For those that are impatient, here’s the list:
Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport
The Making of a Manager, Julie Zuho
Boom Town, Sam Anderson
How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell
The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
Twenty Minutes in Manhattan, Michael Sorkin
Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
The Story of More, Hope Jahren
Superlife, Darien Olien
Range, David Epstein – in progress
How to be an Antiracist – Ibram X Kendi – in progress
One book per month was my goal and I’ve come close to meeting that. It wasn’t the pandemic that had me reading more this year. I decided at the end of 2019 that I wanted to get back to reading more frequently and happened across a list of books Alex JD Smith posted on his IG story around this time last year. I figured something from that list would be a good starting point so asked for a few recommendations. The first 4 on my 2020 list above are all from his 2019 list.
Boom Town earns the title of most enjoyable read of the year. It’s the story of both Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA franchise. The chapters are quick reads and bounce back and forth between the two topics keeping both stories moving along nicely. Attention to detail in each topic is excellent and the role of Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips in the story was a pleasant surprise. If you’re interested in history or a fan of the NBA or both (like me), pick this one up.
In Twenty Minutes in Manhattan, Michael Sorkin takes us on a journey from his home to his studio, Greewich Village to Tribeca. No detail is lost in these 20 minutes that describe not just the architecture but the interaction, history, and social implications of design all the while embracing Sorkin’s whims, opinions, and humor. I have a soft spot for both architecture/design and NYC so the combination of these topics was very enjoyable. As is often said, the journey is the destaination and that is very true here. Sadly, Michael Sorkin died from Covid complications in March. You can read more about him in this excellent NYT “Those We’ve Lost” article.
Many of us saw photos from late March and April of Los Angeles with no smog and clear skies. I know I wondered if nature could really bounce back that quickly if we were to just take it easy on earth for a bit. Yet I think we also know that the collective will of humans to make big changes towards a much more sustainable future is not yet here. Human impact on the planet is a massively complex issue that is broken down nicely into understandable components in The Story Of More. I didn’t find it preachy and it’s not peddling a simple solution. Instead it reinforces the ways we have gotten to where we are and broadly, how we can act to change our trajectory. I can’t imagine a book on the topic of climate change and the impact of humans on the planet being more accessable and surprisingly hopeful than this is.
Several years ago I came across the statement, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” and around the same time happened to watch Forks Over Knives on Netflix. Both described what I’ll simply call better ways of treating both your body and the planet through what you eat. Superlife is very similar and it got me to make more changes to my diet than I ever have before. I am not overweight so my goal is not to lose weight. My goal is to eat more things that are wildly healthier for my body while feeling better, fighting disease naturally, and living a longer, heathier life. I do not follow the recommendations exactly but I have made truly natural foods a much bigger part of what I eat. The big concepts described in the book are described as Life Forces: Nutrition, Hydration, Oxygenation, Alkalization, and Detoxification. This makes Superlife an easy read and there is plenty of additional information on what to remove and what to introduce to your kitchen to help make your changes sustainable. I can’t imagine anyone not benefitting from reading this book.
Prior to April of this year, I have to admit I did not know Joan Didion but by the time I finished The Year of Magical Thinking, I knew I had been missing out and as you can see from the list above, tried to make up for lost time. Thanks to Liz Kuball for leading me to her work. Covering the death of her husband and illnesses of their daughter, The Year of Magical Thinking could be seen as a difficult book to read. However, the writing is so intensely personal that it held my mind and heart in a way that a book has not in a long time. Judging by reviews, this is a polarizing book but it earns my top spot of the year.
Books in progress: I received a copy of Range in a giveaway by Chris Wilson. So far it’s been enjoyable and insightful and a slower read since I’m trying to absorb and learn instead of just reading for pleasure. Range also made Bill Gates recent list of top 5 books of the year. How to be an Antiracist is a measured read for me as well since I find I need to let the information in each chapter sink in a bit before moving on to the next. I first heard Ibram X Kendi on the excellent Scene On Radio podcast series, Seeing White. Highly recommended.
I’ve included Goodreads links to many of these books but don’t forget to support your local, independent bookstore if you have one. Also, I got 8 of these 12 books from our local library (or through larger library system lending) so that’s a great resource as well.
Finally, if this is all just a bit too pretentious for you, I’ll bet you didn’t make it this far. If you did, this Twitter thread by author Amber Sparks is your reward.