Over sixty books this year. Whew. No time to review them all, but I did want to share a few recs for my most impactful and enjoyable reads. Click on each book for more about why it made the list, let me know what you enjoyed, and check out the full list if you’re looking for more!
Best Book to Fuel My Work: YOU ARE A WRITER by Jeff Goins. I received this book as part of a “freelancer starter pack” from a friend, with a note to open it when in need of inspiration. Goins, with his frank but inspirational prose, did just the trick. In no uncertain terms, he reassures the reader of their talent, and encourages them to just start. For someone who has felt the peril of the blank page/screen all too often, it provides the kick in the butt I often need to just…go.
Best Book to Fuel My Work: REAL ARTISTS HAVE DAY JOBS by Sara Benincasa. I acquired this book on the strength of its opening essay, found on Sara’s Medium page (get thee over there, by the way!). The other fifty-one essays that comprise this volume are just as captivating and helpful. From guiding me to declutter my naturally crowded life by putting items into “purgatory,” to detailing her own struggles with mental illness and ongoing efforts to heal and live, it was a great advisory read that felt accessible and attainable.
Important Read About Love and Life: ALL THE SINGLE LADIES by Rebecca Traister. I haven’t spent a full calendar year single in a while, but Traister’s book about the rising commonality of single women, the benefits and disadvantages of this state, and how it’s affecting the world around us, was a welcome read as I continue to be surrounded by a pairing off of friends and loved ones. It didn’t hurt, by the way, that Traister starts the book with an extended reference to Jo March and Louisa May Alcott, two literary icons of singledom. While I don’t yet know what the future holds for me, I worry less about the possibility of an independent life after reading this one.
Important Read About Love: DATEONOMICS by Jon Birger. If Traister’s book served as any reassurance, Birger’s reads as positively unsettling. How? Well, many single women my age lament a seeming lack of eligible men around us. Birger finds it to be reassuring that the numbers support our claim; that’s not the word I would have used. In any case, I still appreciated his in-depth analysis of how this disparity developed, where it is reversed or otherwise more favorable, and what can be done in the future to reverse (or stabilize) the trend.
Best of Other People’s Stories: the celebrity memoir/self-help genre has boomed in recent years, but this was the year that I found a few more from folks who looked like me. In Shonda’s Year of Yes, I found a woman that is fiercely driven, boundlessly creative, and yet accessible in a way that genuinely surprised me. Before I read Year of Yes, I had no idea how I felt about Shonda Rhimes; if I’d like her, what she’d be like…but in these pages, I found a woman I’d love to spend time with and call a friend…if either of us had ANYTHING like free time.
Best of Other People’s Stories: reading a LOT of celebrity memoirs gave me a lot of other stories to enjoy and learn from, but too few of them sounded like me. Phoebe Robinson and her book changed that. YOU CAN’T TOUCH MY HAIR is a wonderful meditation on growing up black, pop culture, current events, and building an unconventional career that one really loves. It was laugh-out-loud hilarious at moments, and deeply emotional in others. I couldn’t recommend it more highly- and watch out for Phoebe. She’s headed to the top, and I can’t wait to see her get there.
Books That Broke Me Open: AN UNTAMED STATE by Roxane Gay. Before reading this book, I had never cried on a plane before. But it was this book, read in the aftermath of the 2016 election, that prompted deep thinking, pages and pages of midflight journaling, and finally open sobs that would have alarmed my seatmates had they not been soundly asleep as we traveled across the country. Gay’s prose is engrossing, well-paced, and full of beautiful sentences that elegantly doubled as umping off points to sort through my own scattered emotions. Gayhas a new anthology out this coming year and a film of this book is on its way as well, so I can’t wait to devour what’s next with similar ferocity.
Books That Broke Me Open: DRY by Augusten Burroughs. One of three Augusten books I read this year, but the oldest of the three was the most emotional read for me. Detailing Augusten’s journey toward sobriety, and the life changes that accompanied it, Burroughs writes with a vivid intensity that brings the reader along with him in painstaking detail. I had the opportunity to tell him just how captivating his work is at a book event earlier this year – he now knows that I set aside full days for his writing because once I start it’s all I want to do – and I recommend this book highly, regardless of your relationship with alcohol. His newest, LUST AND WONDER, is something of a continuation of DRY, and I’d recommend it as well.
Books That Will Change How I Work: MISUNDERSTOOD MILLENNIAL TALENT by the Center for Talent Innovation. Those who read my work often enough will recognize that I have a really difficult time with the word ‘millennial,’ and the derisive mythology that has surrounded it in recent years. I’ve openly disagreed for years, but had a difficult time articulating precisely why. CTI did it. Identifying that the negative stereotypes apply to a small percentage of the generation. The story for the named other 91%, “millennials without financial privilege,” is wildly different. What they share about this group, including stories of millennials of color, will change the way I frame my work and broadly painted generational stereotypes.
Books That Will Change How I Work: When I decided to strike out on my own, I got asked many times if I would ever go back to an office. Presently, the answer is no: I like the flexibility of arranging my day (and the wardrobe that accompanies it) for myself. In all seriousness, there are many elements of the traditional office life that don’t work for me. However, Burkus’ book details practices that companies are implementing that directly address many of those protestation. The promise of more flexible leave plans, zero-email offices, and more open talk of salary are all things that I’d hope for in my next “traditional” workplace, and Burkus’ writings have me encouraged that change is on its way.
Books to Make Me Better: HAMILTON THE REVOLUTION by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. So, this was the year of Hamilton. If you’re not new here, you already know how big of a role it played in my life. And this book is a surprisingly big part of that. When asked about my favorite leadership book on a podcast earlier this year, I regret not listing it as my pick. It’s a wonderful blend of the behind-the-scenes story of the play’s development, and a love letter to all those who created it. For all the talk about it being an LMM production, it was a collaboration in a number of ways; the book depicts this cooperation beautifully. If I ever have the opportunity to enact a vision of this magnitude, I’ll revisit this volume often to remind me to utilize the gifts of those around me, and then honor and appreciate them for it.
Books to Make Me Better: THE CROSSROADS OF SHOULD AND MUST by Elle Luna. This short, colorful, and graphical (one of the final watercolors has been my computer background for several years now as inspiration/ass-kickitude) read creates a practical guide for pursuing what you love in an accessible way. Not everyone can quit their job and start their life over in pursuit of what they enjoy. Hell, not everyone should. And unlike most other books in that vein, Luna honors that reality. She frames the discussion of finding what you enjoy and chasing it, as a negotiation between what we should do, and what we must do. The “must” is what our heart calls us to do, and can coexist with other obligations- including jobs we may not enjoy as much. For those who have a goal of taking more time for themselves in the year ahead, but are fishing for how to do it, this is a quick read that will make it feel doable.