Adding my own list, part personal journey, part sharing good reads, to the many available online. My inner librarian insists I track what I read and how much I liked it, and so I do. Below you’ll find the flagged results from my year of adult-level reading.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
What a breath of fresh air! Seriously. Doyle channels every misogynist myth and unbraids it from our cultural lore. I love every step in the journey she shares, how it builds, how it becomes an earnest, lasting call to personal courage. My favorite quote from the book: “Maybe Eve was never meant to be our warning. Maybe she was meant to be our model. Own your wanting. Eat the apple. Let it burn.” I read this early in the pandemic – no book clubs! But I keep finding people who’ve read it and applauding our favorite parts together.
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
Following my body/empowerment fixation, I devoured this thoroughly researched, wonderfully new biography of women and sex that reads like a novel. Taddeo follows three American women through eight years of life and wades through considerable, weighty material to underline how disparate sexuality – and its expression – can be.
The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg
I’ll be honest, I’ve read all of Wizenberg’s work – from her erstwhile blog to her Bon Appetit column (RIP) and both former memoirs. I love her honest take on life, and the way food always factors in. This particular work feels different, weightier. In it, she disassembles a marriage, a sexual identity, a life. While she waffles and considers, outside relationships fall apart, a brutal side effect to major change that’s often overlooked. Her brave pursuit of the life she wants, shedding identity and outside definitions to redraw a life she believes in, reads as female empowerment.
The Dragons The Giant The Women by Wayetu Moore
This riveting story of one family’s escape from the First Liberian Civil War paints large the heroism of the father of three young girls. Of course other countries besides ours have wars, and hearing this story from one side of Liberia’s gives me the same feeling of futility as every other. But Moore speaks lovingly from the side of the rescued and imbuing a five-year-olds’ imagination across the reality, even as she describes an American childhood set apart. There are many ways to be rescued, but are we ever, truly, saved?
Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio
I loved reading the stories compiled and thoughtfully arranged by the author to showcase the wild variety of people living in the United States “illegally.” It’s awesome how a society that migrated here, stealing land from the natives without a twinge of conscience, has drawn such high moral guidelines in so few generations to outlaw similar behavior by other migrating peoples. If you need an empathetic nudge, here’s one.
The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor
The most influential self-help-genre book I’ve ever read, this book opened a new door of peace between myself and… my physical self. It sounds so weird, but Ms. Taylor understands how women grow up to separate themselves from their bodies, to divide ourself in favor of survival. It’s not figurative. Taylor writes a healing book, rife with personal anecdote, and fierce with unapologetic, learned self-love.
Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski
The author’s take on individual sexuality – as singular as a fingerprint – follows the female sex through middle-age morality and around current biology, to where society lands. The basic lesson: don’t use another person’s experience as your own standard. Same advice you’ll receive for Instagram. Interpretations of biology felt new seen through a cultural lens. But, really, the best part was how Nagoski takes readers through the stress impact daily life has on desire. Understanding my own triggers in combination with my desires leaves a full picture of my own sexuality that I hadn’t put together in such a tangible, enactable way.
White Fragility by Robin Diangelo
This book frames racism for white people from a less “offensive,” representative angle. DiAngelo’s key is to inform without offending, as well as to show how difficult that is and why quiescent American culture supports racism. It is not well researched and thorough like Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, but it is meant to be equally decisive. All Americans are guilty of racism because we’ve breathed the racist air our country pumps out. If you need to explain racism to parents or aging neighbors who “don’t see color,” her angle is peerless. Start your journey here, then branch out.
Authoritative Books on Race: Between the World and Me. How to Be an Antiracist
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race
Upstream by Mary Oliver –
In this year of turmoil, I’ve found comfort in Oliver’s essays about nature and authors of yore whose work survives. There’s calm in exploring the small, roundish world of a turtle. I highly recommend this roaming, big-skied change of pace just now.
She Would Be King by Wayetu Moore –
My #1 pick for 2020. I cannot rave enough about this magical, historical fiction work. Moore weaves the story together with surety and strength, her steady prose driven, her characters half-legend even as they live on each page. I grabbed her memoir immediately after reading this and enjoyed finding some of her characters’ backstory in its equally-riveting pages. Here’s a writer whose career I will follow with baited breath.
Readalike: The Tiger’s Wife
The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon
Who are we when we lose our god? The idea behind this book explores redefining personal identity after loss of core belief. As a human whose religion defined her childhood, my empathy blazed along with Will, the protagonist whose life is also complicated by financial status and a mentally ill parent. The story follows Will’s disassembly from a god-worshipping, fundamentalist religion into a relationship with a woman as they are pressured into joining a radical cult. Flawlessly dovetailing traditional religion with a radicalized cult, Kwon toys with belonging and love, and whether we can be too broken find the difference.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
A gripping, epic work that follows a mother and son, survivors of a gang hit against their family, as they escape Mexico to the United States. Lydia’s nonstop calculations and risk-taking, the level of constant stress, occasionally felt heavy, but Cummins handles this so deftly it doesn’t feel like plotting. I read the entire 400 pages within a week.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
I consider this book, alongside Huxley’s Brave New World, to be the ultimate in re-readable, dystopian perfection. Haunted by The Handmaid’s Tale for two decades, I couldn’t wait to nab this sequel. What I loved most was the surprising reversal of the story when told by survivors on the “winning” side. Plus, finally, a hint of closure.
Audio Honorable Mentions
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King
A Burning by Megha Majumbar
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner
Maid by Stephanie Land
The links provided show where to buy the work, no matter where you live. However, please consider supporting independent bookstores. If you live in Colorado, these stores are my favorites:
I also support buying used whenever possible. Local to Denver? We love Book Stop in Wheat Ridge, Colorado’s Used Book Store in Englewood, and West Side Books in Highlands. Online, try https://www.thriftbooks.com/