2019 In Reading

2019 In Reading >> Life In Limbo

2019 was my best-ever year of reading, and also the one that felt the most effortless. I read more books than I ever have before, but it also felt super easy and fun. Yes, really! Reading is my favourite hobby and has enriched my life more than I could ever say, so I feel so happy that I made it (even) more of a priority this year. The books I read this year gave me so much in return.

So today I start a new annual tradition: the Year in Reading! Yes, this is #Extra. No, I don’t care. Reading is an important part of my life, and I want to take some time to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and what I might want to do differently in 2020.

My Goal

Every year I set a reading goal, which I’ve upped incrementally over the years. My first year it was 52 books, and then it was 75 for several years. This year I decided to push myself a bit! My 2019 goal was to read 100 books, and I’ve currently (as of December 30th as I write this!) read 112, with two more on the go. This is amazing, because I’ve never surpassed my yearly goal by so many books, even when I was challenging myself to read fewer books! (You can see all my reading challenges here.)

The point of a reading challenge (for me) is to stretch myself just a touch beyond what I would probably read anyways. I spend wayyy too much time on screens every day for work & play, and I really do need the reminder to unplug and prioritize different kinds of activities. Reading is like a form of meditation for me – it helps me shut my brain off and feels like a vacation from my worries. Making reading a goal reminds me to prioritize it and make space for it in my regular daily grind.

What I Learned

1. Read WHATEVER you want

I FIRMLY believe that if you don’t like reading, you’re probably not reading what you actually like to read. I’ve known this to be true for years, and yet this was the first year I really, fully embraced it for myself. My list this year is a wacky blend of romance, pop psychology, fiction, essays, young adult, sci-fi, re-reads and beyond…and I loved almost all of it. At the beginning of 2019 I’d decided that with such a high goal, I was going to worry nary a bit about what I was reading, and it has served me so well. I highly encourage you to read whatever strikes your fancy and have zero qualms about it.

2. Better goal, better results

As I mentioned, this year I read the most books ever, and I also surpassed my reading goal by the most books ever. Can you believe?! I think the key was upping my baseline. As with everything in life, it’s all relative. When my goal was 75, that was what I was working towards and tracking towards all year. As a result, reading 77 felt like a big triumph! But this year I raised the bar. When my goal became 100, suddenly 75 was a milestone, not an end point. It’s a good lesson to bring with me into the rest of my life: if I aim low, I’ll get lower results. If I aim high, I’ll get higher results, even if I don’t quite meet my goal.

3. Embrace mental comfort food

This year was pretty stressful, taxing, and overwhelming at times. Looking back, I can see that fact reflected in my reading life as I gravitated towards less challenging books that brought me comfort & joy. It’s no surprise that this was The Year of Romance Novels, because they are uplifting and fun and guaranteed to have a happy ending. And it’s also no surprise that as soon as I got onto Christmas vacation, suddenly I felt equipped to dive into tougher reads like Gladwell’s latest and a beautiful collection of essays by Heather Havrilesky. It’s good to remember, both to use as a barometer for my stress level (what am I gravitating towards and what can that tell me about how I’m feeling or what I might need?) and for self-compassion (ie. not beating myself up for reading ‘fluffier’ books when I need to).

My Favourites

Best Books of 2019 >> Life In Limbo

1. Circe by Madeline Miller: Without a doubt my favourite novel of 2019. This is a feminist retelling of the Greek myth of the witch Circe (the one who turns Odysseus’s men into pigs!) and it is beautiful and epic. The author is a historical scholar and it shows in all the gorgeous details in her novels. I cannot wait for her next one!

2. Joyful by Ingrid Fetell Lee: This book changed the way I see the world! It’s a smart, fascinating exploration of what brings humans joy from a biological, evolutionary perspective, as well as a guide to bringing more joy, play, fun and delight into your life every day. I loved it so much and will definitely be re-reading.

3. Gravity is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty: I really enjoyed this quiet, charming novel set in Australia. I don’t think I’ve read much Australian fiction before and I really enjoyed the tone, the phrases and the overall mood of this one. It was so uplifting and light while still playing with darker themes and managing to be incredibly poignant at times.

4. Amateur by Thomas Page McBee: Ever since hearing Thomas Page McBee on an episode of Hurry Slowly, I’ve been a big fan of his work. This book is his memoir of training to be the first transgender man to fight at Madison Square Garden, as well as a thoughtful meditation on modern masculinity. It was utterly fascinating.

5. Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid: The rumours are true, there’s a reason this book is on everyone’s lists! It took me forever to buy into the hype (I like to give hype some time to die down because not all hyped books stand the test of time, amen) but when I finally did, I was not disappointed. I read this book in one shot, standing waist-deep in sunny lake water at a friend’s cottage, aka my happy place. It was fun and surprising and cinematic and wonderful.

6. Normal People by Sally Rooney: I got into this one reluctantly, after seriously disliking Conversations with Friends. But I was instantly swept up in this love story about two star-crossed lovers. It was romantic and weird and interesting and heart-wrenching at times. I love love, and I love reading about different kinds of love. I wouldn’t want to be in their relationship, but I loved reading about it nonetheless.

7. Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey: As mentioned, I read a lot of romance novels this year. I was new to the genre, so it’s been a process of immersion trying to figure out what I like and don’t like…and this book is a prime example of what I like. This one is fun, breezy, steamy, and modern and really set off my obsession with romance for once and for all. People who don’t like the genre: don’t read this. If you’re curious about romance: start here.

8. Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin: I read quite a few financial books this year but I particularly enjoyed this one. The idea is to figure out how much money you actually need to be happy and how to spend more wisely in alignment with that. She was also one of the first people to talk about financial independence (aka retiring early) which is a super inspiring concept. Highly recommended if you’re looking to invest more (pun intended!) in your financial life this year.

9. Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell: One of my final books of the year and yet one of my faves. I love everything Malcolm Gladwell does (including his excellent podcast) because the way his mind works is fascinating to me. This book should be required reading for all of us (especially police officers). I learned so much about the mistakes and fallacies we make when interacting with people we don’t know. Also, they made an insanely detailed audiobook that includes all kinds of source material, interviews & re-enactments, which I’m excited to listen to as well.

And there you have it, my 2019 in reading! It’s been a good one. I can’t wait to see what 2020 has in store for me, book-wise. So grateful to have the library at my doorstep and ebooks galore on Libby. Aren’t books just the best?!

You can see everything I read this year right here, and as always you can follow along with what I’m reading over on Goodreads here! Happy reading, everyone.

Book Club: November & December

I love to read, and I love to talk about the books I like best with other people. Every couple months here on the blog I choose my favourites from what I’ve read lately and write about them. As always, you can see everything I’m reading on my Goodreads profile. You can also check out what I’m reading in real time at #stephlovestoread on Instagram.

Book Club: November + December >> Life In Limbo

2017 was SUCH a great reading year. It seems like every year when I tackle this big goal, I end up getting even more out of it than I did the year before. What a gift it is, to be able to access the minds of so many incredible thinkers and storytellers, to be able to soak up new ideas, to see through new eyes. There’s a reason it’s my all-time favourite hobby! I gain so much, both practically-speaking and in my soul.

This December I actually started a second book club in addition to the one I’m already a part of. It was such a treat to have yet another space to discuss great books with like-minded people and I’m excited to continue with both throughout 2018. I realize that I’m a giant nerd, but these are the things that make me happy, so that’s reason enough for me!

Here are the four books I liked best from the past couple months of reading:

Book Club: November + December >> Life In Limbo

The End of Absence by Michael Harris

After being blown away by his book Solitude, I got this one out of the library and read it right away. It was actually his first book in this ‘series’ of sorts about being hyper-connected, and the lack of space, absence, and breathing room in our lives lately due to technology. The book focuses primarily on the fact that we are the last generation to have grown up with one foot in each world: the offline world and the online Internet world, and perhaps the last generation to see the fundamental value of the world before technology (a pretty radical idea, these days). His argument is that something will have been lost to us collectively once everyone in the world is fully plugged in, and that we may begin to forget the merits and the beauty of the simpler, natural world. Although I preferred Solitude, this one was also excellent and won the Governor General’s literary award in 2014.

The Wisdom of Sundays by Oprah Winfrey

My friend Laura got this for me as an early Christmas present, and it was such a treat to read! I love and respect Oprah so greatly, and am so impressed by what she has done on Super Soul Sunday with presenting spirituality in such an approachable and modern way. The show – and now the podcast – has had a big impact on my relationship with my spirituality and personal development. This book is laid out with quotes from her various interviews with thought leaders and teachers on Super Soul, along with beautiful photos of her property in California where they film the episodes. It’s stunning in so many ways, and I’m keeping it out on my coffee table to remind me of what I truly value.

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

This book humbled me in reminding me of how privileged I am, and how little I know about the history of Native people in North America. My uncle, who is a member of a First Nations band, has recently been delving deeper into this history and educating himself and others on the cultural and social implications of the colonialism and suffering that we have collectively and consistently inflicted on Native people since our ancestors first set foot in North America. It’s a powerful and painful read, but Thomas King is such a talented writer that he manages to somehow bring humour and levity to these serious and upsetting topics. I have been recommending this one to anyone I meet who shows even the most passing interest in social justice.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

I really, really loved this novel, which was one of the last things I read in 2017. I was also so excited to see that it made Barack Obama’s list of his favourite books of the year – great minds think alike, am I right?! The story is a familiar one of refugees and immigration, but it’s made unique because of the novel’s use of magical realism and whimsical story-telling style. I also particularly liked how the author never tells us which war-torn country the protagonists are from, and doesn’t let the book fall into using any clichés. It takes you on the journey alongside the characters in a beautiful and sometimes jarring way, humanizes the idea of a “refugee”, and does an incredible job of making its point. Highly recommended.

You can see all my book recommendation blog posts here.

What’s the best thing you’ve read lately? Tell me your recommendations!

Book Club: September + October

I love to read, and I love to talk about the books I like best with other people. Every couple months here on the blog I choose my favourites from what I’ve read lately and write about them. As always, you can see everything I’m reading on my Goodreads profile. You can also check out what I’m reading in real time at #stephlovestoread on Instagram.

Book Club: September + October >> Life In Limbo

I’m a little late with sharing these, but it’s been a great few months for reading. I’m actually – surprisingly – ahead on my reading goal for the year, which is usually not the case at the “eleventh hour” most years! I’ve been on a real streak lately, ever since my two weeks of powerhouse reading in New York City this summer.

My goals for the rest of the year are to read more books that absorb me, that I can’t put down, which means: more fiction! I’m excited to start tackling this list of books.

Here are my favourite four books out of what I read in September and October:

Book Club: September + October >> Life In Limbo

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

I love everything that Brené does, and this book is probably my favourite she’s written. Inspired by the current political and cultural climate (especially in the U.S.) she’s using her career of research on shame and vulnerability to reframe our society’s current problems of hate, disconnection, and anger. There are so many great concepts in this book, but my favourite is to resist any conversation that uses dehumanizing language of any kind, or in which you are either “with us or against us”. She encourages us to move in, because “it’s hard to hate people up close.” In an age of what feels like crazy, emotional, limbic conversations, this book was a breath of fresh air. If you want a glimpse of what the book’s about, I would recommend watching the Facebook Live she did after Charlottesville, and her interview on MarieTV.

My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul

This book was like reading a love letter to books, and it made my heart sing. The author is now the editor of the New York Times Book Review, but this memoir tells the story of her life, through the books she was reading at the time, since when she was a French exchange student in high school. “Bob” refers to her “book of books”, the simple notebook where she keeps a record of every book she’s read since she was young. My favourite passage, that I am so grateful to have read:

“Well into adulthood, I would chastise myself over not settling on a hobby and just reading instead. Everyone else had a passion; where was mine? How much happier I would have been to know that reading was itself a passion. Nobody treated it that way, and it didn’t occur to me to think otherwise.” 

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

What would happen if dogs were given human consciousness? This book is more philosophical than it is funny, kind of dark, pretty poignant. The best part of reading it was that it’s set, for the most part, in the part of Toronto where I live! My street is even mentioned at one point. It’s such a fun treat to read books set in places that you are familiar with – whether it’s somewhere you’ve traveled or somewhere you’ve lived. The more time I spend in Toronto, the more I love it, so reading this gave me another layer of appreciation for my neighbourhood and my life.

Solitude by Michael Harris

Reading this book felt like taking a really deep breath and coming home to myself. It’s about the importance of solitude, and how it’s being increasingly erased in our world of constant connection and stimulation. The author talks about his experiments with trying to find more solitude in his own life, and how difficult it has actually become to find it – how it’s looked down on by others or resisted mightily when you try to take it for yourself. It was an amazing reminder of the kinds of things that I value and find important. I’m excited to read his other book, which won the Governor General’s award, called The End of Absence.

You can see all my book recommendation blog posts here.

What’s the best thing you’ve read lately? Tell me your recommendations!

Book Club: Summer 2017

I love to read, and I love to talk about the books I like best with other people. Every couple months here on the blog I choose my favourites from what I’ve read lately and write about them. As always, you can see everything I’m reading on my Goodreads profile. You can also check out what I’m reading in real time at #stephlovestoread on Instagram.

Book Club: Summer 2017 >> Life In Limbo

This summer was a great one for reading! I finally came out of my reading slump and ended up flying through so many books this summer that I did a double-take when I saw how many books I’d read in July alone. I decided to put the last 4 months together and pull my favourites from the past few months. Yay! So much good stuff to read.

Book Club: Summer 2017 >> Life In Limbo

The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner

This was the first thing I read on vacation – I borrowed it from Katie as soon as I landed in New York and was promptly swept away on an Italian getaway. This books spans several generations and moves (almost too) quickly through them, but happily you love each new set of characters as much as the last. It’s a long book, but I also didn’t want it to end. Also: can I visit this fictional island?! My heart is broken that it doesn’t exist.

Just Kids by Patti Smith

This was our book club’s pick for August and damn, was it good. I came away feeling so inspired to make things just for the sake of it, to stay focused and committed to your work, and to love the hell out of your friends. Patti Smith is an amazing writer, and she writes so beautifully about her friendship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. This is one of Seth Godin’s favourite books, which is what brought it to my attention at first. Our discussion during book club was all about art, friendship, meaning, and finding community. So good!

Wabi Sabi Welcome by Julie Pointer Adams

The basic premise of this book is that you can entertain imperfectly, and it can be beautiful. She emphasizes that the most important thing is gathering often with your favourite people, no matter what that looks like. The book is also full of absolutely gorgeous photographs from different places around the world that embody wabi-sabi entertaining: Japan, Denmark, California, France and Italy. The photos are not polished or staged, just perfectly imperfect in and of themselves. It felt like such a refreshing (and approachable) way to bring people together.

Moonwalking With Einstein by Joshua Foer

A journalist tries to improve his memory and ends up winning the U.S. Memory Championship one year later. In this book, he tells the whole story while also explaining lots of practical techniques for improving your own memory. My friend Laura recently tested me almost a month after first reading this book, and I could remember a whole grocery list of random items that I’d memorized in a memory palace, verbatim. It’s not hard, and so fun! My social insurance number now lives in my childhood bedroom (in my mind). Highly recommend: fun and helpful at the same time.

You can see all my book recommendation blog posts here.

What’s the best thing you’ve read lately? Tell me your recommendations!