Best Books of 2019

I read 126 books in 2019! Here are my favorites:

 

6 Best Nonfiction Books

The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap by Stephanie Coontz

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo

The H Spot:The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness by Jill Filiopvic

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister

 

12 Best Fiction Books

The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden (The Bear and the Nightingale, The Girl in the Tower, The Winter of the Witch)

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin (The Obelisk Gate, The Stone Sky)

Circe by Madeline Miller

The Secret Commonwealth by Phillip Pullman

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

 

3 Parenting Books

Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey through the Culture and Science of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes

Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool by Emily Oster

The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups by Erica Christakis

 

3 Books on Education

The End of the Rainbow: How Educating for Happiness – Not Money – Would Transform Our Schools by Susan Engel

What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America by Ted Dintersmith

Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith

Best Books of 2018

I’ve stopped posting regularly, but I haven’t stopped reading. I read 129 books in 2018! Here are my favorites:

 

10 Best Fiction

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Little Fires Everywhere by Celest Ng

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

People of the Book by Gwendolyn Brooks

 

3 Best Parenting Books

The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship between Parents and Children by Alison Gopnik

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims

Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear by Kim Brooks

American Wife

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

This novel is loosely inspired by the life of Laura Bush. Very, very loosely. It asks, what if the wife of a “pro-life” president had had an abortion as a teenager?

The action of the book focuses closely on four periods in the first lady’s life. First, when she was a teenager and fell in love for the first time and had an abortion. Next, her meeting the future president and their whirlwind courtship. Most of the pages of the book are devoted to a period in the couple’s life before his political career, a crisis in their marriage when he was drinking heavily and their values seemed especially at odds. The final section depicts one day in her life as First Lady, a day in which she’s confronted with her past and makes a decision of her own to oppose her husband.

Sittenfeld is one of those authors that I want to read everything she’s ever written. The reasonable, pragmatic voice of this narrator is one that I’ll remember for a long time. The book really made me think about why it’s hard when couples disagree over politics and what kinds of compromises can be made. It’s not the kind of book that gives the one true answer to questions like that, just poses the question and shows one particular character’s answer, and what it costs her.

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

This book was one of those that I couldn’t put down. It was like juicy gossip shared among moms at a playground. So many of the descriptions of the mothers and how they treated each other rang so true to me. Even the children seemed like realistic characters, each of them with a precisely drawn and unique relationship to his or her mother, and I feel that is a challenge for a writer to pull off.

I haven’t seen the show based on it yet, but judging from the novel, I will say that Reese Witherspoon cast herself perfectly. Her character is big and loud and hilarious, but with an edge of anger and sadness from a tough divorce. Another main character is Jane, a young mother who’s new in town, and has a hard time navigating playground politics with mothers a decade older than her. There’s a bully in the kindergarten class and the daughter of the PTA pres alpha mom has been victimized, but no one is sure which child is the bully until the end. Class and generational tensions are rife, but some of the strongest friendships in the book are the ones that cross these barriers.

I didn’t know that domestic violence would be a main topic of the book, but I was impressed at the way it was handled. It wasn’t easy to read the inner thoughts of an abused wife and understand in a deep way why she would stay and what it would take to leave.

The twist at the end was absolutely perfect. It’s a happy ending, tied up in a neat bow; justice is done and our heroines are in a better place than they were. An incredibly satisfying read.

Hag-Seed

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

This is from the Hogarth Shakespeare series, modern retellings of Shakespeare stories by well-known authors. I’ve read a couple from the series and this is by far my favorite, which makes sense because I love Atwood so much. It’s The Tempest. Prospero is Felix Phillips, a theater director who has been cast out from his regional theater and is now teaching Shakespeare to prisoners. He hatches a plot to teach the politicians who took his theater job from him a lesson when they visit the prison. There are at least 3 layers of play-within-a-play. It’s funny, redemptive, and has a happy ending. It’s kind of a master class in the multiple interpretations of Shakespeare’s play, as well. Felix teaches his students that all The Tempest’s characters are in a prison in one way or several ways. It’s a very appropriate and creative recasting of the old story.

The Gardener and the Carpenter

The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children by Alison Gopnik

This philosophical book about parenting was written by a developmental psychologist who uses insight from her research and discussions of evolution to explore the ultimate purpose of the parent/child relationship. I found it hugely reassuring and even inspiring. Gopnik titled the first chapter “Against Parenting,” meaning that she disagrees with the way “parent” has become a verb in our culture, a form of work rather than a simple, fulfilling relationship. She thinks parents focus too much on working to make their children turn out a certain way. Instead, she says they should focus on simply creating a positive environment for children to grow up in. Children are individuals, after all, and parents’ and schools’ efforts to standardize their outcomes are likely to be futile. Gopnik makes very reasonable arguments for why parents worry about the wrong things, and why the things we do as parents don’t make much difference anyway, not in the way we think they do. She even weighs in on the endless screen time debate, comparing the new technology of tablets and smartphones with the old technology of the book, pointing out that people have always adapted to new ways of communicating and processing information. Along with All Joy and No Fun, I consider this one of the most helpful and comforting books on parenting I’ve ever read.

Best of 2017

Best Fiction

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Trespasser by Tana French

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Best Nonfiction

What Unites Us by Dan Rather

Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family by Ann-Marie Slaughter

Feel-Bad Education, and Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling by Alfie Kohn

Best Memoir

Hunger: A Memoir of My Body by Roxane Gay

You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie