Books

2020 In Reading

2020 In Reading >> Life In Limbo

2020 was not my best year for reading. When the lockdowns first hit in March here in Toronto, I found myself dealing with so much uncertainty as a self-employed person. I was pretty stressed and not sleeping well, and another side effect was that I couldn’t really focus on anything besides the necessities: my business and my mental health. Reading, as much as I love it, fell by the wayside.

So for big chunks of the year I wasn’t reading much, or at least not anything remotely challenging. I read a lot of romance novels. And don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance novel! I just normally like to diversify my reading life a little bit more than I ended up being able to this year. Challenging materials were harder to get into until the initial few months of the pandemic had passed, and by then I was very behind on my reading goal.

All in all, I still read a lot of books this year! I’m not actually disappointed in my reading this year by any means. It was just very different, as so much of 2020 was. Slower, harder, more fractured, more sporadic. Which is kind of a metaphor for the year in general, don’t you think? 😂

My Goal

When I started 2020 I set a goal to read 111 books. It sounds like a lot, but at the pace I had been reading, it was right on track with how much I’d read the year before. I didn’t think it would be too hard to meet my goal, while still reading a wide variety of subjects and authors.

I was wrong, lol. As I mentioned above, I quickly fell behind on my reading goal when the pandemic hit, and I’m still having trouble getting back to the pace that I love and that makes me feel good. A lot of my evening reading time shifted to become time for learning and studying, anti-racism and business skills, primarily. 

As I approached the end of the year, I decided to make my goal more realistic for where I was at. I changed it to 70 books, which is actually less than I’ve read in the past seven years. Still, 70 books is absolutely nothing to scoff at and I’m proud that I was able to prioritize this beloved habit of mine despite all the madness swirling around me.

What I Learned

1. Pull, don’t push

I’ve been saying this for years, but 2020 was the year when it really hit home. If I really want to read more, I need to make sure I have really good things to read. When I’m reading a great book that I can’t put down, I read more! I make time for it, no matter what else I might be doing. If you’re trying to read more books this year, make sure you’re choosing ones that pull you in, not ones you have to push yourself to read. 

2. Read fiction at night

Reading non-fiction often feels like work, no matter how important or meaningful the topic might be. I always find myself wanting to take notes or pay rapt attention to soak up the wisdom, and I don’t always have the energy for that at bedtime! So I’ve moved to reading great stories before I go to bed, as they’re often more compelling and don’t put me to sleep instantly. I save the non-fiction for daytime reading, even sometimes building it into my work day if I have a quieter day of work.

3. Books are better shared

2020 was a tough year, and I found myself more than ever feeling grateful for the bookish conversations I was able to share with my loved ones. I’m part of a great book club, and our discussions of the books we read always help me process more of my own thoughts and get more out of each reading experience. I also love talking about books with my partner more informally, sharing our thoughts is always so fun and meaningful. And of course, nothing is better than recommending a great book to a close friend, my sisters, or my mom (who has been reading up a storm this year!) and then getting to connect about what we’ve both read. I love it and want to remember to do more of it.

My Favourites

2020 Books >> Life In Limbo

1. Know My Name by Chanel Miller: A truly heartbreaking but beautifully written account of one woman’s experience of rape, the fallout, the justice system, and her life afterwards. Chanel is an incredible writer and this whole book felt so important and poignant for me.

2. Burnout by Amelia & Emily Nagoski: I love the Nagoski sisters (did you know Emily also writes super hot romance?!) and this joint effort about stress is an important read for anyone feeling chronically stressed and tired. The concept of completing the stress cycle is simple but crucial. This podcast interview is a great summary if you want to learn more before reading!

3. Untamed by Glennon Doyle: I took so many notes while reading this book, it just felt so refreshing and empowering. The central message is that we all need to learn to disappoint every single person around us before we disappoint ourselves. How powerful is that? So many great stories and teaching concepts inside, I think it’s a must-read.

4. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: I loved this fun, sexy book about love between the First Son of the USA and the Prince of England. Such a delightful read! It reminded me a lot of The Royal We.

5. Severance by Ling Ma: I read this book (about a deadly pandemic that sweeps the globe) pretty early on in the pandemic, and yet it was surprisingly less depressing than I thought it might be. I actually enjoyed reading about a similar situation to what we were going through, and the stresses therein, while enjoying a story that was different enough to not heap on the fear. Very compelling. It reminded me of Station Eleven!

6. Attached by Amir Levine & Rachel Heller: This book just casually changed my life. I learned a lot about attachment theory in school, but only about how it impacts kids. Reading about how the theory persists into our adult romantic relationships and close friendships was fascinating and provided me so much clarity and insight as I entered into a serious relationship. I’m anxiously attached, and let’s just say: it shows sometimes. Super helpful if you find yourself dealing with the same relationship issues in every relationship you’re in.

7. Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert: Another POSITIVELY DELIGHTFUL romance with a Black, chronically ill protagonist – identities that aren’t typically represented in romance. I actually listened to this one on audio and adored the accents and voices. Very sexy too, I am now a huge fan of Hibbert’s writing.

8. The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd: This was my favourite book of 2020, and the one I have recommended most often since reading it. It’s a powerful, emotional, vibrant story about the (fictional, but possible) wife of Jesus of Nazareth. She is given a personality that resonated so deeply with elements of my own, a backstory, a passion, a vocation..it is beautiful and an incredible piece of writing. I loved it with all my heart. This interview with Sue Monk Kidd about it was also very good.

9. The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline: I still think about this novel more often than I expected to. It’s a (slightly) futuristic story about settlers harvesting the bone marrow of Indigenous people in order to dream, and the Indigenous fight to survive under the intense colonial violence they’re subjected to. It is not all that far removed from our current reality, not to mention the history of violence this country has already inflicted upon Indigenous people. It’s a powerful book: adventurous, exciting, heartbreaking, heart-lifting. I loved it.


Gosh, I love to read. Reflecting on my year in reading is always such a joy. I love looking back and seeing what stood out to me out of everything I read, what persists in my mind and in my heart. Reading is an axe for the frozen sea within us, as Kafka said, and all of the books on this list have made me a better person in what has been a particularly challenging year. I am so grateful for this habit and for the stories that change me.

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.

PS. For even more bookish blog content, click here.

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!

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