An Open Book: What I Read in December

I’m finishing off a year of reading in the strongest way possible. All told, I read more than 80 books this year, which truly shocks me. I’m not a fast reader, but I suppose when there’s not a whole lot to do or many places to go, it only makes sense to invest time reading.

Thank you for joining me on my year of reading. And, as always, let me know what’s been a winner on your bookshelf lately!

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: So many aspects of this book are absolutely cringe-worthy and downright disgusting now, yet Mitchell so completely and accurately depicted reality for the upper crust of white Southerners before, during, and after the Civil War era. At 1,000+ pages (and nearly 50 hours via audio), this book is a commitment, but I was all in despite the despicable main character (and, no, Scarlett O’Hara never redeems herself). I hate that I love this book, but there’s a reason it’s a classic.

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig (2/5 stars)

Three-line review: This is the second time warp/fantasy book driven by water navigation I’ve read this year, and I’ve decided it’s just not a genre I like. The book’s conflicts are multi-faceted — a teenage love triangle, the battle for a father’s attention, the age-old question of how traveling into the past might change the trajectory of the future — and the story’s pace kept me engaged. I’d consider reading another YA book by this author as long as it wasn’t fantasy.

Reproductive Rights and Wrongs: The Global Politics of Population Control by Betsy Hartmann (2/5 stars)

Three-line review: This dense book is a deep dive into the political, social, and historical underpinnings at the intersection of population control, reproductive rights, public health, women’s rights and autonomy, government policy, and power. To say the challenges related to these topics are complex, systemic, oppressive, and misunderstood is an understatement. While this book helped me unlearn and reassess some of my previously held beliefs related to population control and healthcare, it was far to academic and dry to be accessible.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: This is the second Danielewski book I’ve read this year (the first was Only Revolutions in May), and it, too, broke every rule about being a book. It’s a story about a story in a story about a house that defies all conventional rules of architecture, and the book’s structure is as broken as the house is, with footnotes leading to footnotes leading to nowhere, words falling off of pages, and lots of flipping back and forth trying to piece the convoluted tale(s) together. It’s equal parts mind-bending, heart-breaking, obsessive, repulsive, and nightmare between two covers.

The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy (1/5 stars)

Three-line review: Do you ever finish a book and wonder if you’re the only one who didn’t get it? I think there was some sort of interesting reflective storytelling going on here, but I just wasn’t able to grasp what was really happening. So, it was an easy read for me, but I was left scratching my head.

29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life by Cami Walker (1/5 stars)

Three-line review: This memoir follows the 29-day journey of a woman giving daily gifts as she works through her physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual trauma associated with being diagnosed with MS at a young age. I have a lot of sympathy for this woman’s situation, but this book felt more like a series of awkward and contrived journal entries versus something that felt relevant or interesting to an outside observer. Luckily, this one was a short and quick so the time investment was minimal, but I recommend skipping.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini (4/5 stars)

Three-line review: I am incredibly interested in learning about why people act and think the way they do. Cialdini’s book on why we’re influenced in certain ways is accessible, interesting, backed by science, and packed with real-life examples. If you’re into social psychology like I am, this is a must-read.

Naked in Baghdad by Anne Garrels (5/5 stars)

Three-line review: I’ve read my fair share of military- and/or war-related books over the years, and they tend to keep me at an arm’s distance with their jargon, required historical knowledge, and heavy emphasis on strategy, but this memoir placed me front and center of the Iraqi War in 2003 in a very real and raw way. Garrels provides just enough context and background information to establish why America was invading Iraq as she traces her own steps as an NPR correspondent in the days before, during, and after the conflict. Accounts like hers are so important so that the average person can easily understand the misinformation perpetuated by leadership and the consequences of such brazen violence on civilians just trying to be their best selves in a complicated world.

The Shell Collector by Hugh Howey (3/5 stars)

Three-line review: Part eco-thriller, part mystery, part romance, this book suffers from an identity crisis while also dragging me into its plot about a playboy who has made his millions from generations of oil barons while simultaneously trying to restore beauty and life to the oceans his legacy has polluted. I love the idea of a story written about the tragedies associated with the climate emergency, but unfortunately the love story engulfed this one in the last half, leaving it the good stuff to fizzle in its closing pages. In fact, I felt wholly unsatisfied that two of the main plot points were never resolved.

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