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Friday, January 15, 2021

My Top 4 Books in 2020 (plus all the rest)

Amazingly, I managed to hit half of my reading goal for the year! Between a new baby and a global pandemic, I am firmly in camp "making it through each day is a success." I somehow wound up with MORE books on my TBR shelf than I started with, thanks in no small part to discovering BookOutlet, plus the library's super-convenient website ordering and curbside pickup. I still adore browsing through the stacks, but between email list and Bookstagram recs, and having the entire NC Cardinal system at my fingertips, it's too easy to get the exact book I'm looking for. I can't wait to be able to be pleasantly surprised again, though.

My Four Favorite Books: 


1. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. "Beyond race, class, or other factors, a powerful caste system influences people's lives and behavior and the nation's fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations... [and] shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day." This book made me so righteously angry that I wanted to vomit. And I say that as highest praise: this is a book that every white person needs to read. I thought I understood "racism", but I didn't get the nefarious ways those in power use race (and class and other delineations) to divide us in order to maintain power. Is there a way to get rid of caste on a country-wide scale without simply burning it all down and starting over? I don't know. That's what had to happen in Germany to stop the inhumanity. 

Also in the category of Black Lives Matter reading: Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi, Dean Smith, Charlie Scott, and the Era That Transformed a Southern College Town by Art Chansky, Raising White Kids by Jennifer Harvey, Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis, and Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum. 

2. Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression - and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari. "Once Hari had uncovered nine real causes of these problems, they led him to scientists who are discovering very different solutions--ones that work." I believe mental health is a multifaceted thing, made up of neurochemicals, physical pathways, gut health, AND the connections Hari talks about in this book. Only using one of these facets to gain good mental health leaves a lot of potential on the table. I also believe the medical establishment wants to sell the quick fixes of pills and a lot of people would benefit from therapy, meaningful work, a better network of acquaintances, neighbors, and friends, and finding ways to be of service. My own journey with therapy, medication, functional medicine, and connection certainly bears that out. Knowing my own history, I sought a therapist for immediately post-partum, to talk through and hopefully alleviate issues that could have led to a postpartum depression or anxiety episode. Hari's book is worth reading even if only to check through your own connections and see what you can make stronger. 

Also in Getting Better reading: What You Do is Who You Are, Smart People Should Build Things by Andrew Yang The Disappearing Spoon, Cribsheet, 7 Secrets of the Newborn, Untamed by Glennon Doyle, The 7 Laws of Enough, Courage by Osho, In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore, Meaning of the Library, Off the Clock and Juliet's School of Possibilities both by Laura Vanderkam, and See You at the Campground by RVAtlas. 

3. The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker. "At a time when coming together is more important than ever, Parker sets forth a human-centered approach to gathering that will help everyone create meaningful, memorable experiences, large and small, for work and for play." I loved this one so much that after I returned it to the library, I bought myself a copy. Total game changer for theater and other live performance events. The way Parker describes asking "what is the purpose of this event?" made me rethink every theater show I have put on. Being able to think through her precepts for gathering will make any theater better connect with their ideal audience, which of course leads to raving fans and successful operations. 

Also in When I Have a Job Again reading: This is Marketing and The Practice, both by Seth Godin (these actually bookended the year!), Profit First by Mike Michalowicz, Setting the Table by Danny Meyer, and Building A Company: Roy O. Disney and the Creation of an Entertainment Empire

4. In fiction: The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd. (Fun fact: Kidd lives in our old home Chapel Hill! Did I know this when we lived there? No, I did not.) I CANNOT stop thinking about this story about Ana, wife of Jesus of Nazareth. "Grounded in meticulous research and written with a reverential approach to Jesus's life that focuses on his humanity, The Book of Longings is an inspiring, unforgettable account of one woman's bold struggle to realize the passion and potential inside her, while living in a time, place and culture devised to silence her. It is a triumph of storytelling both timely and timeless, from a masterful writer at the height of her powers." Kidd's storytelling made me weep. 

Also in fiction: The Library of the Unwritten, Mysterious Benedict Society: Riddle of the Ages, The Secret Chapter, and The Satapur Moonstone