I read 26 books this year, not counting those I abandoned or have not finished yet. It's definitely up from last year because I used less social media this year, so less time going down news rabbit holes and more time turning pages.
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A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
At first, I braced myself to love this book. It was a real page-turner, and I cared for all the characters. Jude and Willem's relationship was so sweet. But as the novel focused on Jude's childhood abuse, it became pointlessly depressing. All the trauma piled into Jude's early years was not believable to me and ultimately took me out of the story. This novel is trauma porn to the max.
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
I've always associated Truman Capote with In Cold Blood, his acclaimed novelized account of real-life murders in Holcomb, Kansas. Imagine my surprise when I discovered he also wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's, the novella behind one of Hollywood's most beloved romantic comedies. It's infuriating how good the prose is on a sentence level. Capote is surprisingly funny, too. He has accomplished something rare with this book. I struggle to count on one hand the number of books that are at once sad, funny, moving, and written in stellar prose. The book's version of Holly Golightly is flawed and fascinating. She is not likable. In fact, she seems to be a racist. The narrator is not the love interest like in the movie. He is gay but loves Holly in the purest platonic way. Hollywood's ending is pure fantasy. I prefer Capote's gritty reality.
You Think It, I'll Say It: Stories by Curtis Sittenfeld
The stories were quick, indulgent reads for me. They're usually about educated middle-aged white people working through teenage insecurities, marital problems or something, and the characters seemed interchangeable, but I'd read more by Sittenfeld, who has a sharp wit.
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
I picked up this 1917 novella because of the fantastic title. A famous writer goes on holiday in Venice, becomes obsessed with a fourteen-year-old boy named Tadzio, and faces his own mortality. Creepy pedo obsession aside, the writing is beautiful and I missed a subway stop because I was so caught up in the narrator's insights.
Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link
Some of the stories really knocked me out. "The New Boyfriend" is one, about a teenage girl who falls in love with a life-sized male doll that is also haunted by a ghost, and "I Can See Right Through You" is another, about an ageing movie star best known for playing a vampire.
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer
"Brownies" is the gem in the collection. The prose is superior, but I can't say I connected too much with the other stories.
The 39 Steps by John Buchan
This funny spy thriller was a page-turning summer vacation read. More books should have characters named Marmaduke. I'd like to see Hitchcock's film version soon.
Please Take Care of Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin
I don't think I've ever cried so much over a novel in my life. In this Korean-translated Man Asian Literary Prize winner, a sixty-nine-year-old mother from the countryside gets separated from her husband in a Seoul subway station. I read this around Mother's Day too, and I held my mom a little closer. This novel demonstrates the true power of fiction. Don't read if you're not prepared to cry buckets.
My Struggle Book 1: A Death in the family by Karl Ove Knausgaard
The first book in a six-volume autobiographical novel by a Norwegian writer à la Proust. I picked it up because I was curious why this was such an international literary sensation. The first few pages are absolutely gorgeous, but the rest were mostly boring. The first book focuses on Karl Ove's childhood, and a bit on his tense relationship with his father, and the aftermath of his father's death. Be prepared to be jerked around in time. Yet there are moments of glorious insight here and there to keep me going. I think people love this series because it's sort of the literary version of reality TV. Knausgaard holds nothing back about his life.
The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
With all the accolades and the intriguing premise of this novel, I expected to like this more. While the Laughing Man folklore is interesting—something that deserves a novel of its own—I quickly became bored with the rest of the plot.
Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke
I read an Ethan Hawke novel years ago, and I wasn't into it, but his new book is bound to be a classic. It's a short guide of principles for living a noble life, based on a letter Hawke's real-life ancestor, a knight, wrote to his children before going into battle. I'm buying a copy of this little book so I can refer to the principles from time to time. Highly recommend.
Medical Medium by Anthony Williams
The author is a medium who explains the causes behind many common mystery illnesses. His medium story is the craziest I've ever heard, but whether you believe it or not, his insights are fascinating. The detox/diet he recommends is not hard to do, so I'll be trying it in the new year.
No Logo by Naomi Klein
Ironically, you probably remember this '90s cultural manifesto on capitalism from the logo on the book cover. This is required reading if you want to avoid being duped by greedy corporations. I wrote an essay in the fall on why I don't wear branded goods, inspired by this book.
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
Another '90s phenomenon, written by another Naomi, is a book more relevant than ever. This book explores how images of beauty in the media are used against women. Insecure women can be exploited by corporations and devalued in the workplace, keeping us in our place. When I wrote a post on how to overcome unrealistic beauty standards inspired by this book.
Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith
I've come to the conclusion I enjoy Zadie Smith's essays more than her novels. I prefer her voice straight, intelligent and compassionate, unfiltered through fictional characters. Her last essay collection I loved, and this one is no different.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Technically, this is nonfiction, but it reads like a murder mystery and short story collection, mixed in with travel memoir. The quality of writing is superb, the real-life characters are strange and wonderful, and the incidents surreal. I want to go to Savannah more than ever.
A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button
I had arrogantly assumed I knew plenty about mindful and minimalist living, but this book showed me there is so much more to learn. I'm buying a copy for reference.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
This is a hard read. After the author was raped at age twelve, she started gaining weight as a form of protection. It helped me empathize with those who feel trapped in their own bodies.
The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell
Greg Sestero played Mark in The Room, the "greatest bad movie ever made." He supplied his surreal experience making the film with the now legendary actor/director Tommy Wiseau. With co-writer Tom Bissell's gifted prose and storytelling skills, this is one of the best memoirs I've ever read.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson
A friend recommended this book, so I gave it a shot. While I'm not a fan of the excessive swearing on the page, Manson does dole out some good advice and made me think about certain things in a new light.
Rejection Proof by Jia Jang
You might have seen author Jia Jiang's popular Ted Talk about challenging himself to seek rejection with creative requests. His book is just as relatable, funny, and inspiring, full of useful advice and lessons learned.
Love, Loss and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi
I never watched Top Chef so I knew very little about host Padma Lakshmi, but I thought indulging in a celebrity memoir would be fun. Lakshmi is a talented writer (I don't think she used a ghostwriter?). Her experiences with men are a bit questionable, but I liked how raw and honest she was. She really didn't hold back about her ex-lovers. The dirt on Salman Rushdie was brutal.
ThetaHealing & Advanced ThetaHealing by Vianna Stibal
ThetaHealing is an energy healing technique that has changed my life drastically since I started sessions over a year ago. I wrote about my experience as a client and as a student practitioner. While I highly recommend these books, they can be technical at times, and I understood the meditations better after I took the workshops.
The EFT Manual by Dawn Church PhD
I learned EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)—tapping—a few months ago, and I read this book to understand its background. This is full of testimonials on how EFT helped people with everything from PTSD to weight loss. I use EFT daily, and I'll write about my experience soon.
Everything's Trash but it's Okay by Phoebe Robinson
I wasn't familiar with the author before reading this book of humorous essays. It took me a while to get used to the social media slang (the hashtags used distracted me), but Robinson is witty, frank, and likable. Reading this collection is like having a chat with a funny girlfriend on serious issues.
I borrow books from the library most of the time and purchase books if I know I'll reread them to keep my collection minimal. From the books I read this year, these are the ones I loved enough to buy:
- Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
- Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
- Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke
- Medical Medium by Anthony Williams
- No Logo by Naomi Klein
- The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
- Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith
- Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
- The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell
- ThetaHealing by Vianna Stibal
- Advanced ThetaHealing by Vianna Stibal
Read my other annual reading roundups.