I read 24 books and filled 5 journals this year; unemployment and a pandemic really do that to you

  1. Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner: A classic. I loved this book. Legalizing abortion decreases crime, drug dealing is not as profitable as you think, a lot of teachers changed their students’ standardized test answers when there was a financial incentive to do so, and the KKK and real estate brokers lose a lot of power when the information they have becomes publicly available. I also loved how Sudhir lived with the cocaine gang to build his case study. A lot of times in situations where outside academics/ elites come into the contexts of people who are different from them, there is a potential to view them as a group you’re studying rather than whole people made in the image of God- and he portrays them as full human beings with needs and desires to be in community. There are so many fascinating lessons in here, and it encourages me to wonder about the hidden forces behind literally everything else in the world. It’s kind of paralyzing to think about the reality that everything is so nuanced and influenced by millions of other things- so you can never be fully educated on anything. 10/10
  2. An Economist Walks into a Brothel, Allison Schrager: Off-brand Freakonomics but still insightful. Sex workers earn more money when they work with an agency versus freelance, most movies are not profitable, it used to be a viable career to be a paparazzi but now that everyone has phones, it’s not. 6/10
  3. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan: So good. So informative. Pollan takes a generous approach and doesn’t want you to feel or do a certain thing in reading this. He takes us on a deep dive into the meat industry- from industrial farms to small farms to foragers and shares stories of people who have started eating meat again after learning that there are ways to produce it ethically and sustainably, as well as people who have stopped eating meat as a result of learning about how it is produced. The Omnivore’s Dilemma is that meat is good, but most of it is produced in unethical ways and it has significant negative environmental impacts. It helped me show more grace to myself when I do eat meat occasionally, and embrace the nuance of ethical consumption in our omnivorous society. Rather than striving for the perfectionistic and black and white goal of complete veganism and sustainable consumption in every aspect of my life, I can be content in eating more ethical alternatives. 
  4. Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn: My first awareness of international development. Very informative on women- especially in China, Myanmar, India and West Africa. Microfinance is good. Fistulas kill so many women when this could so easily be avoided. 10/10
  5. Such a Fun Age, Kiley Reid: Such a fun read, well-written, finished it in less than 2 days. Interesting to think about how white people exploit Black suffering. 10/10
  6. Bossypants, Tina Fey: Absolutely delightful. Vulnerable, personal, and so funny. I read this in less than 3 days and laughed out loud multiple times. I will forever have a crush on Tina Fey for this. 8/10
  7. Known and Strange Things, Teju Cole: The most beautifully written book I have read all year. It was dense, but there are a lot of deep ideas and just things that I never even thought about. I also loved that it was an essay collection. Kind of disjointed but that wasn’t a bad thing. 9/10
  8. Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson: I have so much admiration for Bryan Stevenson’s patience to work within the system and serve people who have been unjustly convicted. I also have less faith in our legal system. Invitational and informative. 8/10
  9. I Am Not Your Negro, James Baldwin/ Raoul Peck: Helped me understand the fear behind a lot of anti-Black racism. Also introduced me to the concept that whiteness was invented as a response to Blackness, to reinforce unequal power dynamics. I loved the multimedia format. 8/10
  10. Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson: This was so good. Heartbreaking. Deals with death, religion, friendship, romance, sex, racism, racialism, abuse and addiction and the intersectionality of all of that. 9/10
  11. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehesi Coates: I love how this was written as a letter to Coates’ son. Although I didn’t enjoy the act of reading it, it made me uncomfortable and I still think about the unresolved scenarios Coates experienced. Books like these aren’t supposed to have happy endings because they make us think about how we can make changes in our lives to make our country a better place. Also: I learned to always capitalize Black, a fact to which I was previously oblivious. 8/10
  12. So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo: I have been interested in race/ racism in the US since I was a sophomore in high school- but I really learned a lot from this. I realize that I often expect POC in my life to educate me about race: I do it under the guise of “I want to ask you directly because you’ve actually experienced this,” but it is not their responsibility to educate me. I also realized that a lot of the things I do are performative and tokenizing, and have been addressing that since!
  13. A Time to Build, Yuval Levin: Argument: we need unity. People need to recognize that what we really need is better authority figures, and institutions. However, we (especially progressives) think that we need to destroy and abolish institutions. We (conservatives and progressives) need to come together and be vulnerable enough to allow ourselves to be shaped by our institutions and not just use them as platforms for our own performative outrage. A lot of things just called me out, which I appreciated- but Levin acknowledged his biases and did so in a level-headed and non-accusatory way. I realized that a lot of the work I do on Student Senate could be improved if we focused more on working within the system to have more tangible outcomes than using the system as a platform for our ideas and sometimes trying to burn the place down. This was slightly at odds with So You Want to Talk About Race- but I still think there’s a way to work together without forcing the oppressed to fix the problems that their oppressors caused. It’s a tension I haven’t quite figured out, and I don’t think I ever will. 
  14. Evil, Julia Shaw: This is good. Thought: Why do we think of pedophilia as a moral shortcoming when it may have biological bases? Why are some sexual practices and orientations praised, while others are vilified? These seem like obvious questions with easy answers, but this book helped me see the nuance of them. My takeaway: treat everyone with love, don’t rely on what society tells you how to treat certain people because it is inconsistent. 10/10
  15. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Anne Fadiman: So insightful- the first I’ve ever thought about the intersections of culture and public health. Some huge problems can arise from a lack of communication between people of different backgrounds. We need to figure this out. 9/10
  16. Bored and Brilliant, Manoush Zomorodi: We need to have a healthier relationship with technology because getting rid of it is unreasonable. I feel more discouraged because I gained a deeper awareness of my social media addiction- which I had multiple failed attempts of breaking. 8/10
  17. I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai: Glad I finally read this one! Heartbreaking but inspiring. Many privileges hold up white privilege that white Americans take for granted: education, safety, freedom of religion. I was moved by how Malala clung to faith and loved people even when they hurt her so much. 9/10
  18. Big Friendship, Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow: This was personal and intimate and cute. I had fun reading it but didn’t walk away with a lot of life lessons though. Learned: Your job can make or break your life, and it’s impossible to know if you’ll love your job before you start it. Society values romantic friendships more than platonic ones. Success is not a zero-sum game, and females need to not view each other as competition when we could collaborate. 7/10
  19. Where the Crawdads Sing, Delia Owens: It was naturey and surprising, but overall I didn’t love it. It was very dense and struggled to hold my interest throughout. However, the writing and geographical attention to detail were beautiful, and I loved seeing the story through Kia’s eyes. 7/10
  20. Commencement, J. Courtney Sullivan: Not a great book- I don’t know what I was hoping for out of this, but I didn’t get it. It also took me a while to read and wasn’t that good. Learned: you can be taken advantage of by people who base their personality on being a good person. Wondered: how would I be different if I went to Smith instead of Calvin? 6/10
  21. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, Kim Edwards: Honestly, I have realized that I don’t like novels this year and this was not great. However, I experienced an immense amount of secondhand guilt from the protagonist. 5/10
  22. Who Moved My Cheese, Spencer Johnson: Lesson: take responsibility for your situation! If life changes, then don’t complain and wait for it to resolve itself. Adapt to the changes with creativity and collaboration and view it as a challenge to make your life better. 6/10
  23. The Fall, Albert Camus: I have no idea what happened. This was above my reading level. Existential. But I bought it at Capitol Hill books which makes me feel cool. 1/10
  24. Wealth and Justice: The Morality of Democratic Capitalism, Arthur C. Brooks and Peter Wehner: Exactly what it sounds like. 2/10 because it wasn’t captivating enough for me to even recall the arguments a few months later. Part of that is on me, but if you’re writing a book on something that’s not interesting to a good chunk of people, I feel like you have a responsibility to be more engaging.

I know I mentioned my 7 journals (only five of them are full, two are still in commission) but I don’t like talking about what I journal about on the internet. If you’re curious what I learned and struggled with this year, let’s get coffee (tea) and chat (virtually).