… And this is where I confess I didn’t read even a small fraction of my usual volume of books. Normally, I average between 50 and 100 titles a year. In 2019, the total was probably about a dozen, over half of which were … shall we tactfully say… meh.
That said, I did find a few gems. They’re all traditionally published books this year (unusual for me), and half are nonfiction (very unusual for me).
In order of impact on my outlook, they are as follows:
#1 Spark Joy: an Illustrated Master Class of the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Yes, really.
I was first among the mockers when the perky little miss started her YouTube series encouraging people to declutter their lives and fold their underwear into origami.
But here’s the thing… With all the chaos going on in my life during 2019, I discovered something about myself: Clutter Makes Me Crazy. I found myself binge watching YouTube videos about tiny houses, drawn by the whole idea of scaling back on stuff. Then I realized I didn’t have to crawl into my bedroom or suck in my breath to enter the kitchen just to get rid of stuff. I could use a minimalist approach to governing the space I already had.
This little book was a wonderful guide, helping sort my delights from debris in one category after another. Now, I no longer feel overwhelmed by the mess around me. Even my husband (the family pack rat) claims he loves the feeling of order and joy in our home now. It may sound like a cheesy idea, but it’s surprisingly transformative.
#2 The Road to Character by David Brooks
Usually, I think of David Brooks as the PBS moderate conservative analyst guy, but this book has nothing to do with that.
Brooks articulates something I’ve been thinking about in vague terms for quite a while. It even relates to one of the anecdotes I share in Parables & Ponderings called “How a Funeral Changed My Life”. Basically, it’s the idea that we can spend our time trying to earn accolades like position, wealth, and fame, or we can develop the “eulogy attributes”, the qualities extolled in a person whose life has positively impacted others.
Brooks illustrates the idea of character development by sharing several biographical vignettes of people from a wide variety of backgrounds, from soldiers to artists and everything in between. In each case, we see how choices and actions shaped the attitudes and priorities of these remarkable individuals. Though they are exceptional, they make real growth feel attainable. It’s a very inspiring read without being sentimental or dogmatic.
#3 Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. I cheated with this one and got the author-narrated audio book. I suggest you do the same.
I like to stay abreast of recent Newberry Award winners. This one is a nostalgic semi-autobiographic look at life in mid-twentieth-century small town. The main character is Jack Gantos himself sharing a fictional adventure/comedy/mystery against the backdrop of a community originally created by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Laden with historical references and lessons gleaned therefrom, it is both light and deep at the same time. It’s hard to explain and hard to forget. Very charming.
#4 Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. This is also an Amazon Prime mini series starring David Tennant of Doctor Who fame. That should be enough to convince you to take a peek, right?
I first heard about this book when people were having tizzy fits about it, and I wondered what the problem was. Given the authors, I figured it had to be a comedy in the witty, irreverent style that makes British comedy addictive for some and horrifying for others.
I was right.
The premise–that a demon and an angel become friends and decide to try to stop Armageddon–is definitely unique and not founded on any Biblical passages or precepts. While it characterizes the residents of both heaven and hell in highly unconventional ways, I maintain that it is not anti-religious. The takeaway for me was that each of us have a little good and evil in us, and there’s no reason to throw away hope for humanity because of the bad. In the end, we can always make choices to become better.
Of course, this is all couched in Monty Python-esque humor, which people either love or hate, so follow my recommendation accordingly.
And that’s the end of my little list for 2019.
Pathetically short, I know, but I promise the quality of writing in each case is top notch. Have you read any of these? Heard of them?
What were your favorite reads of the year?