Welcome to my second annual reading recap. Funny enough, I read the same amount of books as I did last year: 26. That averages about a book every two weeks, which is reasonable. I don't make it a goal to read as many books as possible because I want to take my time and absorb what I'm reading.
This year, I read more nonfiction at 17 books compared to last year's 15. I read 9 novels versus last year's 11. I decided to include some of the books I abandoned and explain why. They are not tallied in my numbers.
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Less by Andrew Sean Greer
I bought the ebook so I could have something new to read on my Kindle while travelling in the beginning of the year. This novel won the Pulitzer Prize, was marketed as a comedy, and the sample pages seemed charming, so I thought for sure I was going to like this book. I didn't. Too bad I missed the deadline for a refund. Less is about a guy who travels around the world to escape his impending fiftieth birthday and the wedding of his much younger ex-boyfriend to someone else. I thought I would at least find the travel stuff interesting. No such luck. There isn't much of a plot other than the main character moping over his "old" age and "lost" love.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
I was super into the first half of this novel. Two young people from an unnamed country of civil unrest fall in love. Together, they plot their escape. The story fell apart for me when it crosses over to magic realism territory. The writing is good and the characters are three-dimensional and interesting. I still think it's a story worth reading to understand the struggles of refugees.
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
This was actually my first Alice Hoffman novel, a prequel to Practical Magic. Set in the sixties, The Rules of Magic follows the Owens children as they come to terms with their magical powers. They should never fall in love due to an ancestral curse that started in 1620. It took a few chapters for me to get invested in the lives of the three siblings, but once I did, I couldn't put the book down. If the prose and the structure of the story were tightened, this could've been a classic. I'll read more by Hoffman. She's a good storyteller.
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
What's great about Sally Rooney's novels is that while they're fun to read—they take me two days tops to finish—they're also full of sharp observations and emotional resonance. If you're expecting a chicklit plotline, don't be deceived by the cover. Relationships are complicated and sort of doomed in this love quadrilateral. All the characters, despite their over-intelligent conversations, feel like real people. I will be re-reading soon.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
This was one of the most talked-about novels of 2019, and I do feel it deserves the buzz. Her prose is accessible, the stories are well-plotted, and there is enough social commentary on power dynamics, capitalism, abuse, and the complexity of relationships to keep the critics busy. I cared about Connell and Marianne. Every decision they made, even each text message they sent, had high stakes. I witnessed them change and grow up. I read Normal People in less than a day.
Outline by Rachel Cusk
I don't know what kind of world we are living in if Less manages to win a Pulitzer and this book didn't even win the Giller? Outline, the first in a literary trilogy, is brilliant. I have never been so captivated by a novel with no plot. A novelist named Faye arrives in Athens to teach a writing seminar. Throughout her trip, she encounters people who reveal to her all sorts of fantasies, anxieties, longings, and regrets. By the end of the book, Faye discovers something of herself in being a container for other people: “He was describing, in other words, what she herself was not: in everything he said about himself, she found in her own nature a corresponding negative. This anti-description, for want of a better way of putting it, had made something clear to her by a reverse kind of exposition: while he talked she began to see herself as a shape, an outline, with all the detail filled in around it while the shape itself remained black. Yet this shape, even while its content remained unknown, gave her for the first time since the incident a sense of who she was now.” In Outline, Faye remains largely in the background, waiting for her own identity to be shaped and illuminated by other people.
This time, Faye, the narrator, reveals more about herself as we follow her move to London with her sons after a divorce. I found it a bit jarring to be learning more about Faye and be in her point of view since she was more of a listener, an "outline," in the first book. I liked this book, but I preferred the first book's format where we got to listen in more on the secret lives and desires of strangers.
Kudos by Rachel Cusk
The third and final novel in the Outline trilogy. I found it a good balance of the first two books' formats, a blend of strangers' personal stories and Faye's own thoughts and experiences. I can't decide whether I prefer this book or Outline.
"You can’t tell your story to everybody," Faye advises her son, who is going through a crisis, at the end of Kudos. “Maybe you can only tell it to one person.”
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
I had assumed by the cover, the synopsis, and the blurbs that this would be a fun, chicklit-y read similar to The Rosie Project. It is charming and funny with a quirky protagonist, but the subject matter turned out to be a bit dark. Socially awkward Eleanor Oliphant suffers from loneliness and the trauma of childhood abuse. She ultimately learns to let people in. This book did everything it was supposed to do - it made me laugh, it made me cry, and it was unputdownable. The only caveat is that I don't have the desire to read this again.
My Struggle Book 2: A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard
I had a struggle of my own trying to decide whether to continue this book. I read My Struggle: A Death in The Family, book one in Knausgaard's six-volume autobiographical novel, last year. Out of those 500 pages, I found only fifteen pages or so to be absolutely riveting and profound. I guess that motivated me to continue with the second volume, but I don't know if plowing through another 500 pages of one middle-aged author's annoyance with fatherhood and not getting any writing done will be worth it. I read about a fifth of book 2, and I decided not to continue with the rest of the series. It has its moments but I found most of it very boring. Maybe it gets better after he falls in love? Guess I won't be finding out.
Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss
Years ago, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss blew me away. I've tried getting into her other novels since then, but they haven't grabbed me in the same way. I read a few chapters of Forest Dark and don't feel it's for me. Maybe I'm just really not into stories about older men going through a mid-life/late-life crisis.
The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
I wanted to read this because I love the title. Raymond Chandler has some good titles. The Big Sleep is another one. Anyway, I read half of The Long Goodbye and felt it was too, well, long. The prose didn't do it for me. Mostly, I think the story just moved too slow, and I wasn't as intrigued by the crime and mystery as I'd hoped. I ended up reading the book spoilers.
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
I heard good things about this novel. The writer is gifted, and I enjoyed a short story of hers in the New Yorker, but I couldn't get into this novel. I stopped after a few chapters and just read the spoilers as well. While the voice of the protagonist is original and intriguing, too much time is spent on exposition at the beginning of the book and I didn't feel confident that the story would take me somewhere. That's probably just an excuse though. The real reason is that the vibe of this book is too bleak for what I want right now.
The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Miguel Ruiz
What are the four agreements? 1. Be impeccable with your word. 2. Don't Take anything personally. 3. Don't make assumptions. 4. Always do your best. I had this list tacked onto my wall for years and it was only this year that I realized they came from a book. It's a decent read, especially for those starting their spiritual journey.
I read this book to understand myself better. It's meticulously researched, and I definitely learned new things. My main gripe is that the book is too long. You only need to read a third of the book to get the info you need. I forced myself to finish the book though, and by then, I was sick of learning how great introverts are even though I am one.
The Irresistible Introvert: Harnessing the Power of Quiet Charisma in a Loud World by Michaela Chung
I read the two books on introversion at the same time, so no wonder I got sick of learning about my people. Cain's book is more research-based, while this one includes a lot of the author's personal experiences and challenges as an introvert. Both books have their pros and cons. At the end of their day, they made me feel better about my introvert peculiarities (ie. there's nothing wrong with me if I don't want to go to parties and talk all the time).
The Like Switch by Jack Schafer
The author is an ex FBI agent specializing in behaviour analysis and recruiting spies. Cool, huh? This book teaches how to make positive impressions on people and to read body language. I thought the formula for making friends, which spies can use to gain someone's confidence, was highly interesting. Use this knowledge for good, not evil, people.
On the Wings of Prayer by Vianna and Guy Stibal
The creators of ThetaHealing, a healing modality I use, recount their epic love story in this beautiful memoir. It was also interesting to learn about the growth and challenges of their early years and how their experiences shaped ThetaHealing as we know it today.
Outrageous Openness by Tosha Silver
Even though I consider myself a spiritual person, I realized I have some control issues. This book taught me how to surrender to the divine. I don't always have to work hard and push through to make things happen. Now I make a practice of letting the divine lead the way.
Change Me Prayers by Tosha Silver
A follow-up to Outrageous Openness, this is a book of inspiring stories and prayers that ease us into inviting the divine into our lives. Tosha's personal stories are usually pretty funny, which is why I've been reading all her books.
It's Not Your Money by Tosha Silver
So you've read The Secret but still haven't manifested that million dollars? Tosha Silver recommends surrendering your desires to the creator. What if you weren't meant to have that money or house? What if you're meant to have something better? While I do like the message of this book, I still find it helpful to manifest. By having a clear idea of what I want, I can remove my own blockages on why I can't have it. After trying out both methods for months, I now do a mixture of manifesting and surrendering. Maybe I'll write a post on this soon to explain what I mean in detail.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
I didn't know that much about Michelle Obama aside from some basic background facts. As I read her memoir, I connected with her warm, intelligent, no-nonsense personality. Going from the South Side of Chicago to living the White House may not be your typical life path, but many can relate her struggles of defying the odds to becoming a success. I wrote about attending her talk in Toronto right after I finished reading this book.
The Gift: Creativity and Artists in the Modern World by Lewis Hyde
Margaret Atwood recommended this book for writers and artists, so I checked it out. It includes a lot of history and folklore on creativity vs. commerce. Some chapters are more interesting than others, and on the whole, I liked it and would recommend it for creative types, especially those who question whether their artistic gifts are worth anything.
The Akashic Records by Sandra Anne Taylor
I wanted to learn more about Akashic Records, and this is a good beginner's guide. At the end of each chapter, there's a guided meditation for accessing the Records. I recorded them on my phone but haven't listened to them yet. I borrowed this book from the library. There's now a newer edition of this book.
Your Quantum Breakthrough Code by Sandra Anne Taylor
This method of healing negative beliefs is really simple to use. I mentioned the pros and cons in my post on different healing methods.
The Healing Code by Alexander Loyd
I also mentioned The Healing Code in that post. This one I haven't tested personally, but a lot of people seemed to have found success with it. The actually healing formula is quite simple, but the book takes waaay too long to get there. One Amazon reviewer suggested the following, which I thought was hilarious: "1. Buy the book. 2. Read chapter 10 and learn it by heart. 3. Throw the book in the garbage bin. 4. Practice what you learned every day of your life, three times a day."
The Truth by Neil Strauss
I remember when I was younger, other women would warn me about The Game, a guide for pickup artists. Its most infamous tip is "negging" women, lowering their self-esteem so it's easier for men to score. I thought that was so dumb. Apparently, the author of that book now agrees. The Truth is sort of his redemption memoir. The details on his sex addiction, childhood traumas, and a weird family secret are so painfully honest and raw I have to give him credit. I recommend this book, especially for men who feel lost in the dating/relationship scene.
Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation by Rachel Cusk
After I finished the Outline trilogy, I wanted more Rachel Cusk, so I read her memoir about her divorce. Depressing, but at least it's short. And it's Cusk, so worth reading. I'll be reading her book on motherhood next.
Intimate Communion: Awakening Your Sexual Essence by David Deida
I read a bunch of David Deida books years ago, and recently I had the inclination to read one of them again for a refresher on masculine and feminine polarity. Most of his books are on this subject so I don't know if this is my first or second time reading Intimate Communion. He speaks of the three stages of intimacy. I thought I would be at the third stage by now, but after reading this book, I realized I was stuck at the second stage, the 50/50 woman, for the longest time. Just read one of his books to understand what I mean.
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
This is the last book I'm reading in 2019. I've read three essays so far and should finish the rest this week. Jia Tolentino, a millennial staff writer at the New Yorker, writes on the Internet, self-image, and current culture. Update: finished the collection and would read more from her. It can get a little exhausting at times, but maybe that's the point of being alive as a young person today. The essays I liked best are the ones that felt like extensions of her New Yorker articles, such as the one on millennial scammers.
Educated by Tara Westover
I read half of this popular memoir and liked it fine, but it was due at the library and I didn't place a hold on it again. I must have not connected to it that much if I didn't feel the urge to finish it. Maybe I'll finish it at some point?
The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron
I checked out this book because I suspected I was a highly sensitive person, but after reading a couple of chapters, I realized that I'm not, so I stopped reading. Being introverted or intuitive is not the same as being a highly sensitive person (HSP). If you're easily overwhelmed by life, this book may provide some answers for you.
I borrow books from the library most of the time and only 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:
- Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
- Normal People by Sally Rooney
- Outline by Rachel Cusk
- Transit by Rachel Cusk
- Kudos by Rachel Cusk
- Outrageous Openness by Tosha Silver
- Change Me Prayers by Tosha Silver
- It's Not Your Money by Tosha Silver
- Becoming by Michelle Obama
- Intimate Commnunion by David Deida
Read my other annual reading roundups.