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I’m busy. You’re busy. But for me, books are the guilty pleasures I always blow my money on and make time to read. I’d like to say I only shop at local bookstores (which I do, a lot) — but the reality is that I’m always running around (usually with my 3-year-old and 6-year-old kids in tow) so I read mostly on my Kindle.
And if you’d like to get the most out of Kindle and Kindle Unlimited, you can sign up for a free 30-day trial and try it out for yourself, or you can sign up for three months for only $1. If you’re so busy that you don’t have time to sit and read for a few minutes, maybe an Audible audiobook subscription is the best bet for you. Sign up for a free 30-day trial here.
A confession: I downloaded more books than appear on this list. But I stop reading anything that loses my interest. Because life is too short to read books that suck! And, yes, not all of these books came out in 2019 (see: busy parent life), and they’re not ranked in any particular order.
Perhaps you want to add a few to your last-minute holiday shopping list. Or maybe to your own nightstand, now that you (hopefully) have some well-deserved time off at the end of the year. Or maybe your New Year’s resolution is to read more. Regardless, read on for quick reviews of the 34 books I actually made time to read in 2019:
This is a bizarre and somewhat wacky book about a lonely woman who becomes inexplicably obsessed with a singer. But it’s also heartbreaking, with a stunning twist at the end that you won’t soon forget.
I admittedly picked this up because Reese Witherspoon’s book club told me to, and because I love books that tackle issues facing families with young kids. This is a beautifully-written novel about a family with five boys — and what happens when the youngest one comes out as transgender. The whole book turns gender expectations on its head in subtle ways, too, such as by featuring a stay-at-home dad and a breadwinner, doctor mom. It’s one of my most memorable books of the year.
This is technically a young adult book, but it tackles some very adult themes in an engaging, accessible way. The main character straddles the world of her family, who lives in a less-privileged neighborhood, and her very privileged classmates at the elite prep school she attends. Those two worlds collide when her beloved best friend dies at the hands of the police. Eye-opening and thought-provoking.
This book is based on a true story, and it’s a gripping tale that’s hard to put down. Lale is a prisoner at Auschwitz who is given a job tattooing fellow inmates because he can speak several languages. He shares stories of hope and horror, proving that little actions can make a big difference. It’s also a love story. I was inspired to look up how the author discovered this story after finishing this book, which became a super bestseller following its 2018 release.
Again, Reese Witherspoon told me to read this one. It tackles race, class, and motherhood in suburban Ohio, told between two families: The “perfect” Richardsons, and the less privileged mother-daughter duo who rent a home from them. Their lives all become entwined in captivating ways, with an explosive ending.
I met Straub at the coworking space at which we are both members, The Wing, and I like to take my kids to her store, Books Are Magic. Her book was one of my most memorable reads of the year. It chronicles the realities and disappointments of adult relationships against the backdrop of that super intense first teenage love, all set in my adopted hometown of Brooklyn.
Knoll’s debut novel, Luckiest Girl Alive, is one of my favorite books of all time. I couldn’t put it down. It tackled the #MeToo movement before the #MeToo movement was viral. I wasn’t as obsessed with The Favorite Sister, but her prose is always easy-to-read and engaging.
This is a collection of short stories that take place in — you guessed it — Florida. Some are horrifying, many are about kids. The good thing about reading short stories is that you can more easily put it down and pick it back up if you’re pressed for time.
Not everyone will agree with me that enneagrams are fiction, but I think it’s basically another version of horoscopes. And yet! I had a ton of fun reading all about my own “number” (I’m a 3, wing 2) and trying to assign numbers to my friends and family.
Fun fact: I will read basically anything Moriarty writes. They’re quick, usually have crazy plot twists, and her dialogue is the best. (Perhaps you’ve heard of her hit, Big Little Lies, although most of her books top bestseller lists.) This one is no different… yes, it’s a little tease-y, as the whole book builds up to a moment that’s referenced to again and again. But I couldn’t put it down.
Brodesser-Akner writes the best profiles of celebrities, so I was eager to read her debut novel. She didn’t disappoint. This book kept me enthralled and actually made me angry. She explores divorce, marriage, ambition, and parenthood through the eyes of a man whose wife drops their kids off one day and disappears. The ending will stick with you forever.
I picked this one up because it takes place in the Chicago suburb where I spent part of my childhood. This book chronicles the fallout when a big secret is exposed between four sisters, who have their own issues, and their parents, who have a weirdly perfect marriage.
Please stop what you are doing right now and read this book, especially if you are the parent to a young child. Lockman sets out to examine the unequal division of labor despite the so-called progress of feminism. But it’s not dry and boring. There are tons of great stories and studies woven in in a way that keeps you engaged, or literally screaming in agreement — as I was while reading.
Oftentimes, friends say, “I don’t like to read non-fiction.” But I think they’re missing out on the best books out today. Three Women is technically non-fiction, but it reads better than most novels I’ve consumed over the past couple of years. Taddeo chronicles the twisted love lives of three women, reported over eight years. I ripped through it.
To be fair, I started reading this at the end of 2018, but, again: busy parent. I like following Hollis on Instagram, and this is a speedy read with a dose of inspiration if you’re looking for it as we head into 2020.
I read this while on a family vacation in the Dominican Republic, and let’s just say it’s not exactly a beach read! Land’s story of working to the bone as a maid while struggling to raise her daughter will make you rethink the phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” It will also probably make you want to give your “cleaning lady” a raise, if you happen to have one.
Welteroth helmed Teen Vogue when it became an edgy, woke, provocative must-read — so I was eager to hear her advice. Even she admits that it’s a little silly she wrote a memoir so young (she’s only 33) — but her advice and voice is so empowering and inspiring that I’m glad she did! There’s a good mix of media gossip (Anna Wintour makes a couple of appearances) and famous cameos, all mixed in with real-talk about being a woman of color with a career on the rise.
The downfall of reading this on Kindle is that you can’t really see all the nice little graphics with inspirational quotes. This book is also kind of a rehash of Oprah’s other books, to be honest, but still… sometimes you just need to hear Oprah’s wise, reassuring words, OK?
I figured I was the last person alive to read this book, which has sold millions of copies since its 2013 release and has been adapted into a movie by Witherspoon. But wow, I’m so glad I finally remembered to read it. Anyone going through a period of transition or grief, or who just likes to read about badass people, will enjoy this captivating memoir.
This book scared me deeply, to be totally honest. It’s the groundbreaking work of doctors studying how adverse life experiences affect your body in various ways. My childhood had many traumatic moments, so this one was tough to read. If you’re interested in holistic health, I highly recommend.
Smith Brody and I have a similar background: We both worked in media before leaving corporate jobs to embark on author-consultant paths. This book would have been an extremely helpful guide in the bewildering days and months after giving birth, so I recommend sending it to new parents you know.
While I was working on writing my own book (shameless plug! You Can’t F*ck Up Your Kids hits stores in March 2020), I figured it’d be good to take some inspiration from the master, aka the bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love. It’s always reassuring to read about the creative process — and doubts — from people who have had major success.
If you’re a fan of the HBO drama (and we probably can’t be friends if you’re not), then you’ll enjoy this oral history of David Simon’s iconic show that blurs the line between “good guys” and “bad guys.”
I first read this book a couple of years ago, and then decided to re-read it after a close friend and her family moved away over the summer. If you’ve ever lived in NYC, or wanted to live in NYC, this book is a fun collection of essays that chronicle the best and worst aspects of life here.
Bruce and I have been friends since we worked together at Us Weekly more than 10 years ago (we have stories), and we both have parenting books with f*ck in the title! I love her breezy, reassuring voice, and honest stories about the insanity of new parenthood — especially one involving a pizza box left in the refrigerator by her husband that led to a near mental breakdown.
Get ready to laugh (and sometimes gasp) with Rae’s honest take on family, friends, and race. The collection of essays is a spinoff of her viral web series of the same name. I also liked it because she portrays her rocky road to success before creating HBO’s Insecure and becoming a bestselling author.
Most people know Jarrett as a senior advisor (and BFF) to the Obamas, but not as many may be familiar with her own successful career, which she built while juggling single motherhood. As a working mom, I’ve always been inspired by her — but I first put off reading this book because I’m a little worn out on politics. As it turns out, this empowering, honest memoir is largely her take on motherhood, unexpected life turns and family — with a little politics mixed in (and, yes, some great Obama stories). After I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.
My former neighbor, a French mom, sent this to me. It’s a quickie, illustrated read that shows the differences between American and French moms in often hilarious ways.
In a culture that tells us we have to be “the best” at everything, it’s so reassuring to hear from somebody who admittedly sucks at her favorite hobby, surfing, which she builds her life around. That is, when she’s not busy at her super high-powered job at HarperCollins (she’s a publishing legend), beating cancer or raising her kids. And this book isn’t just about surfing — she beautifully weaves in lessons on failure and resilience.
I’ll read pretty much anything Michael Lewis writes. Statistics was my only C grade in college, yet he somehow always makes studies and stats and information fascinating and engaging. This time, Lewis explores Trump’s rocky transition into the presidency, tracking all the weird (yet potentially dangerous) stuff that could go wrong in a severely understaffed government. (Terrorists and the weather service play a big role.)
Decker is both a journalist and a pastor, so she turned her interviewing skills into exploring the evangelical support of Trump with little judgment. Given her background, she offers an interesting window into how religion and politics intermix.
I’ve known Hennick for 15 years, and often admired his honest, insightful writing (such as this searing piece I once commissioned for Yahoo, 7 Things I Can Do That My Black Son Can’t). In his debut book, Hennick takes his 5-year-old son on a road trip in an effort to examine masculinity, race and parenthood. It’s beautifully written, relatable, and examines the aspirations (and pressure) many of us feel to be a certain kind of parent. I loved it and read it in two days.
Technically this book doesn’t come out until January 7, 2020, but I got a sneak peek! Bertsche’s deeply reported and interesting book gives parents permission to find a “pocket of indulgence” — aka a bad TV show, an exercise class, time alone without their kids. Seems crazy that we need permission to momentarily step away from our kids, but here’s where we are in our culture. Bertsche, also the author of the bestselling books MWF Seeking BFF and Jennifer, Gwyneth, and Me, shares her stories, and weaves in those of other families.
Last but certainly not least, my friend released the much-anticipated follow-up to her mega-bestseller, Brain on Fire. Cahalan set out to explore the details of one of the most popular studies of all time, taught in every psychology class in America. What she discovered was so much more interesting.
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