A Year of Words – My Oft Updated Reading List of 2019

(updated 12.23.2019) A while ago, listening to the radio became emotionally difficult for me. So I turned it off. After succumbing to the anguish of being pummeled by my own thoughts, I realized I needed to fill the silence somehow. I turned to audio books. It has become my asylum in the darkness. I started last year and I’ve had bouts where even the books were too much noise in my daily trials. In those times I took a moment to just breathe in the silence, but I’ve come back to the books over and over. It’s a good way to ease the stress of traffic on my travels to and from work. And, while I never felt I had time to read a book before, now I put on my earphones and listen while I make dinner or clean or fold laundry or mow the lawn. It’s helping me ‘survive’ the more mundane bits of life.

I decided to make a record of the books I’ve listened to this year. There’s no real method to my selections. Some I found by accident while searching my library catalog of audio books.  Some were suggested to me. A few I discovered through social media posts from authors I followed. I found old classics I missed, new genre that wasn’t my typical choice, and favorites of family or friends that give me a glimpse into a part of them I may not have known before. I am trying to be open to different authors and genre and just ‘going with the flow.’ Seriously, I will open the library catalog of my audio book app to search and quickly flip through the pages until something compels me to stop. Okay…so I’m basically judging a book by it’s cover, but maybe I’ll find something great this way!

I’ll update this list periodically as the year goes on, and include a brief comment on each of the books. Don’t worry – no spoilers. Not even reviews, really. Just some notes and reflection after my listen. I wonder how many I will have by the end of the year. Care to guess? Should we make it a contest? No…I have nothing to award the winner. But feel free to make a guess if you’d like! The recordings so far have ranged from 3 hours to 27 hours long. Come along with me – make a suggestion if you’d like. And, if you’ve read any of these books, I’d love to know your thoughts!

  1. Intentional Living, John C. Maxwell (8:8)
    1. As a Pastor, his approach to understanding the choices we make is clear. I struggled sometimes to apply practices from his grand lifestyle to my simple life. But, a reminder that we need to do things with purpose is always good.
  2. The Art of Mindful Living, Thich Nhat Hanh (2:29)
    1. Spending a month living in a yurt, learning from Thich Nhat Hanh is now on my bucket list (guess I’d better hurry on that).
  3. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins (10:58)
    1. I never saw this movie but always heard people talk about it, so I thought I’d give it a try. I really enjoyed this book – the slow, steady, rhythmic patterns echoed the feel of a train. And, while I normally manage to suss out the twist in suspense stories l-o-n-n-n-n-n-g before the writer intends me to, this time there were still surprises for me!
  4. Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (12:32)
    1. Full disclosure….I’m kind of in love with Neil Gaiman: his writing, his voice, his wife (Amanda Palmer)….all of it ((contented sigh)). This story was everything I wanted it to be. It was more than I’d hoped it might be. I adored every character – whether I was meant to hate them or love them. I would read this again….and again….and again… (update: I have now watched the 6 episode series made of this book, starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant ♥ I love it even more)
  5. A Study in Scarlet Women, Sherry Thomas (11:02)
    1. What if Sherlock Holmes were a woman? This first book in the Lady Sherlock Series looks at the obstacles surrounding a woman who took on the same roll as Mr. Holmes. An interesting take on a favorite character of mine.
  6. The Princess Diarist, Carrie Fisher (5:10)
    1. A nice story in the sarcastic, sardonic tone of Carrie Fisher. Over dramatic, as only she could be. But a sweet remembrance for me after her passing.
  7. Beautiful Boy, David Sheff (11:28)
    1. Barely 1/3 into this book, I sat my son down and said “we need to talk.” I asked him to read this – with me – so we could talk about it together. This was a tremendously impactful book for me.
  8. Thrive, Arianna Huffington (9:54)
    1. This one was a nice reminder for me to breathe. And, on the importance of sleep. I don’t sleep well. I never have….I really need to figure that out. Turning off electronics, setting boundaries, saying “no” confidently, setting a schedule, scheduling time for myself….these are things I need to do. Arianna says so.
  9. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman (13:48)
    1. Again….Neil…♥….but, even if it were someone else – this story took me on such an adventure. My heart swelled and ached. I cried and laughed and cheered and gasped. The depth of his characters draws me in and holds me captive. Every time.
  10. The Sleeper and the Spindle, Neil Gaiman (1:05)
    1. Snow White meets Sleeping Beauty under a big dark shadow…..this isn’t the fairy tale you remember. But you should.
  11. Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty, Diane Keaton (5:06)
    1. Interesting look into Diane’s life. Her quirky, individual style has always been a part of her. Unapologetically. It’s empowering to hear from someone who knows she’s quirky, that some people will never quite understand her, and still be completely content in her life. #goals
  12. Forever Nerdy, Brian Posehn (8:31)
    1. Language!
  13. You Learn by Living, Eleanor Roosevelt (5:29)
    1. Oh, for the clear rules of days gone by. Or, maybe not….since women & children didn’t fare so well in years past. But, still, to hear Eleanor’s words and strength and conviction and dedication…..there’s a reason she’s been my object of admiration since I was very young.
  14. The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama (6:10)
    1. Much more political than I had hoped….but, I’m reluctant to say I enjoyed learning more about the game of politics. It’s not something I generally enjoy delving into. But, hearing about the off-screen conversations, dealings, and negotiations was eye-opening.
  15. Little Bee, Chris Cleave (10:41)
    1. Wow. We have no idea what life is like outside our little bubble. Or, maybe you do – maybe your bubble has been burst. In which case….may you find peace.
  16. 11/22/63, Stephen King (30:40)
    1. I am not a Stephen King fan. Until now. FABULOUS! What if one of the most critical dates in American history went differently? This book will take you on a back and forth, round-about trip to find out.
  17. Aftermath, Chuck Wendig (12:16)
    1. Star Wars. Need I say more? (although, this version had lots of sound effects which distracted me from the story)
  18. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson (8:41)
    1. Apparently I feel a kindred spirit with a crazy Texan who had an extremely bizarre childhood, is awkward and nerdy, is slightly (definitely) neurotic, loves deeply, and continues to hope…..no matter what.
  19. Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly (10:47)
    1. Another movie I never saw, but I’m glad this subject matter was brought to the big screen. It’s an important story that has been buried, or not celebrated, for too long.
  20. Pure Drivel, Steve Martin (2:13)
    1. Exactly the eclectic, wild, sardonic, crazy ride you’d expect from Steve Martin
  21. My Squirrel Days, Ellie Kemper (6:14)
    1. A little hard for me to relate to her memoirs from two television shows which I’d never seen. But it didn’t hamper my enjoyment of this light read.
  22. Talking As Fast As I Can, Lauren Graham (4:35)
    1. Oh, Lorelei Gilmore….tell me more stories. A simple memoir of her life and career. How wonderfully refreshing to listen to a Hollywood story that included no harsh words toward others, no ‘dirt’ on anyone, no sordid stories.
  23. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Jane Sherron DeHart (24:03)
    1. I understand so much more about the trials of women in the 1950s. I learned about the struggles of Jews. I understand the Judicial Branch of our government more than I did after 10th grade social studies. This was long and politically heavy and I loved every bit of it. For who she is, for what she has endured, for her steadfastness in her personal life – I will always admire her.
  24. Revolution, Russell Brand (9:38)
    1. Yes, that Russell Brand. Who knew that off the drugs and alcohol he has amazingly deep and insightful things to share? He has very strong views on many things, and I have to admit that they’re not crazy.
  25. The Bassoon King, Rainn Wilson (8:49)
    1. I’ve never seen The Office. But hearing about Rainn’s road to fame was interesting. One of the most fascinating parts for me was learning more about the Bahá’í faith, in which he was raised.
  26. Wanderers, Chuck Wendig (32:22)
    1. Faith. Loss of faith. Greed. Acceptance. Bigotry. Lies. Science. Torture. Hatred. Love. Heartbreak. Life. Death. Life renewed. God complex. It’s all in here. And more.
  27. The Other Einstein, Marie Benedict (8:30)
    1. The story of the first Mrs. Einstein, based on fact and speculation. What an interesting look at the wild life of Albert Einstein. But, I almost abandoned this book, afraid it would leave me with a distaste for someone I grew up fascinated by. I made it through.
  28. Becoming, Michelle Obama (19:03)
    1. A look into a political life from the family left in the shadows. Hearing another take on a public life is always appealing to me. It was also fun to hear her version of how she and Barack met, since I’d heard his version while listening to The Audacity of Hope.
  29. Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown (4:12)
    1. A researcher at heart – she’s all about the numbers and the patterns and then helping us sort it all out to get to the why and make it better
  30. Buffering, Hannah Hart (5:55)
    1. Holy Hannah this woman deserves an award for surviving life so far. My favorite bit is knowing how horribly unstable her mother’s mental health was, to the point of having a child taken away from her, and Hannah’s love for her is no less. She continues to fight for her mom’s care and for the access and affordability of proper mental health care for everyone. That’s commitment.
  31. Boy Erased, Garrard Conley (8:13)
    1. A disturbing look into a conversion therapy program and the struggles of one boy….one of far too many who have suffered.
  32. The Giver, Lois Lowry (4:49)
    1. Revisiting a classic. Am I the only one who doesn’t like the ending?? Where’s the neat and tidy happily ever after???
  33. The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein (6:56)
    1. Another movie I didn’t see, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book – as told by the dog. It was thrilling to be taken into the driver’s seat of a race car. Who knew that the techniques to be good on a race track might make good advice for living life?
  34. You’re Not That Great, Elan Gale (3:49)
    1. The most negative self-help book I’ve ever read. And it was great! I’ve long struggled with positive thinking and this book gave me permission to be negative – but to use that negativity to propel yourself into something better. I might have snort-laughed while listening to this.
  35. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, Megan Mullally & Nick Offerman (6:39)
    1. I need to get this book and actually read it. Because the audio version was more like sitting in their living room while they told stories together, interrupting each other. I can’t imagine how this book is written. Plus….there were pictures I missed!
  36. Coraline, Neil Gaiman (3:35)
    1. Now that I’ve read it, maybe I should see the movie. Wow….why did I wait so long to let the fanciful world of Neil Gaiman into my life??
  37. Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari (6:14)
    1. A serious topic, researched and reported on by a comedian. I thought this might be a tongue-in-cheek look at love. But this was a serious research project and referenced many big psychological and sociological studies. But with jokes thrown in.
  38. Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng (10:02)
    1. I am finding myself increasingly intrigued by books that shake me out of my white-middle-class knowledge base. And that’s a good thing. Life is not the same for us all. It is good to look through someone else’s lens now and then.
  39. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (8:00)
    1. Are we really so far from this wild future imagined by Huxley? One where we choose the traits of our offspring; where people are sorted – almost from birth – into classes by which their aptitude and abilities are assumed; where people live in drug-induced happiness, pushing capricious feelings aside; where love is shunned. Are we really so far? Are we any better?
  40.  Twelve Years A Slave, Solomon Northup (7:51)
    1. We have no idea what life was like. We have no capacity to feel the depth of disregard for fellow humans. May we always turn away from this life, never to realize it again.  I need to see the movie.
  41. Never Grow Up, Jackie Chan (9:34)
    1. It’s nice when people who are seen as generous now are honest enough to admit the selfishness foibles of their youth. It’s lovely when people learn to be better people.
  42. The Kid, Ben Bradlee (35:14)
    1. Very in depth look at the life of Ted Williams with facts and stories and quotes from all parts of his life – private, public, military and baseball. It’s nice to know he wasn’t always arrogant and mouthy.
  43. The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown (17:47)
    1. I read The Da Vinci Code many years ago and shared it with everyone I know because I loved it so much. This is book three in the Robert Langdon (6 book) series. I think I’d like semiotics or cryptology to be part of my next career.
  44. And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie (6:01)
    1. Classic who-done-it mystery from an icon of detective novels. It’s funny how we sometimes revel in the masterful simplicity of stories from days gone by. I’d forgotten how satisfying it is to reach the end of a book when everything has been neatly sorted out.
  45. G’morning, G’night! Little Pep Talks for Me and You, Lin-Manuel Miranda (0:46)
    1. The Twitter world brought to a book. Lin-Manuel continues to bless his followers with greetings each morning and evening to support or inspire, to make them laugh or to think, to touch each person with an authenticity he seeks to grow in the world.
  46. Odd and the Frost Giants, Neil Gaiman (1:46)
    1. A wintery tale woven with Norse mythology. Thor and Oden and devilish Loki keep Odd company on his journey. Somehow stories always feel grander when they are about gods.
  47. Wallis in Love, Andrew Morton (12:11)
    1. I remember hearing the fairy tale of the King who walked away from his crown for the woman he loved. It sounded wonderfully romantic. I have a whole new understanding of this story now. I was shocked and saddened by the details of their path. But, beyond all the messiness, they stayed together. That says a lot, too. A sad reminder of the difference between public and private stories.
  48. Do It Scared, Ruth Soukup (7:09)
    1. Take Ruth’s fear assessment at www.doitscared.com and start your own journey to the life you want. You may be surprised by what you find.
  49. Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owns (12:12)
    1. The strength of a child. The power of nature. The secrets we keep.
  50. Lincoln’s Last Trial, Dan Abrams & David Fisher (9:00)
    1. An historical account of the last great trial of Abraham Lincoln before he became the 16th president of the United States; An in-depth look into life and laws of the 1850s; And a wonderful reminder that strength does need to come at the expense of kindness or ethics.
  51. The World According to Star Wars, Cass R. Sustein (6:00)
    1. Faith, politics, and free will through the lens of the Stars Wars movies.
  52. Option B, Sheryl Sandberg (6:16)
    1. Sometimes, option B (or C) is all you have to work with. Building resiliency within yourself will determine how well you adjust to a new option, and how quickly you survive the adjustment. Lean In….you’ll be okay.
  53. Mentors, How to Help and Be Helped , Russell Brand (3:11)
    1. This is more a memoir than a self-help book. Russell Brand has a flourish in his personality that creates verbosity, but evokes such vivid imagery that I truly enjoy his works. I get lost in the inundation of descriptive words for simple concepts – in a good way. The extra embellishment ensures his thoughts stay with me and spur my own thoughts. There was a good deal of spurring from this, and perhaps a call to action for me.
  54. Every Tool’s A Hammer, Adam Savage (7:48)
    1. Are you a maker? (this is where you say yes – all of you. You ARE a maker…you write or draw or cook or bake or dance or play or speak or play….I guarantee you ARE a maker). Even if you don’t feel like a maker, pick up this book. The lessons Adam learned in his years as a maker and which he shares with his readers will cross over into all parts of your life.
  55. Unmasked, A Memoir, Andrew Lloyd Webber (16:42)
    1. Some of the most beautiful songs danced through my head as I was taken on a journey through Andrew Lloyd Webber’s life in the theatre. What a fascinating life. He was only 22 when he wrote Jesus Christ Superstar! He confessed to his missteps along the way with honesty and humility. A refreshing note.
  56. Uniquely Human, Barry M. Prizant, PhD w/Tom Fields-Meyer (9:00)
    1. A paraphrased comment from the mother of a child with autism: “I was so often told what my son couldn’t do, I never had time to see his possibilities.” Please, please, don’t let anyone rob you of seeing the possibility within your children – or within yourself. If you see this happening to someone else, speak up – speak out. We all have possibility, we just need someone to help us believe.
  57. A Curious Mind, The Secret to a Bigger Life, Brian Grazer (5:40)
      1. In less than six hours I have a new understanding of myself and what I crave in my life. In less than six hours I have a list of 15 books and topics added to my wish list. In less than six hours I have new parameters by which to measure where I expend my energy. Sometimes something reaches a deeper part of you. Let it.
  58. A Week in Winter, Maeve Binchy  (10:57)
    1. I first began reading Maeve Binchy books in my 20s. I fell in love with life in Ireland and the stories she told. I enjoy the way all the books weave together and characters reappear from one to the next, yet each book stands as its own story. Isn’t that just like life? We’re all just a neighborhood away from each other.
  59. Extraordinary, Ordinary People, Condoleezza Rice (8:49)
    1. It truly seems as if she’s lived an extraordinary, ordinary life. There are other Condi books in my wish list waiting for discovery.
  60. Brief Candle in the Dark, Richard Dawkins (13:49)
    1. Richard Dawkins is often dismissed by many as an atheist bent on eradicating organized religion from the world. If you have avoided his writing because of his evolutionary views (over creationism), I implore you to reach for one of his many books which do not focus on this topic. Richard Dawkins is a scientist – a biologist – first and foremost. His primary goal is to educate and to be educated. His admission of his own foibles in this piece was humanizing. And indicative of his own evolutionary strides. Read on….you may be surprised.
  61. Whiskey in a Teacup, Reese Witherspoon (2:50)
    1. Proper, Southern, gentile training and the joys of a life full of simply joys and abounding love.
  62. Becoming Steve Jobs, Brent Schlender (16:21)
    1. I am not a member of the Apple family, but this thorough telling of the grandeur and floundering of Steve Jobs was a fascinating look inside a remarkable life.
  63. Wait, The Art and Science of Delay, Frank Partnoy (8:47)
    1. From sports (playing and coaching) to investing to apologies to science and innovation there is a sweet spot between action and pause. The key, the thing that seems to separate expert from novice, is the ability to consistently know and act in that sweet spot.
  64. The Crucible, Arthur Miller (1:59)
    1. Rumor and suspicion in youthful New England, where witches are thought to walk among good citizens.
  65. Mom & Me & Mom, Maya Angelou (4:01)
    1. A life of trials and strength and sheer will. The soul of an artist which took so long to be truly discovered and honored.
  66. Deep Work, Cal Newport (7:44)
    1. (paused approximate half-way in. I am enjoying this book and will come back to it, however, life events are preventing me from devoting the concentration to this piece that it deserves)
  67. The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Heather Morris (7:29)
    1. This is a book that will leave me forever changed. I cannot imagine the misery experienced by the souls of Auschwitz.  May we never forget the mistakes of our past, but use them to learn to be better.
  68.  Kind is the New Classy, Candace Cameron Bure (5:35)
    1. (returned) Sometimes a book is just not a good fit for a person. It can be the cadence of the words, the topic progression, or…maybe the timing was just off. I quickly found myself in a ‘nope’ space with this book. My reasons are unimportant. I would still recommend this book for others, as I believe in its topic – being kind to each other is the simplest, most impactful gift we can give.
  69. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (5:54)
    1. My friend (Truth) was reading this and inspired me to pick it up again. I had forgotten how much Fitzgerald’s writing begs my soul to cling to it. Rediscover an old favorite of yours. It is both familiar and new, as you experience it with many more years of wisdom and understanding. The story may be a repeat, but the adventure will be new.
  70.  I’ve Been Thinking, Maria Shriver (4:14)
    1. Broken up into digestible chunks, this is an easy book to pick up for short reads of inspiration. Meditation and prayer are a focus for guidance and clarity.
  71. The Second Mountain, David Brooks (13:02)
    1. I like that this book came out of a new understanding of self from Mr. Brooks. This took me on a journey through frustration, comfort, anger, disbelief, reconciliation, tranquility and all around again.
  72. The Stand (Uncut), Stephen King (47:47)
    1. Completed in six days – around work and holiday preparations. This is not one I would have picked for myself, but on suggestion I gave it a try. The characters captured me, leaving me pleading for those I adored and jeering at those I did not. I didn’t want to stop as I followed them on their journey – invested in their efforts.
  73. (the holidays have arrived and the books have slowed…stay tuned)

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