Fiction I particularly liked
- Reservoir 13, John McGregor
- Less, Andrew Sean Greer
- Florida, Lauren Groff
- The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
- Normal People, Sally Rooney
I kept reading trendy fiction (Kudos, Asymmetry) with wispy, barely-there narrators and not getting much out of it. Rather than fretting about What That Might Mean About Me, I accepted that it’s just not what I need right now! Instead, I loved novels that loudly asked their questions: Reservoir 13 for feinting the classic “How do we find this missing person?” before elegantly transmogrifying into a gentle look at a community healing and hurting itself amidst ongoing tragedy, Less on finding meaning and happiness when your whole life feels like a farce, Normal People on we let and force other people to shape us.
I also loved returning to Lauren Groff’s hallucinatory worlds — this year, sweat-soaked short stories all set in Florida — and to The Remains of the Day, which I should just go ahead and read annually.
Nonfiction I particularly liked
- The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron
- How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, Alexander Chee
- The Black Swan, Nicholas Nassim Taleb
- Why Buddhism is True, Robert Wright
- Nonviolent Communication, Marshall B. Rosenberg
- Lab Girl, Hope Jahren
- Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker
I came back from a meditation retreat in late September and needed to read — thanks to the urgent understanding that core parts of my perception were flat-out wrong. That spurred an incredible October in books, anchored by Why Buddhism is True (our brains don’t want us to be happy or right — they just want us to be alive, and they’re often bad at even ensuring that), Nonviolent Communication (as good as everyone said. So much communication actively takes us away from what we need, often because we don’t actually know what we need), and The Black Swan (some of our most basic intuitions about the world are wrong, with devastating consequences for the economy and other complex systems). I read Why We Sleep later but also bucket it here for illuminating an essential building block of life. I think about it every time I go to bed or wake up.
I explored creativity, kicking off the year with The Artist’s Way. I loved it and absolutely should write much more about my experience. The essay I loved best from How to Write an Autobiographical Novel was “On Becoming an American Writer” — not often you get your most pressing questions (should I make stuff? does it matter?) exhaustively listed and exquisitely answered. Finally, the beautiful memoir Lab Girl concretely taught me stuff I’d always suspected (trees are interesting and extremely cool; the mechanics of lab science are complex, emotional, and creative) and seared into me descriptions of mania and a cross-country road trip that I could never, ever forget.
- 18/39 by women
- 9/39 by writers of color