old friends and new treasures can be mined from these old haunts just by virtue of the evolving perspective that time and age buys you. While I managed to read over 30 titles (!), I want to highlight here just 12 that were especially meaningful for me to read.
The Lord of the Rings. It had been nearly 20 years since I last read these books. And this is the perfect example of old books offering brand new meaning upon revisit. This will not be the last time I read all about my favorite characters. LoTR being my favorite work of fiction is probably the most cliché and nerdy thing about me. I’ll wear that crown. 🙂
12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson. I resisted this man until I could no longer. He was getting too famous. Everyone was talking about him. My natural (and unreasonable) aversion to popular things/people didn’t WANT to love him. But now, I’m a total groupie. In a world where people can not seem to talk straight about what matters, Peterson is a breath of fresh air. He speaks my language in an interdisciplinary way— weaving together science, mythology, psychology, spirituality etc. I love his videos, his books, his quotes, all of it. I might get a tattoo of his face on my bicep. I mean… heavy emphasis on the “might”, but it’s at least fun to have my pride take a hit as I join the fan club. 🙂
Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell. I have loved every word that has spilled from this man’s hands ever since I began following his syndicated column in the local newspaper as a teenager. He is extraordinarily dispassionate and sensible about hot-topics! This book was a mental game changer for me as I finally began to understand something about markets and regulations and economic principles. I’m convinced that if every politician read this book, and cared, our world would be a much better place. Highly recommended.
The Inner Search by Dom Hubert Van Zeller. So… one of my favorite things about being Catholic is the total heterogeneity of our people and of our expressions of faith that exist under the same theological umbrella. There is a saint that resonates with some people and not others, same with spiritual writers. Van Zeller is one of my people. I don’t think he’s for everyone. But he is for me. And I’ve eaten up every little morsel I’ve gotten from him. In the process of cleaning up and purging our parish library, I was able to gather a number of old Van Zeller books that have enriched my spirituality so much.
Silence by Shusaku Endo. One of the best books I’ve ever read in my life. It was one of the best because it left me so thoughtful! I still can’t wrap my mind around it. This book challenged so many things that I had taken for granted regarding faith and life and martyrdom and shame and redemption, etc. There is some controversy about the “message” this supposedly gives… but ultimately I think it’s a powerful book that ought to leave all of us breathless at the mystery of our finite understanding of life. In a similar vein, incidentally, the book The Power and the Glory was another one I read this year that not only was delicious writing, but made me extremely thoughtful…
Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brené Brown. I’m a big fan of this author as the type of work she’s spent her career researching tends to resonate deeply with me: these are the concepts of shame and self-worth. This book was very useful for me both personally and professionally to really identify what matters and who matters and how to show up when needed. I also read and enjoyed her title Rising Strong this year as well!
Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. I can’t remember what brought this book onto my radar; it wasn’t a planned read (I generally have an intentional reading list but allow spaces for serendipitous books) and I’m not particularly in a place of negotiation in any domain of my life at present. But I found the book to be a fascinating study of human behavior, empathy, and power. Really interesting!
The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce Perry. This was an extraordinary book. Sure, it’s ideal for people in the mental health professions to read, but there were so many profound takeaways I learned about attachment theories, love, grief, and pathologies. This book has impacted me greatly both as a mother and an upcoming clinician. Trauma is something most people bring into adulthood in one form or another and understanding it could do wonders for improving the quality of life for everyone.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. I used to want to be a bioethicist. Then I realized that those jobs aren’t particularly easy to find on Craigslist or with the background and dollars I brought to my education. Suffice it to say, I find ethics riveting. And end of life issues intriguing. This book was beautifully written and extremely thought provoking. It left me, like Silence, marveling at the mysteries of life and bowing in humility with the realization that there are more questions than answers.
Farewell to Arms. I didn’t get to as much fiction as I would’ve liked to this year (Again. True to form.) but I’ve spent so much time swooning over Hemingway quotes about life, love and WRITING that I thought it about time to actually read one of his novels. What makes this one breach the Top 12 was the unique style of Hemingway’s writing for one thing, and the personal meaning I found in spending my time getting to know another writer that I’ve long respected while reading this novel.
The Private Life: Our Everyday Self in an Age of Intrusion by Josh Cohen. Full disclosure, I’m not finished with this one yet but it has all the makings of things that fascinate me: human behavior, grappling with social media and connection/vulnerability, self awareness, perceptions, etc. “The ego is not master in its own house…” sort of stuff. So anyway, I’m just assuming that whether I end up liking it or not, this book will add to my storehouse of meaning on topics that matter to me a lot.
The Day is Now Far Spent by Cardinal Sarah. Another one of ‘my people’… I’m taking my time with this book as part of my spiritual reading. This is the kind of book where I keep a pencil nearby so parts can be underlined and rewritten in my commonplace book to become engraved upon my memory forever. I fell in love with Sarah in his book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise (one of the best spiritual books I’ve ever read in my life) and this one is the third in the series… I’ve yet to read the first one but you can be sure I will…
I don’t have 2020 all mapped out yet but I do know that I will be rereading a beloved book: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and I’m determined to start in on The Gulag Archipelago since I bought some gorgeous early editions this year on eBay. This might take me the entire year or more to read through all three volumes but I know it will be worth it…