a book with magical stars

My favorite reads in 2019

I’m delighted to share my annual review of my favorite books I read last year. Thanks to my full embrace of Goodreads, I know a few things about my reading last year: 119 books, 30,313 pages, averaging 254 pages per book.

If you want to go back in time and see what I loved in years past, check out these best-loved reads of: 201820172016.

Favorite socially acceptable fiction reads

  • How to Walk Away, by Katherine Center
    I first saw this book recommended by Mama Brené (Brown), and several other lists included it as a great read. I was not disappointed. The struggles Maggie faces in tackling a difficult setback were heart-wrenching, and the complexities in her relationship with Chip keep the narrative arc going in a way that makes this book very difficult to put down. I loved it.
  • How Not to Die Alone, by Richard Roper
    The storyline here was compelling, but it was the writing that REALLY lured me in on this novel. Andrew doesn’t know how to relate to his coworkers, who gather ’round the water cooler to talk about their families, so … he invents one. And then, Peggy arrives on the scene, and for the first time he has someone who he feels like he can be himself around, except his wife and kids keep getting in the way. This is just delightful reading.
  • The Overdue Life of Amy Byler, by Kelly Harms
    This book is about new beginnings, old dreams, and navigating the tricky world of forgiveness. I loved Amy’s voice in this story.
  • Evvie Drake Starts Over, by Linda Holmes
    Ohhhhh, I love Evvie Drake. She was just exceedingly likable and fun and wonderful and everything a great leading character should be. I finished reading this and wanted to turn back to page one and start again. Loved this!

Favorite fluffy romance reads

  • Red, White, and Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston (RUNAWAY No. 1 FAVORITE)
    Seriously — if you have even a passing ability to stomach romance fiction, YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK!!! I had never read an LGBTQ romance novel before this one, but I’ve read several since. I was impossibly charmed by both of the leading men here. It was sexy and fun and smart as all hell. Seriously — this is probably my favorite book of the year, in any category. (Read Glamour‘s review here.)
  • Sarah Bennett’s Lavender Bay series and Jenny Holiday’s “Bridesmaids Behaving Badly” series (One and Only; It Takes Two; Three Little Words; Merrily Ever After; Once Upon a Bride)
    Both of these series contain three women who are lifelong friends and who each, in turn, fall in love with a dashing young man. Every one is just delightful. I gobbled them up in quick succession.
  • It Had to Be You, by Keris Stanton
    There’s not much unpredictable in this story, but it’s charming and hilarious all the same. Like your favorite romcom, you know what’s coming and yet enjoying the journey to the resolution is immensely enjoyable.
  • Christina Lauren’s books: My Favorite Half-Night Stand; Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating; The Unhoneymooners
    Every one of these books felt like The Best Book I’ve Ever Read while I was eyeballs deep inside. Christina Lauren is a writing duo (two women named, can you guess? Christina and Lauren) with incredible wit, imagination, and love. I absolutely cannot get enough of these books! They’re inventive and addictive. 12/10!
  • Jo Watson’s books: Love to Hate You; Burning Moon; Love You, Love You Not
    Similarly, every one of these books was FABULOUS! Jo Watson is a South African writer (which provides a wonderfully diverse perspective) and her leading ladies are smart women on a journey to self-discovery and independence. That their leading men help them get there while also falling in love is just delightful. I loved these! (So much so that I’m holding a few back to savor later.)

Creative inspirations

  • The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
    I read this before heading to a week-long writing retreat with Jen Louden, and it was the appropriate kick in the pants to engage in writing with less fear. I blogged about it here.
  • The Art of Gathering, by Priya Parker
    Recommended by my dear friend Julie, Priya Parker’s book seriously reoriented the way I think about how groups of people come together. Julie and I offered a professional development workshop on the book in August, and I’ve shared its key takeaways with friends planning celebrations. No matter what you do, you’ll find something useful in the pages of this wonderful book.
  • The Power of Moments, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
    Our faculty book club read in the fall semester, this book packed some really great wisdom into a very quick and easily digestible read. Because of the inspiration in this book, I decided to have a “peak moment” in my fall semester by offering 12 students the chance to present oral arguments before a mock Supreme Court. I know you’ll find inspiration from this book — which is, I should mention, decidedly not about teaching.

Teaching inspiration

  • For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and All the Rest of Y’all, Too, by Chris Emdin
    Our faculty book club read last spring, this book talks a lot about equity in education. The only negative thing I have to say about this book — which is applicable to K12 and higher education faculty — is that it led to one of thee most infuriating discussions of my career … because another person’s reaction was beyond the pale. Read and share with the ready-to-be-enlightened colleagues you teach with. (Plus, Chris Emdin delivers a pedagogical punch whilst making you feel like you’re in church. Don’t believe me? Watch his TED talk and some of his other videos.)
  • Paying the Price, by Sara Goldrick-Rab
    What I found most useful about this book was its data-driven look at the financial burden of college for a very large portion of students. Sara Goldrick-Rab’s work is well-known in circles of faculty and administrators concerned about equity in higher education. This book is fabulous.

Understanding the world

  • Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice, by Bill Browder
    This book is scary as hell — and necessary to understand if you want to get a handle on what’s happening in Russia today. Browder is often called Putin’s enemy No. 1. Despite his busy schedule, he still found time to record a short five-minute video answering my students’ questions when I assigned this book to my spring semester students.
  • American Prison: A Reporter’s Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment, by Shane Bauer and The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, by Michael Lewis
    I asked my honors students to read both of these books in the fall semester, and both made a huge impact on them. And me. Bauer‘s book is every bit as good as Just Mercy (read my intro to that book here), but attacks the question of criminal (in)justice from a different angle. And Michael Lewis‘s book is the first and perhaps only book that could ever make understanding government bureaucracy vastly interesting … and horrifying. Neither of these books will make you feel better about the world as it exists today. However, both will definitely give you ideas on how we could use our time and energy to build a More Perfect Union.
  • Three Women, by Lisa Taddeo
    Released with much (well-deserved) fanfare, Taddeo‘s book about the inner sexual lives of three very different women was illuminating and, at times, difficult to read. But it was also impossible to put down. The experience of being a woman is replete with complexities and challenges. This book does the work of making some of those things more visible. We need more books like this.

Just fun!

  • 84, Charring Cross, by Helene Hanff
    My dear friend Julie gave me this book, and I read it in a single sitting. Helene Hanff has a voice and a kicking personality like nothing I’ve ever encountered before. You can read this quickly, but Helene’s wit and sparkle will stay with you long after.
  • The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Crawled Out a Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson
    I read this incredible, madcap adventure after a friend at my summer job recommended it. She said, “I laughed so hard I couldn’t see!” She was right. This was a book in the same vein as one of my long-time favorite books, Dave Barry‘s first novel, Big Trouble. (I seriously think about that book EVERY SINGLE TIME I go to the airport. “I’m arriving at the airport, but then I’m departing to another city…?!?!”) Total rompous fun. If you loved Forrest Gump, and you haven’t read this yet? I have to wonder why!

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