2020 Reading List:

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books read
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audiobooks
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authors
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gave up on

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. (book notes)

  • 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. (book notes)

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. (book notes)

  • 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. (book notes)

  • 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.” (book notes)

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. (book notes)

  • 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. (book notes)

  • 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. (book notes)

  • 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. (book notes)

  • 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. (book notes)

  • 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. (book notes)

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. (book notes)

  • 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. (book notes)

  • 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. (book notes)

  • 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.

2020 Books I DNF’d

  • Creative Calling (Chase Jarvis)

  • Talking to Strangers (Malcom Gladwell)

Past Reading Lists