I read…a lot. The last ten years of my teaching career, I read for a living, surrounded by high school students also reading. It was heaven.
Now, I read exclusively for myself, and my own goals. I used to try to choose a Top Ten, but like Nancy Flanagan, one of my favorite reading buddies, I decided to do something different this year. I gave out a lot of 5’s on Goodreads, where I keep track of my reading…so I pulled out the titles I really, really loved and made categories. Then, I went with my top several for each category…180 books in 2019, boiled down to these. And I’m keeping Nancy’s blog close for recommendations for my 2020.
Individual #1 Books – After Obama was elected, sales of guns spiked. After Trump, the sales of books increased. Books about this White House has become a cottage industry, and I’m an enthusiastic consumer of many. I keep the books together in their own shelf.
This year, I think the best, most horrifying, most infuriating, books that are pointing out the obvious are:
Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow – the story of the Harvey Weinstein abuse stories being covered up, caught and killed. The book qualifies for this shelf, because Trump’s dalliances are also killed by the tabloid media. It’s almost Gonzo-journalism, because Farrow chronicles his own struggles to get this story written. I’m eager to read more from him.
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder – a tiny, dry tome with 20 rules for living in hard times, based on the fact we’ve lived through tyranny before – be kind to our language, contribute to good causes, be as courageous as you can…I have never actually gotten a hard copy of this book, because it cannot be published fast enough. But I have the audible and the ebook editions
It’s Even Worse Than You Think by David Cay Johnson – Johnson is an expert on DJT…has been watching him for years…and he can connect the clues better than anyone. It IS worse than we think.
The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy by Michael Lewis – be afraid! Be very afraid. We are being governed by people who know very little and like it that way.
Mueller Report – yes! I read it. More than most in Congress. Read, annotated, highlighted. And wrote several bad words in the margins.
Fiction – Of course I read novels!!
Testaments by Margaret Atwood – The long awaited, and for me totally satisfying sequel to Handmaid’s Tale. It was the book I needed to read in these days when On Tyranny reminds us we are in hard times. I read with friends who pushed my thinking and made the book even richer.
Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky – another long-anticipated book…the second novel by Stephen Chbosky. Totally NOT Perks of Being a Wallflower…more early Stephen King – horror story reminding us children can save the world if we allow.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett -- Speaking of children saving the world: I love Gaiman, but had a bad experience with Pratchett, so I’d avoided it…but what a delightful book, and Armageddon is thwarted again!
Illiad by Homer – OK, so I never read Illiad, even though I taught The Odyssey. Yes, I knew the bare bones of the story…but to hear the words rolling over my ears was so moving. The ending…I was surprised by the abruptness.
Memoir – three total gems
Becoming by Michelle Obama – I listened to Michelle Obama reading her story to me. Honest, tender, loving.
Thick – essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom, an African American sociology professor. She writes a fascinating collection here…some searingly personal, some deeply academic, some funny…she makes us face inequity, and challenged me to follow more strong women of color on Twitter. Love the changes.
Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson – breathtaking memoir in verse by the author of Speak. This book gives us the back story to her amazing novel, and is a rallying cry for women and men who are victims of sexual assault. I cried buckets.
Education Nonfiction –
The Privatization of American Institutions – written by my friend Lawrence Baines…how industry has taken over the military, prison system, K-12 education and higher education. Exhaustively researched (100+ sources for each chapter, y’all!!), every sentence is deep and frightening.
Lost At School by Ross Greene– an interesting look at behavior. Do kids (and adults) behave because they choose to, or because they don’t have the skills needed to mediate their words and actions? It reads like an advertisement for the author’s ‘system’, but still important for anyone who works with young people.
Nonfiction – Almost finished!
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Women by Caroline Criado-Perez – Oh, my gosh! All the ways women’s lives, bodies, and sexuality, are totally ignored by research. City planning. Snow removal, car safety. Men do the planning and arrange the world (NOT maliciously) to fit their bodies and their experiences. And that often makes the lives of women much harder.
Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean – The story of how MacLean found this story is fascinating, as is the rise of the libertarian millionaires who have used their money to quietly manipulate the levers of power. I did not know much of this started in the 50’s, with segregation in the South. Vouchers is not a new idea. Frightening, but we must read and learn.
Parkland by Dave Cullen – after Columbine, Cullen became the go-to author after any school shooting. In this book, he follows the Parkland survivors as they used their anger and grief to mobilize others for workable gun reform, and exciting young people to vote. This is the book Cullen needed after the horrors of Columbine, and frankly, I needed it too.
Blowout by Rachel Maddow – Another book I listened to the author read to me. Maddow reading Maddow…a treat! She weaves the story of Putin’s rise to power with oil and gas internationally, and in my home state, Oklahoma! Chapters jump from Putin to events I know much better.
Picture Book Biographies – volunteering in a school library let me to so many wonderful biographies of women forgotten by history. These books inspired my videoed lesson for my National Board re-renewal. Gems, every one.
Dreamers by Yuyi Morales– a sweet memoir of a young woman who immigrates to the US with her small child, and both discover the beauty of books and libraries. Illustrated by the author! A beautiful book all around.
Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome – there are many good picture books about Harriet Tubman, but this one adds new information for children to learn, and the lovely pattern of the words would give teachers so many ways to use this as a mentor text for writing.
Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life: Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor by Laurie Wallmark – a brilliant woman whose work is partly responsible for the technology we use every day in our cell phones, but is remembered only as a Hollywood movie star. Loved learning more about her!
Ada Lovelace: Poet of Science by Diane Stanley – did you know Lord Byron had a daughter? And that she was a brilliant scientist helped invent the Analytical Engine that could do all kinds of mathematical functions…A mighty girl!
Whew! 181 books, with lots of great ones I didn’t put on these final lists…Right now I’m running a FB group of readers, Yearly Reading Plan, using this challenge for 2020 – Lots of discussions about ‘a book you read in school,’ and I love seeing what friends are choosing for each month. I’m rereading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott for my January book. Eager to see what books this year brings.