Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

My Favorite Reads This Year

I set a goal for myself for this year to read 25 books. I chose that number because it seemed both doable and ambitious enough for me that I would *have* to change my habits, which was the point of the goal. Many, many moons ago – before kids and even before marriage when I had a lot more uninterrupted solo time (and the focus and energy to fill said time with activities other than lying horizontal staring off in the distance or at a screen) — I easily read a book a week, but in more recent years, I’d be lucky to reach 10 or 12 books in a year. So I set a goal of 25 to nudge me back into the reading habit, to force myself to put books back on my radar (reading reviews, asking for recommendations, constantly adding to and updating my holds list at the library, where I get 90% of my books).

I’m a little sad to say that I’m going to fall short of my goal for the year. I’ve only finished 17 books so far and, if I’m being honest, the likelihood of me finishing more than three in the next four weeks is very, very slim. However! There are an additional 12 books that I started and didn’t finish and I think that should count for something. In some cases, I read a good 200 pages of a book before I gave up. In all cases, I read at least 25 pages before deciding I wasn’t feeling it and moving on.

All of this reading – even if I didn’t finish as many books as I set out to finish — accomplished what I hoped it would. I am reacquainted with a hobby I love — both the actual reading of the books and the information-gathering around books I might like. Literature is a bigger part of my life at the end of this year than it has been in a long time and this is a very good thing. I’m looking forward to lots more reading in the year ahead! In the mean time, I’d love to share with you what my top reads of this year have been.

These are the books that have stayed with me, that I continue to think about weeks and sometimes months after finishing them:

You Think It, I’ll Say It is a collection of short stories by Curtis Sittenfeld who is a masterful story-teller and particularly gifted at humanizing deeply flawed characters. I know a book is great when I finish it wishing I could write something similar. These are the kinds of stories I’d write if I were as talented and disciplined as Sittenfeld.


My therapist recommended Being Mortal to me and I read it sort of begrudgingly like it was a homework assignment I needed to get done. I was very surprised to actually love this nonfiction book and its unflinching examination of end-of-life care, and as the subtitle says: “what matters in the end.”

His Favorites is a petite book (160 pages), but each page packs a punch. This is a suspenseful novel that explores the vulnerabilities of young women in a #metoo world.

Little Fires Everywhere is a page-turner! It’s a “riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture-perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives.” It leaves the reader questioning what makes a mother — and, really, what makes a family. Really engaging storytelling with rich, complicated characters you can’t help but root for, even when they do stupid stuff.

Small Fry written by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Steve Jobs’ eldest child, is a beautifully-written, almost devastating memoir about growing up between two very disparate worlds (her father, of course, was extremely successful, rich, and famous, while her struggling single mother relied on welfare for many years to support them). I’m a memoir fan, but this reads like a novel and I think could appeal even to those who prefer fiction.

Educated, by Tara Westover is everything I love about memoirs, my favorite genre of literature. It’s a coming-of-age tale that is at once hopeful and devastating, full of complex characters and complicated relationships, with a riveting narrative that is every bit as amazing as the most imaginatively-told novels.

I’m currently reading Ask Again, Yes and not quite halfway through so it’s too early to call it a favorite read but I *am* really enjoying it and suspect it would make this list if I’d started it earlier. Next up I’m reading Between the World and Me, which has gotten rave reviews. I’ll report back when I finish (if I finish – ha!).

20 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Vathena December 3, 2019, 2:05 pm

    Yay! I’ve been waiting for the end of year book post! Wendy inspired me to adopt a similar challenge this year, and I also wanted to read more books by women, authors of color, and lgbtq authors. I have read 31.5 books so far this year, and none of them were written by cishet white guys. I also loved “Little Fires Everywhere” and “Educated”. I recently finished another memoir, “Ordinary Girls”, which was excellent. “Homegoing” by Yaa Giasi, “The Round House” by Louise Erdrich, and “The Witch Elm” by Tana French were all great. I’m in the middle of “Americanah”, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and really enjoying it. Next up is “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”, by Ocean Vuong. I will have to add some of these recs to my list, too!

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy December 3, 2019, 2:14 pm

      35 books – that’s excellent! I’ll check out some of your recommendations, too!

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    anonymousse December 3, 2019, 3:37 pm

    You inspired me to set a goal for reading this year and am happy to say that I’ve read a lot of books this year. My kindle app says I have read everyday for the past 339 days in a row which is crazy.

    These are my favorites from what I read this year in no particular order:
    The Library Book- Susan Orlean
    Sally Rooney- Normal People and Conversations with Friends.
    I literally could not put her books down. I read one in a day.
    Ta-Nehisi Coates- The Water Dancer
    David Mitchell- Slade House
    Michael Ondaatje- Warlight
    Jim Tolentino- Trick Mirror
    Ronan Farrow- Catch and Kill
    Susan Choi- Trust Exercise

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy December 3, 2019, 4:42 pm

      I read both of Sally Rooney’s novels this year too and also really liked them. I have Trick Mirror and Catch and Kill on my holds list at the library and looking forward to reading them.

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        anonymousse December 3, 2019, 5:16 pm

        I use the library primarily, too!

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      anonymousse December 3, 2019, 7:18 pm

      Nickel Boys should be on this list, too.

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      Vathena December 3, 2019, 8:51 pm

      Ha Anonymousse, my 2020 list looks a lot like your 2019 list! I’ve got The Nickel Boys, Conversations with Friends, The Water Dancer, and Trust Exercise on hold at the library right now. I enjoyed Normal People, too. Another Irish-themed book I read this year and really liked was Saints For All Occasions, by J. Courtney Sullivan.

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        anonymousse December 3, 2019, 10:09 pm

        Yes, I seem to love anything set in Ireland, ha ha. I remember we have a lot of similar taste in books. I just got Homegoing from seeing it on your list.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom December 3, 2019, 4:10 pm

    “Educated” is my favorite book this year.

    The book that I think will make the most difference in my life is, “The End of Alzheimer’s” by Dale E. Bredesen, MD. My mom has dementia so I started researching it. I think this book can be life changing. I sent a copy to each of my siblings to see if they would like to try this with our mom. My brother who lives with our mom decided not to read it so nothing will happen. I recommend this book to anyone who has a family member who might be developing dementia. I also recommend it to anyone who doesn’t want to develop dementia. This is a book about keeping the brain healthy and healing it when it isn’t healthy. It’s based on decades of research by people who publish in reputable journals.

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy December 3, 2019, 4:43 pm

      Interesting! A close friend of mine has a dad with dementia who’s had to move into a nursing home recently. I will tell him about this book (assuming it’s too late to be relevant for his dad but could be relevant to him and avoiding a similar outcome…).

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      • Skyblossom

        Skyblossom December 3, 2019, 5:08 pm

        I told my siblings that even if our mom doesn’t do this we can save ourselves from dementia.

        I’m already doing parts of it and seeing results. My morning fog is gone. I’ve also greatly improved with situations where you can’t think of the correct word.

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      anonymousse December 3, 2019, 5:21 pm

      I will check this out! I appreciate the recommendation. My MIL has dementia and it’s getting worse. Every time I see here I notice it progressing, which is basically every week. Her husband doesn’t want to put her in a home, but she honestly has to be monitored constantly. The hardest part emotionally is now she is forgetting her kids names. She asked me who her daughter was at the diner table last week. They’ve made peace with it, like she’s another person now, in a way. It’s really sad.

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    prairie gal December 3, 2019, 5:04 pm

    Just came here to say: I did a book challenge last year and I found it really sucked the air out of my enjoyment of reading. I’d eye up a book I’d been meaning to read, then wonder if I shouldn’t pick a skinnier volume, since I’d get through it faster and improve my numbers! BOO.

    Anyway, goals are important etc etc but I just wanted to say reading for pleasure doesn’t have to be about numbers and … like this was a good lesson to me on keeping an eye on what types of behaviour I’m actually incentivizing when I set a goal.

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      anonymousse December 3, 2019, 7:17 pm

      I always read for pleasure, but it was fun for me to set a goal, blow past it and keep track of what I read for a year.

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    ktfran December 3, 2019, 5:28 pm

    Thank you for highlighting Being Mortal. It has moved to the top of my reading list.

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    Peggy December 3, 2019, 7:13 pm

    Great to talk about reading and books. “Educated” is an amazing and inspiring read. A delight ,and a book I will read again and again is “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles.
    Because people write here about relationships,a book for thought is” The Rules of Love” by Richard Templar. It has “rules” for finding someone good for you,rules for being in a good /healthy relationship and rules for break-ups,if it comes to that. Also a bonus chapter on rules for dealing with Family. This is a good one to keep and re-read from time to time.

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  • Lucidity

    Lucidity December 3, 2019, 8:43 pm

    YAY I love this feature! I’m excited to check out your and your readers’ recommendations!

    I recently finished Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. It was in a very different style than its predecessor, but it chilled me just as much.

    I’m reading The Farm by Joanne Ramos right now, which I heard about when someone here mentioned it in the forums. Women are paid to have babies but can’t leave “the farm” for the duration of their pregnancy. So far it’s riveting.

    I read all the tell-all books about the Trump administration, because of the same reasons people stare at car crashes, and am currently on the waitlist at my local library for Anonymous’ new book. Anyone read that one yet?

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    Sylvie December 4, 2019, 1:04 am

    Oh how I miss the pre kid reading time… my goal is 52 a year and I think I’ll make it. Anyway the best book I read this year hands down was 101 Essays That Will Change the Way You Think by Brianna Wiest. Brilliant is the right word. I *think* I may have read Come as You Are as well this year. Also amazing. Oh and Lori Gottlieb’s newest.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom December 4, 2019, 1:36 pm

    Another book that I really liked reading this year was “Midnight in Chernobyl” by Adam Higginbotham. It is really eye opening about the experience of living in a communist country.

    The Soviet Union had production quotas but no quality control. Factories had to meet their quota but the item didn’t need to work properly. When building the nuclear reactors as each item arrived, like steam turbines, they had to be torn apart and rebuilt before they could be used.

    There was no containment building because that would have nearly doubled the cost of construction.

    Photocopiers weren’t allowed because people could quickly and easily make copies of subversive materials. After the plant blew up a woman was hand drawing maps of the city for the crews who arrived to monitor radiation because there was no other way to make copies.

    The KGB sat nonstop in the office of the man who was assigned the job of figuring out what happened.

    After reading this book I wondered how the Soviet Union lasted as long as it did.

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    K December 4, 2019, 4:07 pm

    @Vathena, I also loved “Little Fires Everywhere” and “Educated”. I read “The Round House” a few years ago and really enjoyed it. I also loved “You Think It, I’ll Say It”, but I love everything Curtis Sittenfeld has ever written. If you liked that, Wendy, please read her other books! Her debut novel, “Prep”, is actually my favorite. I, too, wish I could write like her. This year I also enjoyed “Modern Lovers” by Emma Straub.

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