It’s time for the annual book blog! In 2019, I read 25 books on my favorite topics: animals, relationships, language, and food. You’ll find my mini-reviews below each title. Books are linked to Amazon for convenience; these are not affiliate links.
- The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert by John Gottman PhD
Dr. Gottman’s research is fascinating and easily applied to everyday relationships. This book was engaging and useful.
- Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days that Changed Her Life by Lucy Worsley
In the style of Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen, Lucy Worsley explores Queen Victoria through 24 memorable days in her life. While I enjoyed this book, it was not my favorite work by Worsley. However, as with Worsley’s other works, this book is meticulously researched and wide-ranging.
- The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction by Meghan Cox Gurdon
This book could easily be my favorite for 2019. Meghan Cox Gurdon’s style is lyrical and scientific; she weaves stories with research to create a compelling case for reading aloud to children and adults alike.
- Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf
I can’t wait to build a writing course around this book. Wolf’s work is solidly crafted and grounded in research. Her style is not as accessible, but the concentration she demands will pay off.
- On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior
Karen Swallow Prior never fails to disappoint. I’ve enjoyed her articles in The Atlantic, and I loved her biography of Hannah More. In this most recent book, she reads classic works of literature with a moral lens, inquiring what lessons each book teaches within its own universe.
- Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer
This book should be called an “utterly delightful” guide. Dreyer is witty, precise, and coherent, and the book is a wonderful resource for writers, editors, and language-lovers.
- Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves by Frans de Waal
Get ready to laugh and cry. This is an extraordinary and empathetic treatment of animal emotions from primatologist Frans de Waal. The stories he shares are beautiful — and not as rare as some might imagine.
- Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl
This book was my first experience of Ruth Reichl’s writing, and it kept me up into the wee hours of the morning. Reichl’s voice is warm even as she embraces the elegant world of food journalism in New York City. I enjoyed this book so much that I read two more of Reichl’s books later in the year.
- Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen by Mary Norris
After Between You & Me, the New Yorker‘s wrote a book exploring her love of all Greek things. I found this book to be uneven. Some chapters were fun and delightful, but others dragged or lagged. Her earlier work on grammar and style sparkles more than this Greek adventure.
- Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
Another fabulous adventure from food critic Ruth Reichl, this book explores the different personas she adopted in order to do her job. This is a lively and entertaining book that invites readers to think about how clothes make the customer.
- The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls by Julie Schumacher
This is another hilarious novel from Julie Schumacher, who wrote Dear Committee Members and The Shakespeare Requirement. It’s definitely light reading, though not nearly as funny as her other books.
- A Life Beyond Reason: A Father’s Memoir by Chris Gabbard
An exceptional book, this story is lyrical, realistic, and philosophical. Earlier this year I interviewed Chris Gabbard about the writing of this book. This book has my hearty recommendation!
- The Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things by Peter Wohlleben
As with so many other titles by authors I’ve read before, this book does not compare to Wohlleben’s earlier works. It’s interesting, yes, but it lacks the passion and poetry of The Hidden Life of Trees.
- You, Your Child, and School: Navigate Your Way to the Best Education by Sir Ken Robinson PhD
Robinson comes back for a much more serious work about the pitfalls of modern education. As ever, he relies on solid research, storytelling, and accessible writing.
- Comfort Me with Apples: More Adventures at the Table by Ruth Reichl
After loving two other books by Reichl this year, I was excited to read this one. But it is much more about romance than food, which I found disappointing. It’s clear that Reichl has developed her sharp style over time, and this book just cannot compare to her later work.
- Light His Fire: How to Keep Your Man Passionately and Hopelessly in Love with You by Ellen Kreidman
Kreidman offers a lot of good advice here, especially about communication and not taking ourselves too seriously. But this book could be a lot shorter. I’d like to see more research and fewer lists of suggestions.
- Thank You For Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion by Jay Heinrichs
I reviewed this book for use in my professional communication classes, and it is a complete delight! I listened to the audio and annotated the paperback, starring and tabbing something on almost every page. This book is witty, fun, and extremely well researched! It’s not just for language nerds either.
- Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning by James M. Lang
This is a fantastic book full of practical advice. Lang says in the introduction that he wanted to create strategies that could be applied mid-semester, rather than a large-scale plan faculty could only adopt in between courses. He has succeeded with the principles and activities outlined in this book!
- The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skaife
I love books about ravens, and this latest one does not disappoint. Full of warm affection and descriptive anecdotes, Skaife’s writing is engaging and totally readable. I enjoyed the history and folklore he brought together in this book. I hated for it to end!
- The Art of Language Invention: From Horse-Lords to Dark Elves, the Words Behind World-Building by David J. Peterson
Peterson is a conlanger, a creator of languages for fantasy and science fiction. But his book about inventing languages is a wonderful course in linguistics! His writing is lively and intelligent.
- How to Argue with a Cat: A Human’s Guide to the Art of Persuasion by Jay Heinrichs
Heinrichs wrote this book in response to the many teachers who asked for a less intense version of Thank You For Arguing, and had I not read the former, I would love this one. But because I’ve read Heinrichs’ earlier and much more detailed work, I can only call this little volume cute and useful. It is a neat introduction to persuasion but it lacks the sparkle of Thank You For Arguing.
- Eat Cake. Be Brave by Melissa Radke
Another candidate for “uneven.” I loved some chapters and slogged through others. I would say that 80% of this book is bright, witty, and warm, but there are definitely spots where it drags or preaches.
- The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed Disney and Made Cinematic History by Nathalia Holt
As with Holt’s Rise of the Rocket Girls, this book is an interwoven story of several remarkable women. Holt shares the stories of artists who shaped animation as we know it today. She does not flinch away from the ugly truths of their lives, but neither does she surrender to sensationalism in telling these stories. This is a wonderful book that demonstrates a writer’s vision and control over her message.
- God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson
While this book provides a sharp cultural and social history, I would have liked more linguistic and etymological information. There are several beautiful and compelling passages here, but Nicolson spends a lot of time profiling the translators of the KJV rather than the book itself. This may be his attempt to get inside the minds of translators, but it felt a bit repetitive.
- Eat More Better: How to Make Every Bite More Delicious by Dan Pashman
This is my idea of light reading, which I do not encounter nearly often enough! I knew I wanted to read this book because I love Dan Pashman’s podcast, The Sporkful. This book is hilarious, irreverent, and so so fun. From Pashman’s food-oriented interpretation of Yeats’ “The Second Coming” to his attempt at a Platonic dialogue about snack mix, this is a nerdy foray into eating culture.
What did you read in 2019? What are you planning to read in 2020?