To address the elephant in the title, I didn’t actually make it to 52 books. Graduation happened. Applying for a million jobs happened. Training for a half marathon happened. But I got close! And I’m pretty proud of that. So 49 books and lots of Snapchats later, I thought I’d write a post about my favorite books and what I learned from a year of non-stop reading.
I started the challenge after seeing an article about a similar goal someone accomplished the year prior (I think it was on Forbes, but I can’t seem to find it now). I’ve always been a big reader…thanks Mom and Dad!…but definitely had been off my game in college. I missed reading for fun, and had too many unread books sitting pretty on my shelf, so it seemed as good a time as any to finally get to them. Plus, I just wanted to see if I could do it.
Right off the bat, I realized I was watching way too much Netflix. With classes, clubs, a job, and enjoying every last second I had in Chapel Hill (</3), something had to go if I was going to actually read a book a week. So, I stopped watching an episode of That 70s Show every night before bed, and scrolled through Instagram a little less. I was the weirdo with a book instead of a phone in hand in between classes. It’s fine.
I made a point to read more fiction this year, and I’m really happy I did. I read a lot of non-fiction generally, but there’s something about stepping into someone else’s (made-up) life that puts things into perspective and opens your mind up in a different way. Fiction is said to boost creativity and empathy, and I 100% agree with that. Do I hope to ever get kidnapped because I have a rich, political father and end up falling in love with my captor? No, but I was torn apart considering the possibility.
Speaking about other people’s lives, I LOVE memoirs. I could have read memoirs the whole year, honestly. Some of it is for the behind-the-scenes look at famous people’s lives, tbh — the scoop on Gilmore Girls straight from Lauren Graham? A kind-of explanation on Mindy and BJ’s friendship/soul mate relationship from Mindy herself? Yeah duh I’m reading that. But mostly I just love being inspired by how other people live their lives, and learning what events shaped their path and perspective. Accounts from people who changed their health and fitness habits, built a business from the ground up, or worked their butts off to become a huge success despite many obstacles are all stories I love reading.
Sometimes people ask me why I read so much and if I really enjoy it. I thought about that a lot as I (sometimes begrudgingly) opened a book for 15 minutes after hours of studying instead of going to sleep…this was pre-graduation, obviously. I realized I love to read for the same reasons I love to travel: I get to meet new people — sometimes real, sometimes imagined — and see how they live and think, learn what matters to them and what they prioritize. Plus, a library card is way cheaper than a flight, so during the months I have to be a normal person and stay in the same city for more than a hot second, reading keeps my wanderlust in check.
The best part of the reading challenge was the community it created. So many friends texted me book recommendations, responded to my Snaps with words of encouragement, loaned and gifted me books, and even bought me a book journal to keep track of what I was reading. Thank you all for making it so fun! And keep the book suggestions coming, please.
Here are some of my favorites from the year, in case you are looking for recommendations. And if you’re curious (and for posterity’s sake), I’ve included a full list of the 49 books I read this year below. Happy reading!
Favorite Fiction Author: Jhumpa Lahiri
I only read one of Jhumpa Lahiri’s books this year, but I’ve read a few others in the past, and they are all wonderful. She tells stories about Indian families moving to America, often leaving their entire lives behind, in order to make a better life for themselves and their children in a very foreign land. Most of the books span several years and explore themes of sacrifice, tradition, family, and values. They are so honest and often heartbreaking, and are beautifully simple in the telling of people’s day-to-day lives. Fun fact: Mindy Lahiri’s character on The Mindy Project was named after her.
Favorite Non-Fiction Author: Malcolm Gladwell
I read three of Malcolm Gladwell’s five books this year, and I enjoyed them all so much. He traces the most obscure series of events and connects the dots on things you’d never expect, explaining what makes a trend or idea “tip” into the mainstream, how what month you’re born in can determine whether you achieve success in pro sports, and how conditions seen as struggles, like dyslexia, can actually be of benefit. My favorite was Outliers, but I recommend all of them. Blink is definitely at the top of my 2017 to-read list.
Favorite Non-Fiction Book: Onward
I read Howard Schultz’s memoir with a friend, and between the two of us we probably reference it or recommend it to someone at least once a week. The Starbucks CEO traces the development of the company in painstaking detail, and it is so interesting to hear how every major (and many minor) decision was made. Plus, I’m a coffee addict, so I appreciate his devotion to the most important part of the brand, and the fact that I can get the same cup of coffee in New York and Beijing and Antwerp (true story).
Favorite Memoir: When Breath Becomes Air
I cried a lot reading this book. It’s not giving anything away to say the author died before finishing the book, and his wife finished it and made it come to fruition (and favorited my tweet about the book, side note<3). A neurosurgeon who spent his life studying and reading and thinking, Paul Kalanithi died just as he was beginning to enjoy the fruits of his labor and left behind a sweet, beautiful little girl with his wife. It’s an ugly cry kind of book in the best way possible, and will 100 percent make you want to be more intentional with each day you’re given.
Favorite Novel: Defending Jacob
SO FREAKING GOOD. This book is a Gone Girl-esque family murder mystery that gets more effed up in every chapter. It will get in your head. I read this around the same time as Girl on the Train, The Good Girl and The Obituary Writer, the latter of which I did not expect to become a murder mystery, and then I decided I should read some happier books for a while. Shout-out to Lauren Klitz for giving me this one!
Favorite Surprise Read: Embrace the Suck
I picked this up off the shelf at work before a flight home, and I was intrigued, but also wary. I am not a cross-fitter, and don’t really have a desire to become one. But it was a memoir written by the former Bicycling Magazine Editor-in-Chief, and seemed pretty inspirational, so I figured I would be into it. I finished in the next day. Stephen Madden writes so clearly and honestly about his journey from being an avid biker to a full-on cross-fitter to finding a happy middle ground. I’m slightly tempted to try a class, so that’s saying something.
1. Going Off Script by Giuliana Rancid
2. It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell
3. Sandcastle Kings by Rich Wilkerson Jr.
4. Goodbye to All That; Writers on Loving and Leaving New York
5. The Crossroads of Should and Must, Elle Luna
6. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
7. Strong Looks Better Naked, by Khloe Kardashian
8. Falling Man, by Don DeLillo
9. Wanderlust by Elisabeth Eaves
10. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
11. Linchpin by Seth Godin
12. The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
13. Tales from the Back Row Amy Odell
14. Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson
15. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
16. Rising Strong by Brene Brown
17. Mere Christianity by CS Lewis
18. 10% Happier by Dan Harris
19. I Just Graduated…Now What? by Katherine Schwarzenegger
20. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
21. Defending Jacob by William Landay
22. Onward by Howard Schultz
23. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
24. The Obituary Writer by Porter Shreve
25. The Faith Club by Ranya Ioliby, Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner
26. Lean In For Graduates by Sheryl Sandberg
27. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
28. Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss
29. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham
30. After You by Jojo Moyes
31. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
32. Running the Books by Avi Steinberg
33. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
34. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
35. If You Find This Letter by Hannah Brencher
36. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
37. Thrive by Arianna Huffington
38. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sederis
39. Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
40. The Vacationers by Emma Straub
41. David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
42. Living with Intent by Mallika Chopra
43. Devotion by Dani Shapiro
44. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
45. The Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein
46. Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham
47. The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard Morais
48. Embrace the Suck by Stephen Madden
49. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant