Monday, December 23, 2019

Top Ten Nonfiction Reads of 2019

I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for another Top Ten Tuesday.

Next week's topic is our favorite books of the year, but this year I had enough good reads to be able to split them into nonfiction and fiction lists. People wonder how I can list my favorite reads of the year when there's still a week left in 2019, but I don't plan to read any more nonfiction this year so I feel safe listing out my favorites now.

1. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
This is an absolutely delightful collection of letters between a woman in New York and a bookshop in London; it's a quick read and laugh-out-loud funny. I think it will be most appreciated by voracious readers, but anyone may enjoy this look into an earlier era when books were not readily available for two-day shipping.

2. Becoming by Michelle Obama
I knew very little about Michelle Obama's life going into this book, so I appreciated getting a greater understanding of her family of origin, her school experiences, and her career prior to becoming First Lady. In clear, engaging prose, she helps the reader understand both why she was often made to feel "not enough" and how she had the support of many others who lifted her up and kept her going.

3. Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
I reread this for book club and found it just as laugh-out-loud funny the second time around, this time on audio, narrated by the author. I literally had to stop listening to the book while talking a walk outside because I was laughing so hard I thought I might pee my pants (and I was getting weird looks from the people around me!). The audiobook version also contains a bonus chapter plus some unedited audio of Lawson that will give you a fascinating and entertaining window into her brain.

4. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
Through Gottlieb's stories of being a therapist and being in therapy herself, this is both a celebration of the power of therapy and a recognition of its limits — that all of us, therapists included, are just doing our best. But you come away feeling that if we were all willing to be a little more vulnerable and put in a little more effort to look at how our own decisions affect ourselves and others, we'd be much better off as a human race.

5. Modern Kinship by Constantino and David Khalaf
This may be the best Christian marriage book I've read, period, even though I'm not the target audience. I found it helpful as a way to understand what my LGBTQ siblings-in-Christ may be experiencing, but also found their general advice about marriage to be a valuable reminder about what makes a relationship last. The authors are vulnerable about their own experiences and also incredibly practical, and the result is a book that is helpful, challenging, and beautiful.

6. Shameless by Nadia Bolz-Weber
I have loved all of Nadia Bolz-Weber's books to date, and this one is no exception. What I love most about this "sexual reformation" is that, while she illustrates how many destructive ideas about sex originate in the church, she advocates for a sexual ethic that is not separate from the Christian faith but rather deeply informed by it.

7. A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres
In this history of the mass murder-suicide at Jonestown, Scheeres does a fantastic job bringing to life both Jones and the various people from Peoples Temple she profiles throughout the book. I got a sense both of how Jones could draw so many people to him in the first place and how he kept them under his control as he started to become more and more paranoid. It's unflinching but not gratuitous in the descriptions of what people underwent at Jonestown, and it will give you a much richer understanding of this piece of history in a relatively quick read.

8. Weird Parenting Wins by Hillary Frank
I've recommended this book to so many new parents this past year. The whole first half of the book had me laugh-crying over some of the ridiculous things people (myself included) do out of desperation to get babies to sleep, toddlers to eat, and preschoolers to get out the door fully clothed. The second half of the book I did a lot of highlighting of the excellent tips for life with siblings and older kids. I definitely recommend it for all parents of young kids — if only for the laughs!

9. Whistling Vivaldi by Claude M. Steele
I was familiar with the idea of "stereotype threat" before reading this book, but I was missing many of the key components that make it so fascinating and so pervasive. I found this book a valuable complement to reading about bias and privilege. We can't ignore the realities of both conscious and unconscious bias, but understanding stereotype threat and the ways to combat it can help provide additional tools for creating a more inclusive and equitable world.

10. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
This book deserves all the attention it's gotten! It's an incredibly clear and concise guide to the assumptions most white people hold about racism and why they therefore get outraged at the suggestion that they might not be perfectly woke and post-racial themselves. I highly recommend it, particularly for those in the target audience of "white progressives."

What were your favorite nonfiction reads this year?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Cutting for Stone and The Future of the Mind
Five years ago I was reading: God's Bits of Wood and Warriors Don't Cry
Ten years ago I was reading: The Red Pony

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