As the clock ticks closer to midnight on New Year’s Eve, it’s fun to look back at what you’ve accomplished this year. December is a great time to take stock of everything you’ve done over the last twelve months—including all of the books you’ve read.
Because I’m a data guy, I like to look at my reading list and see if any trends emerge. This year, I picked up a bit more fiction than usual. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I seemed to be drawn to stories that let me explore another world.
I’m currently trying to finish Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell before the end of the year (it’s amazingly clever but a bit hard to follow). Along with A Gentleman in Moscow and An American Marriage, I finished The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion and a terrific novel about a woman who deals with grief by bonding with a Great Dane. I even picked up a short story collection in David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.
Maybe next year’s end-of-year books post will finally include the Wallace novel I’ve been wanting to read for a while: Infinite Jest.
For this year’s holiday books list, I chose five titles that I think you’ll also enjoy reading. I think they’re all solid choices to help wrap up your 2019 or start 2020 on a good note:
An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones. My daughter Jenn recommended that I read this novel, which tells the story of a black couple in the South whose marriage gets torn apart by a horrible incident of injustice. Jones is such a good writer that she manages to make you empathize with both of her main characters, even after one makes a difficult decision. The subject matter is heavy but thought-provoking, and I got sucked into Roy and Celestial’s tragic love story.
These Truths, by Jill Lepore. Lepore has pulled off the seemingly impossible in her latest book: covering the entire history of the United States in just 800 pages. She’s made a deliberate choice to make diverse points of view central to the narrative, and the result is the most honest and unflinching account of the American story I’ve ever read. Even if you’ve read a lot about U.S. history, I’m confident you will learn something new from These Truths.
Growth, by Vaclav Smil. When I first heard that one of my favorite authors was working on a new book about growth, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. (Two years ago, I wrote that I wait for new Smil books the way some people wait for the next Star Wars movie. I stand by that statement.) His latest doesn’t disappoint. As always, I don’t agree with everything Smil says, but he remains one of the best thinkers out there at documenting the past and seeing the big picture.
Prepared, by Diane Tavenner. As any parent knows, preparing your kids for life after high school is a long and sometimes difficult journey. Tavenner—who created a network of some of the best performing schools in the nation—has put together a helpful guidebook about how to make that process as smooth and fruitful as possible. Along the way, she shares what she’s learned about teaching kids not just what they need to get into college, but how to live a good life.
Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker. I read a couple of great books this year about human behavior, and this was one of the most interesting and profound. Both Jenn and John Doerr urged me to read it, and I’m glad I did. Everyone knows that a good night’s sleep is important—but what exactly counts as a good night’s sleep? And how do you make one happen? Walker has persuaded me to change my bedtime habits to up my chances. If your New Year’s resolution is to be healthier in 2020, his advice is a good place to start.