Below are some of the books I’ve read during 2020. I’m assuming you are as wiped out as I am after two weeks of home school. I’d rather you use your energy to read an actual book, not this blog. Therefore, my commentary will include the briefest description I can muster and the medium in which I “read” the book. I’m including the kids books that have either become quality-time reading for our family or have kept my kids enthralled (off-screen) for long periods of time.
All books are linked to purchase through one of the DC area Black-owned bookstores, including Solid State Books on H Street NE, Loyalty Bookstores in Petworth and Silver Spring, and Mahogany Books in Anacostia.
I’m starting with Americanah because it is the best book I’ve read in a very, very long time. You know a book is good when you can’t stop thinking about the characters and feel you are in the story even when you aren’t reading the book. Although this book revolves around two Nigerian characters as they traverse life in Nigeria and the US over many years, the female character’s commentary on race in America rang heart-stoppingly true. You know what I was thinking when I read it? How would I have internalized the dialogue on race if I had read the book in 2012, when it came out, versus 2020? I will never know; I’m just glad my heart and mind were in the right place to receive it now. I am so grateful to have had the chance to spend time with this beautiful book.
I read this book on the Kindle app on my phone. The power of this book was such that I could not stop reading, devouring it on our vacation in Maine, even while discovering that I currently can’t stand reading on a screen.
When We Believed in Mermaids was such a good book that I immediately lent it to my mom, my sister, and a friend. This was a book for my book group and every one of us stayed up until one am multiple nights because we could not put it down. The story follows the journey of two sisters. The younger sister, thinking the older one has died in a terrorist bombing 15 years earlier, catches a glimpse of her older sister on the news in New Zealand. With this, the younger sets out to find her sibling.
The book goes back and forth between the sisters’ stories as you learn more about their childhood, why the older sister disappeared, and wait to find out if they will find each other again. It is a can’t-put-down mystery with vivid, multi-dimensional characters who stay with you even after you have finished the book.
I read this book in paperback and was reminded that for reading to be the full soul-nourishing activity it can be for me, I need paper.
I admit that I had a really hard time getting into this book at first. I listened to Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine on Audible, and I honestly think that I got a little creeped out by the actress playing the main character! The whole book seemed negative and weird to me so I stopped listening until it was getting really close to book group time, and I had to finish the book. In the end, the book had intelligent, funny and true observations on human behavior and mental health. As a bonus, there are some fantastic descriptions of Eleanor’s shopping trips! Also, the story is completely and totally unpredictable, forcing one to stay in the present while reading, which added to the reading experience. At least I thought so. One very smart lady in my book group did figure out the surprise ending!
Most likely, you have heard of the 2017 award winning film, Call Me By Your Name. This is the 2007 book on which the film was based. After listening to the book on Audible, which was akin to listening to an 8 hour love poem, I am afraid to watch the movie for fear it may mar that beautiful experience. The book takes place in 1983 Italy (all the more reason to see the movie, for the fashion!). It details the love affair between a young man and his professor father’s male summer assistant. A continual theme of the book is that the relationship must be kept secret because of course, to be out as gay in 1983 coastal Italy is inconceivable. Reading this makes you realize how many people were forced to live furtive, secret lives until very recently. And, of course, in many parts of this country and the world, this is still the case.
The Silent Patient is a super twisty, windy mystery that kept me guessing until the very end. A famous female artist murders the husband she adores and then refuses to speak for years. A psychiatrist takes a job at the hospital where she is a patient, intent on helping her. I don’t want to give away anything else, just read it for yourself and let me know if you had an inkling of how it would end! I listened to The Silent Patient on Audible, which I thought worked very well for this book. I’m a sucker for an English accent!
I had City of Girls on my “to read” list for quite awhile. Told as a letter to a younger woman, the plot is about a woman coming of age among showgirls in 1940’s New York. The message the author (Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame) conveys is of the limits and social mores women have been held to, punished for, and constricted by in every facet of life from the bedroom to the workplace. It is a “fun romp”, as Oprah said, to go along for the wild ride as the main character navigates her way through this minefield to create her own ultimately satisfying life. Having lived there for so many years, I relished the descriptions of New York City through the years. The performance of the actress on Audible really enhanced the story for me.
“Wasn’t it all supposed to be more beautiful than this?,” Glennon Doyle asks herself, and by extension, the reader. This is the story of Ms. Doyle finding the bravery to turn her world upside down (divorce) after meeting the woman who would become her ultimate life partner. In the process, she examines all the ways she and other women have done what was expected of them, not what was true for them. In Untamed, Glennon Doyle is giving you permission to live your truth and telling you the story of what happened when she decided to live hers. I listened to Ms. Doyle read the story herself on Audible, which made the message all the more powerful.
Unfortunately, I missed the live talk Ms. Schlanger gave at Upstairs on 7th, one of my favorite boutiques in DC. I did have them save me a book though! I have always been fascinated by the 1960’s, especially by those who decided to live in group houses and communes, bucking society’s conventions. The book did not disappoint on the details of what that life was really like. Hippie Woman Wild tells the story of what happens when an upper class, Jewish girl decides to join a commune but can’t quite lose her original self completely. What struck me most is that while communal living may not have been practical, if the rest of society had adopted a lot of the ecological ideas that originated with the hippies, we might be in a much different place with climate change.
Code Girls tells the story of the American women code breakers of World War II. Mundy details the work they did, where they came from, how they lived, and what happened to them after the war. The book is also a telling of WWII through the story of these women’s contributions as well as (just like City of Girls) the societal conventions and social mores that held them back. WWII sent women to work and then the 1950’s sent them back home again.
I listened to this book on Audible because Mr. Real Life Style had already purchased it, but would have been better off reading it on paper. There are a lot of characters and details in the book, which would have been easier for my learning style to absorb through reading, not listening. For my DC readers, look for the golden nuggets in here about life in McLean Gardens, Tenleytown, and other familiar parts of the city.
The Beautiful No is a memoir by Sheri Salata, the executive producer of the Oprah Winfrey Show for its last 5 years on the air. You might know her from the docuseries, “Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes.” The memoir details Ms. Salata’s realization that although she has had a dream work life for the previous 15 years, she has completely neglected her personal life. After having worked on many a makeover show during her time on the Oprah show, Ms. Salata embarks on her own life makeover at age 56, showing the rest of us that it is never too late to take control and change the direction of any part of your life.
Reading this book in hardcover resonated for me. I used to work on Oprah’s makeover shows in my early twenties. In fact, I was finishing up this book last Friday, the 19th anniversary of September 11th. Where was I on September 11th, 2001? Although I had lived in New York for 7 years at that point, I was in Chicago to tape an Oprah show.
No, this book is not perfect, but let’s not let perfect be the enemy of good. Robin Diangelo’s descriptions of white people’s reaction to being called out on racist comments, the damage white liberals can cause when they say they “do not see color”, and the racist conditioning we are all raised with, should be required reading for all white people. I listened to White Fragility read by the author on Audible because I have more time to “listen” than to “read.” My advice is to use whichever method is going to allow you to read it sooner, rather than later.
Between The World And Me is another example of a book that was akin to listening to a three and a half hour poem. Written as a series of essays to his son, the book is simultaneously a memoir of the author’s life as a black man, the history of the subjugation of black people in America, and a commentary on the current racial justice movement. In my opinion, this book should be required reading for all high schoolers. What a way to learn the aforementioned subjects while putting themselves in another man’s shoes. I anticipate reading this book as a family when my kids are older.
Kids and Parenting
Confession: I have not finished this book. Not even close. But I want to! The problem is that I bought it on Kindle, and as I mentioned previously, I can not stand to read on a screen these days. However, so far it is a very funny, practical guide to finding the things that trigger you to lose your sh*t with your kids, and then of course figuring out how to stop. Something we could all use during this time in lock down with our kids. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
Yes, I read all four of these Harry Potter books this year! I read the previous 3 with my kids (mostly Max, my 8 yr old) last year. What a fun ride! Although he was capable of reading most of the books himself, it was so much fun to read them aloud to him, with the movie of each book as the carrot for when we finished. Having missed the Harry Potter boat when they came out the first time, and never having been into fantasy books myself as a kid, it was wonderful to have the experience of discovering each story along with the kids. These are seriously good books!
After the Harry Potter series, comes the letdown. Max pouted for weeks, refusing to let me read him anything…until we started FableHaven. Different than Harry Potter, but still magical and well-written, this series is perfect as a read aloud for kids age 8 and up.
Oh, Dog Man…Personally, I am not a big fan of the literary quality of this series. However, my kids are OBSESSED with them. I actually ordered the latest book for same day delivery. Both kids read and reread the Dog Man series, which is written as graphic novels. James actually doesn’t even read them (although he can read), he just looks at the pictures! So, going along with the theory that it doesn’t matter what they read, as long as they read, Dog Man is a good way to get your kid into reading.
The Bad Guys is all the good of Dog Man and none of the bad, pardon the pun. The premise is that these “bad guys” keep trying to do “good” things that end up turning bad. These books are so funny that Max insisted on reading most of them aloud to me. And they actually are really funny, even to me! The kids also read these over and over.
What are you reading these days? Let me know in the comments!
Lani Inlander is a personal stylist who has been working with clients who want to feel their best and look put-together every day for over 20 years. You can find her in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Learn how you can train with Lani and Kyle to become a personal stylist at The Stylist Studio.
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