I challenged myself to read 100 books in 2017 and just finished book 89!
You can read my first update (first 50 books listed, reviewed) here.
In February I only read books that were written by people of color (or about people of color) and it enlightened me, challenged me, and all-around made me a more empathetic and mindful person.
You can check out my full Black History Month reading list here.
Those books shifted my perspective on a range of topics, sometimes making me question viewpoints and attitudes I've held for years. For example, The New Jim Crow shook apart every thought and belief I had on racism, crime, prison, drugs and our legal system in America.
Realizing it was the memoirs and biographies—the real-life stories—that had the most impact on me, I decided to challenge myself again in May, reading only memoirs and biographies... "May-moirs" month.
Here's what this challenge taught me:
- You can learn something from anyone. We are all teachers and students.
- Memoirs are cathartic for the writer and validating to the reader.
- Expose yourself to other viewpoints. They strengthen your beliefs.
- Nothing is ever like you think it is for another person.
Here's my 2017 "May-moirs" list (Memoirs & Biographies) in order of best to worst.
My TOP pick (and I'm calling it early, best memoir read of 2017...)
- You Will Not Have My Hate (5 STARS) This is the most beautiful book I've ever read. My best friend said it was like reading a love letter to the world and I think that is an accurate description. An accurate portrayal of grief and hope with lessons on healing this world. We all become what we hate. Do not let them have your hate.
Here is my favorite quote from the book: "Aggravating circumstances are for trials as a way of quantifying loss. But people don't count their tears. And they certainly don't dry them on the sleeves of their anger. Those with no one to blame are alone with their grief. I am one of them. Alone with my son who will soon ask what happened. What would I be telling him if I placed the responsibility for the circumstances of our life at someone else's feet... Of course having a culprit, someone to take the brunt of your anger is an open door, a chance to temporarily escape your suffering. And the more odious the crime, the more ideal the culprit. The more legitimate your hatred. You think about him, in order not to think about yourself. You hate him, in order not to hate what is left of your life. You rejoice at his death in order not to smile at those who remain."
- Shrill (5 STARS) This is THE book to read on modern feminism. Lindy West whipped my head around so much that I had to stop and completely change and re-record several episodes of my upcoming podcast season. This book will make you uncomfortable. I wish I had read this 5, 10, 15 years ago. She was recently on This American Life (episode 589: Tell Me I'm Fat) which is a great synopsis of her book.
- Escape at Camp 14 (4.5 stars) The timing of this book (what is happening in our world politically) made it all the more difficult to swallow and face Shin's horrifying reality at a prison camp in North Korea, where Shin was born, brutalized, starved, and for all intents and purposes, enslaved, until his harrowing escape at age 23. There is one silver lining to this difficult story which is that the human spirit is resilient and humanity can be relearned... if we help in any way that we can. Even if that is helping is only holding the knowledge that this suffering happened and is still happening.
- The Last Season P.S. (4.5 Stars) I loved everything about this book. It reads like a mystery: thrillingly fast paced with twists as you try to understand what happened. It's also a drama: your heart rips apart over and over, especially at the end. Even though you know what happens from the beginning, you can't help but hold out hope. This story demonstrates why life without closure is more difficult than grief over loss. The five stages of grief are ever present in this book and you work through them slowly.
- My Own Words (4.5 stars) I regret I did not pay more attention to RBG's supreme court opinions when I was reading them in law school. This book taught me so much about humility and standing your ground but doing so with grace and respect. Even if you're not a democrat, I highly recommend this book and in audio format.
- Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (4 stars) This book helped me understand what happened with the last election and why this country seems so divided at times. I better understand the plight, suffering, and reality of people in the "rust belt." I also see how many laws intended to help these people have sadly had the reverse effect, which led to much of their pain and anger and because those pains are not being resolved, the divide gets deeper. There are no answers or radical suggestions here, only a testament that blaming solves nothing. Focus our efforts on working together to bring change that helps everyone and respecting that better doesn't always mean better for everyone and that we can't always think only about the majority.
- Ponzi Supernova (4) If you liked the film or book The Big Short, you'll really enjoy this podcast or audio book. I knew so little about what happened before staring it. I thought Madoff was a massive crook (and he is) but learned quickly Madoff was "made" and there dozens if not hundreds of people who fed into all of it. Many greedy people should be in jail beside him, and not just his "colleagues" or employees.
- Appetite for Wonder (3 Stars) I have never read a memoir like this. It is fitting that the entire memoir feels like an explained equation. It's mathematical and scientific in it's prose: the study, understanding, and explanation of how Richard Dawkins became the world renowned ethologist, evolutionary biologist, and atheist he is. You won't find nuggets of wisdom, musings, sweet nostalgia, or a quotable quote. However, Dawkins (indirectly) gave me a new way to think about failure. Failure gives as much of an answer as success does... if you live life as a form of inquiry.
- Yes Please (3 stars) If you enjoyed Parks and Rec, you'll really love this memoir. For anyone else Tina Fey's Bossypants was better imho.
- It's Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) (3 stars)
- The Princess Diarist (3 stars) I recommend Wishful Drinking (4 stars) over this memoir. The Princess Diarist is extraordinarily narrow and somehow still incomplete.
- Sex Object (3 stars) This memoir starts difficult conversations, but I agree with other reviewers that the book isn't coherent or well assembled. Valenti makes several excellent points and says important things that need to be said, as uncomfortable as they are to read and face but I felt more lost than led here and Shrill is a much better book if you want to explore modern feminism.
- Funny in Farsi (1 star)
- Let's Just Say it Wasn't Pretty (0.5 stars) When memoirs are this bad, it makes me appreciate all the good ones a lot more.
Memoirs and Biographies I read before May:
- Born a Crime (4)
- Between the World and Me (4)
- Not My Father's Son(4)
- March Trilogy (5 stars)
UPDATE- memoirs and bios read AFTER May:
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (5 STARS) THANK YOU ROXANNE! This was the most healing book I've ever read. I read several chapters 3 and 4 times. Her truth was they key that unlocked me from several of my prisons. I also found it beautifully educational. Earlier this year a friend opened up to me about the reality of living in a very large body. Hearing her stories were painful but they changed my perceptions, my attitudes, and my beliefs. If you are not obese, you have to read those chapters and if you are obese, you need to read these chapters. If you have tattoos, have experienced any kind of trauma (any event where you felt powerless), struggle with duet/weight/food, feeling like you don't belong, are unsatisfied in anyway about your life, are a woman, love a woman (platonically, romantically, other) or WANT TO BE A BETTER HUMAN ... read this book immediately. Please!
Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) (3 stars)