Books Read in November 2020

I read nine books in November (five were audiobooks), which brings my 2020 total to 108.

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.

Highly Recommended

1) Black is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine, Emily Bernard

Description: Bernard uses twelve connected, deeply personal essays to explore the haunting memories and realities of growing up black in the South with a family name inherited from a white man, of getting a PhD from Yale, of marrying a white man (both of them professors of African American history), of teaching at a white college, of adopting two babies from Ethiopia, and living in New England.

I think the title of this book was an unfortunate choice. I almost didn’t pick it up, but if I hadn’t, I would have missed out. Bernard’s book is insightful, entertaining, and thought-provoking.


2) The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir, Sara Seager

Description: MIT astrophysicist Sara Seager interweaves the story of her search for meaning and solace after losing her first husband to cancer, her unflagging search for an Earth-like exoplanet, and her unexpected discovery of new love.

Seager is obviously extremely smart, and while she does talk about her research and her work as a professor/astrophysicist, I appreciated that this is a memoir, not scientific nonfiction. This NY Times profile from 2016 is a good overview of her life.

3) One Life: A Memoir, Megan Rapinoe

Description: Rapinoe, Olympic gold medalist and two-time Women’s World Cup champion, has become a galvanizing force for social change. Here she urges all of us to take up the mantle, with actions big and small, to continue the fight for justice and equality.

I didn’t love the soccer game details because I’m not a soccer fan, but I respect Rapinoe and enjoyed listening to her audiobook. There’s a good article in the NY Times here.

4) OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: A Millennial Defense of Our Generation, Jill Filipovic

Description: Baby Boomers are the most prosperous generation in American history, but their kids are screwed. Filipovic breaks down the massive problems facing Millennials including climate, money, housing, and healthcare.

I was born on the Gen X / Millennial cusp, so I don’t fully relate to either generational cohort. If you search for the Millennial age cutoff, some say it’s everyone born in 1980 and other places say 1981. I was born in June 1980.

I relate as an older Millennial to technology (I didn’t grow up with computers or cell phones, but adopted both by my late teens), but (and I realize I’m very lucky) I don’t relate to the Millennial feeling of being broke and in debt, which is covered a lot in this book. I had a full-time job earlier than most Millennials (I worked for a bank from age 18-25), so by the time the 2008 recession rolled around, I had a stable job and years of work history behind me. Many people around my age didn’t start working full time until after they graduated from grad school or law school (like the author of this book), which put them at a disadvantage just as they were starting off in the working world. Also, since I worked for a bank that offered tuition reimbursement while I was in college, I only had a few thousand dollars in loans to pay off when I graduated (which included a semester abroad in Amsterdam during my senior year). I paid for college completely on my own, with no help from my parents (nor did I live with them). So while I pat myself on the back for being so responsible, I acknowledge my privilege of getting a good job at an opportune time and taking advantage of the benefits it offered me.

In addition to money and technology, she covers topics like housing, health, climate, family, and culture. You can read an excerpt from the book here.

5) Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, Anne Helen Petersen

Description: An incendiary examination of burnout in millennials—the cultural shifts that got us here, the pressures that sustain it, and the need for drastic change.

Yes, the second nonfiction book about millennials in the same month. (I follow both authors on Twitter, so I knew they were writing the books and both were due out around the same time.)

This particular book came out of an article that Petersen published in BuzzFeed in Jan 2019: How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation.

Here are two excerpts from the book: How Work Became an Inescapable Hell Hole and How Burnout Became the Norm For American Parents.

6) The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and a Crisis of Our Own Making, Jared Yates Sexton

Description: A memoir and cultural analysis, Sexton turns a keen eye to our current crisis of masculinity using his upbringing in a rural, patriarchal home as an entry point to consider the personal and societal dangers of performative gender.

Jared was made fun of as a boy because he was “soft.” He learned how to emulate more traditionally masculine types over the years and was subsequently accepted by his father and other men he’d grown up around. He details how that transition affected him, including an eating disorder, heavy drinking, and many nights of handling a gun or putting it in his mouth, thinking of suicide. Later in the book, he details his experience observing toxic masculinity at Tr*mp rallies.

7) I Have Something to Tell You: A Memoir, Chasten Glezman Buttigieg

Description: A memoir by the husband of former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg about growing up gay in his small Midwestern town, his relationship with Pete, and his hope for America’s future.

I didn’t know much about Chasten or Pete before listening to this audiobook, but after finishing this one, I plan to listen to Pete’s audiobook, too. There’s a nice profile of Chasten in the Washington Post here.


8) Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life, Christie Tate

Description: A memoir of a guarded, over-achieving, self-lacerating young lawyer who reluctantly agrees to get psychologically and emotionally naked in a room of six complete strangers (her psychotherapy group) and in turn finds human connection, and herself.

Much of this book is focused on the author’s wailing about not being in a relationship. The relationships she did have involved choosing damaged, wrong, or otherwise unavailable men, and then she blamed herself when they didn’t work out. When faced with these situations she would act out, like smashing dishes or yanking at her hair and screaming.

I think the most interesting thing about this book is that group therapy wasn’t a one and done thing for her. She continues in group therapy today. She published this NY Times Modern Love article three years, about being almost 10 years into group therapy (and, spoiler, married with children).

9) Crazy Salad and Scribble Scribble: Some Things About Women and Notes on Media, Nora Ephron

Description: This book includes two classic collections of Ephron’s essays—tackling everything from feminism to the media, from politics to beauty products. It brings together some of Ephron’s most famous writing on a generation of women (and men) who helped shape the way we live now, and on events ranging from the Watergate scandal to the Pillsbury Bake-Off.

I liked Ephron’s personal essays but the “current events”-style essays (published in the 1970s) were, well…extremely dated and not interesting to me.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Chris Abraham December 2, 2020 at 2:10 pm

    You anomaly, you!

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