Favorite Reads of 2019

Hello, all you Rockin’ Readers,

Within books, the world awaits us.

You can read about the life of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, or Mother Theresa. You can learn how to speak Italian, what the Paleo diet means and how it works, how wheat affects your health, and what makes a relationship toxic. You can explore other cultures and places. You can garner insights into what makes a healthier relationship, how to be a better friend, or of the intricacies of a particular dog breed. You can learn better communication skills, and gain more empathy via both fiction and non-fiction reading alike.

Also within fiction, we learn what it means to be human. We are offered different ideas for living and loving. Other ways of approaching our relationships and lives then we might have considered prior.

We can also escape into other worlds and experiences, if only for a moment. Instead of being relegated to only our own, we are able to live another one simultaneously.

It is within both fiction and non-fiction that we learn about life, that we gain greater insight into love and friendship, and that we figure out how to be human.

Every single book is one that holds the door to another world, a differing perspective, and experience for the reader.

The whole galaxy and starry sky are contained within reading, in terms of life topics, differing human perspectives, and greater knowledge.

Thus, here are, in my humble opinion, my favorite reads from 2019.

Silence

This book is excellent.  We learn much about noise and silence within this one, from the fact that people in Westernized societies have less hearing ability than ever before (as compared with remote tribes who have incredible hearing) to the inner structure of our ears, as well as how our brain functions in silence.  (In fact, the brain is at its best and most efficient in the pauses between sound).  Silence is crucial to our ability to think both clearly and deeply. It is important for our mental and physical health.  This book is a poetic and fascinating discussion on this very topic.

body keeps

Wow, is this an interesting read.  All about how even when our minds may forget…our bodies remember.  Our body doesn’t forget physical or mental trauma, even if we may not remember it or have blocked it out.  Somehow, the body stores these things inside of us still.

the hours

The story itself was interesting, though not riveting.  However, this is, hands down, some of the best writing and prose I have ever read in my life.  For that alone, it is worth a read.  I found myself captivated by the elegant, gorgeous turns of phrase.

bear town

This is a gripping and riveting story to be sure.  Beartown, a small community in the forest, where their ice hockey team is the center of it all.  Then the daughter of the coach is raped by one of the star players on his team.  From the Amazon.com synopsis: Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain.

homegoing

This towering tale begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver.  From there, however, we gain access to the perceptions and experiences of generations to follow.  Each story, detailed and deep.  Emotionally engaging and engrossing.  The character development in this one is excellent.

rage becomes

God, did I love this book.  I thought I was well versed in the topic of feminism before reading it.  Not quite.  The breadth of information and research in this book is stellar.  What I learned within this one blew my mind.  All the research is offered in combination with a timely, very necessary cultural topic- how women today are still treated (abysmally), and in all regards.  Within the workplace, in the media, politics, in the home, etc.  This is a must-read for everyone.

Here is a link to a previous entry I posted with some of the research Soraya sheds light on in her book.

wolves

This story is beautiful.  An unconventional and unique love story.  About fourteen-year-old June and the emotionally deep connection she shared with her uncle, Finn who passes away from AIDS.  I was unsure about this one on getting into it, not really certain of what to expect.  The synopsis didn’t particularly grab me.  I was surprised to find, though that this story is fantastic.

everything i never told

The synopsis to this one sounds akin to a “whodunit” scenario.  The body of Lydia, beloved and worshipped daughter of James and Marilyn is found at the bottom of the lake just down their street. Both are aghast and confused, as their family seemed, at least from the outside, like the stereotypical, cookie-cutter, white picket fence, “perfect” one.

I loved this book. While it was incredibly sad, the writing was beautiful and poetic,  evocative, and sensory.  The story was gripping, layered, and covered many crucial topics (such as racism, perfectionist/toxic parenting, and what this can result in for their children), the complicated dynamics of sibling relationships, as well as romantic ones.

It explored loneliness, the painful sensation so many of us experience (at one point or another) of feeling misunderstood and different, and the nuances that, though seemingly small and inconsequential, can add up to significant family dysfunction.

For more, here is my full review.

Little Fires

Celeste Ng excels on so many planes, from her prose to maintaining multiple, affecting storylines, to occupying opposing and contrasting schools of thought with a deft, thought-provoking hand.

In Little Fires, we have two distinct families.  One, the picture-perfect, white bread, ever poised, and skating effortlessly through life Richardson family.  They play by the rules, are all about their unflappable appearances, and are rather shallow, thus tending to avoid the confronting or consideration of anything complex, deep, or complicated.  Their life is ordered, conventional, and very much within the lines.  Their lives are easy, simple, and that’s the way they like it.

Then we have the Warren family, Mia and her daughter, Pearl.  Mia is an artist, a person who has chosen to pursue both her talent and what sets her heart alight.  She does not maintain a regular job or have a distinct career trajectory.  Instead, she works random, odd, temporary jobs where additional income is needed, and otherwise, focuses on making art that is meaningful to her.  Mia and Pearl live a life that is open, adventurous, uncertain, daring, and unconventional.  They rarely see anything as black and white, and instead, see most life situations as complex, laden with nuance, and many varying shades of gray.

Pearl Warren is drawn to the Richardsons like a moth to a flame, or like people tend to be toward staring, hypnotized at the flames of a fire.  She is impressed and awed by their easy confidence, the plush comfort of their lives, the way their life is ordered.

She and the Richardson’s son, Moody, became close friends.  Their connection, one in which they finish each other’s sentences and spend most of their waking minutes together.  Pearl is intimidated and intrigued by Lexie, their flippant, self-possessed (and somewhat manipulative and selfish) daughter.  And finally, she finds herself majorly crushing on their eldest son, Trip, the stereotypical shallow, good looking jock, oozing with confidence and carelessness.

Then, something happens which causes the two families to clash and even go up against one another in certain ways.

Though I liked Everything I Never Told You better, this one was also great.

the immortalists

This is an evocative, poetic, magical read.  Though do not feel put off, imagining fantasy or something Harry Potter-esque.  Not at all.  This one will appeal to many, including those who are not into fantasy.

The Amazon.com synopsis says it quite well, so I am going to use their version.

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children–four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness–sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel struggles to maintain security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

Both a dazzling family love story and a sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.

why we sleep

Wow, did this change everything I thought I knew about sleep.  It served at jarring me into caring way more about getting a solid 8-hours every night, in reading about the vast and horrible health implications that are highly likely to befall you if not getting enough.  The author, Matthew Walker, has a Ph.D. in the topic and has researched the power of sleep for years, so what you are reading is legit.  He offers his own research, as well as the research and science of others.

girls on the edge

This book was excellent.  I think I underlined half of it.  Dr. Leonard Sax focuses on four factors/issues he sees occurring with and ultimately harming girls nowadays.

Factor #1: The sexualization of young girls (and how this often leads to the self-objectification of women).  The way in which our overfocus on outward appearance harms the development of the self over time and in a way leads to atrophying of the soul.

Per the insights of Dr.Sax, sexuality is good. Sexuality is about your identity as a woman (or man).  It is about feeling sexual and being comfortable with this. This is a healthy part of being human. A healthy aspect of becoming an adult.  It’s also internal.  Not visible from the outside, it is instead, a part of you inside.

Sexualization, however, which currently runs rampant throughout our culture, is about being an object for the pleasure of others. It’s about being on display for others.  And this is not good for women or men in varying ways.

Sexuality is a part of who you are.  Sexualization is about how you look.

Factor #2: The cyberbubble, meaning, women (though I think this also applies to men) who are hyper-focused on social media, texting, email, Pinterest, Facebook, you name it, are missing out more authentic human connection.

Regularly sacrificing meaningful face-to-face connection and social skills for fake, on-screen, pseudo connection, as well as essentially living their life through the lens of branding oneself for their online image.

This can result in a lack of inner/emotional/mental development or even a lack of knowledge of who one truly is on the inside.  Their deeper, authentic, inner self.  Girls who are over-focused with online/social media tend to be concerned with performing, perfecting, and creating an ultimately contrived image and self for the reaction of others, at such a cost that they fail to develop a true sense of self.

Factor #3: Obsessions, such as with thinness (aka, eating disorders), over-exercise, sports, perfect academics, etc.  Each of these obsessions indicating and resulting in a severely imbalanced life for the girl engaged in the particular obsession. What she is using as a means by which to try and placate as well as quell anxiety, though which ultimately harms and hinders the girl’s potential growth and development, as well as her mental health and happiness.

Factor #4: The last one, environmental toxins which can hurt girls’ physical and as a result, emotional development.  From chemicals in plastic and lotions, which mimic female hormones to the degree that they are prompting puberty to start significantly earlier in girls (which then causes them a whole host of life problems as a result), to ill eating habits, all of this serving at diminishing their health in general.

I found this book riveting, eye-opening, informative, and important for our current times with regards to the lives of girls and women.  Highly recommend to everyone, whether you have children of your own, or are a young woman yourself, or even just as someone interested in current culture and the lives of women.  Excellent read.

lost connections

Such a good book.  Johann Hari wonders, with the prescribing of anti-depressants running rampant in the U.S., if these drugs really worked, why aren’t tons of us suddenly way happier?  He delves into some extremely compelling science, meeting with doctors and pharmacists who have run clinical trials on various anti-depressant drugs.  The truth? These do not impact our depression in a positive way nearly as much as we think they do. In fact, for many, they hardly work at all.

Skeptical?  Read this book before you judge.  Many books have since come out on the topic, offering up the research that anti-depressants do not work nearly as well as we think.

Johann Hari, in Lost Connections, goes on to discuss what he feels are the true causes of our widespread depression.  Hint: it has way more to do with life situations than your brain.

beauty myth

The beauty myth that our culture crushes women with as a perpetual life pursuit keeps a gap and mirage of misleading and disappointing fantasy ever-present between men and women. It keeps us spending vast sums of money and looking distractedly about us, instead of noticing, focusing on, investing in, and loving each other. The authentic human beings, of varied look, body type, color, and temperaments, right in front of us.

Culture tells us what is beautiful, sexy, or desirable, and we follow along mimicking, molding, and melding ourselves in numerous attempts at filling this fantasy, pretend ideal, in order to be “seen” and desired.

Emotionally unstable relationships, self-hating women, emotionally unavailable and uncaring men, high divorce rates, all of this is both created by consumer culture and serves as kindling in the continued fueling of that fire. It maintains distance and distress between men and women.

All of which is good for consumer culture and economy. And all of which is terrible for healthy or fulfilling relationships, as well as, the individual lives of men and women.

Read this book.  It will change your life.

Dopesick

Talk about a riveting, timely, and crucial read.  I learned so much from this about opioids.  It’s both a fascinating and jarring book, with much in-depth research.  We hear from doctors, read damning remarks from the drug companies, and learn the tragic stories of addicts and their loved ones.

Following finishing this book, if any of my loved ones now were to be prescribed opioids, I would beg them not to take the drug, if there were any way they could grit through the pain and avoid taking it.  The gamble and risk of taking these are just way too high.

Here is some of what I learned via Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America by Beth Macy.

  • Every single day, more than 130 people die from opioids overdose.
  • The Midwestern region – opioid overdoses increased 70 percent from July 2016 through September 2017. That’s a 70% increase in one year.

The marketing tact of “Pain as the 5th Vital Sign” is a significant part of why opioid addiction has exploded and spread like wildfire.  Purdue Pharma, who created Oxycontin, came up with this branding and tagline.  They repeated the mantra to doctors and people alike.

Since then, we’ve come to decide that any degree of pain in one’s body is unacceptable and unnecessary. Thus, just numb it, has become the mantra- you need never feel pain.

This thought process is contributing to over-prescribing, as well as a substance abuse mindset. Feel pain? No need, we now say.  Just take a pill.

Purdue, meanwhile, pushed these drugs (and hard) on doctors via much “free” swag (airline tickets to far-flung locales, cars, extravagant dinners out, ect).  Doctors began prescribing them with too much ease and not nearly enough caution.  Both, because they were bribed into it, and/or because they weren’t aware of the high-risk factor and addiction potential of the drug.

Eventually, as addiction and deaths began steadily increasing, several angry doctors, as well as loved ones of those who either died from the drugs or who became addicts, pushed back, asking Purdue to reformulate the drug.

Purdue refused.

Instead, they continued pushing the drug via any means possible.  They’ve since been sued many times over.

The risk of addiction developing with opioid use is around 60%.   Numerous stories of people who, say, blew out their knee or had surgery on their arm and then were prescribed opioids, addiction is a frequent result.

Following a 1-2 week prescription, many discover the pain of withdrawal when the Rx ends. And thus, addiction is set in motion.

Further, opioid addiction is often a life sentence. More so than alcohol, more so than cocaine or heroin.  In fact, opioid addiction frequently leads to heroin use down the road.

People may attempt to get clean around 10-12 times before accruing just 1 year of sobriety.

Even in terms of use for end-of-life pain (such as cancer), there is a phenomenon that occurs with opioid use of increased pain.  Thus, you are taking a supposed pain killer that instead, actually increases your pain with time.

I highly recommend this informative, well-researched, riveting read.

A little life

My god, did this book pack a wallop.  It was incredible.  This one took me about 2.5 weeks to finish but it is without question one of the most powerful books I have read since I can remember.  It took my breath away.

Don’t worry, no spoilers!

The story (fiction) follows four men and the trajectory of their lives and friendships with one another.  First off, her writing is excellent.  She is a superb writer, on par with Patti Smith and a few other literary heavyweights.  And secondly, the story is just riveting.  We learn about these four fascinating men, their friendships wrought with contradiction and complications over the years (as most close relationships tend to be), as well as what happens to each of them as they go through life individually.  You will be gripped tight by this one.

The book eventually hones in and focuses on one of the characters more so than the others, the story of Jude.  His life story is absolutely captivating.  Its horrific, tragic, and beautifully told.  Your heart aches for Jude, all while you cannot turn away from the jaw-dropping story being told.

I was wildly impressed and awed by the way in which this woman (the author) is able to inhabit her characters to such a degree.  I cannot think of many other character narratives or emotional in-habitations by an author that felt more authentic than this story.  I was blown away.  She is out of this world talented.

Further, while reading this particular tale, one feels the entire gamut of emotions coursing through them at varying moments.  Everything, from being deeply emotionally moved, to outraged on a character’s behalf, to horrified, to a rush of joy for a character.

This book is one of the best examples of which I have ever come across as a completely contrasting story that occupies both the deepest depths of darkness and the most illuminating of light.  While much of it is hard to read, for the pain and trauma that Jude experiences, it is equally filled with moments that lift your heart and bring awe to your soul.  This book takes one into the center of experiences such as sexual abuse, both physically, emotionally, and mentally, in a way that is not found in hardly any other books.  It’s brave, raw, and utterly authentic.  It also shows us the heart healing power of friendship, a supportive circle of steadfast and truly good people, and ultimately of love.

american marriage

This was a page-turner.  About newlyweds Celestial and Roy, whose lives are torn apart when he is arrested and charged for a crime he didn’t commit.  Years and years go by, during which Celestial grieves for Roy, waits for him, and then finally begins to let go.  She and Andre, her childhood best friend, develop strong feelings for one another.  Then, Roy gets out of prison and shows up at her door.

This is, for the most part, a beautiful story, a gripping emotional dilemma, and a great read.

center cannot hold

This memoir blew my mind.

A crucial contribution to the slim pickings world of memoirs and nonfiction writing on mental illness.

We live within a culture steeped in stigma on this topic.  Anyone with a mental illness is “crazy,” “a lost cause,” “disabled,” a person to be feared or approached with much caution, unable ever to think straight or clearly, less intelligent or capable than others.  These are all stigmas, prejudices, and limited, overly simplistic perceptions.

The Center Cannot Hold is the story of one woman’s journey through her experience of living with schizophrenia.

Parts of the book will send chills through your body.  The entirety of the story will move you emotionally and fill you with empathy.  It’s a heartbreaking, harrowing account of what a person with this disease might and likely does experience.  Offering the reader a semblance of and glimpse into what living within such a mind might be like.

You simply cannot imagine, and even on reading this and being given the barest, most removed impression (as in, from an outside perspective as the reader), just, wow.

witches

While I liked Shrill better, this one was quite good.  It had me laughing out loud several times.  Another great cultural critique by Linda West.

West writes, “We were just a hair’s breadth from electing America’s first female president to succeed America’s first black president. We weren’t done, but we were doing it. And then, true to form-like the Balrog’s whip catching Gandalf by his little gray bootie, like the husband in a Lifetime movie hissing, ‘If I can’t have you, no-one can’-white American voters shoved an incompetent, racist con man into the White House.”

most fun we ever had

I devoured this book.  The story was so engaging.  I love a well written, deeply drawn family saga, in which you get to know all the characters intimately, their relationships, dilemmas, strengths, and weaknesses.  It’s such fun to get lost in one of these.  In this story, we follow the lives of couple Marilyn and David, and their four adult daughters, Wendy, Violet, Liza, and Grace.  All of these relationships are, of course, layered with complications.  Aside from a couple of small beefs I felt as a result of certain moments the characters had (I was wishing for a more fulfilling confrontation with a couple of them), I found this an emotionally moving, fun, generally great read.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s