Category Archives: Movies & Books

2020: The Year in Books

Usually I wait until the end of the year to publish my “books of the year” post, but my Kindle is broken and Saoirse won’t let me listen to audiobooks in the car anymore, so I’d say I’m not likely to read more than one or two more books at most.  I’ll come back and edit if I finish something extraordinary.

(Thanks to Goodreads for the stats.)

  • Books read: 101
  • Pages read: 33,791
  • Most popular book: Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens –> “shelved” by 1.8 million people
  • Least popular book: Running Outside the Comfort Zone by Susan Lacke –> “shelved” by 528 people
  • Average rating: 3.6
  • Highest rated book (by Goodreaders): The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

5 Star Nonfiction:

  • Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar
    • “If you have read and enjoyed books like Gene and Emperor of Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, you’ll love this. I never had any particular interest in how the heart works, but I found this pop science account of the heart’s function and the history of humans figuring out how it works absolutely fascinating. “
  • Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen
    • “I’ve been reading a lot of “epidemic” books lately, and this is my favorite thus far. Quammen is a stellar writer if you’re looking for a popular, non-academic but thoroughly researched take. I look forward to reading more by Quammen and also avoiding both bats and African spelunking for the res of my days.”
  • The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic-and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson
    • “The title is a bit hyperbolic, but overall I really enjoyed this book. I doubt I would have loved it so much if I’d read it during normal times, but now, as Corona rampages around the globe, it was highly informative and relevant to today’s times.”
  • The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
    • “This is such a great book. Honestly, I just loved it. It’s half history and half science, and covers genetics from the days when ancient philosophers were speculating about how heredity works to Mendel, Darwin, Watson, all the way to the present. I particularly enjoyed hearing about Mendel’s pea plants, the development of artificial insulin, and the development of artificial clotting agent for hemophiliacs. The author refers to his own family’s troubled history of schizophrenia, and, unlike some other reviewers, I think it really adds to the story. I recommend this to everyone Honestly, it made me regret going into aerospace instead of genetics or microbiology.”
  • What’s Going On In There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life by Lise Eliot

5 Star Fiction

  • The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare
    • “Adunni is a young teen coming of age in modern-day Nigeria. Her story takes us through rural life and then to Lagos. She is a wonderful, highly likable character, and through her eyes, we see a slice of Nigeria today. Good plot, good characters, good story all in all.”
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
    • “Everything I Never Told you is the story of a teenage girl’s death and forces and experiences that brought her to the lake where she drowned. It deals with themes of racism, isolation, parenting and living through one’s children and more.

      I loved this. I think a great novel is one that makes you reconsider what you know. Everything I Never Told You made me seriously examine my parenting. It also made me want to be a better person – a better parent, a better friend, more aware of people who might be lonely and need a kind word.”

  • All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
  • Circe by Madeline Miller
  • Milkman by Anna Burns
    • “It took me quite a while to get into this one – nearly a third of the book. Once I was finally hooked, though, I couldn’t put it down. The narrator is an 18-year-old living in Belfast in the late 1970s, that is, during the Troubles. If you’re interested in the Troubles, this is a must-read. The writing style takes a while to get used to, but it’s quite unique. And I enjoyed this unusual window into what life must have been like. Teenage girls just trying to live their lives aren’t usually the heroes of stories on this topic.”
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
    • “Kya grows up an orphan in the swamps of the deep south. Her life is touched by some very good and bad people. Owens tracks the path of her life to a murder trial. The book is part mystery and part love story. Overall, an easy and enjoyable read.”

5 Star Kids Books

  • Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
  • Brian’s Winter by Gary Paulsen
  • The War That Saved My Life Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  • Heidi by Johanna Spyri
  • By The Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

There are a few that didn’t rate five stars, but I still think are worth an honorable mention:

  • When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen – great fast-moving page turner
  • The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life by David Quammen – on modern molecular biology
  • She Has Her Mother’s Laugh by Carl Zimmer – on heredity
  • Brian’s Winter by Gary Paulsen – sequel to Hatchet
  • Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty – I’m pretty much obsessed with Moriarty
  • A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

If I had to pick my top five, in no particular order, I’d choose:

  • Spillover by David Quammen
  • The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abu Dare
  • Milkman by Anna Burns
  • The War That Saved My LIfe by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I do think I was a bit more generous with the 5-star ratings this year, but it was a great year for reading.  I really enjoyed reading more pop science this year, and because of not working and S getting older, I had a lot more time for reading than in previous years.  My habit is to not use my laptop or phone in my bedroom at night, and to only read from my Kindle when it’s time for bed or when I’m up nursing S.  (She is still up twice a night, so that’s about 45 minutes of reading right there.)  It adds up.  I’m looking forward to next year and some more great books!

science books and notable books

I’ve really been enjoying reading a lot of science books lately.  I think since I’m not working, my brain is fresh, and at the end of the day, I enjoy diving into something moderately technical.  While I did some science reading while working, in general I was pretty sapped at the end of the day, and wanted to read something completely different.

If you’re looking for some great science books, my recent favorites are:

  • *Spillover / Quammen
  • The Body / Bryson
  • She Has Her Mother’s Laugh / Zimmer
  • *Heart: A History / Jauhar
  • *The Emperor of All Maladies / Mukhergee
  • *The Ghost Map / Johnson
  • The Hot Zone / Preston
  • *The Gene / Mukhergee
  • Sapiens / Harari
  • I Contain Multitudes / Yong

(Some of these are obviously more technical/science-y than others.  Books marked with * are my favorites.)

Anyone else have a science book to recommend?

The New York Times notable books just came out, and I have to say, I’m pretty disappointed with the selection of science books.  Here is the list:

  • BECOMING WILD: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace
  • THE BOOK OF EELS: Our Enduring Fascination With the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World
  • THE END OF EVERYTHING (Astrophysically Speaking) By Katie Mack
  • HIDDEN VALLEY ROAD: Inside the Mind of an American Family By Robert Kolker (on schizophrenia)
  • OWLS OF THE EASTERN ICE: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl By Jonathan C. Slaght
  • THE SIRENS OF MARS: Searching for Life on Another World By Sarah Stewart Johnson
  • UNTIL THE END OF TIME: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe By Brian Greene

So, out of 100 notable books, seven are on science – one on animals, one on eels, one on owls, two on how the world will end, one on the search for ET life, and one on schizophrenia.  While a couple look interesting, where are the books on viruses and bacteria and biology?  Am I the only one for whom COVID has made these topics particularly interesting this year?  Maybe other people just want to escape them.  I guess I feel if I could understand how diseases work a little better, perhaps it would give me a modicum of control.  That’s a fantasy, no doubt.

Books by POC – recommendations

Highly recommended books by Black authors:

  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie
  • A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
  • Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
  • Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  • Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra
  • We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
  • Taking Flight by Michaela DePrince (for kids)
  • Meb for Mortals by Meb Keflezighi (if you’re a runner)
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera

Recommended books by Black authors:

  • Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
  • My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba

Highly recommended books by POC (not Black):

  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
  • The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
  • Chemistry by Weike Wang
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Recommended books by POC (not Black):

  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The Storyteller’s Daughter by Saira Shah
  • The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
  • I Sweep The Sun Off Rooftops by Hanan Al-Shaykh
  • Wild Swans by Jung Chang
  • Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
  • In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
  • House of the Winds by Mia Yun
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • The Year of the Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong

Books of the decade

Fiction

  • Euphoria
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
  • James Herriot
  • Cloud Atlas

Non-fiction

  • The Sixth Extinction
  • What’s Going On In There
  • Zeitoun
  • Nothing To Envy
  • Shoe Dog
  • A Kim Jong-Il Production

Kids

  • The Ramona Series
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Reflecting on the greatest books of the decade makes me want to read more.  This decade also saw me transition from paper books to ebooks.  This has been a necessary move (reading in the dark with babies) but mixed, as the 3-week library limit can be very inconvenient at times.

2019 in books

According to Goodreads, I read 51 books this year (so far).  Several 4 star books stood out:

Sapiens – I didn’t love this whole book, but I loved the first couple chapters about our forebears (you know, early humans).  It’s so interesting to me to think about how “cavemen” lived – people just like me, but with a totally different life experience.

Evvie Drake Starts Over – This was just a fun, feel-good easy read.

Educated – This is a memoir of a woman who was raised in a highly unusual manner in Utah.  It has been fawned over by critics, probably with good reason.  I found it engrossing from start to finish.

Becoming – Michelle Obama is almost as interesting as her husband.  I loved the first half of this book.  The second half which describes her time as First Lady, sadly, read like political propaganda, but that’s to be expected.

Me Before You – Another easy, fun read about a woman who falls in love with a disabled man

Little Fires Everywhere – Thought-provoking, original fiction about an adoption gone wrong and a first-gen girl coming of age

I’m continuing to read to the girls every night.  It can be tough with pregnancy, babies, etc., but it’s often my favorite time of day.  This year, we read lots of Beverly Cleary.  Ramona the Pest was my favorite.  The girls love them all.  We’re currently finishing off Ramona, Age 8.   The girls also fell in love with Roald Dahl this year.  I’ve read his books to them before, but perhaps they were too young to fully appreciate them.  They LOVE Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Isla must have read it three times, and Bri loves to look at the pictures.  Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator was also a huge fan favorite.

too much TV

When I’m pregnant, I spend a great deal of time in bed watching Netflix / Amazon Prime.  During the first trimester, I typically don’t even feel well enough to go downstairs and sit on the couch (prefer to be horizontal and too close to the kitchen and kitchen smells, and frankly, don’t really like being near other humans at this time.)  A huge percentage of my lifetime television consumption must have occurred during pregnancy.  It’s kind of ridiculous.

(For the record: 13 weeks 2 days – still not feeling better.  Any day now, right?)

Anyway, I bought the first season of GOT and watched it, end to end.  And . . . it’s OK.  I mean, it’s not bad.  It’s engaging.  I like many of the characters.  Overall, the acting is good.  There’s clearly a lot of money that’s gone into it.  A wee bit over-dramatic, well maybe more than a wee bit, but nothing ridiculous.   But with all the hype lately, you’d think it was seriously the best. show. ever.  Maybe it gets better?  I enjoyed watching the first two series of Home Fires (love the BBC) considerably more.  And that got canceled after two season!  Two many female characters and womens’ plot lines, I presume?  Not enough sex and murder?

I also enjoyed The Forest on Netflix and on Amazon Prime, The Snow Walker, Beverly Hills 90210 (original – first season), and Wonderland.

girls and books

I came upon L and B cuddling together in bed this evening.  L had just read B the first four chapters of her new Magic Treehouse book.  For some reason, I just found it to be the most adorable thing ever.  B loves those ridiculous treehouse books.  (We’re on Book #25, but who’s counting?)  I sadly told Bri we’d have read the entire series after we finish the latest bunch, but L cleverly noted that there is a whole second Treehouse series, some kind of Merlin thing, which has another 25 books.  Yay?  Maybe L will read them.

L and I are reading Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.  I always remember that my third grade teacher, possibly my best teacher ever, loved and recommended this book.  I think I read an abridged copy, but I don’t think I ever read the real thing, and i’m glad to finally read it in her honor.  It started a little slow, but we’re both enjoying it now.   Next up: Grandfather’s Dance (#5 in the Sarah Plain and Tall series) and My Friend Flicka.  I’m trying to decide if L can handle Where the Red Fern Grows – such a great book, but she would not like the part where the dogs die. at. all.