books (2020)

The stereotype of bookish people being homebodies always seemed true, except that after a year with nearly 10 months worth of home-bodying what really strikes me when typing this list are the visceral memories I have of the places (not at home) that I read the first seven or so books of 2020: Now, Now, Louison at The Commons Chelsea – drinking a latte from a mug, indoors in a tiny cafe around the corner from work on a break. How Should a Person Be? in a mostly-empty afternoon pub on a day I got off early after working an event late early in the week, where I stopped for lunch on the way to my studio. The food was bad but the bartender was nice. Say Nothing sitting or standing in the subway, drawing me in so much that I hardly noticed packed and noisy train cars on my commute.

Little Woman was a book I read (and loved) multiple times in elementary school but hadn’t read since. Like many others, I re-visited it in advance of Greta Gerwig’s film retelling which I then went to see/cry through by myself in a movie theater at a matinee showing, which was the last time I was in a movie theater at this point. (Little Women bonus content: this podcast episode, and this one built around these essays)

In the peak of early spring anxiety and non-stop sirens outside, I turned to poetry when my attention span couldn’t handle more than a line at a time – Mary Oliver, paying attention as liturgy – and novels or memoirs written staccato-like with short chapters or shorter paragraphs that kept things moving briskly along (Dept. of Speculation, Ongoingness). Scriptorium was my favorite poetry collection I read this year.

How to Do Nothing feels a little on-the nose: I read it in mid-April, sitting on my bed in our Brooklyn apartment I hadn’t left in weeks. Elena Ferrante’s neapolitan series pulled me deep into story in a way I loved; it reminded me of the long series I’d read as a kid, with plenty of time to feel like you know the characters – expansive novels are my favorites, but I hadn’t read a series like this in quite a while. It’s both focused and sprawling at the same time.

Enduring Lives excited me to return to considering what a life of integrity and faithfulness might look like, and expand my imagination for what that can include… spirituality that is community and liberation-minded (Radical Dharma; Love and Rage), grounded in the physical earth (Braiding Sweetgrass; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle), committed to relationship (Big Friendship), and creativity (The Artist’s Way).

The books listed in bold stood out to me for one reason or another, and asterisks (*) indicate a re-read.

  • Meditation: A Simple Eight-Point Program for Translating Spiritual Ideals into Daily Life, Eknath Easwaran
  • Now, Now, Louison, Jean Frémon (translated by Cole Swensen)
  • Motherhood, Sheila Heti
  • On Beauty, Zadie Smith
  • How Should a Person Be?, Sheila Heti
  • *Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
  • Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, Patrick Radden Keefe
  • The Trauma of Everyday Life, Mark Epstein
  • Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • If Beale Street Could Talk, James Baldwin
  • Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill
  • *Dream Work, Mary Oliver
  • New and Selected Poems, Volume Two, Mary Oliver
  • How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, Jenny Odell
  • *Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver
  • The Best Poems of Jane Kenyon, Jane Kenyon
  • Women Talking, Miriam Toews
  • *The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron
  • The Art of Relevance, Nina Simon
  • Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation by Angel Kyodo Williams, Lama Rod Owens, with Jasmine Syedullah
  • The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, Daniel Ladinsky
  • *Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • You Are Your Own: A Reckoning with the Religious Trauma of Evangelical Christianity, Jamie Lee Finch
  • *Nejma, Nayyirah Waheed
  • Little Weirds, Jenny Slate
  • Enduring Lives: Portraits of Women and Faith in Action, Carol Lee Flinders
  • The Way of Ecstasy: Praying with Teresa of Avila, Peter Tyler
  • Love and Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning, Claire Dederer
  • New and Selected Poems, Volume One, Mary Oliver
  • Wade in the Water: Poems, Tracy K. Smith
  • *Women in Clothes, Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton
  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
  • How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays, Alexander Chee
  • Weather, Jenny Offill
  • Ordinary Light, Tracy K. Smith
  • Feminism for the 99%, Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser
  • My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)
  • Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, Anand Giridharadas
  • Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation Through Anger, Lama Rod Owens
  • The Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)
  • The New Corporation: How “Good” Corporations Are Bad for Democracy, Joel Bakan
  • Scriptorium: Poems, by Melissa Range
  • Poems for COVID-19, Amy Bornman
  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)
  • Life on Mars, Tracy K. Smith
  • The Tradition, Jericho Brown
  • The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, Priya Parker
  • The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante (translated by
  • *How to Be Both, Ali Smith
  • The Book of Longings, Sue Monk Kidd
  • When Angels Speak of Love, bell hooks
  • Felicity, Mary Oliver
  • Ongoingness: The End of a Diary, Sarah Manguso
  • Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close, Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman
  • There is a Future: A Year of Daily Midrash, Amy Bornman
  • Honest Advent, Scott Erickson
  • How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons), Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett
  • The Other Shore: A New Translation of the Heart Sutra with Commentaries, Thich Nhat Hanh

Here’s my Goodreads year in review – I keep track of what I’m reading throughout the year there.

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