This year I tried to get myself back into the reading habit that I had let slip last year. The year started out strong but as it progressed I struggled to maintain my reading habits.
The one thing that I found helped me this year though was the discovery of audiobooks. With close to two hours a day on public transport going to and from my office job I found time to sneak in a couple extra books each month without really trying (it also helps to listen to them at 1.25 speed to get through them a bit quicker while still being able to engage with the story).
As the year comes to a close, I have managed to read 35 books. And while I accept that is a large number, I fell short of my 50 book goal (my current record is 53 in a year). I still have a mile high pile of books to read into the new year, but before that, this is what my 2019 in reading breaks down to:
- 6 books by Australian authors
- 14 audiobooks
- 19 non-fiction books
- 24 books by female authors
- 12 books published in 2019
And while the number of Australian authors is not quite where I had hoped it to be either, I have started to be more conscious of the backgrounds that influence the content of the books I am reading and ensuring that I am reading more Aussie voices is something I intend to do more of in 2020.
Last year I gave an absolute winner for my title of best book of the year, however this year I couldn’t do that. I have however given special mention to a couple of key books that really impacted me.
So get ready to add to your summer reading lists as these are my favourite books read in 2019.
My favourite book published in 2019: Know My Name by Chanel Miller
There are so many memoirs on the best sellers list at the moment, and I read many of them this year, but none stood out to me in the way that Chanel Miller’s Know My Name did. This book is intelligently written, heartbreaking in its exploration of what it means to be a sexual assault survivor, and a collective voice of women around the world.
Since the 17th of January 2015, the day she was sexually assaulted, Chanel Miller has been hidden behind the anonymous identity of Emily Doe as she made her way through the traumatic process of seeking justice against her attacker through the American legal system. In September this year, she was finally able to reveal her identity and publicly share her story.
I chose to listen to this book in it’s audio format, in which Chanel herself narrates her story. I think this foundation of hearing directly from her was what helped create an emotional connection. You could hear every slight quiver in her voice when she recounted some of the most painful and gruelling parts, and hear her strength as she pushed through to the otherside.
The way Chanel has shaped her story through her choice of language made me remember why I love the power of the written word so much. There are so many passages I could share, but here is just one:
“I survived because I remained soft, because I listened, because I wrote. Because I huddled close to my truth, protected it like a tiny flame in a terrible storm. Hold up your head when the tears come, when you are mocked, insulted, questioned, threatened, when they tell you you are nothing, when your body is reduced to openings. The journey will be longer than you imagined, trauma will find you again and again. Do not become the ones who hurt you. Stay tender with your power. Never fight to injure, fight to uplift. Fight because you know that in this life, you deserve safety, joy, and freedom. Fight because it is your life. Not anyone else’s. I did it, I am here. Looking back, all the ones who doubted or hurt or nearly conquered me faded away, and I am the only one standing. So now, the time has come. I dust myself off, and go on.”
It was a raw story that was told in a beautiful and graceful way as Chanel explores questions of how sexual assault crimes are dealt with in court, and the reality that victims are shamed and forced to prove that it did happen, rather than the defendant having to prove that it didn’t.
Without initially meaning to, Chanel has become a voice for other sexual assault survivors and I really hope that now we know her name, she will continue to use her gift of language and continue to fight for those who do not have a voice.
My favourite nonfiction book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (2012)
This book made this list because it gave me the language to explain things about myself that I didn’t quite understand myself. I have always known that I was an introvert, but I didn’t quite understand what that meant exactly.
For me, learning that being called shy as a kid was actually giving me a shield to hide my sensitive personality broke down a lot of barriers. Reading the below excerpt, I started to understand how to define parts of my personality.
“The highly sensitive [introverted] tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions–sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments–both physical and emotional–unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss–another person’s shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.”
Cain explains that myself and others like me, were born this way, it biology, and that there are plenty of other people like this in the world – we have just grown up in a society that values extroversion making it harder to understand this side of our personalities.
I found it really interesting how she explained that as an introvert, we don’t dislike interaction with people, and we can still thrive in leadership positions, and even put on a persona of an extrovert when the situation requires it and we are internally driven, however it is our reaction to these things that makes us different to our extroverted friends. We require more alone time to recharge and work better autonomously and prefer smaller, more engaging interactions with people rather than socialising in larger groups.
This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand introverts a little more, whether you are one yourself, you’re married to one, you teach one, or you’re friends with one. I guarantee you are going to approach them with a new perspective and understanding after reading this.
My favourite fiction book: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (2018)
Roy and Celestial have been married for just over a year when Roy is arrested and wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit. He is sentenced to 12 years in prison. When Roy is released early after 5 years, his convictions finally having been overturned, he returns unsure whether Celestial is still his wife.
What happens when two people are forced to be apart for more time than they have been together? This story examines marriage from all angles. It looks at Celestial as always being an independent person within the marriage, and Roy as working hard coming from a family who had nothing to become successful, respected and be able to provide for the family he has always wanted.
I read this book back in January and knew it was an outlier for this year immediately as it was so incredibly told and I just couldn’t put it down. This story explores some deep complexities around marriage and relationships from the point of view of both Roy and Celestial as they move through different emotions and stages of their lives. It also deep dives into the emotional flow of both characters;
“Sometimes it’s exhausting for me to simply walk into the house. I try and calm myself, remember that I’ve lived alone before. Sleeping by myself didn’t kill me then and will not kill me now. But this what loss has taught me of love. Our house isn’t simply empty, our home has been emptied. Love makes a place in your life, it makes a place for itself in your bed. Invisibly, it makes a place in your body, rerouting all your blood vessels, throbbing right alongside your heart. When it’s gone, nothing is whole again.”
This is the kind of book that steadily moves through the story simply but with such precision that you are left hanging on every moment as you get to know the characters which is a credit to the literary capacity of Jones as an author.
My favourite audiobook: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (2016)
Comedian and host of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah was born in South Africa during apartheid to a black mother and a white father literally making him ‘born a crime’. His mother had to live knowing that she could go to jail for having this child and Noah therefore spent much of his young childhood indoors.
This book is not a memoir of his rise to a successful career, it doesn’t really go into his comedy at all. What it is instead is the reality of his childhood and his family and what it was like growing up poor in a dangerous and changing South Africa.
I learnt so much about apartheid that I didn’t know before, and it gave me a new perspective on the division of race being that Noah was completely in the middle of it, being considered too white to be accepted as black, but too black to be considered white. He explores race through how he was raised and his community rather than the colour of his skin and he speaks about race as being a social construct and how the conflict between his internal identity and the identity given to him as a ‘coloured’ person shaped his values that he would carry through his life.
He spoke wonderfully of the strength of the women who raised him, his mother and grandmother, and how this allowed him a static point of his life to always navigate back to.
Noah’s performance of this audiobook is what really brings it to life however. His use of tone of voice, his accents and his language skills bring shape and colour to the story he tells and help to paint the landscape of South Africa at the time. This is not something that I could have created had I read it myself.
This book is fascinating and I couldn’t stop listening. It is for books like this that I am so glad I found a new interest in the audiobook format.
Educated by Tara Westover (2018)
Tara Westover was raised in Idaho in a large Mormon, doomsday prepping family. Her bi-polar father ran a scrap yard and her mother was an unlicensed midwife and became a skilled alternate healer using herbs and oils.
This was often out of necessity as the family didn’t believe in hospitals or traditional medicine and the dangerous nature of the work in the scrap yard often led to many terrifying injuries, such as the time Tara’s brother caught fire and she had to put his leg in a garbage can full of water as that was the only option. Or the time Tara was helping her Dad on the crane and nearly fell to her death, managing to scramble out of the way of the crushing tin sheets at the last moment.
There were so many other moments in this book when I was holding my breath unsure of how they were going to survive. Because at its core that is what this book is about, survival.
Having never attending school because her father didn’t believe in the education system, Tara decided she wanted to go to university and with encouragement from her older brother who had shown her it was possible, and she managed to gain entrance into Brigham Young University in Utah.
Tara was attending university without a high school education as her foundation and so she struggled with the basic understanding of how to study. There is one moment when she is studying for her art class with a friend and confessed she didn’t understand the content. The friend asked if she had read the textbook. Tara replied with no. It had never occurred to her that she needed to read the textbook. It was art class so she had just looked at the pictures.
It is moments like this that I think we start to understand how much education impacts not only our ability to fit in with society but to understand how to move through it.
Tara goes on to study at Oxford and gain a doctorate. All the while she continues to struggle with the line between her religion, her family and her new found education. This is not a story about education saving Tara from her family situation as such, but rather it is a pathway that gives her greater understanding of her situation in life, but she continues to struggle with how to live a happy, fulfilled life and to maintain a relationship with her family which she still so greatly cherishes.
After hearing about her life, it becomes so unbelievable that she was able to end up with a degree from Oxford, but it does highlight what perseverance and determination can really achieve when they are the only thing you are able to focus on in order to continue to survive, which is the situation that Tara has found herself in as she overcame the abuse inflicted by her family, particularly her brother, and the enabling and indifference about the impact this had on her from her parents.
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown (2018, org. 2012)
This year I had a moment with Brené Brown. I did a bit of a deep dive into some of her work on vulnerability and shame and found it really resonated with the way in which I wanted to approach how I live.
This book is a great introduction into her work, as is her special on Netflix and her TedTalk. She talks about the relationship between courage and vulnerability and how we can’t have one without the other and determines that simply showing up can be our greatest accomplishment. She says that we have to look at what we want in life not with the possibility of failure but with the idea that as long as we try, and show up, then we have achieved.
I feel like the world is having a moment with self-help books and I can confess I have found myself reading quite a few of them myself this year, but while most of them do not have any further impact once I shut the pages, the words of Brown have been able to resurface within me as I approach different situations in my daily life. It is her encouragement that has become a catalyst for saying yes, I’ve got this, when otherwise I may have been too afraid to try for fear of failure.
With the exception of Susan Cain’s Quiet, this is the book that has had the greatest ongoing influence on my life since reading purley due to the fact that it forced me to challenge my own way of thinking about situations in both my work and personal life which has lead to a feeling of more freedom within the choices that I make.
If you haven’t read it, this book might be a great one to pick up as we enter a new year and start to reflect a little on ourselves;
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope by Mark Manson (2019)
Much like Manson’s first book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck this is a no nonsense look at society and how we process situations and where we look to find meaning. In this book, Manson explores the question, that currently we are freer, healthier, wealthier with access to technologies to improve all aspects of life more so than at any other point in history, so then why is everything f*cked? He looks at feelings of hopelessness and draws on religion, politics and philosophy to examine why this is and present a new way of understanding how our feelings are developed.
I really enjoyed Manson’s brand of humour as he works to present a relatable analogy that allows his reader to understand complex philosophical ideas. And while I appreciate that Manson’s way of communicating his ideas is not for everyone, I think his light-hearted approach to some serious questions we all are searching for answers to provides some fresh air in the self-help genre.
Don’t let the titles of his books fool you though, while he drops more F-bombs than Gordon Ramsay this is just the way he packages up his extensive social, philosophical and psychological research about human nature and beneath the slang there is a well structured argument that asks us to question and redefine faith, freedom, happiness and even hope itself.
This is book is a work of modern philosophy that is approachable to everyone as it deep dives into our pain and anxieties and what we can do to explore the root of these issues. He is not looking to give an answer, it’s is not that kind of book, but rather he is just asking us to think a little bit more about why.
“No, the opposite of happiness is hopelessness, an endless gray horizon of resignation and indifference. It’s the belief that everything is fucked, so why do anything at all?”
On The Come Up by Angie Thomas (2019)
Bri is a 16 year old with a dream to be a rapper, who also happens to be the daughter of an infamous rapper who was killed in an act of gang violence when she was just a child. The book tells her story of forging her own path through a community that is divided.
This is Thomas’s much awaited second novel after the success of The Hate You Give (which was on my favourites list in 2017). Rather than a sequel, this story stands completely separate with its own characters however it still takes place in the familiar setting of Garden Heights. It extends the community that Thomas built but tells its own independent story which I found really clever.
Much like The Hate You Give, Thomas has written a book for teens that that explores family and race in America and subtly calls out political statements while also weaving a beautiful story of friendship and love.
This is an easy read, full of intense rap battles and an evolving storyline that makes you struggle to put it down.
Have you read any of the books in this list? What is on your reading list for 2020? Let me know in the comments below!