I read 10 books in February (five were audiobooks), which brings my 2020 total to 24.
These are the books I started reading in February but decided not to finish:
- I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying: Essays, Bassey Ikpi
- Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver, Jill Heinerth
- Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God, Sarah Bessey
- A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves: One Family and Migration in the 21st Century, Jason DeParle
I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.
1) Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me, Adrienne Brodeur
Description: A daughter’s tale of living in the thrall of her magnetic, complicated mother, and the chilling consequences of her complicity, this is a brilliant, timeless memoir about how the people close to us can break our hearts simply because they have access to them, and the lies we tell in order to justify the choices we make. It’s a remarkable story of resilience, a reminder that we need not be the parents our parents were to us.
I didn’t think I’d like this book, but I decided to pick it up after it was highly rated by a blogger I’ve followed for years (the Washington Post liked it as well). I was surprised at how good it was, and I raced through it to find out what was going to happen — always a good sign.
2) Open Book, Jessica Simpson
Description: For the first time, Simpson reveals her inner monologue and most intimate struggles. Guided by the journals she’s kept since age fifteen, and brimming with her unique humor and down-to-earth humanity, this book is as inspiring as it is entertaining.
Jessica Simpson and I are close to the same age; I’m older than she is by a month and a day. I’ve never been into pop, so I wasn’t a fan of Simpson’s music, but of course I’ve heard many of her songs over the years and knew she created a billion-dollar clothing company. I’m sure I watched a few episodes of Newlyweds back in the day, too.
This is a behind-the-scenes look at some of the headlines you’ve seen over the years: Jessica’s relationship with (and divorce from) Nick Lachey; the “mom jeans” debacle where people the world over discussed how fat she looked (the jeans were a 25” waist / size 4); her toxic relationship with John Mayer; and her struggle with alcohol addiction (admittedly kind of adorable: she would call her perpetual tumbler of vodka + flavored Perrier her “glittercup”).
You can read recent profiles of Simpson in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and there’s an excerpt from her book in Glamour. You can also find out “10 heartbreaking details” from her memoir in The Cut.
3) Heavy: An American Memoir, Kiese Laymon
Description: Genre-bending essayist and novelist Kiese Laymon explores what the weight of a lifetime of secrets, lies, and deception does to a black body, a black family, and a nation teetering on the brink of moral collapse.
Kiese was raised in Mississippi by a single (educated, college professor) mother who never had enough money.
Parts of this book are tough to read, especially as he gets older. He is overweight as a kid, loses over 150 pounds, and gains it all back as an adult. He gave his mother a ton of money and she spent it all on gambling. I don’t want to give too much away. Even though this book is…well, heavy, it’s unlike anything I’ve read before.
You can read an in-depth profile about Laymon and his book in BuzzFeed.
4) Wild Life: Dispatches from a Childhood of Baboons and Button-Downs, Keena Roberts
Description: Roberts split her adolescence between the wilds of an island camp in Botswana and the even more treacherous halls of a Philadelphia private school. In Africa, she slept in a tent, cooked over a campfire, and lived each day alongside the baboon colony her parents were studying. When her family lived in the U.S., this kid from the bush was cowed by the far more treacherous landscape of the school social hierarchy.
Keena’s parents were primatologists. She reveled in her upbringing — not only living in Africa for a good chunk of her childhood, but living in a remote area where she rarely encountered people other than her family and fellow researchers. We learn what her daily life was like, and how she dealt with encountering wild animals — there’s a trick to staying safe around lions, hippos, and stampeding bison.
Keena was always apathetic about school, but she ended up going to college at Harvard and went on to obtain two master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins.
5) Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America; Essays, R. Eric Thomas
Description: Thomas didn’t know he was different until the world told him so. Everywhere he went — whether it was his rich, mostly white, suburban high school, his conservative black church, or his Ivy League college in a big city — he found himself on the outside looking in. In essays by turns hysterical and heartfelt, Thomas redefines what it means to be an “other” through the lens of his own life experience.
Thomas is a gay black man who came out in college and later married a Presbyterian minister, and talks about “not only his career but also racism, depression and loss” (Washington Post). It’s deep but also funny.
Description: Emerson presents an explosive, darkly funny, and often twisted account of being part of an elite clandestine team of covert operatives whose mission was to keep America safe by whatever means necessary.
Emerson was in the Navy for several decades before he retired to start his own company. Near the end of the book he mentions receiving care for his traumatic brain injuries at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE). I found that especially interesting because — for about a year in the 2009-2010 time frame — I was part of a team involved in getting NICoE ready to open, and physically worked in the building for a few months after the grand opening (I worked for a consulting company for several years that was involved in federal government contracting). So it was nice to hear Emerson had a positive experience.
The only part of the book that annoyed me was when he kept having to say that such-and-such section was redacted by government sensors who read his book in advance of its publication (which makes sense, as he was involved in some confidential situations during his military career). I was listening to this on audio so I may have been annoyed at his saying “redacted” more so than if I’d been reading a physical version.
7) How We Fight For Our Lives: A Memoir, Saeed Jones
Description: Jones’s memoir tells the story of a young, black, gay man from the South as he fights to carve out a place for himself, within his family and country. Jones draws readers into his boyhood and adolescence—into tumultuous relationships with his mother and grandmother, into passing flings with lovers, friends and strangers.
This is the story of an African American boy growing up with a single mother, and gradually accepting the fact that he is gay and coming out of the closet.
8) Know My Name: A Memoir, Chanel Miller
Description: Chanel reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma and transcendence. It was the perfect case, in many ways — there were eyewitnesses, her assailant ran away, physical evidence was immediately secured. But her struggles with isolation and shame during the aftermath and the trial reveal the oppression victims face in even the best-case scenarios. Her story illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering.
This book was written by the woman who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner. She is a good writer, I agree with her, she is brave and amazing for going through what she did. If I met her, I’d want to give her a hug (or at least shake her hand) and thank her. That being said, I downgraded the ranking because I thought her book was too long. As I was listening to the audiobook I kept thinking, “This could have been cut, that could have been cut.” It really felt like a slog.
9) Beautiful on the Outside: A Memoir, Adam Rippon
Description: A former Olympic figure skater and self-professed America’s Sweetheart, Rippon shares his underdog journey from beautiful mess to outrageous success.
Rippon reads his audiobook in an entertaining way, but unless you’re particularly interested in ice skating I wouldn’t recommend someone rush out to read it. The book does illustrate all the hard work and setbacks he overcame to achieve his Olympic bronze medal.
10) In the Land of Men: A Memoir, Adrienne Miller
Description: A memoir about coming of age in the male-dominated literary world of the 1990s, becoming the first female literary editor of Esquire, and Miller’s personal and working relationship with David Foster Wallace.
Miller starts out by detailing what it was like to be an editorial assistant at GQ in the early 1990s. I liked the beginning okay — she was an assistant for three years, then her boss became Editor in Chief of Esquire magazine, and (to the shock of many) she was hired as Esquire’s literary editor (a job she acknowledges she didn’t have the experience for).
In the second half of the book, she started her relationship with the late author David Foster Wallace. I just did not care about him, and I didn’t care about their relationship. I was bored with it and wanted it to end. Read this article she wrote for Vogue instead.