2020 Reading List
Every year I track all of the books I read and analyze what I’m reading from a macro perspective. In addition, I write short summaries of the books all on this page. This page gets updated every few months as the year progresses, and then at the end of the year, I tally the books and notes all together here as an archive.
I’ve been recording what I read every year for the past several years—here are the books lists from 2017, 2018, and 2019. Book tracking helps me pay attention to the quality and diversity of what I read. It has improved the quality, breadth and number of books I learn from, which inspires me to keep doing it.
If you’re curious, you can read more about why I track the books I read, how to decide what book to read next, and my notes on how to finish a book. Or you can read my book summaries, below, for new book ideas and recommendations. Please note—all links to books below are affiliate links, which means that if you click the link to buy the book, I’ll get a small amount of money for being an affiliate.
Read more books than any year before (53 books in 2017, 54 books in 2018, 43 books in 2019).
Read at least two challenging, hard books—books that might take months to finish. (Aka, don’t inflate the number of books above by picking only short books!)
Read at least 25%+ by Black people, Indigenous people, and People of color.
Read at least 50%+ by women, womxn or non-binary folks.
Updated through June 2020.
- Total number of books: 25
- Total number of authors: 28
- Women authors: 18 (63%)
- POC authors: 10 (36%)
Heart Berries, by Terese Marie Mailhot. Billed as “an Indigenous woman’s chaotic coming-of-age” by NPR and reviewed glowingly in the New York Times, I picked up the book, intrigued. The author starts a memoir while in a mental institution, and pens a series of essays about what it’s like to be invisible and live in a white world focused on men. I wish talking about race and mental illness weren’t so radical and disruptive, but here we are. Wonderful book—please read.
Disrupt-Her, by Miki Agrawal. Some things I can say about Miki include: she is prolific, and she is unapologetic. From starting Thinx to Hello Tushy to so many more, she fiercely advocates for women to “radically question the status quo.” Enjoyed the book. My main critiques are that she leans too heavily on interviews from other people, and finding the story that matches the message is really hard to do (I struggle with it)—some stories could be tighter. Still, worth a read.
Do Cool Sh*t, by Miki Agrawal. It can be fun to peer inside the life and mind of people who build things in the world, and seeing the stories of her adventures creating WILD, a farm-to-table pizzeria as well as the adventures and missteps of a serial entrepreneur is eye-opening.
You Can Thank Me Later (Audible Single), by Kelly Harms. Picked this up as a recommendation from Audible, and it was delightful. A short story about families and Thanksgiving and all the complex things that happen when we’re together with people we don’t always agree with. Enjoyable.
The Power of Moments, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Audiobook). As an online community builder and gatherer of people, I’m fascinated by how well they work—or don’t. This book is an incredible read, and really important for anyone that creates events, gatherings, or communities—even workplaces. We don’t remember events as they are structured, but rather, as a series of moments highly dependent on how memorable they are. A great opening, a significant emotional experience, and a heart-warming ending can do more for your organization than any policy, book, or idea. Everyone should read this book.
The Middle Finger Project, by Ash Ambirge. I have been a long-time fan of this ferocious, savvy, and eloquent writer and internet friend, and have always admired her brazen ability to write things that are simultaneously funny, heart-warming, and raw. She gives a punch to her writing and is a fearless storyteller. She writes like she doesn’t have much to lose, and if you read her story, you’ll understand why.
Rocket Fuel, by Gino Wickman and Mark C Winters. The essence of this book is that every CEO needs a COO. That is, you need a visionary and an integrator (the terms they use in the book). That’s it, in a nutshell. If you understand that, you probably don’t need to buy this book, or read the twelve hundred references to white male power couples. (Note to authors: there are other people who are CEOs, of awesome and great companies, and your references could stand an update.) That said, I’ve always felt a bit hesitant to hire a COO because I’ve failed to honor my ability to see the path forward, and this book helped me rethink my role in shaping the future of my company.
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. A novel about Cora, a young slave who attempts to escape a cotton plantation in Georgia. In the book, the “underground railroad” is a reality; it’s an underground network of trains and tracks and tunnels that connect states, with secret stops and alleys and stairs along the way. She travels through the states, and Whitehead “brilliantly re-creates the terrors of the antebellum era.”
Untamed, by Glennon Doyle. I loved LOVED this book, and I think it was, in part, because it landed right in the messy middle of the beginning of lockdown and shelter-in-place during the pandemic. The chapters are short nuggets, bite-sized, yet moving. The stories are alluring and easy. The message, so useful: untame yourself. Be wild. Let go of your constraints and tap into your own Inner Knowing. My only critique is that I wish the book itself weren’t so tidy. In a way, a book is a neat package that doesn’t quite suit the delivery of a message so raw and wild. I almost wish Glennon could go full Lemonade with something like this, and drop-ship an unexpected surprise that makes us all step back and say, well, hello—who is this?
Why We Can’t Sleep, by Ada Calhoun. This book was fascinating and not at all what I expected. For some reason, I was expected a book on sleep and how we do it; I failed to read the subtitle, ” Women’s New Midlife Crisis.” This book is about the midlife crises most Gen X women are facing and why life hasn’t worked out anything like what their parents generation promised them (or teaches them). Mid-forties, childless (or child-free), not in relationships, in debt, and with dismal job prospects, many women are exhausted, anxious, and can’t sleep, because life looks quite precarious. Recommend.
Caffeine, by Michael Pollan. I’m about two coffees deep on any given day right now, so the thought of giving up coffee seems laughable (and I’m not giving up my nightly chocolate ice cream anytime soon, either). That said, I really appreciated the depth and candor of his research and his personal experimentation in breaking a coffee addiction. Maybe in the future, but not during a pandemic. That said, I do try to stop drinking caffeine by 10:30am in the morning, and only drink it at noon if I know it’s going to be a really long day ahead.
How To Get Run Over By A Truck, by Katie McKenna. This book was self-published. It’s quite a story, but as a narrative arc, the story doesn’t turn a corner and I wish it did. Sometimes people need to write it all down and share their story with you, and this achieves that objective. I want the next move, and the move after, but the author hasn’t lived into it yet.
Dear Girls, by Ali Wong. It’s hard for me to say this, because I adore Ali Wong, but I have to say her stand-up comedy and the movie Always Be My Maybe are some of my most favorite things ever, so this book was great—but not as good as her stand up and her movie. Important work, delightful read. I recommend.
The End Of October, by Lawrence Wright. This book, written in 2017, is an eerie prescription for a global coronavirus pandemic. It reads like someone jumped a few years ahead and understood what we’d be going through (except without the ineptitude of the current administration). It’s both oddly calming to read, like you can see the ending and get a sense for what this will be like—yet it’s also maddening. If we knew enough about SARS and MERS to know that this was coming, why on earth were we not better prepared?
We Are Never Meeting In Real Life, by Samantha Irby. I have such a penchant for honest first-person stories (I believe they are called memoirs, ha). Samantha writes about sweating it as an adult, the disastrous road trips to weddings, awkward sexual encounters, and the emotional wreckage of childhood. I ate it up.
Profit First, by Mike Michalowicz. One of the things I appreciate about Michalowicz is how prolific he is. From Clock Work to Fix This Next to The Pumpkin Plan, this guy can whip out a book. Each one has a simple premise and this one delivers: you have to plan for your profit or your business will eat them all up as expenses.
So You Want To Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. Brilliant book to introduce you to theories and ideas about talking about race, racism, and anti-racism work. If you’re trying to figure out how to speak up, how to start talking about race, and what white privilege is, here’s a place to start.
More Myself, by Alicia Keys. Loved this book completely. What surprised me was how talented and hardworking Alicia began in her young life, and how much success she had early on—from a storytelling perspective, I thought, “what is this story really about, and where can it go from here?” But midway through, I realized how lovely it was to read about aspirational success and hard work, rather than the grit and grift it takes to overcome supreme obstacles. The herculean effort stories are often glamorized; sometimes it’s good to read about great things happening to great people, and the ascension to becoming more of who you are, year by year. Also, if you have the chance to listen to a book read by a musician, do so. She sings throughout the book.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity In A World Made For Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown. Flew through this book. Stories and examples and points made lucidly, poignantly. Everyone should read it, and then another dozen books by Black authors, and then more. Please challenge yourself to do a year’s worth of reading simply of books by Black women and women of color, and see what happens. I dare you.
feminism is for everybody, by bell hooks. I could listen to this audiobook a dozen times and learn more each iteration. It’s a radio show, a manifesto, a dictum, a reminder that feminism is anti-sexism and involves—and benefits—everyone. Feminism is not for white women, and it’s not for the privileged, and it’s not just for women. It can and must be for everyone.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder, by Valerie Rein, PhD. The title is provocative; the first seventy pages, a bit repetitive. Stick with it and it gets really good. I found myself knowing how true this is, in my gut, but longed for more research to back it up. My main critique is that the stories are too quickly tied neatly with a bow; “and then she lived happily evermore” feels like the moral of each story. I wanted more careful detail about the how—the unpacking of trauma, the iterative work to release it, the full experience of physical body work and how it can, subtly and consistently, transform your experience and your world, if you truly do it.
The Witches Are Coming, by Lindy West. Boy did I laugh out loud a dozen times when listening to this book. Lindy is fierce, sharp, and unapologetic and it’s this kind of candor that reminds me how I want to show up in the world.
White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo. Every time I think I know quite a lot about American history or the racism in our history, I pick up another book and get educated anew. This book speaks directly to white people about how we enable racist structures and institutions to persist by our very inability (or refusal) to talk about it, and the coded ways racism morphs and changes in language, patterns, beliefs, and behaviors. Every white person should read this book.
Invisible Women, by Caroline Criado Perez. This book is one of the best books I’ve read of all time, and critical reading for every human being today: our policies, medical practices, technology, and design standards are completely missing data about women, and killing or harming them as a result. None of our tools and data sets are “gender neutral,” they are gender blind, or gender ignorant. As a result, women are left in poverty, to die of heart attacks, misbelieved at the doctor’s office, and killed more frequently across almost all areas because we routinely use a default male as a stand-in for all human bodies. A few examples: automobile voice recognition software has a harder time understanding women’s voices. Algorithms are now being used to review CVs for jobs and have demonstrably discriminated against women in the hiring process. Tax codes penalize women through higher tax rates, leaving them in poverty in higher rates. Even the layout of cities and our transportation infrastructure is designed for male movement, not female patterns and the more complex logistics of caretaking movements. You must read or listen to this book.
Forget Having It All, by Amy Westervelt. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the complicated and hypocritical cultural tropes about motherhood for ages—that you must fulfill becoming a mother as your highest aim in society, but also, that women with children are a drain on society and shouldn’t “work,” that being a stay-at-home-mom is a thing everyone should do, yet 70% of women are working and 40% of them are breadwinners. The narratives around motherhood, work, marriage, and children are bizarre at best. Westervelt takes us through a thorough history of motherhood and the ways our cultural norms have changed each decade in America—and also how motherhood norms are often strikingly different for white America than Hispanic and Black America.
Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close, by Aminatou Sou and Ann Friedman. Why don’t we have better vocabulary, ceremony, and rites of passage for some of the most important relationships we’ll have in our lives? We celebrate marriage with key events, but friendships are under appreciated. The co-hosts of the popular podcast Call Your Girlfriend take us inside the decade-long friendship they’ve created, as well as the critical milestones and breaking points they navigated amidst it all. Big Friendships matter, and it’s up to us to invest in them for the long term.
All The Single Ladies, by Rebecca Traister. One of the groundbreaking changes to happen to society is the rise of the number of unmarried women. In 2009, the percentage of married women in America dipped below 50 percent, making single, unmarried women a dominant force in society, culture, and politics. Combined with a later age of first marriage (age 27), women are not only staying independent ans single longer, but more women are not marrying at all. The implications for contemporary American life are only just beginning. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
All Joy and No Fun, by Jennifer Senior. In a world obsessed with optimizing parenting—that is, criticizing parents for how they are raising children, and exhaustively examining how parents affect their children’s futures—this book takes a different approach. What is the effect of having children on the parents? How do people change, grow, develop, enjoy, or struggle with becoming parents? This beautifully researched book brought me to tears on several occasions, and it wasn’t because of sleep deprivation. She puts words to the beauty and impossibility of parenting, to the wreckage that comes of releasing teenagers into the world, and to the challenge of parenting in a future that doesn’t have a simple answer (and without a clear picture of the future, parenting can become a neverending anxiety spiral as we try to optimize our children for, well, everything). I’ve highlighted so much of this book and had a good cry because of it.
Be About Something, by Maggie Frank-Hsu. In her first book, Frank-Hsu addresses anyone that wants to stand for something and start writing. If you want to write, to create, to share—Maggie tells you to write about it, and to keep writing about it. Short and lucid, this book can help you get started writing about your big idea and put it to the page.
Motherhood So White, by Nefertiti Austin.
Hybrida, by Tina Chang.
Momentum, by Shama Hyder.
Currently on my shelf
The Mommy Myth, by Susan J. Douglas and Meredith W. Michaels.
The Price of Motherhood, by Ann Crittenden.
The Zen of Social Media Marketing, by Shama Hyder.
The New Jim Crow.
Mom & Me & Mom.
ain’t i a woman.
You & I As Mothers.