I read 2 books in 2019. By making a small change and creating a good system, I increased that number by 50 in 2020. That’s one book a week, on average. Here’s the full list. My top 10 are listed below.
[Completed December 6th, 2020]
10. 10% Happier — Dan Harris
What is it about? A budding newscaster’s journey from a work addiction to a surprising and hilarious journey into the world of meditation and mindfulness.
You’ll like this book if: You’ve ever wondered if meditation could help you, but you’re too skeptical to try it. Don’t worry. So was Dan Harris.
9. Born a Crime — Trevor Noah
What is it about? A heartbreaking, inspiring, and often hilarious account of Noah’s childhood and young adulthood in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa. To me, his stories of childhood antics are as relatable as the circumstances of his childhood are foreign.
You’ll like this book if: You’re a fan of the Daily Show, or not. Noah plants you firmly in his childhood shoes and forces you to grapple with racism alongside with him as he grows up. In some ways, the book does exactly what Noah’s television show does. It teaches you about the something important — in this case, apartheid — in a way that a book on that subject never could.
8. Jitterbug Perfume — Tom Robbins
What is it about? This story is truly bizarre. It follows the journey of an 8th-century Eurasian king as he narrowly escapes death at the hands of his own people, discovers the secret for immortality, befriends a stinky and invisible greek God, develops a habit of smoking his wife’s shoes, lives for 1000 years, and eventually ends up working as Einstein’s janitor. I’m not joking.
You’ll like this book if: You are up for a heavy dose of metaphor, simile, and wordplay. For example, “Alobar issued a sigh that was shaped like a funnel: a full quart of beet juice could have been poured through it”, and Paris in the 17th century “is a city that was primed for the Age of Reason, a populace that was beginning to put Descartes before des horse.” Puns notwithstanding, I devoured this book.
7. The Gene — Siddhartha Mukherjee
What is it about? This book takes everything that put you to sleep in your Intro to Bio class in college and demonstrates how your professor should have taught this stuff. That’s coming from someone with a biology degree.
You’ll like this book if: You, like Bill Nye, think science rules. Honestly, if you don’t already think genetics is slightly interesting, this 600-page book is going to be tough to finish. But for those of you who aren’t immediately scrolling to the next book, you’ll love it. This is simultaneously one of the best science and history books I’ve ever read.
6. Into Thin Air — Jon Krakauer
What is it about? Proof that real events can be more intense than any adventure story you could ever dream of.
You’ll like this book if: It’s summer, you don’t live somewhere with snow, or you don’t have any plans to visit the mountains in the near future. This book was as immersive as any I have ever encountered. I read it in 4 days, and for 4 nights I dreamt I was part of the action on Everest for better or for worse. Spoiler alert — it was usually for worse.
5. When Breath Becomes Air — Paul Kalanithi
What is it about? Dr. Paul Kalanithi was an unbelievably intelligent and skilled neurosurgeon in residency when he was suddenly diagnosed with lung cancer. He used his remaining time on earth to write this book, which is a beautiful reflection on life as both a doctor and a patient. The book ends abruptly, and in the absence of any closure to Dr. Kalanithi’s self-narrated life story lies the power of this memoir.
You’ll like this book if: You like considering the big questions. What makes a meaningful life? What would you do if your future was no longer guaranteed (because, as Paul so beautifully and tragically reckons with, it isn’t) and you were forced to face each day in the face of death? That Paul was able to produce this work during his most physically and emotionally challenging days is a triumph.
4. Digital Minimalism — Cal Newport
What is it about? In three words: taking back control. The founding president of Facebook said that the purpose of social media is to consume as much of your time as possible. It sure feels like they’re doing a good job, right? This book provides a philosophy of technology use that is as practical as it is compelling.
You’ll like this book if: You signed up for Instagram or Facebook for good reasons, only to discover that these services are undermining the very values that made them appealing in the first place. For example, we signed up for Facebook to stay in touch with friends from across the world, yet we can’t maintain an uninterrupted conversation with a friend sitting across the table. I’ve never felt compelled to say this about a book before, but this one has changed my life. Simply put, it’s brilliant.
3. Between the World and Me — Ta-Nehisi Coates
What is it about? A historical investigation into living in a black body in America, delivered in a book-length letter to Coates’ 15-year-old son.
You’ll like this book if: …well. I think that depends. If you are a black person, perhaps you will feel solidarity with Coates after reading his humble yet defiant message. Perhaps this book will be painful. Perhaps it will put years of complicated emotions into words that you can share with others.
If you are a white person, this book should make you uncomfortable. After all, it’s not addressed to you. It should challenge you. It should make you a better ally. This book made me ask myself: What have I done to preserve America’s heritage of destroying the black body? Do I believe that change is possible? What meaningful role do I have the responsibility to play in the struggle for change?
2. Atomic Habits — James Clear
What is it about? I call Atomic Habits the instruction manual for your free time. This is an evidence-based approach to build (and stick with) good habits. James Clear combines psychology, neuroscience, and biology with true stories from successful people to create a simple and actionable strategy to make good habits common and bad habits rare.
You’ll like this book if: You are having trouble sticking with habits. Good news: the problem isn’t you, the problem is your system. And this book teaches you how to build a better system. If you’re looking to be more purposeful with your time, this really is the first book you should read.
- How to Write an Autobiographical Novel — Alexander Chee
What is it about? Great question. Living through the AIDS crisis, life in New York after 9/11, reading tarot cards, cater-waiting for William F. Buckley, the election of Donald Trump. If you’re wondering how those disparate topics come together into a book worthy of the #1 spot, I guess you’ll have to read it.
You’ll like this book if: You’re a human being. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It was also nominated as a “best book” by basically every magazine, newspaper, and website you can think of, so don’t just take my word for it.
I accessed every one of these books for FREE with my U.S. library card and the app Libby. I can’t recommend this app highly enough.