Hi, I’m Lyndsey. Thanks for taking a moment to scroll through my favorite reads from this year. As with last year, most of my favorites were memoir, nonfiction, and poetry, but some fiction (albeit children’s and teen) made the list too! Enjoy! And please, make sure to tell me if you read a book I recommended. It would make my day!
Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got a Life by Kelsey Miller
This book influenced in the way I think about and relate to food and my body. In this memoir, the author commits to unlearning disordered eating and distorted body image. With the help of an Intuitive Eating coach, she figures out how to eat based on her body’s instincts and how to exercise rationally and sustainably. All throughout this process, she examines how her relationship with food and her body was impacted by family, friends, and significant others. I listened to the audiobook, and Kelsey is hilarious, sharp-as-a-whip, and wholly relatable. I highly recommend this book for any person who has been made to feel shame for their body shape or food choices. It is a liberating and empowering read (or listen).
The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever by Jamie Wright
As a former missionary, I saw a lot of harm done by people claiming to do “God’s work.” This book is an urgent prophetic call to stop that harmful behavior. After living in Costa Rica as a missionary for five years, Jamie Wright pulls back the curtain on missionary life, writing about her experiences and observations. She points the finger at the careless and nonsensical ways of “helping” that sending organizations permitted to happen, veiled by the vague language of “loving on people,” “just showing up,” and “hearing from God.” Her stories about mutually exploitative practices, wasted resources, and underequipped ministers helped clarify the gravity of the harm Christian missionaries can do, if not prepared to serve in careful, sensible, and sustainable ways. Even though the content of the book is serious, Jamie’s voice is fun and entertaining, but also scathing – maybe a little like watching a Trevor Noah routine. While I appreciated the foundation that the beginning chapters laid about Jamie’s early years, the final two sections were ultimately the worthwhile ones.
Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
This masterfully-told story tells how four characters – a sweet, shy Filipino American boy, a strong-willed, says-what-she-thinks deaf girl, a mystical Japanese-American girl, and the school bully – cross paths one afternoon in the woods, and how their lives change because of the encounter. This book is everything that a Newberry Medal winner should be: funny, smart, engrossing, poignant, and heartwarming. Hand this to a kid (or adult) who feels afraid or unseen.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
From the glowing reviews this book received, I expected that this book would be engrossing, that I would cry, and that the stories Westover told about her childhood would be haunting, striking, masterfully sequenced, and infused with symbolism. What I didn’t expect was that I would resonate so deeply with her experiences of living with abusive family members who need to get help for their mental health. I applaud Tara for her beautiful, brave book that helped me reflect on my own childhood.
Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward by Gemma Hartley
Spoiler alert: This book will make you very, very mad. Read it anyway. Especially if you’re married or thinking about getting married. It’s about the gendering of household labor and management (what has been termed “emotional labor” by scholars). I am only a few chapters in, but already I see how society’s expectations of women can be an unbearable weight that harms relationships overtime. I appreciate the interviewing and research that went into constructing this book, and I am looking forward to what actions Hartley prescribes for spouses seeking a more equal partnership.
The Poet X: A Novel by Elizabeth Acevedo
This book was so (clap) well (clap) done (clap). Poet Elizabeth Acevedo is a former National Slam Champion, and her poetry is as beautiful and innovative as it is powerful. In this novel in verse, twins Xiomara and Xavier Batista are not just children of Dominican immigrants – they are miracle babies. Their ultra-religious mother prayed for children and conceived them in her old age. Mami has always insisted that Xiomara show her gratefulness to God by living a chaste, humble, devoted life, but Xiomara wants freedom to live outside of the church’s expectations. Mami signed her up for confirmation classes at the church, but she wants to skip and attend poetry club and go on dates. But Xiomara can only hide who she truly is for so long. Pro tip: Listen to the audiobook to hear Acevedo’s striking performances of these poems.
Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff
It took me a looooong time (six years) to get around to reading this book, but I’m so glad that I did. David Sheff explores the way he and his family coped with his son Nick’s drug addiction, recovery, and relapses. The story is delivered through a journalist’s eyes, so the narrative is peppered with research about addiction and interviews with doctors and addiction counselors. Sheff’s writing is spare in style, straightforward and raw. We ride the rollercoaster of being an addict’s parent along with David, feeling his desperation, anger, defeat, and finally, acceptance. This book should be required reading for anyone who knows an addict – but it is also a really good story about a complicated father/son relationship.
Citizen Illegal by Jose Olivarez
I am trying to convince you to read every book on my list. And you should. But really, the next book you read should be a book of poetry, and it should be this one. These poems have their fingers on the pulse of the Latinx experience. Olivarez’s poems show us what it’s like to be a Mexican immigrant, or the child of Mexican immigrants, in America. The writing is so smart, and it’s in-your-face, and it’s wonderful. But really, I don’t have to tell you that. Just read for yourself.
Second Bloom by Anya Silver
This is the final book of poems from Guggenheim Fellow Anya Silver who passed away this August after living with cancer. As with all of Anya’s books, the poems are brilliant, beautiful, quietly powerful observations of ordinary life: washing the dishes, finding a bird in the house, biting into a pepper, holding her infant son, and comforting a dying friend during the holidays. Truly, a worthwhile and rewarding collection.
Relish by Lucy Knisley
I have been trying my very best to get into graphic novels, and I was lucky to have picked this one up. There was so much to love here. This is a fascinating and fun autobiographical journey through Lucy Knisley’s childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood through the lens of her food. Each chapter centers around a certain dish (for instance, the author’s trip to Mexico during her teenage years exposed her to Mexican cuisine), and at the end of the chapter, Lucy shows us the step-by-step illustrated instructions of how to make that dish. Of course, the book is not just about food – it’s about having divorced parents, traveling the world, and becoming (and being) a woman.