My Best Reads of 2019
A few years ago, I decided to fight the corrosive effect of social media on my brain by reading more full books. Entire books (even the ones I wasn’t loving in the middle). I wanted to make sure I was training myself to take in ideas deeply and broadly, and in full.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve found that my reading speed has improved with more intense focus, and set a goal of 110 complete books finished during 2019. I hit 108, which I mostly missed because I began investing in some huge volumes in December. If you’re curious what I got through (and where my mind was) in 2019, you can check out the full list here.
Here’s what you should definitely pick up.
An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
This was a re-read, but genuinely one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Especially if you’ve been through the American educational system, you should read this to understand how deeply dishonest much of what we’re taught is about the founding of our country. It’s a sad, brutal read but somehow made me a bit hopeful: it put today’s upheaval and violence against non-White (etc.) people into context.
In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
I have never read a book that so elegantly captured the experience of being a victim of emotional and psychological abuse in a relationship, and especially a queer one. Machado’s haunting stories are constructing in some of the most brilliant (mostly) prose I’ve ever read. Her skill captured the Faustian bargains that the abused often make (“If I just shrink myself more, will you stop?”) while showing her deep familiarity and expertise with a dizzying array of literary forms.
Know my Name by Chanel Miller
Another difficult book to read given it’s parallels with my own life, but one that I suggest all people looking to learn how to heal and forgive with grace pick up. Miller’s raw and honest account of her experience and how she was abused by individuals, the criminal justice system, and Stanford University show what an incredibly strong woman she is…and how we can all learn to be better, stronger, more compassionate and whole people.
Usual Cruelty: The Complicity of Lawyers in the Criminal Justice System by Alec Karakatsanis
It’s all worth a read, but the first essay is an absolutely necessary companion to Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. The book probably radicalized me more than any that I read this year, pushing me to think in new ways about the arbitratiness of so many of our institutional systems, and the ways in which language can serve to frame “reform” as reinforcement of the status quo. The mental frameworks I picked up are absolutely going to influence how I think about creating organizational change.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The audiobook is read by the author. Enough said.
Pleasure Activism by Adrienne Maree Brown
When advocating for social change, it can be incredibly easy to get into a mindset that confuses helping others with martyrdom and unending self sacrifice. This book, more than many others, helped me understand the way that experiencing pleasure (and thus joy) are essential to the project of building systems where everyone can thrive. If you’re not comfortable with talk of sex or casual drug use, it’s probably not for you.
Start at the End by Matt Wallaert
I read a *ton* of “business” books this year, and this is one of the few that actually stuck in my memory. Matt throws in a bit of humor which helps, but mostly I appreciate that the book is no fluff: just basics of how to design things that work better when messy, unpredictable human behavior is involved. This will be a staple on my desk, and I’d suggest you get the paperback.
The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho
On my 20th reading, I am still getting new insights out of it. The simple fable about a shepard following a dream has helped me see the control I maintain over my destiny, and helped to re-frame obstacles as necessary lessons along the way. A quick read that I hope you’ll dogear.