Hey there! Even I have to admit that there are a lot of books on this list. In my defense, I went on vacation for a week in June, and I always read even more on vacations. So despite what this list implies, I do have a life (kind of.)
This month I read quite a bit of fiction, as well as some non-fiction/memoirs. I also started to get into audio books. I’ve always been a fan of reading for myself. My brain wanders too much listening to someone read a book to me. But reading during my commute is difficult (thanks, car sickness) so I thought I’d give audio books a second chance. So far I’ve only listened to non-fiction audio books. I don’t think I’d be able to focus enough to take in all the character development and plot twists in fiction via audio book. I’ve marked which books I listened to versus read and I’ll let you know if the format enhanced or detracted from the experience.
This month I read:
Angels & Demons by: Dan Brown
The DaVinci Code by: Dan Brown
The Lost Symbol by: Dan Brown
Inferno by: Dan Brown
Origin by: Dan Brown
Dad Is Fat by: Jim Gaffigan
The Sun And Her Flowers by: Rupi Kaur
Love, Loss, and What We Ate by: Padma Lakshmi
Grace (Eventually) by: Anne Lamott
A Walk In the Woods by: Bill Bryson*
The Road to Little Dribbling by: Bill Bryson*
Spook by: Mary Roach
How To Be A Bawse by: Lilly Singh
The Princess Saves Herself In This One by: Amanda Lovelace
Lab Girl by: Hope Jahren*
First Women by: Kate Andersen Brower*
An Unfinished Life by: Robert Dalleck*
Machete Season by: Jean Hatzfeld
Strength In What Remains by: Tracy Kidder*
Bossypants by: Tina Fey
The Inheritance Cycle by: Christopher Paolini
Packing for Mars by: Mary Roach
The Sense of An Ending by: Julian Barnes
The Glass Castle by: Jeannette Walls
Truly Madly Guilty by: Liane Moriarty
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by: Mark Haddon
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
The Color Purple by: Alice Walker
When Breath Becomes Air by: Paul Kalanithi*
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by: Katherine Boo*
The Martian by: Andy Weir
The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu by: Joshua Hammer*
*I listened to the audio book
Keep scrolling for a (spoiler-free!) summary of what I thought of each book.
Normally when I read a series, I review them all together. I’ve separated the books in Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series though because I have very strong and different opinions about each of them. Angels and Demons is by far my favorite. I think it combines the scientific and religious aspects very well, and the twist at the end is well executed and thoroughly unexpected. 5/5 stars.
I consider this just a step below Angels and Demons. It’s still Robert Langdon at his symbology professor finest, and the Holy Grail history and mystery is fascinating. 4/5 stars.
Here the series takes a bit of a dip for me. It’s still interesting, and the Noetic Sciences meets Freemasonry is worth learning about. I think I’m partial to the European settings of the previous two books over the D.C. setting of this one. If you think you’d like a Robert Langdon book set in D.C., then you’d probably still enjoy this one. 3/5 stars.
This books is a return to what I loved in Angels and Demons and the DaVinci Code. Primarily, I think, because it takes place in Italy again, and that is an undeniably rich setting for a religious symbologist. The plot also mimics the high stakes, life or death, race against time element of Angels and Demons. 4/5 stars.
And here we go – the primary reason I wanted to discuss these books separately. Origin really disappointed me. I understand the timeliness of considering AI and the spread of internet conspiracy theories and whatnot, but it felt like such a divergence from the heart of the previous books. There was also very little symbology, little of it complex. Robert Langdon was just along for the ride – you could have replaced him with anyone. Also, by the fifth book, Robert’s love life gets a little old. How many more younger, tanned, European women can he charm with his professorial clothing and brain, only to essentially forget about their deep connection by the next book? I’ve been reading the Robert Langdon books for years, but this was the first one where I thought it might be time to retire the series. 2/5 stars.
Jim Gaffigan is known as a “clean” comedian, which isn’t really a prerequisite for me, but makes him pretty widely appealing. I was most interested in hearing more of his perspective on having five children, which is largely what this book is about, and it didn’t disappoint. His take on parenting, specifically in a tiny apartment in New York City, is hilarious and well worth a read. 4/5 stars.
I was already a fan of Rupi Kaur’s from her previous book of poetry, Milk and Honey, which I would also recommend. Her newest book tracks many of the same themes – relationships, love, loss, abuse, etc. – and does so with poise and emotionally evocative imagery. 5/5 stars.
My mom is a fan of Top Chef, so I grew up knowing Padma Lakshmi from that. I wasn’t really aware of the drama that surrounded her marriage, divorce, and birth of her child. And I’m glad I wasn’t, because I went into this memoir/cookbook with fresh eyes and learned so much about her culture, her life, and the work she is doing to reduce the stigma around endometriosis. 4/5 stars.
One of the last books I read by Anne Lamott discussed mercy. This one centers on the idea of grace, and Lamott tackles this with the same clear-eyed tenacity, wit, and forgiving nature that make her thoughts on religion and faith such a joy to read. 5/5 stars.
I remember trying to read this when I was in elementary school, because it was my dad’s (an avid hiker’s) favorite book. It didn’t really hold my interest then, but I’m glad I made my way back to it. I listened to the audio book, which I think really enhanced the experience. The reader did a great job of differentiating character’s voices, and Bryson’s wit is just so striking and hilarious when heard out loud. 5/5 stars.
After loving the audio book for A Walk In the Woods, I listened to this audio book. While A Walk In the Woods focused on America and the Appalachian Trail, the Road to Little Dribbling chronicles Bryson’s adventures, largely on foot, across the United Kingdom. This confirmed to me that Bryson’s work is really suited to being enjoyed as an audio book. His voice and inner monologues, typically grumpy, will make you laugh out loud on your commute. 4/5 stars.
I’ve been slowly making my way through all of Mary Roach’s books because they make obscure science so accessible and enjoyable. Spook looks at the question of the human soul, and scientific attempts to prove the existence of the soul, and even weigh it. 5/5 stars.
I am aware of Lilly Singh’s Youtube stardom, but I have to confess that I haven’t really watched her videos, so this book was my first introduction to her voice and her brand. This book is funny and colorful and easy to read, but it also makes you think about all the ways that you aren’t kicking your own ass into gear. It’s not always fun to hear, but Lilly’s book is a great reminder of why we need to work hard, and how to work smarter and harder. 4/5 stars.
Amanda Lovelace’s poetry is reminiscent of Lang Leav’s and Rupi Kaur’s in its style, and in that it deals with love, loss, and ultimately self-acceptance. The poetry is beautiful, and follows this trajectory of the princess first relying on her prince, and then coming into her own and realizing that she has all the power she needs within herself. 5/5 stars.
Confession: the unit on plants and plant reproduction in AP Biology was hands down my least favorite. I was always more into genetics. But Hope Jahren’s work, as she presents it, is fascinating, as is her growth as a female scientist. Her journey is sprinkled with funny stories and quite a cast of characters. I listened to the audio book and I’m really glad I did – Hope’s voice is so soothing (hope that’s not creepy, Hope.) 5/5 stars.
This book chronicles the lives of the modern first ladies, from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis up through Michelle Obama. The book offers insight into how they shaped the role of first lady, how they worked with the president, and their personal lives and challenges. 4/5 stars.
This was a really interesting biography of John F. Kennedy that was comprehensive without being overly lengthy. It starts with his father’s life up through the effects of his own assassination. As with the previous book on first ladies, the audio book format cut some of the boredom that can come from reading about history for long stretches of time. 4/5 stars.
I studied the Rwandan Genocide often in school (side effect of basically majoring in genocide – how to prevent, not how to.) So I’ve read a number of books and articles by various authors and scholars. However, I hadn’t read this, or her other book about the survivors of the genocide. In Machete Season, Jean Hatzfeld does something incredibly difficult, but also necessary, for confronting our pasts and preventing future violence: she interviewed the perpetrators and wrote about their side of the story. It’s graphic and downright scary at times, but I think it’s a necessary read. 5/5 stars.
This books follows the life of a young man displaced from Burundi in the early 1990’s amid a civil war and the Rwandan Genocide. I think it’s important to see this perspective, as discussions of the genocide often neglect the effects on neighboring Burundi. Very reminiscent of A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. 5/5 stars.
If you loved Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, then you’ll love this memoir about fellow funny lady Tina Fey’s journey to SNL and 30 Rock, and some of her experiences with life and love along the way. Tina writes so candidly and hilariously about her own life and about Hollywood and feminism. 5/5 stars.
I adored these books in elementary school, partly because I loved fantasy, and partly because Christopher Paolini was only 15 when he wrote the first one, so he gave me hope that I could be a young writer too. At the time that I was reading them, only Eragon and Eldest were out. Revisiting them now was especially exciting because I finally got to find out how the series ends. The writing held up quite well, and only matures and gets better as you go through the series. The world building is also excellent. All in all, a great fantasy series for kids, teenagers, or even adults. 4/5 stars.
This latest book in my crusade to read all of Mary Roach’s work tackles space exploration, and everything that goes into designing, building, and launching a probe or shuttle to Mars, including everything human astronauts need to survive comfortably on the way there. 4/5 stars.
This is a very short read, only about 200 pages, but it beautifully chronicles the life of a young man as he navigates love for the first time, experiences a breakup, gets married and divorced, and reconnects with his first love knowing what he knows now. It’s beautiful and sad and profound. 5/5 stars.
I had previously read Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls, which details her grandmother’s life. This book, the Glass Castle, tackles her own childhood, her relationship with her parents, and the wayward lifestyle she led up until her late teens. It’s at turns hilarious and heartbreaking and so worth a read. 5/5 stars.
I’ve become quite a fan of Liane Moriarty’s work. It takes a lot of the twists and turns in books like the Girl on the Train or the Woman in Cabin 10, but removes some of the more sinister elements to make them scary in the way that they could happen to you, even if you live in a “normal” town, with a “normal” family, and a “normal” marriage. 4/5 stars.
This was one of the best pieces of young adult fiction I’ve read in a long time. This book tells the story of a teenage boy with autism who tries to solve the mystery of who killed his neighbor’s dog. It’s so important to have autism representation in media and this books absolutely nails it. 5/5 stars.
This is Allie Brosh’s memoir about her own struggle with mental health, in particular depression. The book is funny and real, and the illustrations make it a quick and enjoyable read. 4/5 stars.
The Color Purple is one of the classics that I’ve been meaning to read forever, especially since it was never assigned in school (which, having grown up in rural Maine, isn’t all that surprising.) This book features a diverse cast of female characters, who all prove that you can be strong in a number of ways. It also explores issues of race and queerness that are still relevant today. 5/5 stars.
I listened to the audio book of this, and the narrator’s voice really personified Paul’s love of medicine, the brain, and writing, and his acceptance of everything he would stand to lose when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. This is a touching memoir, made all the more heartbreaking by the posthumous epilogue written by his wife. 5/5 stars.
Katherine Boo’s book takes a kind of anthropology-meets-biography-meets-ethnography approach to exploring life in Mumbai slums by following a handful of families who live in proximity to each other. Their day to day lives inform, and are informed by, the social/economic/political pressures and norms that face those living in poverty in India. 5/5 stars.
I know I’m late to the party on this, but I loved The Martian. As a general rule, I’m not into science fiction, but Weir’s writing is so funny and matter-of-fact, I was immediately sucked into the story and fascinated by the scientific explanations for how Mark Watney survived on Mars. 5/5 stars.
This is a fascinating story about how a handful of librarians in Timbuktu risked their lives to protect thousands of precious manuscripts from destruction by the Islamic State. I do wish I had read this instead of listened to the audio book, only because I think I would have been able to follow the timeline and historical context better. 4/5 stars.