This is my fourth year using Audible! I love seeing other people’s book lists, so the reason I have done these end-of-year posts is to hopefully inspire interest in the books on this list. This year, I thought I would include a list of my 5 favorites to start off with!
I absolutely LOVED Padma Lakshmi’s memoir. I don’t normally gravitate towards autobiographies, but this one just knocked my socks off. For one, I related SO much to her South Indian roots and descriptions of the FOOD, oh the food! Lakshmi’s retelling of her visits to India and the things she ate sparked a great deal of nostalgia. It also made me want to get in the kitchen and start cooking a lot more of my traditional foods from Kerala. Another thing I loved about her memoir is her complete and total openness. It’s raw and real. She is not shy or embarrassed by any part of her life, and many parts are quite *spicy* (especially in Indian culture). I found her life story fascinating, and I love following her on instagram because she’s very no-nonsense and hilarious. I highly recommend listening to the book because she narrates it herself, and her voice is so soothing to listen to.
Amor Towles, author of the best-selling A Gentleman in Moscow, is on my top list of gifted modern writers. I love how each scene he creates is so intricately detailed that it’s almost as if you are watching the story in real time. His characters are some of the most interesting and complicated characters, through and through. I was not sure I would enjoy the time period so much (the late 1930s), but I ended up being fascinated by how people lived along the edge of the Great Depression. One thing is for sure — they all seemed to have drinking problems back then! One major lesson from this book was how thoroughly people can be warped by money and the scramble to climb the social ladder.
Another memoir, eh? What has gotten into me! The thing I loved about this book that sets it apart from many others I have read is that it is part-memoir, part-self help book, part-entrepreneurial guide. If you’re brown, chances are you know who Lilly Singh is. She started off as a YouTuber (now wildly famous worldwide), and now she is the first female (and South Asian!) late night comedy show host! This is one book which I will listen to periodically for inspiration as it is packed full of fiery metaphors for life. Singh also speaks openly about her battle with depression and how she got through it. As a bonus, she narrates it herself which adds 1000% to the comedic parts! I love how she balances humility and innocence with a deep sense of self-respect and a healthy level of pride about her accomplishments.
I first heard about this book during an interview of West on a thought-provoking episode of This American Life called “Tell Me I’m Fat” (you can listen to that episode here). West, a journalist, writes poignantly about her experiences as an overweight woman in America who is nothing but quiet or meek about her reality. I found her writing to be biting and subsequently effective, and I think this is one of those books my daughters will be “required” to read (by mommy) when they are older. No, you don’t have to be a woman or even a feminist to read this book. In fact, I think more boys and men should read it than women because let’s face it – women already get where she’s coming from.
This was my first encounter with the author Rohinton Mistry. I really loved the storytelling, and it was a bit of an education for me as I am largely unfamiliar with Indian history. The story was set during an 18-month period called The Emergency in the 1970s. It follows a fictional tale between four people: a widow, a college student, and two tailors. It is a commentary for sure on social class and caste divisions in India. This was the longest audiobook I have listened to as of yet (24 hours long!), but it truly was worth every second. The less-than happy ending had me considering the title long after, for relationships and life itself really exist in such a fine balance.
The remaining books are in no specific order.
This was a fictional story about a teenage son of immigrants who comes out to his best friend, a girl. His experience dealing with his homosexuality in a conservative family system is, I think, an important and relevant story for many youth today. The reader is moved to compassion for his experience but also cannot fully hate his strict and non-understanding father. This was a quick book to get through.
I loved Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, so I wanted to give this novel (her debut novel) a try. This was a very different type of story as it was a thriller, but it did not have me hanging on the edge of my seat like a thriller should do! Instead, it was a quieter, sadder story that almost seemed senseless in some ways. It was not one of my favorites, but it was nonetheless a very well written work of fiction.
I listened to books 2 and 3 of the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy this year, having started the trilogy late last year. I loved them all! They were deliciously over the top, funny, thrilling, shocking, and entertaining. These were a welcome departure from my usual genres, and great choices for vacation reads or unwinding from a long day!
This was quite the thriller! It definitely kept my interest throughout the entire book, and I was pretty shocked at how everything turned out. I provided a brief synopsis for my husband who looked at me blankly and asked, “Why do you READ stuff like that???” LOL. Because it’s good writing!!! I would caution you to not read it while watching You on Netflix during the same time like I did because both together can be a bit taxing on the psyche.
This was my first book by Neil Gaiman (author of American Gods, Coraline, Stardust, Norse Mythology, and others). The writing was wonderful, but fantasy to this level just isn’t my cup of tea at the end of the day. I loved the movie Stardust (especially Robert de Niro’s character!), but I think I enjoy fantasy in movies more so than in books. If fantasy is your jam, definitely give this one a try.
I LOVE the Queer Eye series on Netflix (the recent ones — I never saw the originals as I didn’t have cable back then). Tan France, being gay and of Pakistani roots, is kind of a huge deal for the South Asian community. I looked forward to his book, but was a bit disappointed that he did not address coming out to his family or in his community in any detail. I think this is something that many people in our community would want to know about if they themselves are struggling with it. I am sure he purposefully left those details out for his own reasons, and he is obviously entitled to do that. For me it does not matter so much because it is just for my own curiosity, but for others it could make a serious and important impact on their lives. Otherwise, however, I enjoyed his memoir and how he titled each chapter after an article of clothing or something fashion-related. I also appreciated how he touched on other topics in South Asian culture such as the fixation on light skin.
This book was utterly fascinating! It weaved together factual information about human civilization and its evolution. My favorite chapters discussed religion, gender, and culture and their origins and roles in humanity. I love the author’s breakdown of these man-made constructs. His statement, “Biology enables, culture forbids” is one of the best things I have ever heard.
This may have been one of the most talked about books of 2019 (or at least, most talked about in my radar of people/books). It is an incredible non-fictional account of the sexual and romantic experiences of three very different women in America. It is quite graphic, but I really don’t mind that sort of thing (I was reading V.C. Andrews knowledge at WAY too young an age). I think it is such an important book because it is unlike any other before now. The voices and stories of women as sexual beings are important, and until very recently, have been largely ignored. Most of the stories about women and sex have revolved around rape, thereby pushing them to a suppressed and inferior status in society. One of the stories in this book does importantly relate to this, but the other two are quite different. I highly recommend it.
This is a book I normally would not choose on my own if I read the synopsis first. I read it for a book club, and I really had a difficult time getting through it because it is just so utterly heartbreaking. Page after page, I felt the author’s hopelessness and desperation as he tried to help his son who became addicted to methamphetamine. As a parent, this was especially brutal. I ended up finishing it, and I think it was a necessary story to tell, but I did not leave it feeling at peace in any way. Of course, that is not the purpose of writing, is it? But I did learn a great deal about meth addiction, including the surprising fact that it affects more people than heroine and cocaine combined. It makes you wonder about the motives of the “War on Drugs” as very little attention has been paid to meth abuse in this country. I think it would be a good read for high schoolers for sure, if for no other reason than to warn them.
I watched Bell’s standup on Netflix a while back, and I found him to be in the category of smart comedians. Not crass, gross comedians who make joke after joke about something sexual. No – I like intelligent comedians who have a statement to make and make it well. I opted for this memoir (partly because of its amazing title), and I was for the most part happy with his writing and his narration. I especially appreciated his perspectives on race, gender, politics, parenting, feminism in comedy, and his willingness to discuss when he was in the wrong and be humble about it.
This book was recommended to me by a dear friend. Vuong’s book, written in letter format to his mother, was pure poetry. What a story, and what an experience. It was so incredibly moving, and I definitely cried openly through certain parts of it.
I couldn’t handle the show when I first began watching it last year. I probably should have listened to my colleagues when they told me I was “too postpartum” to watch it, ha! But over time, I figured I would give the book a try and see what the original version was like. Well, it is no wonder it is a classic novel. I loved Atwood’s storytelling and how she puts into words Offred’s innermost thoughts and feelings. I have no idea what direction the Hulu show goes in, but the ending of the book was, in my opinion, perfect. So many unanswered questions remained, but that was part of the allure of this book! I also loved the futuristic accounting examining Gilead from a “historical” exploratory perspective, as well as Atwood’s own afterword which she narrated. How lucky for me that she released the sequel this year which I will address below!
Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale was written in answer to the decades of questions readers had about Gilead and its inhabitants. I found the first half of the novel a bit slow for me to get into as it was told from several characters’ perspectives. However, right around the mid-point, things started moving more quickly and falling together. I could not stop listening after that! I loved this sequel, and I loved that it still left some questions to be pondered and discussed. I’m definitely glad I gave these books a try!
The only reason I picked up this title was because I listened to an interview of Chelsea Handler on one of my favorite podcasts, Jay Shetty’s On Purpose. I was intrigued by her story and the fact that Handler openly discusses her experience with psychotherapy. I also was surprised to hear that she seemed quite introspective and aware of her privilege which bothered her. However, I was not a big fan of the book for two main reasons. For one, she devotes entire chapters to her dogs. I get it – people love their dogs especially if they have no kids. However, I personally just do not care that much about anyone’s dog’s personalities and preferences. Secondly, I found it hugely and annoyingly ironic that she talks about her self-awareness about being privileged, but at the same time she could create a documentary series with one episode about doing drugs. She actually does drugs on the show and shares her experiences (also shared in the book). If that isn’t white privilege, I don’t know what is. I mean, imagine a black male doing the same thing. Pretty sure that guy would be in jail for just coming up with the idea. All in all, I simply could not relate much to Handler’s life experience which really should come as no surprise.
I picked up this title after hearing an interview with author Saeed Jones on NPR’s Fresh Air (you can hear the interview here). In his memoir, Jones details his experiences as a young black gay man growing up in Texas. His relationship with his mother integral to his story, and it was surprising to me how understanding and, well, unexpectedly different (from my expectations) his mother was. For example, she was a Buddhist (much to his maternal grandmother’s chagrin). This was a quick listen, and another important book for any youth struggling with similar issues in the modern world.
This was another quick listen, and I really enjoyed the format as well as the narration. Multiple narrators were involved, and I found the bits in Malayalam (my native language) to be especially relevant and funny. I felt this author’s experiences very highly relatable to my own, and I caught a glimpse into what parenting might be like in the next 5-10 years as my own kids start to grow up and ask difficult questions about politics, the world, race, and so on.
Last but not least was this novel which I just finished two days before the New Year! It was a great book to end the year on. A fictional story about a brother and sister, their youth growing up in an opulent house in Pennsylvania, and their experiences with their father, absent but good-hearted mother, and rather unfair and selfish step-mother. I really loved the setting in Elkin Park, PA which I am familiar with having grown up in Philadelphia. I also love that the main character Danny ends up going to medical school, but he does not pursue a career in medicine for various reasons. His sister Maeve, however, is the main focus of this story. The writing is lovely, and the ending was satisfying.
I’d love to know if you have read/listened to any of these books and what your thoughts were! Do you have any other favorite books this year?